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Lucy Bartholomew Q+A

Lucy Bartholomew Q+A

Note: The format of this article is a transcript of a podcast episode from our popular trail running podcast “Running Long,” which is hosted by Vert.run coach Francesco Puppi. 

In this interview, Francesco (who lives in Italy) interviews Lucy Bartholomew. Lucy Bartholomew is a professional ultrarunner from Australia, who is sponsored by Salomon. She is also a Vert.run Athlete Partner and has designed two Vert.run training programs. 

Lucy’s race results include finishing on the podium at Western States, winning Ultra Trail Australia, and more.

Though only 26 years old, she’s had an incredible career, placing in some of the toughest ultra trails around the world and becoming one of the most popular athletes in the sport. It wasn’t always perfect, it wasn’t always easy, but Lucy learned to navigate the highs and lows of running (and life) in a very powerful and inspiring way: without hiding fears and doubts, but accepting them and ultimately turning them into strengths. She’s developed her passion for running way beyond races and competition, chasing curiosity, empowering people and giving them the inspirations to get out and run on the trails, showing them that the real motivation often lies within themselves.

In this interview, we chat about her recent attempt and adventure to set the FKT (“fastest known time”) on the Larapina Trail in Australia–and about her new movie about this adventure “Running Out.”

Lucy has written two training plans for Vert.run, one designed for running your first Ultramarathon (“50k: Become an Ultrarunner”) and another designed for running your first 80k or 50 mile race (“50 Miles: Run your First 50 Miles”.) Lucy wrote each workout herself, and her Vert.run plans are full of encouragement and positivity. 

Note: the transcribed version here in this article is a little shorter than the podcast itself. If you want the full conversation (and want to get to know Fran and Lucy!) give the podcast a listen here during your next long run or commute.)

00:51

Francesco: Hi everyone and welcome to Running Long, the podcast brought to you by Vert.run. 

Today we are so grateful to have the wonderful Lucy Bartholomew on the podcast calling in from Melbourne, Australia.

As many of you know, Lucy is only 25 years old, but she’s been in the sport of ultra running for over a decade. Recently, Lucy released a new movie, called Running Out, which shares her story of running the Larapinta Trail–a 231 kilometer trail running from Mt. Sonder to Alice Springs in the wild Australian Outback.

First off, how are you doing and what have you been up to recently?

05:41

Lucy: I’m doing good. It’s been a crazy journey of creating this film and putting it all together. We had the film release on November 2nd, which was exciting but nerve wracking as you never know what the reaction of others is going to be and the film is very personal to me. I saw an opportunity to do something different in a year that was so incredibly different to the last nine years I’ve been in the sport. I wanted to go back on how I started running into an unknown territory that breaks you down and builds you up.

I wanted to remind myself what the sport is about–the people, places and my passion–not bibs, racing and times.

09:23

Francesco: Can you walk us through how this project was born and the people who helped you create this awesome project?

09:52

Lucy:When I started running back in 2012, I was just 15 years old and ran a 100k side by side with my dad,” says Lucy. “I didn’t do it to be first or fast, I was simply just curious. It ended up taking us about 12 and a half hours, and I loved it because all that mattered was us running, eating, drinking and moving through the course–so, for the first few years of my career, that’s what I did. I did races I was curious about, said yes to almost anything, and loved it.”

When things got more serious, and I picked up sponsorship, and I had obligations, I felt that there was a shift– I felt so much pressure that I was hesitant to do things that did chase my curiosity, in case it affected something that someone else wanted me to do better and focus on more.

When I finished third place at Western states in 2018, life changed for me in terms of my following and being more known in the sport. And it really got me in 2019, I will happily say that I completely imploded. Mentally, physically, hormonally, spiritually, everything kind of hit a pretty dark place, a pretty challenging place for anyone to navigate.

When COVID came, I was incredibly lucky for the time and chance to reset, and reevaluate what I was doing. I was able to ask myself why I was running and if I wanted to keep doing this. 

When I thought of this Larapinta idea, it was the one thing that I was really excited about around running.

I love running for bringing community together and exploring new places. When you put a time on it and a bib and competitors and expectations, I feel like it sheds a little bit of joy.

So, when we had a break in our lockdowns here in Australia, I got my two friends, Josh and Brian together, and decided let’s go drive as far as we can and run as far as we can. 

13:13

Francesco: The movie itself tells a little bit about this story and moments of joy and great positivity, and also moments where things get hard.

Can you tell us a little more about where this film, Running Out, takes place? And some details about the climate and weather there?

16:43

Lucy: This film takes place on the Larapinta Trail and Alice Springs, in Australia.

Typically called the Northern Territory, it is known for being super dry, really hot, very iconic Australia red soil. It’s what you see in all the tourism stuff with kangaroos, emus just hanging out.

When we went to the springs, there had been this massive amount of rainfall previous to us arriving. Where there were usually completely dry riverbeds that the Larapinta goes through, we actually had waist deep to shoulder deep water, which is just unreal for out there.

The temperature when I was running was about 32 degrees Celsius. At night it was about 17 to 18 degrees. I think one of the most difficult parts of this effort was the navigation and the technicality of the trail. From the movie, it’s pretty clear.

23:55

Francesco: What was your preparation like for something like this? Did you trail on similar terrain closer to home?

24:17

Lucy: Going into this project we were in lockdown in Melbourne and we were only allowed one hour of exercise per day and not more than five kilometers from home.

I do not live in the mountains, or near any trails, so I was just running roads for an hour a day. Basically, I was only doing seven hours of running a week. When I talked to my coach about doing the Larapinta, he said when you go past that 100k distance and you’re choosing not to race, it’s less about being fit.

It’s more about being uninjured and being stoked. This was key for me–I was not injured and I was so excited for this after not being able to race anything in 2020. 

26:13

Francesco: Can you take us through the logistic aspects of this challenge, and the movie filming and everything?

26:53

Lucy: So the team consisted of my two friends, Josh and Brian. Brian was the videographer and Josh was the photographer.

They also had to wear hats of crew members and friends. I saw them every eight-ish hours or so due to the terrain and ability to get to me with more supplies. In total, I saw them 4-5 times and Josh joined me for the second night.

The filmmaking process was a bit different that we had imagined. Initially, this film was meant to be eight minutes–it was meant to be this real short, punchy Salomon TV. But when I was looking at the footage, and I was talking to Brian, I just felt like there was so much more to share. So with Salomon’s support, the film grew from 8 minutes to 43 minutes. 

30:13

Francesco: So, Brian and Josh only saw you 4-5 times over the entire 231 kilometers?

30:24

Lucy: Yeah, exactly. Most sections were probably 40-50k.

The terrain was quite mountainous and there was a middle section that we thought was going to be quite fast, but because it was a riverbed and there had been so much rain, it was completely flooded. In fact, I had to swim up to 3 kilometers through one gorge. 

31:32

Francesco: How did you manage your hydration and nutrition? Did you have a strategy?

32:53

Lucy: I felt like I had a plan. And just like in every ultra I’ve done, my plan has gone amazing for maybe an hour, maybe two hours if I’m lucky. And then it’s kind of like, thrown in the air and whatever sits in my stomach is great.

That’s what turned out happening– I was carrying Spring Energy gels and muesli bars and maybe like a wrap or something with me for the eight hours between seeing the boys.

What I found was really good was having a hot meal when I stopped to see the boys, like hot curry or oats, something warm and normal.

The strategy turned into eating something wholesome and dense when I saw the boys, then just trying to keep up with hydrating and eating while I was out there on my own.  

35:35

Francesco: There’s also a couple of other themes that really stand out from watching the movie.

One is the relationship, the friendship, with the filmmakers, Brian and Josh. Can you tell us a little bit about Brian and Josh, where your friendship started?

36:24

Lucy: I met Josh, and Brian on a hiking trip in Tasmania in January. We did this project in March, so we didn’t know each other all that much. We spent 10 days hiking in Tasmania together and I mentioned that I wanted to do this run and they were both in.

I guess I’m a huge believer in people coming into your life for a reason, a season or the whole thing.

I felt like on this hiking trip, you know, when you’re hiking and you’re walking for days on end, people are broken down to their true selves. I had conversations with these guys, both Josh and Brian at different times, where I could be completely honest and completely myself. We worked well together as a team–I know it was definitely risky to do this with two people I didn’t know super well, but we all had each other’s backs and it turned out to be an incredible thing. 

46:01

Francesco: Another thing that stands out from the film is the relationship with your dad–he has clearly been very important for your running career. What does it mean for you to have such a strong relationship with your dad?

Lucy: I’m fully aware of how special it is to have such a connection with my dad. I know some people are not so lucky. He has always been there to soundboard and to listen to things. And he was the one who kind of said, you know, you, I think you need to go back, like way back 10 years back and just do something that excites you and scares you and you’re passionate about when I was struggling before the pandemic hit.

51:49

Francesco: In the movie, you mention quitting the sport and considering going back to university or a normal 9-5 job.

Do you feel like you have unfinished business in the sport of trail running? What are your dreams and self expectations concerning racing and future projects related to trail running?

52:47

Lucy: Whenever anything gets hard, I feel like there’s always that slither of thought of, should I be doing this? I think of my friends who have become lawyers or doctors and I’m still running–I ask myself what have I got to show for this? Why am I doing this?

What keeps bringing me back is that if I never had to race another day, in my life, I would continue to run. I don’t need racing, I don’t need bibs. I don’t need trophies, and I don’t need sponsorships. What I need is people to run with, places to visit, and that healthy, sustainable and unwavering love for what I’m doing.

Moving forward, and after doing the Larapinta, I realized that that’s what I’m going to chase. I want to chase the things that set my heart on fire and connect me with people that I’d never otherwise meet, and go to places that I would never otherwise go.

I’ve signed up for Western States 2022, which is terrifying and exciting, but I want to put a bib on again, I want to be competitive, and I want to run fast, be healthy, and be happy.

55:17

Francesco: I think that it’s important that athletes can be super competitive, and they can put their heart and soul into racing. But you’ve got to have other passions–be that the environment, podcasting,etc. It’s so important to have different avenues.

We’ve got a few final questions to wrap things up: What does the Larapinta mean? Does it have a meaning?

57:53

Lucy: Larapinta is the indigenous word for the Finke River, which is the river system that we follow in the West MacDonnell range of the Northern Territory.

The Finke River, which is usually completely dry, was incredible to see when the Finke River floods or is full. For the indigenous, it’s a sign of prosperity and growth and new beginnings, which I think is just so beautiful.

58:31

Francesco: How do you keep going when everything hurts?

58:36

Lucy: I think there is always a little bit of stubbornness that sinks in. But I think coming back to the fact that I was prepared and knew that this was going to be extremely challenging.

59:18

Francesco: How did you recover from the Larapinta? And how long did it take you to recover?

59:23

Lucy: I didn’t recover super well, to be honest. I ran the Larapinta, then got in a car and drove two days back to Adelaide, and got on a plane. That’s just not ideal for anyone.

My legs just puffed up and my stomach was not okay. I’d probably say for at least four weeks, my body was like, “oh, yeah, we’re okay”, but my mind was like, “we hate running”.

But there was no pressure to jump back into things, so I got into swimming and some cycling and just kind of enjoyed the other aspects of life and movement.

1:01:30

Francesco: Do you have any tips for training in the heat and humidity and how did you survive extreme dehydration?

1:01:41

Lucy:  I’ve always focused on the things I can control and the things I can’t control. People are obsessed with talking about the temperature and looking at their phone and predicting the future.

I try to focus on the effort I put into preparing myself for the heat, my nutrition, my hydration, the clothes, hat, sunglasses. I also focus on keeping my attitude positive and focusing on smiling and keeping the mental state positive.

As far as surviving extreme dehydration, I focused on what I could do, which was try and find water and positive self talk.

1:06:05

Francesco: How do you break out of self doubt and succeed at the challenge at hand?

1:06:16

Lucy: I think it has taken 10 years of really challenging situations, being in moments, many races where I’ve not met my expectations, where I’ve had self doubt, where I’ve had to look at things as learning. It’s kind of like running downhill, right?

The more you do, the more you’re in that situation, the better you get at it.

I think that the more times you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, which make you question life and question why you’re doing this and the direction you’re going, the better you get at kind at tackling these kind of challenges. 

At Western states in 2019, and I had incredible self doubt, incredibly low self esteem, and an incredible challenge ahead of me to run 100 miles feeling like that.

When I finished that race, I thought nothing would be as hard as that, to stand on a world stage and to put yourself through it, and then to finish and read comments about yourself, which were just totally inhumane, and incredibly rude. You know, you can choose to believe that or you can choose to reject it. And I think that like when self belief comes into question, it’s up to you to kind of say, I know me, I know my true self, I am who I am.

1:08:09

Francesco: What do you do on days you don’t have the desire to get out there and run?

1:08:21

Lucy: It’s a fine line. A lot of times, you have to remind yourself that you know you will feel better when you get out there. But, there is definitely a time and place to recognize and consider if you haven’t slept well or are stressed and choose to honor that.

You shouldn’t feel guilt for missing a run and you shouldn’t feel like you need to make up for it later or something.

Take it from professional ultrarunner Lucy Bartholomew:

  • “What I usually do is this 10 minute rule–it’s kind of something I just made up and I stuck with for 10 years now. The ten minute rule means I’m gonna get out, I’m gonna put my shoes on, and I’m gonna run for five minutes down the road. If after five minutes, or sometimes 10, I’m still not feeling it, then I’ll turn around and I’ll go home. That 10 minutes is just saying I’ve given myself an opportunity to choose whether or not this is what I need today.”

1:11:56

Francesco: Thank you so much, Lucy. I feel very rewarded and inspired by this conversation and I hope it will inspire our listeners and our community at Vert.run. 

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