Q&A with 100k British Champion Charlie Harpur
Over the past few years Charlie has been busy working his way up the British rankings, winning the 2018 UK Trail Running Championships, before becoming the 100km British Champion in 2019!
Charlie is a phenomenal Ultra Runner and Trail Runner, who’s passion for the sport is inspiring budding runners to hit the trails. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Charlie, your running has been outstanding in recent years, seeing you add some impressive accolades to your growing collection. 2019 saw you go to another level, breaking the course record for 100km at the British Championships in 6.44 (wow!) and going sub 3-hours for 50km.
Can you tell us a bit more about your background and how running made it’s way in to your life?
I’m a landscape designer and gardener from Suffolk, but I’m based in London at the moment and I’m currently working and studying at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I was first a swimmer, then a cyclist and then I found running. I ran my first marathon to see whether I could do it, discovered trail running and then got hooked. Like a lot of us, I have struggled with depression and anxiety for many years, and I realised that running was not only a good commuting option, but a powerful way of keeping my brain chemicals moving. It makes me feel better and helps me think. I also started running races and found that I could be fairly competitive too.
Q. When did you get into trail running?
I started running on trails after running my first road marathon in 2012 in order to train for the next one, but I found I much preferred green surroundings and a bit of mud. After exploring local trails in south Suffolk, I signed up to the Stour Valley Marathon and despite getting lost, as well as completely blowing up on my first attempt after going out too hard, I was hooked! Now trail running keeps me mentally, physically and even spiritually fuelled.
Q. What has been your biggest running / adventure challenge to date?
For me, training in the relatively flat hills of Suffolk and roads of London, my biggest challenge so far has been the mountainous 101km Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix as part of the UTMB series. I just hadn’t got my mountain legs running along the Thames! I found 100miles of South Downs trails much more comfortable. The more runnable bits around Mont Blanc were a joy, and so were the steeper, more technical sections but more for being able to look at my surroundings more. I will return one year.
Q. Where’s your favourite place in the world to run?
I’ve been lucky enough to run in some amazing places. The Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and California was pretty amazing – for runnable trails and plant life! I would also love to run the Kungsleden trail in Sweden again. I like wild places, a bit of adventure, interesting flora and a bit of a mission. There is a lot of that closer to home in Suffolk however.
Q. Where’s your favourite place in Suffolk to run?
I will always feel at home running around the Stour Valley near to where I grew up. My parents live in the Nayland area and I have my standard bread and butter routes around the valley when I return. It gets some of the only hills in the area, and the views from one side of the valley to the other are beautiful. We are blessed with the Stour Valley Path in south Suffolk, running through iconic Constable country.
Q. What running experience have you learned the most from, and why?
My learning curve was quite a steep one, and I made a lot of errors when starting out. Erratic training, too many races back to back, and not considering nutrition properly! I haven’t hit the wall for a long time now, but back in the early days this was all too familiar, and when it happens it teaches you that something isn’t working. My coach, ultra trail runner Marcus Scotney gave me a sensible training plan, I learned to recover better and think about how to fuel and hydrate myself in races. My results and enjoyment both picked up from then on.
Q. Which race was the most enjoyable or the one that you remember the most?
My first (and only so far…) hundred miler, was a good day out – I smiled the whole way. It was the Centurion South Downs Way 100. Some beautiful trails and everything seemed to go OK. Pacing Tom Evans at the Western States 100 was a brilliant experience too, even if it wasn’t my race, where I learned loads and met some great people.
Q. What are your favourite items of kit for your trail / ultra running?
I put in a lot of mileage running to and from work, so my running backpack (an Ultimate Direction Fastpack 25) becomes invaluable.
Q. What’s next on your running calendar for 2020?
I’m undecided as to the next race at this moment in time. I have some plans that aren’t confirmed just yet! Hopefully I can get a run at the World 100km Championships this September though.
Q. What advice would you give to a new trail runner?
Start slowly and gradually build it up! Erratic training can lead to injuries. Be mindful when running, pay attention to the surroundings and just enjoy those trails. Strength, speed and endurance will follow!