An Interview with Trail Running World Champion Ricky Lightfoot
World trail running champion, fire-fighter and proud dad – Ricky Lightfoot is a man of many talents. A legend of the trail running scene, he’s been a part of the prestigious Salomon team since 2008, has represented Great Britain, and was the winner of the IAU Trail Running World Championships in 2013. Currently based in the Lake District, Ricky finds time to train four times a week, both in the gym and on the trails.
We were lucky enough to grab five minutes with Ricky to chat about his essential trail running kit, recovery, and how he finds the motivation to fit training into his already packed schedule.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
Working shifts means my training varies from week to week, although I do try to keep some structure with quality sessions on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays with long runs on Sundays. These can range from speed sessions over 400m to mile reps, hill reps and tempo runs. Some of these I’ll do on a treadmill probably once a week as my shift pattern dictates.
How do you fit in training around your family and work commitments?
It’s not easy! Usually my day starts at around 5-5.30am, I’ll often get out for my first run while my partner and daughter are still asleep, this means I can get back and be showered before they are even up. My second run of the day is usually when my daughter is in bed, it’s not ideal running in the dark all the time through winter but if you want something bad enough you’ll do it. I am quite lucky though that Sophie is very understanding and it helps that she works part-time. I also run-commute to work for every shift so this saves me a lot of time.
How do you get yourself through a difficult run?
Sounds strange but I tell myself that it’s not going to kill me, and in an hour or so I’ll be done. I also often think of why I’m doing it, usually I have a goal I’m working towards and to reach that goal sometimes you’ve got to put yourself out of your comfort zone, at the end of the day nothing was achieved from your comfort zone!
Do you train in the gym or just on the fells? Do you do any other sports to maintain fitness levels?
Being a firefighter I do get time at work to use the gym, this mainly consists of core and ab work, but we also have a really good treadmill which I’ve done some of my hardest sessions on. I did use to do a lot of cycling but now I find it takes too much time to replicate the same effort as a run.
What's your most valued item of kit?
My favourite piece of kit is my Salomon down jacket, I love it, but something I’m never seen without on a run would have to be my customised Suunto Ambit 3. It’s a great training tool which I never run without, especially on harder runs so I can manage the pace I’m running at. It’s also a good tool to see how and if I improve week on week.
How does trail running differ to road running?
Trail running is different to road running in many ways, firstly on the trail the pace is constantly changing because of the terrain, the incline and the twisty single track, some with switch back after switch back. On the trail your foot never lands the same way, whereas with road running the pace is fast and on a flat course. You set your pace at the start and over 10 kilometres it may only change by a few seconds per mile as your legs begin to fatigue. Both disciplines require a lot of core strength, but I always feel as though my core is a lot stiffer the day after I’ve run a technical trail race because of all the twists and turns.
I do enjoy both trail running and road running, but trail running for me is an escape, I love that I can set out at 5.30 in the morning and not see another soul.
How easy is it to make the transition from road to trail?
Making the transition from road to trail running isn’t that difficult. If you’re a beginner to trail running I’d recommend joining your local running club, it’s an easy way to be introduced to some of your local trails in the safety of a group.
Kit is another important feature, trail running requires a shoe with a little more grip than a road shoe. A great entry-level shoe would be the Salomon Speedcross 3, which I use a lot as it’s okay to run on the road when I’m in-between trails. If you’re planning on heading out for a longer run it’s a good idea to have some essential items with you as you don’t want to be caught out, a map and compass for navigating, money, mobile phone, full waterproof body cover, hat and gloves, and you may need some food or water with you depending on the length of your run.
What's your favourite trail? What kind of route would you recommend for a beginner?
I’ve got so many trails on my doorstep it’s difficult to pick only one, but my favourite trail/scramble is a route I do on Great Gable. The trail is called the Climbers Traverse, it’s a small track that leads to Napes Needle which the climbers use. From there I usually thread the needle and scramble/climb up to Sphinx Ridge to the summit of Gable. The reward is the view looking down onto Wast Water and the Wasdale Valley.
For a beginner, as I’ve mentioned before, I’d recommend joining a local club and getting to know some of the local trails during the club runs. If you have no local club or can’t make the club runs, try heading out to your local trail centre. Most trail centres have marked routes which are really easy to follow so you don’t have to worry about getting lost, also most of the trails in these kind of places are nicely groomed and not too technical underfoot, which is ideal for someone starting out – my local trail centre in the Lake District is Whinlatter and is perfect for beginners.
What is the ultimate race for a trail runner?
The ultimate race for me would be something technical with single track along mountain ridges with a bit of scrambling and Via Feratta – of course in good weather (no one really likes running in the rain, we just bear it!).
How do you recover after a race?
Usually after a race you should:
- Rehydrate – put all that fluid back in which is lost during the race with electrolytes and plenty of water.
- Food – eat soon after finishing, as this is when your body best absorbs it. Try to eat foods that are high in protein as it’ll help repair your muscles quicker.
- Physio – make use of the physio to help break down the lactic acid in your muscles and relieve any tight spots.
- Rest – take a couple of days to rest and recover, and get an early night.
Truthfully though, what usually happens is I finish the race and chill out for half an hour next to the beer tent, head home, shower and return to the finish area for beer and the free pasta that’s given out, then spend the rest of the night partying and swapping stories. I usually wake up early the next morning and make the most of my time by heading out on the trails for a couple of hours before having to return home later that day or the next morning.
Experts in the outdoors, Salomon have specialised in crafting footwear, clothing and equipment designed to help athletes go further and faster than ever before. The prestigious Salomon running team includes some of the best athletes in the world, including Kilian Jornet, Ricky Lightfoot and Anna Frost, who help to shape and develop the next developments in the Salomon range.