Ten Mountain Running Questions with Caitlin Patterson (USA)

“Ten Questions” is a series of interviews with top mountain running athletes from around the world. USA junior team manager Paul Kirsch contributed this edition of Ten Questions. Paul interviewed Caitlin prior to her competing in the 2019 Ski World Championships in Seefeld, Austria.

Caitlin Patterson was a member of the US women's gold medal winning team at the 2017 World Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy. She is an avid mountain and trail runner with wins at the 2017 Whiteface Mountain Skyrace (New York) and 2018 Smugglers Mountain Challenge (Vermont) as well as a 2nd place at the 2018 Broken Arrow Skyrace. Caitlin was also a member of the 2018 US Winter Olympic Team for cross country skiing where she finished 26th in the 30 km mass start and 34th in the 15 km skiathlon.

 PAUL: First, tell us where you grew up and where you live now.

CAITLIN: I was born in McCall, Idaho and lived there until the start of high school when my family moved to Anchorage, Alaska. After high school, I headed to the East coast to attend college at the University of Vermont where they have a successful NCAA division 1 ski program. I currently live in Craftsbury, Vermont and am a member of Craftsbury Green Racing Project, an elite cross-country skiing team.

PAUL: How did you get from cross country ski Racing to mountain running?

CAITLIN: I’ve focused primarily on cross country ski racing since I was in high school, but running is always an important component of a skier’s training. I’ve always preferred running in the mountains of Alaska, Vermont, or wherever else I may be, to road running. When I was younger and living in Alaska, I entered a few summer mountain running races, primarily as a good training mechanism. Now as I’ve progressed through the sport of skiing, I’ve found that I enjoy running races as a way to keep in touch with competition throughout the summer. I also really enjoy that for running you only need the shoes on your feet, rather than a huge fleet of skis, so it’s more simple and can take you to amazing places and high peaks.

PAUL: Tell us about your best ever mountain or trail run.

CAITLIN: One of the most memorable runs I’ve ever done started with a race, and finished with a scenic very long cool-down. I raced the Vertical Kilometer event of the Dolomites Skyrace in Italy, so I ascended 1000m from the valley floor to a finishing line on a sharp ridgetop. The race took around an hour, and I was deep in the pain cave during that section of my run, looking only at the next step. However after I finished the race, I took some deep breaths and looked around, and I was on a ridge on a bright sunny day in the beautiful, rocky Dolomites. So I followed a trail further out along the ridgeline, letting my feet lead me on and on to the next viewpoint, before eventually turning towards the valley and descending back to the starting point. While I love running with friends, this run was an amazing solo experience - following the open ridge as long as I wanted with views of higher mountains on every side, enjoying the freedom of fitness and endless trails ahead.

PAUL: What do you love about mountain running?

CAITLIN: The simplicity of the equipment - all you need are shoes and a willingness to climb. I love the views you can see and adventures you can go on while training or racing in the mountains!

PAUL: You are in the middle of ski season right now. Any specific skiing events you are focused on for 2019?

CAITLIN: I just qualified for the 2019 Ski World Championships in cross-country, which will be held in Seefeld, Austria in February. While I was a member of the Olympic team last year, this will be my first time racing at World Championships, which is a big deal in skiing. I’ll be targeting the 15k skiathlon, the 30k skate, and hopefully the team relay at World Championships.

[Editor's Note: Caitlin finished 34th in the Skiathlon and 34th in the 30 km freestyle]

PAUL: What Mountain Races are you focused on in 2019?

CAITLIN: Good question! I have to say that my focus is on skiing right now, but I have thoughts that I’d like to race the Broken Arrow Skyrace in California again, I’d like to race USATF Mountain Running Championships in Waterville Valley, and I’d like to find a European skyrace that I could fit into my calendar around training and other events.

 PAUL: What do you do when you are not running or skiing or training?

CAITLIN: When I’m not exercising I might be: playing mandolin or fiddle, taking photographs, working on projects at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center (including gardening, coaching kids, or editing photographs), reading books, baking snacks and treats, or hanging out with friends.

PAUL: What do you think should be the future direction for the sport of mountain running races?

CAITLIN: I’d love to see Mountain Running races remain accessible to recreational runners, maintaining a welcoming environment for all who want to participate. However I’d also like to see mountain races in the US venture into more remote and rugged territory. I know there are many infrastructure benefits to holding races at alpine ski resorts, but it would be really great if some races could be held on hiking trails that venture into higher alpine terrain. Mountain running races should help people explore new trail systems and meet other people who like to get outside and explore.

PAUL: List your all time top three songs.

CAITLIN: Don’t expect anything too mainstream! Alison Krauss’s Borderline, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Crooked Still's Did You Sleep Well?

PAUL: How do you motivate when you're having a bad or a difficult race?

CAITLIN: When I’m struggling in a race, often the first thing that will happen is that my tempo will slow down. So I’ve trained myself to have an inner voice that reminds me “keep it going, quicker tempo, each step gets you closer to the finish line.” Sometimes it’s an internal voice of my own, and other times I’m essentially imagining a coach or family cheering for me, encouraging me to pick up the tempo. I’d encourage anyone racing, for the first time or a seasoned veteran, to think about a weakness you may fall prey to during a bad race, and imagine the best positive encouragement that a coach could say to remedy it.

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