Damian Hall was setting the fastest known time on the South West Coast Path around the time I first laced up a pair of running shoes. As a Devon native his exploits on that epic 10 day 15 hours and 18 minute run caught my attention and began my interest in one day becoming an ultra runner. Previously a hiker, Damian came relatively late to ultra running and didn’t have a background doing 2:30 marathons and sub-30-minute 10ks, like a lot of the new breed of elite ultra runners. Despite this he was 1st Brit coming 12th overall in what was touted as the most competitive field for an ultra in history at UTMB, and finished 7th at Laverado (both 2017). I find Damian’s continued improvement a source of inspiration that I may one day be able to mix it up with the elites on the world stage. Damian gracefully agreed to be interviewed after he raced and won the 230km ice ultra.
- Firstly, you’re just back from winning the Ice Ultra in Arctic Sweden. How was it and what lessons did you took away from the experience?
It was an (icy) blast, thanks. I loved it. It was just so, so beautiful up there. We had the highest snowfall for 30 years, it was -36˚C one morning and people were dropping out of the race with frostbite. It was a reminder to do the simple things – eat, drink, stay covered up – but also not to go to bed so early that you miss the northern lights.
- Congratulations on a fantastic 2017. What were your highlights?
Thank you. UTMB has been the highlight of my last three years. If that race was a person I’d have been locked up by now. It’s the hugely generous crowds, the gloriously lumpy course and the best runners in the world. I hate the idea of not doing it. Lavaredo was ace too, my first top 10 in an Ultra-Trail World Tour race, on another beautiful course.
- What lessons did you learn?
The less you race, the better you race. And not to be intimidated by better-known runners. They’re human too.
- What races have you got planned for 2018?
I’m doing a cheeky little circuit from Chamonix, France in late August. Before that, Mozart 100 and Madeira Island Ultra Trail as warm-up events.
- What does a typical training week in the final few months before a big race look like for you?
Around 70-90 miles, with hopefully about 20,000ft of ascent, a long run in the Brecon Beacons, a track/fast session, plenty of hiking with a weight vest, a couple of strength sessions, a rest day, lots of sleep and good-quality food.
- Do you incorporate speed work as well as hills?
Yeah. It’s horrible but necessary. I’ve recently started training with Team Bath Athletics Club. They’re monsters.
- What do you eat whilst running?
33Shake gels, Prime Bars, salty trail mix, cheese. In races, also Mountain Fuel, CLIF products, fruit, chocolate, soup.
- What are your favourite pieces of gear?
I’m lucky to get some great kit from inov-8 and their clothing range has improved hugely in the last year. Everyone knows how good their shoes are, but Trailtalons are perfect for UTMB and harder trails. I love Mudclaws in winter, X-Talons any time of year and Roclites are much under-rated, too, for mixed terrain. Inov-8’s G-Series shoes, with graphene grip, will be really exciting.
- Do you do supplementary strength/yoga other training?
I aim to do two strength sessions per week, with free weights. It’s unpleasant, but really important, to help avoid injury and aid good technique.
- Your FKT on the South West Coast path is amazing, any plans to do any other really long routes and FKTs?
Thank you. Possibly… I was fatigued for the rest of the year after that – most likely because of the lack of recovery each day (I averaged three hours a night sleep during the attempt), which has made me wary of similar challenges. So it’s finding something that suits my relative strengths, without wrecking me… But I may have found something…
- What’s the most important bit of advice you would give to a runner trying to increase their training and performance levels?
Run mostly offload. Try to train consistently and specifically, and think more about vertical gain than mileage. When you race, it’s all about pacing and fuelling.
- Do you have a coach?
I worked with Ian Sharman for 18 months, who helped me a great deal. I also work with Shane Benzie from Running Reborn, on my technique, who has also improved me a lot.
- Favourite UK ultra?
The Highland Fling. It’s just a wonderful event with so much attention to detail and love put into it. Everyone’s got to try that one.
- I am doing UTS 50 in May and Scafell Sky Race in July. You have run Scafell any pointers and insider info?
Scafell is a stunning course. Practise on some technical terrain if you can. Then relax and enjoy it.
You can follow the always entertaining Damian at