Interview: Tough Guy & Gal 2017 Female Runner-Up Champion Rachel Townsend

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The Tough Guy & Gal 2017 Female Runner-Up Champion

Each year at the final Tough Guy and Gal race in Rotorua, podium winners from across the New Zealand series compete to become the ultimate champion – at the Moa New Zealand Tough Guy and Gal Championship!

The top 3 men and women from each age division in the 12km distance at each primary Tough Guy and Gal qualify to compete in the Championships.

Rachel Townsend qualified for the 2017 Tough Guy and Gal Championship by coming 1st female at the Palmerston North event. She went on to finish 2nd in the female’s open age group at the Tough Guy and Gal Championship 2017.

Max Bell sat down with Rachel to find out about the experience.

Rachel Townsend 06

Rachel Townsend – 2nd place 2017 Tough Guy and Gal female Champion

Interview with Rachel Townsend

ORNZ: Can you tell us a bit about how you got into running?

Rachel: I started running half-marathons in 2012. Then I was like “ok I’m going to do a full one now”, but I couldn’t decide which one. I wanted to do the Wanganui one, and living in Wellington at the time I really wanted to do Wellington, next was the Auckland one which I ran for Oxfam, and finally I wanted to do the Rotorua one. I looked at them, and was like “bugger it I’ll just do them all!”, so I did four. Then the next year I ran New York.

I just look at what’s on and see what I haven’t done yet, or I think “that’ll be a good challenge”. Really, I base what I want to run on the challenge of it, and then my competitiveness kicks in and I get really into them.

Rachel Townsend 01

Rachel competing at the Tough Guy and Gal Palmerston North

ORNZ: These were full marathons?

Rachel: Yes. I was really lucky that year in that I won the Wanganui women’s marathon. The next year the lady who won was a lot faster than my time. I picked up the Tough Guy and Gal because the year before I had run the fun 6km, and as I was running I thought to myself “I would love to actually do this competitively and see how well I do.”

I was quite surprised at the toll that it took on my body compared to just a normal running event. I had bruises everywhere. I felt shattered afterwards, and it was only 12km. I underestimated all the jarring and the jumping and the crawling. In a normal running event you’re pretty much just running and there’re hills, but nothing like what’s in the Tough Guy and Gal.

After I did the Palmerston North Tough Guy and Gal I felt my shoes were really heavy so for the Championship I thought I’d wear my racing runners which’re really light, but it turned out they had zero grip. On the first hill in Rotorua everyone just overtook me because I was slipping and sliding, and I was like “oh god this is going to be a long run.”

Footage from Rachel’s GoPro during the 2016 Tough Guy and Gal Palmerston North

ORNZ:  Having only run Tough Guy and Gal in Palmerston North and Wellington myself, I haven’t seen the Rotorua course. How did Rotorua compare to Palmerston North?

Rachel: Rotorua’s tough, they said that was the toughest. When we registered the lady asked which race we had done, we said Palmerston North and she was like “oh, you’ll have fun out there today” and I was like “oh god” as she said it was the hardest one. After doing it I can see why it’s the Championship course – just the amount of hills and swamps and water. There were also metal bars in the water and they hurt.

Rachel at the 2017 Tough Guy and Gal Championship

ORNZ: Metal bars built there as an obstacle? Or left over from something?

Rachel: I don’t know, they must’ve been left over from something. But Rotorua was definitely twice as tough as Palmerston North – just because of the hills.

ORNZ: The Palmerston North course is pretty much flat, the whole way.

Rachel: Apart from that one little part.

ORNZ: Oh yes, really steep and really short. With a rope so people can actually climb up it.

Rachel: Yes. At Rotorua it rained during the race, a really heavy downpour. I was speaking to the women at the start who won it – she was awesome, she dressed up as Spiderman and painted her face and everything – but she said that was the wettest she had seen it, and she does it every year.

There were these three young girls who had spikes on their shoes. One of them was a really good runner and she would pass me on the hills because she would just power up them with her shoes, and then I would pass her on the straights. We kept passing each other, but I eventually got her in the end. If I was to do it again I would definitely get spiky shoes to run more competitively.

Rachel at the 2017 Tough Guy and Gal Championship

ORNZ: Trail running shoes are quite good for obstacle racing.

Rachel: Yes, trail running shoes. After having run it in normal shoes, it made it more tough mentally as you had to just give it your all in the bad conditions.

ORNZ: Did you wear your normal running gear, or did you change up any gear just for the race?

Rachel: I wore my Skins which I found really good as the mud just came straight off those. I also wore my CrossFit Whanganui tshirt, which I ripped. I took some gels before the race which I was really thankful for, especially on those hills at Rotorua.

I actually only just got second place, because a girl passed me probably about 500m from the finish line and I happened to glance at her and see that he bib was a Championship bib as well. On the second lap they’d started the normal runners on the course…

ORNZ: It’s frustrating how they do that, especially when people are running competitively and they congest the second lap with people not entering competitively.

Rachel: Yes it was. After I saw that bib I thought that’s a placement right there as she got quite far ahead of me. So I dropped the hammer, and I only just passed her on the last corner leading into the finish line. Afterwards, she gave me a massive hug as she was exhausted. I thought she would’ve had something left in the tank to stay in front but she didn’t, so I only just got second place.

ORNZ: What were the obstacles like at Rotorua, were they similar to Palmerston North?

Rachel: Sort of… Rotorua had under and overs, a few climbing walls, some tunnels, and a lot of water. Plus, it went through kind of a trail run at one point. There was  a really cool water thing were it went out over the water, and you’d sprint and take a massive jump – that was good fun. Palmerston North had a lot more obstacles being held, of course, at the army obstacle course. Rotorua had more hills and water.

ORNZ: Do you think the Championship needs rules around obstacle completion? As at the moment there’re no rules about needing to actually go through obstacles at Tough Guy and Gal races.

Rachel: There was a guy who went around the tyres at Palmerston North, and I was like “Oy!” I think for the Championship level definitely. Not the fun running, but for the Championship there should be rule. If you’re choosing to do it competitively and someone didn’t do an obstacle and others did then that may cost them their spots because they did the obstacle while the other person didn’t and got ahead. But people have injuries and can’t do some things, so I guess it’s a hard rule to figure out. But definitely the Championships need a rule around obstacles, as those people have made it to the Championships and they’re all competitive.

ORNZ: You mentioned taking gels, I wouldn’t have thought would be too beneficial for a 12km?

Rachel: I guess it’s giving yourself an instant shot of carbohydrates, getting something into your bloodstream which is giving you instant energy. And normally I wouldn’t do that if I was running a training run. I don’t have gels during training, unless it’s over like a half marathon distance, but I choose to have gels at events, even if it’s just a 12km, for the energy and for a faster and quicker time. I guess it gives me an advantage over someone who can run roughly the same time as me, but on the day they didn’t have that gel for energy.

ORNZ: Did you do the Wanganui Three Bridges recently?

Rachel: I did the half, and I did not enjoy that! Which is really weird for me because I love running. But it was like 23 degrees and muggy as hell. It was horrible. That day I had four gels, and an electrolyte drink, and a caffeine shot – I probably had what I’d consume in a full marathon, but just the heat made it so hard. I think I might’ve had a bit of dehydration as well, as I got dizzy a couple of times and my vision went blurry. It was the same weekend that two runners got hospitalised at a half marathon up in Auckland because of the heat.

ORNZ: What about an average week of training, what do you do usually?

Rachel: At the moment I run in the mornings – either a 6km or a 9km circuit, when I don’t really have an event in mind and I’m just keeping my fitness up. I’m going to do a triathlon and the Taihape half marathon, so I’ll start to bring in a few 13kms in the mornings. I have three circuits that I do – a 6km which is from home around one circuit of the bridge, a 9km which is a circuit of two bridges, and then a 13km which is all three bridges and then back home. When I’m training for an event I’ll get one really long run in per week, with 6, 9 and 13km runs in between.

And I do CrossFit in the evening for strength training. You have to really balance the running with the strength training though, which is hard. I’ll usually drop CrossFit before an event so I don’t get too worn out, as you can always scale every workout so you can take it as hard as you want to but then there’s those workouts like Karen with 150 wall balls and I know it’d just smash me and I wouldn’t be able to run for a week. Before an event I can’t afford to do that and not get the miles in, so usually I’ve dropped CrossFit before an event but but I’m trying to not do that this time.

ORNZ: Do you think training both CrossFit and running helped you do so well on the Tough Guy and Gal course?

Rachel: Definitely. CrossFit definitely helped with the strength stuff on the obstacles, even just to pull yourself up the rope up the hill. I think I also did so well because I’m naturally a quick runner, especially at the Championship most of it’s running so if you’re not a quick runner then you’re going to get quite a slow time.

At the moment I run in the morning, do CrossFit in the evening, and bike there and back. I want to start bringing in more biking and swimming to prepare for the triathlon.

The hill climb section, at Tough Guy and Gal Palmerston North

ORNZ: Are you going to run the Championship again this year?

Rachel: Probably not. I’m going to do the 6km for fun with friends. I might do the Championship… but for me I really think “ok, what haven’t I done” so I’ll probably look through the events for the year and pick ones that I haven’t done because I just love the challenge of doing something that I haven’t done before.

ORNZ: As a final question, do you prefer purple or teal?

Rachel: Purple.

ORNZ: Event Promotions was deciding between purple or teal for this year’s cup. It was bright pink last year.

Rachel: Oh yes, it was really bright. It was funny at the Championships because I turned up and they gave me two more of them and it was like “Oh great, I have three pink cups now… what do I do with these?” But it’s cool how you get the cups. The prize for the Championship was amazing.

ORNZ: What was the prize for it?

Rachel: Well, people kept on giving me things and I was like “I literally can’t hold all of this.” So we got the medal, which was the same as Palmerston North, they put that around my neck. Then they gave me a $50 Hells Pizza voucher, and then they gave me this amazing carved trophy. I was impressed, it was big and very amazing. And then, oh my gosh, they were like here and gave me a big Magnum Moa beer. I was pretty blown away by the prizes.

Tough Guy and Gal Championships trophy second

Rachel Townsend finished 2nd place at the Tough Guy and Gal Championships 2017 in the female’s open age group. Congratulations!


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