CAPE TOWN – Winning the Western States One Hundred Miler in California is the American trail running equivalent of winning the Comrades Marathon in South Africa – it’s a big deal.
Perhaps it was when Stephanie Howe Violett shocked more favoured athletes to win the 2014 race that she finally realised she was indeed a runner.
And within just a few years, Howe has been regularly ranked in the top three in the annual rankings from Ultra Runner Magazine, International Trail Running Association (ITRA), and the Ultra-trail World Tour Rankings
“I guess I didn’t run much in college – Nordic skiing seemed much more important then,” admitted Howe, who has been in Cape Town for more than a week, focusing on racing Ultra-trail Cape Town on Saturday.
“Although I did race cross country and track at North Michigan University, there were always so many other things that seemed more interesting.”
Travel was one of those things, and Howe admits to a love of travelling to new places and immersing herself in other cultures, meeting new people and eating new diets.
“I guess that’s part of the reason I came to Cape Town early, and I have enjoyed being on my own, exploring places and getting to know some of the people.”
Gaining a Masters degree in exercise physiology and a PhD in nutrition and exercise science gave her direction and purpose in life.
And Howe gradually grew into the exceptional ultra-trail runner she has become, a status that makes her a strong podium contender for Saturday’s 100km.
“When I was young, I didn’t love to run,” Howe continued. “In fact, I hated running! I was a good athlete, but didn’t appreciate the gift I had.
“And I guess it took a while to fully harness the gift to best effect. It wasn’t until after college that I really fell in love with running on the trails.”
Now living in the mountain resort of Bend, Oregon in the US, working as a coach and sports nutritionist and running in the mountains, life appears rich for Dr Howe Violett, who is increasingly content with life in the outdoors and enjoying running as a major life focus, but not as an all-consuming activity.
“I’m no longer as focused as I used to be on winning and results,” Howe responded to the question of her planned race strategy for Ultra-trail Cape Town.
“I have a more holistic view of the importance of running and for me, the opportunity to travel and meet new people is part of the package.
“For me, this is the end of my season – in a sense an extra race I’ve fitted in as a bonus. But I’m healthy and ready to run, so we will just have to see on the day how it works out. I find the 100km distance is hard to predict, as opposed to a 100 miler.
“At this stage, my aim is simply to have a happy race, to be smiling at the finish.
“I don’t want to get too caught up in the race in the beginning, but I enjoy the hill climbs and will be looking to come through in the second half of the race.
“I think Mimmi (Kotka) will be the one to beat, although Kelly (Wolf) and Nathalie (Mauclair) are also great athletes who are likely to do well.”@StephenGranger3