Richie Cunningham Interview

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Richie Cunningham takes running to extremes. Last December he won the Fuego Y Agua 100km race in Nicaragua. He completed the race, named after an active volcano and a dormant one which must be run up and down, over 2500m of ascent, in 11 hours and 40 minutes. Richie, who lives in Fife and runs for Carnegie Harriers, regularly competes in the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, this year finishing 3rd with a PB of 16 hours 24 minutes. Along with other ultra-marathons and hill races he has entered many 24 hour races where the winner is the person who clocks up the highest mileage.

This year's WHW race is on the Adventure Show, BBC2, Sunday 4th October at 7pm.

What prompted you to begin running and how old were you?
When I was young I used to play a lot of football, sometimes 2 or 3 matches in a day and when I wasn't playing I was training. I used to love pushing myself to exhaustion and then trying to push out a bit more! Then, as a teenager I turned to endurance partying for a few years before walking the West Highland Way a couple of times and then becoming a keen Munro bagger. Hill running was just a continuation of this and my first hill race, Stuc a' Chroin in 1998, seemed a natural progression and from that I moved into ultras.

At what point did you realise you were interested in running really long races?
After the Glen Clova hill race in 1998, which I found really difficult and struggled to finish, I decided I was going to "crack" these long races and entered all the "longs" I could find. When I learnt of the West Highland Way Race I decided to use three races to work towards it, The Paps of Jura, Speyside Way and The Devil O' the Highlands.


Do you have a favorite part of Scotland? Why is it special for you?
I have a lot of memories associated with the West Highland Way so that will always be special. Jura is a fantastic place too because it's so peaceful (when its not blowing a gail and you're not getting eaten alive by midges that is...!)


What has been the most rewarding experience you have had?
In my "running life" I find it really rewarding seeing other peoples successes. At this years UTMB race it was such an emotional experience watching all the finishers after almost 2 days of running continuously winning their personal battles and realising months and often years of training.

Where do you keep your WHW race goblets? Do you have enough for a dinner set yet?
It's terrible, all my goblets are in a box packed away I should really have them on display! I've got a bit of a mixture, 3 goblets and 2 tumblers (for 3rd places in '08 & '09) so another goblet might even it out a bit.

When will you win the WHW race? You were 13 minutes behind the winner this year, presumably thats the sort of difference thats acounted for by an extra bite of pasta. . ..

It was a really exciting race this year with us being so close at the end, the closest I've ever come to winning. For me times are more important than wins, I'd rather have had 16:24 and 3rd than 18:24 and 1st but I'll be back again next year and maybe, just maybe...

What other ultra-endurance races have you competed in? Which were the most memorable?
I've ran 34 ultras since 2004 so lots of different memories. This years West Highland Way Race has got to be the most memorable because I focussed on it for months before and everything came together on the day, and just being part of that amazing finish was a privelidge but also because it was the last race organised by Dario Melaragni before he passed away so, the end of an era.


What is your PB for a 24 hour race?

127 miles 1119 yards on the 400m track at Tooting Bec, London last year. This is a sore point for me at the moment having just competed for Scotland at the Commonwealth Championships in Keswick at 24 hour. I had a very disappointing race for various reasons but I'm now determined to crack this event once and for all.

What are your favorite foods for running?
On the whole I eat a healthy diet packed full of carbs and loads of greens. I don't eat meat only the occasional bit of fish. During heavy periods of training I crave junk food, my favourite is chips and curry sauce and I've been known to eat whole packets of chocolate digestives in one go but I think this is the body telling you what it needs. Also I don't take any food supplements or vitamins and haven't for years ever since I worked in the health food industry and saw what a con it is, a good diet is all you need.


How many miles would you estimate you run each year? And how many races?

I run about 3000 miles a year, last year I raced 858 miles with a total of 141 800 feet of ascent in 25 races, on average 34 miles per race.

Do you enjoy suffering? How do you cope with the psychological aspects of these races?

The nature of ultras means that there is always going to be an element of pain involved. I find that running in beautiful and spectacular scenery is perfect for taking my mind off the pain and reminds me how lucky I am to be doing this. A bit of suffering in a race or a run means you are pushing yourself to the limits so is a positive thing most of the time, also it's a good thing to remember the option to stop is always available unlike some people in this world who have real-life suffering and pain to deal with. When I ran Fuego y Agua in Nicaragua worrying about if there was going to be gels or food at the next aid station seemed crazy when you saw the poverty of the local people, two worlds colliding indeed.

What has been the most challenging moment of your running career?
Last weeks 24 hour race in Keswick, a new challenge awaits!


Any training tips for us mere mortals?
Believe and enjoy.

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