Canadian Nathalie Rivard has written a book about the world’s finest foot races. In our interview she admits that she likes to run in a tutu, explains why people willingly run 500K through the desert – and underlines the importance of a good sports bra.
Nathalie Rivard, you’ve written a travel guide about 200 of the craziest and most exciting foot races worldwide. In some of these events, competitors wear way-out costumes. Have you yourself ever run dressed as a gorilla, an alien or Elvis?
No, but I do like to wear a blue tutu sometimes to make people smile.
As a Canadian you must have taken part in the famous Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival and chased the wheel of cheese down the hill in Whistler.
I haven’t myself, but I’d love to catch it just to get a taste of it. I looooooove cheese!
What is the most exciting or craziest run you’ve taken part in?
The Montreal-New York Relay Run with Groupe Esprit de Corps in 2013. We ran in groups, in 10K stages, to cover the distance between the two cities, night and day with a memorable arrival on Times Square. A great human experience and lots of fun, as we were all traveling in RVs with our team between the stages. In all, each of us ran 8 x 10K over a period of three days.
These days there are races through Death Valley, along the Great Wall of China and even at the North Pole. Why do people want to run at such exposed, famous or extreme locations? What do you think of this trend?
We all love a good challenge. There’s something magic about running somewhere so extreme, and so beautiful at the same time.
It’s easy to understand why people enjoy running in beautiful, remote settings. But why dressed in an Elvis costume?
Because it's fun. Your mindset is different when you wear a costume – you can’t take yourself too seriously.
What about the good old city marathons, like Boston, London or Berlin? Have they somehow become too boring for many runners?
I think the beautiful thing about organized races is that there are some for every type of runner and for every mood. Marathons are a rite of passage, so I don't think you need to have all the bells and whistles but they do need to be run efficiently by the organizers. Also, the power of some of these marathons is the crowd they attract, who cheer the runners along the way. Some of the signs people hold up to cheer the runners are so hilarious that they put a smile on their faces, even on tough sections of a race.
There are thousands of running competitions in the world; in your book we find about 200. What criteria did you use to choose these events?
When I started writing the book, I had a list. It kept evolving up to two weeks before I had to deliver the manuscript. There are so many interesting races that it was a tough choice to decide which ones to feature. I wanted to make sure it would appeal to all types of runners, 1K to over 500K. I wanted it to be fun to read, so that people would dream about their next races and destinations. I see it both as a travel book and a running book.
Which is your favorite competition? And why?
The Brain Freezer 5K in Burlington, Vermont. You run 2.5K, you eat a liter of ice cream as fast as you can, and then you run the other half of the race. It’s just pure fun – it’s proof that races don't have to be long to be worth the drive! Also I love canicross races, as there’s something special about running in a team with your dog. They often make the best running partners.
And what race would you never want to compete in?
I guess all races are worth running, but I would not run the Nakukymppi Nude Run, as I don't think I’d be comfortable running naked among strangers. Also I doubt that it’s comfortable to run naked for a long distance. And when you think that every mosquito finds me, I think I’d be running really fast to try to escape them!
You’re a journalist, a photographer, and a highly experienced runner. Where have you been able to combine these three disciplines best?
It was actually Hawke’s Bay Marathon in New Zealand. I was there on a press trip and it was their first edition. As I was injured during the race, I finished the 10K walking. It was beautiful to run through vineyards and olive groves.
How often do you run during a normal week – every day?
It depends. The goal is about three times per week, but I also alternate sports, like in the winter, when I spend more time on the ski slopes.
Where do you most like to run, apart from the official competitions?
I run mostly on trails, as I find it easier on my body, and I love nature. I have a trail just behind the house, and it’s our favorite – for both my border collie Chai and myself.
Where does your passion for running come from and what is it about this sport that inspires you?
Running is easy. You just put your running shoes on and off you go. You can run anywhere and it's a great way to explore an area. No matter how old you are, you can run. All you really need is a good pair of running shoes (and a good sports bra if you’re a woman).
You write, and you’re also passionate about traveling and doing research. So how do you spend your vacations? Exploring new landscapes in a pair of sneakers and with a voice recorder in your hand?
It’s a mix of exploring, running, eating great food, photography, meeting the locals, and writing. I wouldn’t use a voice recorder while I run, as I find running is like mindfulness and meditation. You have to be in the moment 100 percent, whatever you do.
Do you ever just lie back and put your feet up? How do you like to relax when you’re not in running shoes?
Of course, I’m always in for a “hammock therapy” or going to a Nordic spa. But what I like most is exploring farmers’ markets and cooking. In the long Canadian winter, you’ll also find me snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing! I love to hit the slopes. It keeps the running legs active and it’s so much fun.
How did you get into running in the first place?
I started running as a kid. I participated in many competitions and when I studied Phys. Ed. (sports) in university, it was a popular sport with students; many even went on to the Olympics. Years later, it was the pleasure of running with friends at events that drove me back to the sport. I love running by myself with no music, but I also like the excitement of running with hundreds and thousands of other runners.
What did you enjoy most about the research you did for your book?
I spoke to so many passionate people during the research part of writing this book. I often had to wake up in the middle of the night to conduct interviews with people in Asia or Europe, because of the time difference. The common denominator everywhere was that people really cared about running, or organizing the best running events for their participants.
If you were to initiate a running event yourself, what would that be?
It would be a multi-day race in New Zealand that would involve running and walking in a beautiful natural setting: sea to mountain, eating good food, drinking wine, and where participants could get to know each other and the Maori culture. A sort of treasure hunt with fun rites of passage. I would limit the number of participants to two hundred, and the medal given to those who complete the three-day race would be a necklace carved in bone by Maori artists. I fell in love with New Zealand and I just want to go back there.