Q&A with LEJOG record holder Carla Molinaro
Written By: SportsShoes
Interviewed by Ben Mounsey
Team GB ultra-runner and adventurer, Carla Molinaro joins us for a Q&A session to help motivate and inspire us with her incredible achievements, future plans and top tips for endurance running.
The Hoka sponsored athlete has a wealth of experience, competing in some of the world’s most famous ultra-distance challenges, single and multi-day adventures and even earning a Team GB vest at the 100km World Championships.
Here she catches up with us to talk about LEJOG, her latest achievement, which meant running the entire length of Great Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats and setting a new ladies World Record along the way.
Prior to setting the new female Guinness World Record for LEJOG, can you tell us a bit about your background and experience as an athlete?
I started running when I was 15 at school which I loved. But going to university I was a bit intimidated by the running club, so joined the triathlon club instead. I competed in triathlon for 10 years where I represented Great Britain in my Age Group at the European and World Championships. But then one day I ran the Glasgow Half Marathon and loved the simplicity of running so just started to run. Since then I have gone from 21km up to 100km in races and done quite a few multi day runs like The Tour of Mont Blanc, Haute Route and Great Ocean Road. Back in 2018, together with five guys, we tried to run 90km for 20 days and on the 20th day run the Comrades Ultra Marathon. We all got injured pretty early on and then just tried to run as far as we could. I ended up running 900km and then somehow placed 9th at Comrades getting a gold medal in the process and off the back of that I got selected to represent Great Britain at the 100km World Championships which was a dream come true.
You’re clearly a very experienced ultra-distance athlete. How long in advance did you plan the LEJOG challenge? Is it something that you’ve had your eye on for a while, or did COVID and the lockdown spark your interest?
So COVID is fully to blame for me tackling LEJOG! It was back in March when the world was going into lockdown and all my races for the year were cancelled that I started to get excited at the prospect of planning an adventure. LEJOG had been in the back of my mind since reading Mimi Andersons book, but I never thought that I would do it as it is ridiculously far. But I started to look at maps and think about whatI could do and I just couldn’t shake LEJOG from my mind. So, I started planning and everyone told me that I should do it in 2021, but after about 2 days of planning I thought Nah, I’m going to do it this year! and it just unfolded from there.
To take on a challenge of this magnitude, you need to be extremely organised in terms of planning. How long did you have to prepare for this and how did you train?
I started to plan it at the beginning of April and had picked the 16 July as my start date (mainly as I had planned backwards and wanted to finish on my birthday). I only had three and a half months to get ready, which is really not long but I managed to pull everything together in time. I was out in South Africa until the 1st June and because the time was so tight, I didn’t have a chance to recce any of the route. But I don’t think this really mattered and it was nice to have the surprise of the route along the way.
In terms of training. I decided to do 4-day blocks of long runs. I started off doing 15km on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday and then added 5km each week until I got to 50km. I stopped at 50km, as that is all the time I had and then took a 10-day taper. I also included 2 speed sessions in my programme on a Tuesday and Thursday to give my body that variety in pace, I had a rest day on a Wednesday and did yoga, plus strength and conditioning once a week too.
You must’ve had an incredible support team. How instrumental were they in your success?
Oh my god they were amazing and there is no way that you could do a run like this without an incredible team behind you. This was my team and their individual roles:
Andrea (my sister) - Social media - keeping everyone updated with what was going on, aid station legend - she would resupply me at every stop and was also there to sort my life out.
Mark M (my brother) - Chef for the first 4 days and general fixer! He got FOMO once he went home, so ended up hiring a camper van and coming on a family holiday with his family to support me which was very cool.
Scouse - Cyclist and general legend! Making sure that I didn’t get lost and helped sort routes out and made sure cars didn’t knock me over.
Dave - Cyclist and Sports Masseuse, again keeping me on the straight and narrow on the run and keeping my body moving.
Mike - Guinness World Record recorder. There is so much that you have to do for Guinness, Mike compelled and submitted all the evidence to get the record ratified. He also helped Andrea at all the aid stations.
Mark L - Filmmaker and sports masseuse documenting the run and keeping my body in check
Andy - The doc. He was only going to give remote medical advice but thought he was missing out on the fun, so joined us from day 3 which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Elysia - She took over from Mark M as chef and helped with some sports massage too.
Mark R - Took over from Elysia as chef and generally kept everyone’s spirits up.
Tom – Physio. Key in keeping my body in check before the project and piecing me together again afterwards!
Carla Molinaro and her support team at the finish. Photo credit: Alfie Molinaro
Just how hard was the challenge? Did everything go as you planned and expected?
It was so much harder than I thought it would be. I mean I knew it was going to be hard and I knew it would hurt, but I had no idea to what extent. From lunchtime on day one, every step hurt and that pain never went away but I kept telling myself that it was only 12 days of pain and to suck it up.
You must have an incredible mindset and determination. To put LEJOG in perspective, please can you describe atypical day during the challenge?
This was my typical day:
4am - get woken up by one of the crew. I would then eat porridge with berries and coconut and have a cup of tea. I would do this whilst having a massage to try and get everything warmed up and moving again.
5am - start to run I would then eat every 30 minutes throughout the day and drink every 30 mins. I would alternate drinking NUUN and water and I would eat anything and everything including; yoghurt, sausages, peanutbutter sandwiches, CLIF bars, pancakes, fruit, scotch eggs, nuts etc.
every 10km I would roll through an aid station where I would restock my water and resupply my food stores
30km - 10 min stop for a fried egg sandwich and to get off my feet for 10mins, I would normally dunk them in an ice bucket and have a quick stretch.
60km - lunch stop, I would stop for around 45mins, get a massage and eat something like a toasted sandwich with some fruit
90km - 10 min pit stop for resting my feet and a quick massage/stretch if I needed it Then I would keep running until I either reached the planned distance for the day (circa 114km) or 10pm, most days I would run to 10pm
10pm - eat, shower, massage and sort myself out before getting into bed. For dinner I would have pasta, lasagna or pizza - basically whatever I was given!
11pm - bed where I would try to sleep but most days it was too painful to sleep.
Can you give us an insight into the mental and physical demands that the challenge placed on you as an athlete?
Because I was going after a record there was quite a lot of self-inflicted pressure to make sure that I finished therun in the time I had set myself. But at the same time this pressure is what kept me moving forward. I knew it was going to be hard so I just had to keep telling myself to embrace the pain and that it was only 12 days of my life. Physically your body is hurting the whole time but you know if you finish it, it will be worth it, so you just rideit out. Mentally, I didn’t find it hard because I knew what I had to do so I just kept moving forward.
Let’s talk kit. What did you wear and use for this particular challenge? What proved to be the most invaluable pieces of kit and equipment?
I wore Hoka kit and used the Clifton 7 shoe. I had the normal shoe for the first couple of days, but then my feet swelled up, so I swapped to the extra wide shoe to give my feet more room. I also used the Hoka X Nathan race vest which was great to keep my hydration, food and tracker. The team thought that I should have used them more to give me food and drink and thought that my vest was too heavy but I felt comfortable with it on and liked being able to eat and drink when I wanted. I used the Garmin Fenix 6S which was great to give me an indication of how I was moving and how far I had to go, it was also used as our verification for Guinness.
Apart from finishing (of course!), what were the biggest highlights?
Seeing my family along the route was amazing. My mum, dad and brother came to visit on day 4 which was pretty special and then my parents came back up to Scotland for the last day, which was lovely of them as it is a really long way! I also loved seeing lots of old friends along the way that I hadn’t seen for ages. One of my friends Fi drove at least a 2hr round trip to deliver me cake, what a legend!
I also loved running over the Pennines. Getting up and onto the trails where there were no cars and the ground was like a marshmallow was so much fun. It was the first time that I felt like I could actually open up my legs and run. We were up there when the sun was setting and it was just beautiful!
And of course, the biggest lows!?
The last 24hrs was horrific. It actually started OK, but then my quad decided that it would stop working and I couldn’t lift my leg which reduced me to a walk. It got so sore that I thought I would lie down for 30 mins to see if this would fix it, I got back out of the van and the heavens had opened and my leg still hurt! Turns out we werein for some brutal weather, as a northerly storm came in and we had rain and driving wind with gusts of 90mph which blew me off the road. My run was reduced to a walk but I just decided that I wasn’t going to stop until I reached that finish line, so we powered on through the night. At one point, I got so cold that I broke down in tears, not knowing how I was going to keep on going. Luckily, we had a silver safety blanket that I wrapped around myself to keep warm, this was great as it meant I could keep pushing through. I had to take a 30 min nap at 12pm and a 5min nap at 3am as I was falling asleep whilst walking down the road, but finally at 5:30am I finished after a pretty brutal 24hrs!
That does sound brutal! I read that the previous record holder, Sharon Gayter, supported you on a section of the challenge through Cumbria. That must've been pretty special. Did she offer you any words of encouragement?
This was awesome. I first saw Sharon standing in a lay-by and thought Oh my god, that’s Sharon! It was a bit intimidating and I felt a bit bad that I was trying to break her record. Then I pulled up to my daily 30km egg sandwich stop and Sharon came along to say hi and ran about 10km with me. It was amazing to have her there with meas she knew exactly what I was going through. We just chatted about the run and what she had been up to, it was a nice distraction. Not to mention that fact she brought us all some delicious cake! Adam, Andy and Angela also joined me along the route and they had all previously done LEJOG/JOGLE before, so it was really special that they all took the time to run with me, as they really knew what I was going through and how much pain I was actually in!
To be honest the way people helped me during my run was incredible. We had so many people bring us cake supplies, we had people let us use their washing machines and showers, they told us when routes were blocked and showed me new ways to run and then came out to give me a wave as I ran past. It really was special and I’m very thankful to them all.
Just how does it feel to be a Guinness World Record holder? Have you managed to recover since July?
It is very cool and getting that certificate through the post felt amazing. Until I got the certificate it didn’t feel real… I mean it should have because it bloody hurt! I think I have recovered pretty well. I took a couple of months off running and a month off exercise all together. I then started to cycle, then did a run/walk programme before getting back into full on running training. I am back running fairly normally now and feeling pretty good. Tom my physio has also been awesome in making sure my body is working properly.
Carla Molinaro in action. Photo credit: (Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool)
Plans for the future. Is it a record you would defend should someone else try and take it?
To be honest I don’t think so (but never say never). I mainly say this because there are so many other things out there that I want to do. But I might do this in a different way like as part of a relay, cycling or the trail version where I would take my time to enjoy it!
What next for Carla Molinaro?
Next year I am going to focus on some races (if they go ahead, fingers crossed) and I am going to give the GR10 FKT a bash which I think will be a really fun adventure. And then hopefully give TransAm a go in the near future! LEJOG has given me the confidence to know that I can do it.
Any top-tips for aspiring ultra-runners, particularly those wanting to take on a similar challenge?
Go for it!! You will never really know if you can do something like this until you try, so as scary as it may seem you have to throw yourself into it. It is also so hard to train for something like this, so build a good foundation including strength and conditioning and yoga to help keep those injuries at bay (check out www.carlamolinaro.com/scy for my S&C and Yoga for Runners programme). And if you fail at the first attempt don’t give up, look at why you failed work on your weaknesses andthen try again. Get a coach that can help you with your programme and to make sure you are progressing properly and talk to as many people as you can who have done the adventure you want to do because they will all give you a little nugget which will help you in your attempt.