Monday, March 09, 2009


To be honest, when someone suggested I interview Helen Lavin, I had no idea who she is. That's probably because she's originally from Ireland and she run ultas - 2 things I don't know much about. It turns out the 31-year-old Minneapolis resident not only runs ultras, but she won last year's Sawtooth 100-mile ultra. That was her first attempt at the 100 mile distance. In addition, she's a 2-time Ironman finisher and a 3:17 marathoner. You can read more about her adventures and her passion for life on her blog.

When and how did you get involved with running?
I started running on the treadmill while trying to get fit about 10 years ago. Within a year or so I was thrilled to be able run 5K without stopping. After a few years I started to run 10K races so I’d have a goal to keep me training. Inspired by a friend, I found myself running my first marathon in Dublin in 2004 and haven’t looked back.

When did you get involved with ultras and what drew you to them?
I started trail running soon after moving to Minnesota in 2005. After my first trail race (Afton 25K) that summer I knew this was something I wanted to do more of. After twice running the Moose Mountain marathon ('05 & '06) I was hungry for more of this endurance stuff. I also love to travel so it didn’t take me long to find the perfect combination – the Moab Red Hot 50K – which my friend Kami and I ran in February 2007. By the end of that year I’d completed several more ultras including my first 50 miler. It’s hard for me to explain the ‘why’. All I know is how much I enjoy each and every experience, if not every actual mile! The idea of having nothing to do but run for hours on end, especially in scenic locations, is pretty appealing.

Are you strictly an ultra marathoner or do you run shorter road races as well?
Mostly ultras but I am signed up for Grandma’s Marathon this June. I love that race and decided I’d focus on that for spring and then switch to longer distances on the trails for the rest of the year. Although, a 50K in Virginia at the end of March and Chippewa 50K at the end of April did manage to sneak onto the schedule.

How would you describe your training philosophy?
Cross-training is key for me. I usually get in a few sessions a week of yoga, biking and swimming. While running is by far my favourite activity I try to keep it to 3-4 times a week to avoid injury. It’s hard to avoid over-training but I want to be doing this for many years to come so it’s important to look at the bigger picture. I try to pay attention to my diet but I need to work a bit more at that…

What advice do you have for people that may be on the fence regarding trying an ultra?
I have only run trail ultras so I guess my advice for anyone who’s run a road marathon and wants to go longer would be to consider trails. It’s definitely easier on the body. While you may be out there a lot longer the impact is less and generally the pace slower so once you build endurance I think most people find it is not as a big a leap as it seems at first.

What are your PRs?

100M: 26:49 (Sawtooth ’08)
50M: 8:19 (Voyageur ’08)
50K: 4:36 (Afton ’08)
26.2M: 3:17 (Grandma’s ’07)
Ironman: 11:20 (Arizona '08)

What are your goals for 2009?
PR at Grandma’s, Afton and Voyageur and complete my second 100 mile race at Angeles Crest in September. That’s a lot of goals and realistically I probably won’t achieve them all. But I like to challenge myself.

What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
Strengths: My determination and ability to focus on a goal.

Weaknesses: My determination and inability to know when to stop. Can’t have it every way I guess.

Do you have a favorite trail race or ultra? Why?
Afton 25K/50K is probably my favourite though I have to say I’ve enjoyed every trail race I’ve ever run and am continually impressed by how well organized they are, not to mention the absolute friendliness of everyone and the generosity of the volunteers.

What is your fondest running memory?
A 12 mile training run in the summer of 2007 around Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula in the south west of Ireland. That whole run I felt like I was on a cloud. It was a beautiful day and a very happy time in my life.

If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
That’s a tough question for me as I’m originally from Ireland so I don’t have a lot of history with local runners here. If I can change the question to an Irish runner it would be Ronnie Delaney who won the 1500m in record time at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. He is still alive and well and is an absolute gentleman by all accounts. I would love to meet him sometime.

Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
That the right running shoe is important! I trained for and ran my first marathon in men’s Nike trail shoes that were completely worn down and continually gave me blisters – I just thought that went with the territory. Still, even the things that are hard to learn are worth the experience of getting it wrong sometimes. I enjoy learning new stuff all the time, from talking to runners, reading magazines, books, blogs etc. I love that there is so much I don’t yet know about running.

1 comment:

SteveQ said...

It should be pointed out that Helen not only won the first 100 miler she ever ran, she broke the course record by hours!