Holly Page:“You don’t have to be perfectly prepared” - Women's Running

Holly Page:“You don’t have to be perfectly prepared”

Author: Angelina Manzano

Read Time:   |  September 18, 2020

Meet skyrunner and adventurer Holly Page. She’s a Yorkshire lass, a globetrotter, a hitchhiker, a wild camper, a fell runner and a pro athlete. And a very likeable inspiration to boot.

Despite being a pro athlete and achieving amazing success with her running, there’s something different about Holly Page. She approaches races – psychologically and physically – in an unexpected way: “I spend a lot of time with other runners,” says Holly. “And with many of them, especially pros at the top level, it’s the only thing they’re doing. Their only aim in life is to make themselves faster.

“That’s fine for some people. But for me, it’s not worth sacrificing everything for. I like to have a greater purpose than just making myself faster. I guess it depends what you’re motivated by.”

Holly’s been running all her life, but it used to be just something on the side. “Academic work always came first when I was young, and I still feel like work should come first. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m a professional athlete now!”

When Holly says she doesn’t sacrifice other areas of her life for running, it’s more that she’s found a way to weave running into her life without compromising other parts. A talented linguist, she works in translation and international development. She’s lived in and travelled to many parts of the world for work, and more recently she can work remotely while travelling to races.

To say she leads a nomadic life is something of an understatement. “I don’t really count how many races I do a year, but [pre-Covid-19] most weekends I find a race or two,” she says, as if it’s completely normal to bounce from one race to another, crossing continents and time zones as she does. “Coming from Yorkshire, my background is in fell running, and fell runners race every weekend, sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday! I feel like if there’s a race I should be doing it.”

Other runners think Holly is crazy for doing so much. “It means I’m never training for one race, and maybe means that performance wise I might not do as well in some races as I would if I did, say, three main races a year.

“Equally though, if a runner who is focusing on just three or four races a year goes really badly in one, the temptation is to go all doom and gloom and act as if your life is over because a race went badly! Whereas if you race every weekend, like me, and one goes badly, you’re likely to brush it off and move on to the next more easily.

Early wins

Holly’s had a very outdoorsy childhood with active parents who loved to travel. “Back in the 1970s and ’80s my parents were travelling and climbing around the world. Growing up, I remember there were random blow pipes from Africa around the house, photos of them on top of mountains and much talk of travels.”

So, the travel active lifestyle is definitely an inherited passion, but although her dad was a fell runner, the family were more into hiking, cycling and climbing for those formative ‘character-building’ years. Holly laughs: “I sometimes think my character should definitely be built by now, so why am I still putting myself through all this!”

When Holly was 11, she started doing fell races. “I was better at fell running than road and track because I wasn’t very fast. In fact, I had zero natural talent,” she claims.

Holly is currently back living with her parents during lockdown and has been ransacking the memory box. She laughs: “I’ve found some of my race results from around the year 2000. In those days, you had to pay 20p on race day to get the results sent to you a few days later. So, every Wednesday I would find out I came second to last – never last, but always second to last!

“I also found a diary from 2002 where I was talking about different races I’d done. The one I loved was the one where I was ecstatic to come 136th in the North of England Cross Country Championships!”

So, what about this zero talent claim? It must be false modesty, from such an accomplished long-distance trail and sky runner? Holly says no. “Growing up, I pushed myself hard – that was my talent really. Lots of girls who were super fast and won everything started to drop off as we all hit late teens. I think the ones who were solely functioning on their natural abilities started to realise they’d have to start working very hard to keep winning. So they stopped.

“That’s where my terribleness and my expectations that I’ll be terrible are now a benefit. I still never stand on the start line assuming I’m going to win. Every time I win, or do well, it comes as a surprise or a shock – I never expect anything.

“I’m quite happy with my performance in a race as long as I’ve pushed hard. I don’t mind being beaten by people I would ordinarily beat. Like now, I’m not particularly fit due to a foot injury, but I don’t care! It’s only running! It’s important to keep perspective.”

You could listen to Holly all day, because it’s just so damn refreshing to hear this perspective at such a high level in the sport. “As soon as you’ve achieved as a runner, you’re always looking for the next step, but it’s also important to stand back and reflect on what you’ve achieved. I ask myself if I’m happy with what I’ve done, and whether l’d ever have expected to achieve it. And reminding myself that in 2002 I was ecstatic to be 136th in the North of England Cross Country helps keep me grounded.”

The road less travelled

Holly has been travelling for years now, bunking up with far-flung running friends, taking advantage of social sites like warmshowers.org and couchsurfing. com for digs between races. “I’ve got slick at logistics, but I never seem to unpack a bag and I have stuff at houses all over the place. I’ve been quite lucky in terms of getting invited to do races in interesting places and being able to work from anywhere. I went for a week-long race in Costa Rica and stayed for a month, meandering down to Panama. I did a one-day race in China and spent five weeks there trekking around on my own and hitchhiking.”

And last year, she bought a campervan, “I spent the whole summer in that, roaming around in the Alps going from race to race. Prior to that I had a big rucksack and used to hitchhike to races. If I needed to fly, I would, and then I’d hitch from the airport to the mountains.”

Running brings people together, says Holly. She’s lived in many continents in the world and has always joined a running club. “It’s a great way of meeting people and a lot of my closest friends are people I’ve met on this skyrunning series. She says that when you travel somewhere, you spend more time with the other runners than you would at an event in the UK. “We travel together before or after. We might be rivals during the race, but afterwards we’re really good friends.”

Highs and lows

The philosophy behind skyrunning when it was founded in the 90s was to reach the highest peak in the shortest time from a town or village. “Skyrunning races are always in a mountainous location on very rough and technical terrain. There’s scrambling involved, so you have to use your hands, and distances vary from 25K to ultras of around 80K, with most around marathon distance with a 3,000 to 4,000m climb.”

The first skyrace she did – and won! – was when she was living in South Africa and she swiftly followed that with another race, Kima, in Italy. Then, when she was working in Ethiopia, she was on her way to Greece for a race but got delayed in Addis Ababa and missed her connection, meaning she would miss the next day’s race. Stranded in Istanbul airport, she decided to re-route to see friends in the Alps… It turned out to be one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions that would play out badly. “I met up with some great runners in Chamonix who I really looked up to and they asked if I wanted to go up Mont Blanc, so I joined them.

Reminding myself that in 2002 I was ecstatic to be 136th in the North of England Cross Country certainly helps to keep me grounded

“Unfortunately, on the descent I hit an exposed icy section on the glacier and fell. Unable to get traction with my ice axe, I slid uncontrollably until I hit the boulders at the bottom.”

It was a fairly catastrophic incident that Holly was lucky to survive. But after recovering back in the UK, Holly got straight back on the bike. Literally!

“I was in the Alps and my boyfriend was in the Pyrenees, so I decided to cycle to see him. I put the route into Google Maps and decided not to let myself deviate from the 1,000K path at all. It was really funny because it saw me carrying my bike over dunes and all sorts.” When she got to the Pyrenees, she entered a skyrunning race, then the next week a 50K, then two weeks later another skyrace in Italy.

At the end of the day, you just need to get on and do it. No-one really cares how you do, apart from you

If you were left in any doubt about Holly’s way of doing things, this should seal the deal. She says, breezily, “I had my bike with me in the Pyrenees, so I cycled to Spain and put my bike on a bus which took me near Barcelona. I cycled to the port and took a 20-hour ferry to Italy, then a train and finally cycled to the start line of the race. “That’s typical for me and how I turn up,” she laughs. “I’m not the most conventional athlete!”

Team Holly Page

Holly did well in that Italian race. So she decided to try and do the series properly the following year. “I didn’t have a sponsor like most of the others, so I did it all myself. I’d be there with my tent, having hitchhiked to the race, and they called me Team Holly Page!”

“I won the Classic Series and came third in the Golden Trails World Series too. Most people focus on one series, but I just did every race going. It was a nice way of showing you can do this without a sponsor and while working full time (remotely).”

It was then that big brands started to want Holly and she picked Adidas Terrex for their Thexible and non-didactic approach. Her three-year contract has seen her make some great friends. She remembers the CCC, a 100K race in the UTMB series. “I never planned to race there as I had a skyrace the weekend before. But in that race, I’d hit my head on a rock and been helicoptered off with concussion. So, given I’d missed most of that race and my legs felt fresh, I thought I may as well have a go at the CCC, despite having done no specific preparation. As luck would have it, I’d also picked up a stomach virus, which meant I was considerably slower than I should have been, because I was stopping to go to the loo all the time. However, my team mates waited for me to cheer me on and were at the finish line at midnight. You don’t have that if you’re Team Holly Page on your own!”

Just do it

The Holly Page philosophy is one that should be printed and bound for all wannabe athletes. Haphazard it may be, but it’s so full of joy and free spirit it’s an inspiration. “You don’t have to be perfectly prepared for everything,” Holly says. “At the end of the day, you just need to get on and do it. No-one really cares how you do apart from you. I’ve always thought it’s a privilege to be able to run and to travel and it’s important to remember that. When people are getting het up about how competitive they are or if they miss their 10K PB by two seconds, I prefer to be grateful I can run at all.”

Holly’s essential running kit

The essential things Holly can’t do without

#1 Adidas trainers

At the moment I’m always wearing a pair of Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley – they’re super comfy and cushioned to try and protect my delicate feet!

#2 Extra layers

I make sure to carry extra layers with me when venturing into the hills, particularly when the weather is bad. You never know when you might need them, and it can be a whole different world once you get up into the howling gales on the summits.

#3 Suunto watch

I’m always wearing my Suunto; I really like seeing how far I’ve gone and how high I’ve climbed.

#4 Energy bars

I make sure I have a good supply of Ale Active Life Energy gels and bars.

#5 Maps

If I’m running in unfamiliar territory, I always have a map and a good idea of the terrain I’ll be running in.

#6 Curiosity

Curiosity to explore new routes – I get intrigued by new paths and can often get carried away “just seeing what’s round the corner or over the horizon”. This can make what starts as a short run, into quite a long excursion. Hence the need for all of the above!

Angelina Manzano

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