Chloe Lanthier has run hundreds of kilometres across the Sahara Dessert and biked the route of the Iditarod dog sled race in snowy Alaska. This fall, she will be running a 336 kilometre race near 4,000 metre peaks in the Italian Alps.
She has a different definition of what constitutes a long race than most people. “For me, long means a week,” she said.
Lanthier, who has called Revelstoke home for more than a year now, is one of the world’s top endurance racers, as well as being an expert in exercise science and training.
Now 44, Lanthier started being active as a kid growing up in Montreal. She took part in track and field, cycling, swimming and cross-country skiing.
“To be honest, as a … teenager I was kind of a natural,” she said. She ran the Montreal Marathon as a teenager but it wasn’t until moving to Banff when she was 20 that she got into mountaineering and endurance races.
“I just realized running the Montreal Marathon for me was not necessarily exciting for me, it was not a passion,” she said. “Versus doing the same distance on the trail, I realized I love this and enjoy all these hours. Its really moving out west is when I realized I had a passion.”
Her first long endurance race was the 1997 Marathon des Sables – a 220 kilometre, seven day stage race through the Sahara Dessert in Morocco. She came in fifth place.
Her other accomplishments include winning the Iditabike 160 kilometre – a mountain bike race along the Iditarod trail in Alaska in the middle of winter and competing in the Iditabike Impossible – a 1,760 mile version of the race.
She was also the 1999 world champion in the 24 Hours of Mountain Biking, placed 10th in the 1997 Eco-Challenge Adventure Race in Whistler, B.C. and has numerous top five finishes in a variety of European trail running races.
On her website, she describes the sense of fatigue that drifts in and out during these races (see the sidebar for excerpts). I asked her what kept her going.
“You just focus on going forward,” she replied. “You’re battling your demons but at the same time I’m constantly focused on what you need to focus on. Its food, it’s my rhythm, it’s the weather, it’s all the survival skills that get you into that headspace.”
Lanthier is relatively small but her body is wiry and muscular. Her racing experience is backed by an scientific expertise gained through years of post-secondary education. She holds a bachelors degree in exercise science and a Masters in science/human performance from the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
She said her athletic prowess means she gets to experience what she learns first hand and can put theory into practice. As well, she added, a lot of the struggle can be mental, not physical.
“I think we don’t realize how much the body can do,” she said. “Even textbooks seem to categorize but we can do so much more than science might think.
“Often you’re very tired but it’s emotional fatigue and the body has recovered.”
Lanthier splits her time between North America and Europe, where she gives training camps for both newer and advanced runners.
“I try to really pass on some education on nutrition, training, recovery and staying injury free,” she said. Then I actually feel like I’m helping people and they don’t need to get out there and buy books.”
As a bit of free advice, she said the most important thing was to go out regularly but not to put pressure on yourself by setting strict goals. Instead, she recommended just trying to go a bit longer than last time.
“If you want to try more volume, whether its time or distance, don’t stop the minute you feel tired or the minute you feel you can’t do it anymore,” she said. “You really have to work your mental edge. Our biggest limitation is mental, it’s not physical.”
Lanthier moved to Revelstoke in May 2010. Her routine involves waking up early to take care of work before going on a long mid-day run. We are neighbours and I frequently see her on her way to or from a run. Just before our interview, she had gone for a run up the Summit Trail in Mount Revelstoke National Park. She also goes for overnight runs along alpine trails in the Rocky Mountains and Rogers Pass, though this year she has been thwarted due to the late snow melt.
“To me this is the ultimate environment with all the national parks,” she said. “Every day I can go up Mt. Revelstoke and I don’t have to drive.”
She has been active with the Revelstoke Cycling Association, helping organize the toonie mountain bike races and providing prizes through her long-time sponsor Patagonia.
In September she will be travelling to Italy to take part in the Tour des Geants, a 336 kilometre, unsupported, high-altitude race near 4,000 metre peaks in the Dolemites.
I asked if she felt she had a limit to what she could do. “I don’t think that way,” she replied. “I feel it’s more the opposite – I’ve done so little and there’s so much to do in life.”