Lucy Bartholomew is one of the world’s top trail runners and has a résumé filled with achievements from around the world, but nothing can prepare her for the brutal stair climbs of Hong Kong trail races.
On Saturday, Bartholomew is running the Salomon Lantau 70 (LT70) having already raced in Hong Kong as part of the Asia Skyrunning Championships in 2014 and the 9 Dragons in 2017.
“I had heard there were lots of stairs, but I had no idea there were that many stairs,” she said. “And coming back this time, I still can’t believe there are this many stairs. It blows my mind and always challenges me. It never gets easier.”
Bartholomew, who is from Melbourne, came third in the infamous Western States 100 (WS100) in the US, but still gets shivers at the thought of the staircases on her previous visits.
“I’m still scared from the 9 Dragons,” she said. “It gives me goose bumps thinking about that race.”
She has been in Hong Kong this week coaching local runners in different aspect of running, from using poles to optimising climbs.
“The biggest thing about participants here is they are very enthusiastic and happy to listen,” she said.
Bartholomew, 22, is a vegan and has been holding talks on the benefits of a plant-based diet for her pupils.
“I definitely did it first as a curiosity thing for health but I have stayed in the lifestyle of a vegan for ethical and environmental reasons,” she said.
“Then you draw parallels for when you are running and you can have a small effect and help the land to stay like that.”
Fellow top Australian runner and vegan Majell Backhausen is also in town helping with coaching and may run Saturday’s race too.
He believes his diet helps his performance, but admits it can be hard to stick with if you travel often.
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“I think it’s just a very clean kind of way of living, if you do it in a certain way,” he said. “A lot of people eat doritos and say it’s fine. If you do it mindfully it can be [good for performance].”
Backhausen has also started meditation, although it is for the benefit of his daily life, not specifically running.
“It has an ability to make you see things in perspective and let you enjoy and get through the day in a pretty easy way,” he said. “You can just have a little bit more clarity.”
“I don’t know if it’s made me too chilled out about my running but certainly at the end of a long race it can help you put yourself somewhere else,” Backhausen added. “The one thing is it helps you refocus a bit [when things are getting tough on the trail].”
Bartholomew has not been targeting the LT70 as it is during her off season. Her next big goal is repeating her success at the WS100.
“I learned 100 miles is a long way. I’ll have a bit more respect for the distance and the nutrition needed for it next year,” she said.
Her father was helping her at checkpoints and waited for her on the finish line. He runs ultras himself, so is not usually able to meet her when she finishes.
Having him there helped her push through the dark times.
“I wanted to make him proud,” Bartholomew said. “He was being amazing as my dad but pushing me out of the aid stations as well.”
Her father’s advice was in stark contrast to that from her mother, who once crewed her on one of her first 100km races.
“I told her my feet were hurting, which is pretty standard in a 100km, and she told me to stop,” Bartholomew joked. “She just wanted me to sit down and hug me. She saw I was a little uncomfortable and didn’t like that.”
At next year’s WS100, Bartholomew will just run how she feels on the day, which may mean wins and records, or may mean pushing really hard for a low position if it is not a good day.
“My biggest thing is hoping my dad will get in. He has been waiting seven years to get into the race,” she said. “If we could share it then I would have already won the race.”