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Adam Campbell - interview with Talk Ultra


Arc’teryx athlete Adam Campbell gained much notoriety early in 2012 after securing a solid second place behind Julien Chorier in his first 100 mile race at Ultra Trail Mt Fuji in Japan. With high hopes, he moved into the 2012 season looking to race well at TNF UTMB and the Skyrunning calendar. However, injury issues and personal issues got in the way… I caught up with Adam in April ahead of the 2013 season and his first big race, Transvulcania on the island of La Palma.


IC Adam, the last time we spoke you mentioned that your background as a sportsperson came from triathlon.


AC: Yes, what was I thinking! All those accessories to clutter my life. Actually, triathlon was a big part of my life. I started in 97/98 and I made the junior Canadian National Team. It was a great honor to wear the Maple Leaf. It had a huge effect on me. At the same time, Simon Whitfield was world champion, so I had lots to tempt me into the sport. I decided to take the leap. I had an invite to live in Victoria, British Columbia and train, So, I packed in college and lived with Simon Whitfield, he took me under his wing. I trained with him for a few years and raced the world cup circuit. I had the goal of trying to make the Olympics in 2008.


IC: You couldn’t have had a better teacher! Simon Whitfield was the man to beat!


AC: Oh yeah. Amazing. Victoria had a wealth of talent… Lauri Boden, Greg Bennet, Peter Reid and Laura Bennet. I was spoilt with influences and inspiration from a whole host of the best triathletes. Canada was a mecca for the sport.


IC: You decided that your ability as triathlete was limited and you turned to run and run long!


AC: Sport is unfair. It’s cruel. I realized in 2006 I wouldn’t make the Olympics as a triathlete. I gave it a really good shot but I just wasn’t good enough. I lacked certain physical traits. I wasn’t explosive enough and my swimming was poor in comparison to the competition. I worked my butt off to make it happen but the whole time I enjoyed running the most. I loved it. It gave me the most satisfaction. Especially the long runs in woods and trails. The farther I went the better I became, so, it seemed a logical choice. We are all drawn to the things that we are good at. At the same time I was amazed about this guy I would read about in magazines, Scott Jurek. He looked incredible and he ran in incredible places. I have always been drawn to the mountains. I guess it is the challenge pushing your self, would I have what it would take?


IC: 2007/2008 you qualified for the Canadian Mountain Running Team, was that a plan that you had put in place or did it happen by default?


AC: I actually qualified in my first ever trail race. I guess I was lucky. If I want to do something well, I always love to speak the best. So I sent Jonathan Wyatt a mail and I asked him to coach me. He said yes! Unbelievable. He wrote me a plan for the Jungfrau marathon and I followed it to the ‘T’.


IC: It worked.


AC It sure did. Thanks to Jonathan. But it wasn’t planned. Initially I just enjoyed the process. I had speed and the rest clicked in place. As for ultra running, beyond 3 hours seemed nuts to me!


IC: It still does…


AC: Oh yeah!


IC: Mountain running races do tend to be a shorter distance. Of course the terrain is up and down but it is more like the ‘Sky’ distance of races. You need speed and agility. What was it that interested you to go longer? For many a marathon on a mountainous course  is far enough.


AC: I don’t know to be honest. Curiosity I guess. The longer I went the more I enjoyed it so I decided to race the longer races too. It had a strong appeal. The longer a run gets the more I get the opportunity to really know my body and my mind. I don’t have the ability to run a sub 4 min mile so this type of racing tests the participant in a different way. I was drawn to it.


IC: You have been noted and have a reputation as a fast runner, even in the ultra circles you are noted as being fast. What combination of speed do you bring to ultra training?

AC: Well, that is all relative. No sub 2:04 marathons coming out of these legs!


IC: Well you say that but speed is becoming very important, particularly if we look at Sage Canaday and Max King.

AC: For sure, speed is important. The terrain brings many changes and it is important to adapt. I do a couple of hard runs a week but it is more organic. Certainly less structured than when I was a triathlete. I have been in sport a long time and I have become more intuitive. I listen to my body. If I want to go hard I will and when I do I tend to go really hard. By contrast my easy days are easy. I have a long background in sport and that has benefits. I can apply that knowledge to what I do. I also talk with John Brown from the UK, he helps me with my planning and calendar. It’s critical now with the way races are going. You can’t be fast all year and race all year.


IC: One thing that crops up with ultra runners is the desire and need to get in lots of vertical. Do you bring that into your training?


AC: Absolutely. I never look at weekly mileage. I just log vertical. That is what is the most important for me, how much vertical and it’s huge how much strength comes from this. It creates a great foundation.


IC: Anton Krupicka and Kilian Jornet have the same approach. It’s all about going up. Kilian in particular just logs vertical ascent.


AC: Geoff Roes and Mike Wolfe amongst others do the same. I guess the Europeans do the same? No magic formula is required. It is all about being specific to the terrain and distances that I race.


IC: If we look back at your ultra career what would you consider a highlight?


AC: That is tough. I like to pick races that are in beautiful places. or races with competitive fields. So, every race has been special. I guess UTMF in Japan last year… my first 100-mile race was special. I was 2nd behind Julien Chorier. I had a respectable race and it really challenged me. It took a huge physical and emotional toll on me as I raced very hard. Also my first ultra back in 2010, Chuckanut 50, that to me was awesome. Just being on the line to start was incredible. I was definitely scared going beyond a marathon distance!


IC: Most of us are Adam. The first time can be a worrying experience. You mentioned UTMF and we actually spoke last year not long after that race. I was interested in your training but also your equipment. You had specific needs, which Arc’teryx helped with. I guess one of the benefits you have had is your location and the proximity to Arc’teryx HQ. They can manufacture and provide equipment for you usually within a couple of days?

AC: Incredible. I have been with Arc’teryx since 2007. I cold called them and my timing was perfect. I actually was suggesting making running apparel and luckily somebody in the design team had the same thought. I was lucky. I work closely with them and we are constantly developing more run specific apparel. They have the best materials and the highest quality. They have a no compromise approach, which is amazing. It can take ages to bring something to market. This is the price of quality. I test lots of products on the trail so I am lucky.

IC: Your physique is unique. You are a small guy so I guess you have lots of custom clothing made?


AC: Oh yeah, I take take XS in Japan. Now’s that for small!

IC: That IS small


AC: Yep. I am lucky. I get custom clothes from Arc’teryx because I am very particular. I don’t like baggy clothes for running. It must fit and it must have no excess fabric. For UTMF I had some specific kit made. I wanted the most minimal gear possible. If I am not going to use it, I don’t want to carry it. I don’t want to carry an extra gram. It must be functional and suit the purpose it is intended for.


IC: In 2012 you spent time in Europe. You had planned to do TNFUTMB but you had some niggles which ultimately meant that TNFUTMB had to be taken out of your calendar. Do you have plans to go back to Chamonix and race the iconic 100 miles race?


AC: For sure. I love Chamonix. It’s an incredible town. I will be racing the Skyrunning Mont Blanc Marathon in summer and Arc’teryx are putting the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy together; a week of mountaineering so that will be incredible. I do a little climbing but I am really looking forward to working on my mountain skills.


IC: Mountain skills? So is this going to be climbing and everything related?


AC: Glazier travel, mountaineering and learning specific skills.


IC: Sounds awesome.


AC: It will be an amazing week.


IC: You mentioned Skyrunning, Arc’teryx are heavily involved in the series. It is going to be a great year for you, the team and the brand.


AC: I was gutted last year not to race in the Skyrunning series due to unjury. I like to race the best people on the best and most beautiful terrain. Skyrunning personify that! They have done a brilliant job. Nothing like being recognized for personal achievement and Skyrunning offer this. It’s the vibe, the experience and yes, Arc’teryx are involved as a sponsor.


IC: Transvulcania kicks it off with a stacked field. I said in 2012 it was the race of the decade, but 2013 is equally impressive.

AC: It’s going to be great fun. Racing the best brings out the best in me and the rest of the field doesn’t get any better than at this race. I am going to be interested to see how I perform. I believe I have put the work in and I am in good shape.


IC: I presume you are doing the ultra series? You need three events to qualify but five in total, are you planning on the five?


AC: Jeez have you seen this 100 miler, Andorra, Ronda del Cims! It has massive appeal BUT boy I don’t know…. It took Miguel Heras 30 hours! That is a long time to be out on such a tough course. That race may end my summer. I would need plenty of recovery so I will have to see? I can’t recover like Kilian.


IC: It is all about balance and finding what works for you. You have to cherry pick and keep the balance.


AC: An incredible race but a little much for me at the moment.


IC: Tell me about your world record in 2012… some inspired idea to run a marathon in a business suit. What was that all about…?


AC: I had read an article on letsrun.com and I saw some guy had set a record in a suit in 3:25. I was sure I could run quicker. I was going through a divorce and I needed a distraction. I needed some fun and an escape. I wasn’t in a great place personally so that seemed a quirky thing to do. It was a good excuse to raise money for a charity also. I had a lot of fun. It was a great challenge… it was also really hot!


IC: Yes, running a marathon fast is a test but to run it in a shirt, tie, jacket and trousers… c’mon, what was the time?


AC 2:35! I started slow looking for 3 hours but after the first mile I rolled and I felt great. I hadn’t run in the suit before so it was all-new to me. I actually negative split the race heavily 1:19 and 1:16 for the second half.


IC: Wow  - ridiculous


AC: Yes, I guess, I surprised myself.


IC: What is your marathon PB?


AC: I haven’t really run marathons before. My first marathon was 2:29 in 2006. I don’t run too much road.

IC: You finished 2012 with San Francisco 50. You had a great race. Sage Canaday and your self at the front…  erm, who was to blame for going of course (laughs)?


AC :(laughs) Well I was leading but we were all together as a group. Nobody questioned the decision. It was foggy, dark, windy, raining and it was just hard. The route seemed correct and we all took responsibility.


IC: I am only joking. Sage does have a small reputation for going off course.


AC: The dude just runs way too quick!


IC: Yep, so fast he doesn’t see the markers. A great race for you though and a great boost for 2013.


AC: For sure, it’s good to be competitive and it is nice to have it in the bag. It had been a rough year so it was a good way to finish. I get confidence from racing and performing.

IC: 2013 comes around and you think about a new season and then I see you post a photo on facebook of your leg in plaster!


AC: It was dumb. These things happen. The day before I had seen my physio. He said, “Have you ever sprained your ankle?” I said no…. oh dear, fatal last words. I was 2.5 hours into a run and I slipped on a wet log. I went down hard and I had no option but to hike out. Really painful but I got great treatment and support. All is good, it flares up a little but I will be okay.


IC: And your recovery?


AC: I didn’t respect the recovery. I should have been a little more patient but we all learn.


IC: These things need time.


AC: Yes I tried to make up time. It never works; patience is key. I am good now, I have plenty of volume and I did cross country skiing and climbing to break things up, I have tried to save my legs a little, it is a long season. I want to be good in September and still have motivation.


IC: To finish off I would like to discuss the video ‘Silence’. I remember seeing it early on and it really switched for many people. It was a change, a breath of fresh air. It not only fulfills a running purpose but it was also a piece of art. Was it your idea?


AC: It came together by the people at the production company. I fitted the narrative perfectly and I was really keen to do it. Everything about it was perfect. When they pitched the story I said yes immediately. I could relate to it.


IC: It was a great movie. We all get stuck in our day-to-day lives. I am fortunate I think, I spend lots of time on a computer but my life evolves around running, mountains and races. I get my fix. I guess living where you do you can get on trails quickly… the film manages to get that perspective across


AC: Yes it was a fabulous. The entire production was top notch. I am really happy. The story struck a chord with so many. Canada is a great place for running. One moment in the office, the next on a beautiful local trail.


IC: You have a great local running group too.


AC: Oh yeah, Ellie Greenwood, Garry Robbins, Jason Loutitt and so on…

IC: Gary hasn’t tempted you to run Hurt 100?


AC: That race looks brutal. The time he ran in 2012 is seriously impressive.


IC: Particularly with Gary’s story; two years out of the sport with injury.


AC: Gary is a great guy. Great to see him back!


IC: Adam, it has been great to catch up. We will meet up at Transvulcania. As the season unfolds I guess we will see each other on a regular basis. It’s going to be great to see you on the circuit.


AC Looking forward to it. It is a privilege to compete. I don’t take that lightly. I consider myself extremely lucky. I will be prepared and I hope to race well. We shall see how I go.


IC Brilliant have a great 2013 season.


April 29, 2013 © Talk Ultra

Photography: ARC'TERYX / Brian Goldstone