Trail runner are just so down to earth and humble people
Christian Meier, a former professional cyclist and a committed trail runner for a few years, recently won a running competition for the first time. We meet the Canadian at his café "La Fabrica" in Girona to talk about his training, mental strength and the magic of trail running.
Coffee talk with Christian Meier
Former professional cyclist, now entrepreneur and trail runner. Lives his dream in Girona between sport, coffee and community.
“You always recognize a trail runner after his race because he moves funny,” says Christian Meier. The Canadian extreme runner won the first race of his career at UTMB's Andorra 50K. Now he is back in his adopted home in Girona, Spain, and is training again to “set building blocks for later goals in the season,” as he tells más. Meier initially began his sporting career as a professional cyclist. It was only a few years ago that he discovered trail running. It was love at first sight, he says. But he still uses his experience from cycling to this day .
más: What was the feeling like when you crossed the finish line at the Andorra 50K?
Christian: It was the first time I won a race. It was very emotional, also a bit strange. You never know if a race is over until it's actually over. When you're in the lead in a trail race, it's a little difficult to know how big the gap is to the runners behind. That weekend there was the 50 kilometer race and the 100 kilometer race. We shared the last 20 kilometers of the 50 km run with the 100 km run. So you always have runners around you. I knew I had a head start, but at the end there is always that part where you ponder and doubt. Are the others still coming?
You just have to have confidence in yourself and what you're doing. When everything just comes together on race day, like nutrition, hydration, pacing, it's just an incredible feeling. Reaching the finish line and reaching for the finish line is very fulfilling.
Is it a peculiarity of trail running that everything has to fit together for the race to work? Is it a bit comparable to racing cycling?
In that sense, it's actually similar to cycling. There are just so many variables because the terrain is so different. There are technical routes, it goes uphill, downhill, the weather conditions play a role or - like I did in my race - you have mechanical problems.
I broke a stick at the weekend. The poles are used for the really steep sections. If one breaks, it's like getting a flat tire while cycling. These are circumstances that you don't know beforehand that just appear. You have to be able to solve problems and deal with situations. It shouldn't be viewed as a major setback. You always have this mentality: you fight all the time. When it comes to trail running, especially when it comes to longer distances, it really isn't over until it's over. People may have their own problems later. There is always a chance to come back.
Before you became a trail runner, you were a professional cyclist. One might think you're a natural when it comes to endurance sports.
I had passion, but I had no talent. Cycling wasn't even on my radar at first. I once saw a magazine in a bookstore, a mountain bike magazine. I just thought these mountain bikes look so cool! I bought the magazine and read it over and over again. I finally convinced my parents to buy me a mountain bike. Then I just fell in love with the sport. I fell in love with training and pushing myself to my limits. I grew up on a farm. My parents are Germans who immigrated to Canada. We worked like crazy on the farm from a young age. Three or four hours of cycling felt easy compared to a day of work on the farm.
What was your greatest cycling achievement?
When I was young, I just wanted to be out on my bike every day and cycle in the mountains. I thought the best way to achieve that was to become a professional. But there is the performance aspect. To be a professional you have to win races and get results. There are moments in cycling that I am very proud of: I won Canadian titles in my age groups. The highlight was definitely taking part in the Tour de France because it is so difficult to make it onto a team in the Tour.
How did you become a trail runner?
After I said goodbye to cycling, I started riding a lot of gravel bikes and also participating in bikepacking events. It was adventurous stuff that I really enjoyed. But there were also a lot of things that I didn't enjoy. When I got into trail running, I was immediately drawn to ultra distance. Mainly inspired by films and videos about UTMB, this legendary race in Chamonix. The runners ran 100 miles in the mountains all night long. It was just so fascinating.
Some guys mastered it super quickly, others earned it over two days. Each of them faces the same challenge and each has the same doubts. Everyone is nervous, everyone is wondering: Will I make it? The energy is so strong.
You want to run 145 kilometers at the UTMB in a few weeks. What does your typical training week look like?
I wouldn't say that ultrarunners don't need to do a lot more volume than marathon runners. It could be aimed a little differently. For example, using poles: you have to go quickly on the big, long climbs. Plus, you run downhill about as much as you run uphill. That's quite a strain on the muscles.
During an intensive training phase, I run between 140 and 160 kilometers per week, which corresponds to 14 to 17 hours depending on the altitude difference. I only do one training session a week on the flat and the rest I do in the mountains.
How long is your longest training run?
I don't do very long things, three to four hours I would say. I've noticed that double days work really well for me to build volume. This allows me to train consistently throughout the week. If you do a six-hour race one day, you're probably going to suffer a bit in the days that follow.
What was your hardest race so far – and what was your best race?
The biggest challenge was probably the CCC, the 100km race at UTMB last year. Last summer I had Long Covid and didn't really notice it for three to four months. The CCC took place a month later after I was feeling better. But after 30 kilometers I started having cramps in both thigh muscles. That day I thought: I definitely have to make it to the finish. So it was 70 kilometers of alternating jogging and walking, just suffering.
And the most beautiful run? That is a difficult question. The special thing about trail running is that you are always in the mountains. When running road, you'll probably enjoy the experience before and after more than during the race. In trail running, these races take place in some of the most famous mountain regions in the world. I would have a really hard time choosing a run.
Do you get distracted by the scenery when you run? What do you think about when you run 100 kilometers?
It can be a rollercoaster of emotions during the race. Lately I've been tending to fall into more of a performance mentality, where there's a sequence going on in my head. It's a checklist: eat, drink, eat, drink and check your heart rate. The climb with poles is very rhythmic: one, two, one, two. When I can get into a very monotonous, boring routine in my mind, it just clicks.
The 145 kilometer race is your next race. What comes next?
Since I haven't been running for that long - it's my third year - I still have a lot planned. Many of the races I want to take part in are driven by emotions, by things that simply excite me. For me, the TDS [Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie] is one of them. I don't know why, but I'm up for it. In terms of time, it will be twice as long as anything I've done before. it feels like an adventure to me.
“What I love about trail running is that it is such an accessible sport. I find that trail runners are generally very down-to-earth and humble people.”
What or who inspires you?
There were moments that really inspired me. When I started, there were a few videos on YouTube, back in 2015, in that era. There was a really cool movie when Nike had a trail team made up of Americans like Zach Miller. They came to Europe to run the UTMB. That was a really cool story. Another is local runner Núria Picas. She's a bit of a legend. She won the UTMB and I remember watching the film of her victory. When she crossed the finish line first, she was so emotional.
And then I was lucky enough to meet some really cool people. What I love about trail running is that it is such an accessible sport. I find that trail runners are generally very down-to-earth and humble people. Many of them have another job, which just keeps them grounded.
Thank you for the interview!