The fascination of trail running: interview with Kathrin Götz

The fascination of trail running: interview with Kathrin Götz

Kathrin Götz is one of the best trail runners in Switzerland. In 2019, the 40-year old native of Solothurn won the Eiger Ultra Trail for the second time. Mother of three and Trail World Championships participant in Portugal, Götz needed around 14 hours for the 101 kilometres and 6,700 metres difference in altitude.

Interview with Kathrin Götz

How has competitive trail running developed over the last few years?

Interest has grown dramatically. Most major competitions are booked up within minutes. That's why starting places are now only drawn by lottery.

Trail running: what exactly does it mean?

Trail running sounds so wild, but it's actually just running in the natural environment, jogging on terrain far removed from tarmac roads. Trail running can take many forms: from jogging in the park on flat ground to ultra runs in several stages across the Alps.

You clearly choose the second option, as you take part in races with ultra distances, i.e. races over 42 kilometres. Which distances do you like running most?

I like distances of between 50 and 100 kilometres best. For longer distances I need a lot of energy, which means it takes longer to recover. By contrast, runs under 50 kilometres are almost stressful for me; I find them rather short, although they are fun too now and again.

How do you motivate yourself on extremely long races?

I divide the race up into stages and think in terms of one refreshment station to the next. I look forward to the refreshments because I know that I can eat something different from when I’m running. But often I just reflect on how I feel: do I need anything? How’s it going right now? Can I still keep going? And, of course, I have to keep my full focus on the trail, as the tracks are challenging. There have also been races where I’ve caught myself thinking: oops, I’m in a race! My thoughts had completely wandered off. 

Do you look at what your competitors are doing during the race?

When you’re running close together, I do. But I can’t run tactically. I can’t simply speed up just like that. I have to run my pace, otherwise I’d only flag later on. That's what ultra distance running is all about: it's a battle with yourself, not against others.

The body doesn’t get used to such distances overnight. When did you start running?

My father used to be a runner and so I started running with him as a child. When I was around 8 years old, I took part in a race and was the last to finish as I had problems with asthma – that was no fun at all. Only later did I start to enjoy long-distance running, as well as playing handball. I then joined my father's running group, where I trained with a bunch of 50-year-olds.

It’s a battle with yourself, not against others.
Kathrin Götz, trail runner
In 2016, you suddenly appeared on the trail running scene when you came second on the Eiger Ultra Trail. How did you get into competitive sport?

In 2014, I won an entry slot for the Jungfrau Marathon. I enjoyed running in the mountains: up and down the steepest slopes, away from tarmac roads. In 2016 I started training systematically and took part for the first time in the Eiger Ultra Trail. I originally intended to do the 50-kilometre run. But my coach said that if I wanted to see if I could manage 100 km, I should just give it a go. Coming second came as a great surprise even to myself.

Before that there was a time when you did a lot of triathlons. How did that come about?

During my studies someone once said: you should come swimming – with your long arms and legs, you're bound to be good. So I started with triathlons and succeeded in qualifying for the Ironman in Hawaii in 2003 and 2004 without any problems. But at some point the training started to stress me. The sport became my whole identity. Plus, we wanted – and had – children. During that time I didn't really take part in any races, I just ran with the buggy, with no particular goal in mind. This was an unbelievably good time for me. 

How much training do you do per week?

Approximately 15 to 20 hours. Compared to others at the same level, it's not very much. But I do a lot of interval training. 

How do you manage to balance training and races with a family?

Everything has to be well organised. And it requires plenty of discipline as well as flexibility. If a child is ill, for example, I have to re-think. But this attitude also helps me at the races. If the start is postponed or the weather is bad, it doesn’t immediately throw me off course.

Are there races that you particularly enjoy?

In terms of scenery, they're all very beautiful in their own way. In Cortina d'Ampezzo on the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, for example, the atmosphere at sunrise with the view of the Three Peaks is simply unique. At the Eiger Ultra Trail the whole race is simply amazing – with the impressive mountain scenery and the atmosphere.

What has been your toughest race so far?

The TDS in Chamonix this year: 145 km and technically challenging. That was a huge battle with myself. The first 100 km went really well, with the first three women running together. But from the start I didn’t eat particularly well, so I started to flag later on and by the end was almost on my knees. It was still enough for 3rd place, but to finish at 4 am in the morning is really awful. And that in Chamonix, where the atmosphere is otherwise fantastic.

Do you systematically plan what you’re going to eat during the race?

My boyfriend and I pack several little bags in advance. He then gives me a bag at each refreshment station. Up till now, I’ve always been able to trust my feelings as to how much to eat during a race. I just eat when I feel I need something. But at the UTMB, this is exactly what let me down. My partner wasn’t able to come to the track as often and I didn’t eat systematically enough.

What do you eat on an everyday basis?

In my everyday life, I eat everything and enjoy plenty of variety. Eating is a pleasure, and you shouldn’t have to always say no. I don't take any supplements either, except vitamin D in winter. Otherwise you’re overloading your body, because the body is designed to draw the nutrients it needs from natural foods. The only thing I make sure of is to immediately eat protein after long training sessions or races. I try to get as much as possible from natural foods, but when I don't have much time, I drink a protein shake. 

Always having enough of everything and eating enough at the right time – that’s what’s important.
Kathrin Götz, trail runner
How do you regenerate best after long runs?

After a race I wear compression stockings. What’s also good is: warm water, bubbles, good food and a massage.

What hurts most after a race?

That varies greatly. In the first year after the Eiger Ultra Trail I had pretty sore muscles, but now I'm just very tired after a race. It's amazing how the body can get used to such long distances. 

Do you have a specific goal for this season?

Last year I came 5th in the Ultra Trail World Tour. Several races count towards this ranking. My goal is to reach one of the top three places. And the UTMB Mont Blanc is the main race for me next season.

Tips for beginners

  • Move up to longer distances slowly. Don’t aim for too much too fast.
  • Also plan short and fast training sessions. Practise faster movements – this helps a lot for downhill.
  • Stabiity training (in german): Practise faster movements – this helps a lot for downhill.
  • Practise running with poles: the poles are only effective with the right technique.
  • Test different eating habits: what food does my body digest easily?
  • Use interval training to make the best of your training time: if you don't have much time for particularly long training sessions, you’ll get the same results. Also, the recovery time for joints, tendons and ligaments etc. is shorter than after a long endurance run.  

Interval training: this is how Kathrin Götz trains

  • 10-15x30“ sprints
    30“ break to jog-trot
    repeat 2-4 times with 4' relaxed jogging in between
  • Hill sprints: sprint up a very steep hill
    10x30" (maximum effort); lightly jog-trot back

What would you like to read now?

Well looked after with CSS

Ease pain

Try out the medicalmotion app for free for 6 months.
View offer

Check symptoms

Get a recommendation, book a doctor's appointment and much more.
Discover the Well app

Health Coach

Get personal advice on health-related matters.
Discover the service