Kathryn Drew is based in Vancouver and 34-years-old and has been running competitively since 2009. She’s done ultras and marathons and when she enters a race, like this summer’s Western States Endurance Run—the world’s oldest trail race, a 100-mile gruel-fest in the heat and mountains of Sierra Nevada—she toes the line to win.
At the event this June, Drew struggled before the event began. “I woke up with a headache,” she says, “maybe it was the elevation.”
When you know your day is going to consist of pain and struggle, you do what you can to prepare. Drew had run the event before and completed a good training cycle. She took the work seriously, but never let it take over her existence. “I wanted to have a life outside of running and not become totally engrossed in one thing. I like to go and have a beer,” she says.
Of course, make no mistake, training for those distances means a lot of running, a lot of eating, and a lot of sleep. Drew did everything right. It’s just, even in the throes of her training, she doesn’t let herself get overwhelmed. “I need to ensure there’s balance,” she says, adding, specifically, that the diet she followed was about getting enough calories, but it wasn’t punitive. She didn’t cut any food out. She just modulated what she took in. Again, Kat—as she’s known at Vancouver Running Company where she coaches and to her friends at HOKA ONE ONE, who give her shoes—is sensible. “I focus on eating a lot of carbs,” she says, “but I still had McDonald’s sometimes.”
The point is: Drew is a model runner. Disciplined, fast, and sensible. That’s probably why she’s been competitive for so long. She enjoys what she does and she knows that philosophy helps her achieve her race goals. Times are good, times are bad: she’s not her running. Her running is part of her. She has a healthy approach to our sport.
Still, race day doesn’t always go according to plan, and on this day, Drew woke up feeling like crap. The views from the start line were stunning and she tried to focus on gratitude and the splendour of nature, but her heart rate was already rising—and so was the temperature. “At the slightest incline, my heart rate would go crazy and it was over 100-degrees without a breath of wind. I probably had some kind of heat exhaustion,” she says.
Drew managed to keep up her fuelling, she hydrated, but in addition to everything else, she was also running alone: for the entire first 100 kilometres. She says, “I probably spent the first twelve hours in my head.”
Drew’s story is important because of the relatable coping skills. She thought of quitting. She felt nauseous. But she broke the race down into sections and instead of thinking of the huge mountain that she had to climb, she thought of the distance she’d already finished. Each aid station became a mini-finish line and each episode—seeing her teammates, picking up a pacer, drinking a shot of Ginger-Ale—became a victory. Drew kept running. She didn’t give up. Then, with about sixty kilometres left to run, she fell into a ditch.
“That wasn’t fun,” she says, and she head back out for her final eleven hours of racing.
Kat Drew has a mixture of brains, a sense of humour, discipline, and guts. When she starts her training, she breaks things down into little sections. “If I look at the whole thing, it just scares me to think of how much it sucks,” she says. She also trains responsibly. She trains diligently, of course. But she takes a full two weeks off after racing and she doesn’t get hung up on comparing her workouts with others on Strava. She rests. She listens to her body. She sleeps. Of course, she’s tough as nails. After running hills in heat for twelve hours, she fell into a ditch. And got back up. Kat Drew isn’t like you or I. And yet there’s lots we can learn from her approach to racing—and her approach to life.
Drew continued running the Western States Endurance Run long after day turned to night, and hung in until the last 10K. Then she picked up the pace. “My fiancé paced me at the end and he cracked the whip. ‘I know you can run,’ he said. We had thirty minutes to get in under 24-hours. We were trying to hustle—and we did.”
Crossing the finish line under 24-hours to earn her Silver Buckle, Drew felt relieved as much as anything. It was a long, hard day and she hurt all over. But Drew did cross that finish line: she was the first Canadian to finish the world’s oldest trail race. Afterwards, Drew thought she might retire. Does she really want to put herself through that again? If so, why, and for what?
“That feeling last me around five days,” says Drew, who then had a change of heart: “Nope, I’ll totally run that race again. I love it so much.”
Photographs, excluding the finish line shot, by @vspicturescom. To keep up with Kat, follow her @katdrew.