This post is really long overdue. I have thought about Claire a lot over the last few months, and am frequently inspired by her posts and updates on race successes.
So who is she?
Claire-Akin Smith. Back in winter time in the Alps, I remember rushing down the streets one evening to meet up with someone who had been tipped off to be a pretty darn good runner.
I didn’t know too much about her, mainly because she was based in New Zealand, but from pictures she looked welcoming and somehow familiar to me. I knew she was a good runner, and she definitely had a presence online of being a strong woman.
But, I didn’t realise just how cool she was, until I met her.
I remember coming away from our meet, feeling pretty psyched, not only by talking to a real high achiever in sport, but by her general outlook and ethos. I felt refreshed to meet someone so down to earth, who just loves getting out on the trail, with the main motivation to be the most ‘herself’ she can be. Sure, she often finds herself actually winning stuff, but more than anything, she wants to keep running because she really loves it.
I began our chat by asking Claire how she got into trail running in the first place. This is where I learnt how Claire didn’t initially feel very comfortable in her own skin.
She was given the early prognosis of hypermobility syndrome, meaning that Claire suffered from too much flexibility in her joints leading to poor proprioceptive control in movement. In a nutshell, this means that just running around and doing all the stuff kids do, was often scary and difficult for Claire. So while other kids climbed trees, played physical rough and tumble freely outside, Claire had to take a step back – it was too difficult to enjoy these simple childhood joys.
But I get the impression, Claire has always been pretty tough. She told me that she refused to just accept this – as what would that mean for her life? Constantly avoid exploring, discovering, taking risks and achieving? No.If initially she couldn’t beat it, she decided she would wise up to it.
By the time she was ready to go to university, she decided to study physiotherapy. Learning more about the human physiology and biomechanics equipped Claire to understand her own body better, but for a girl who wanted to be active, it was still difficult to work out how she could enjoy sport. She told me that she tried all sorts of exercise forms to gain strength, control and co-ordination, but she could feel her body fighting against her through getting stiffer and weaker in the wrong places. It just wasn’t getting easier.
But she refused to give up. So she tried running.
Rather than road, she headed for the trail, and the beautiful coastal paths around the Southwest coast of England. Running, it turned out, wasn’t so bad (if she applied her physiotherapy knowledge to practising it correctly and taking care of herself). And it just so happened she was pretty good at it.
Really good. Over 35 races, and many podium finishes to date. Claire was becoming known as a key player in the running circuit and a strong female runner.
But there is much more to Claire than this, and that is what really struck me about her. When it comes to racing, Claire is clearly gifted to run these routes fast, despite the physical challenges she has faced in her life.
But it’s not all about the racing. Anyone, of course, would love to get a medal. But Claire really really likes running, and gives the distinct impression that the rest of it is pretty supplementary to this. It is the the trail – that’s the real reason she is on each start line.
She also has good and bad days on the trail. Me too. It’s nice to hear from someone so on top of their game being so honest about this, revealing Claire’s down to earth nature and humility. Through injury or circumstance she’s changed race plans, re-considered her motivation for races, and like us all, has had good and bad days. This is just how it is, and her openness is refreshing.
I asked her what she does on training days when she frankly, really doesn’t feel like running. She gives the distinct impression it’s far better to be kind to yourself – but that one should live by the mantra, that it’s better to do something rather than nothing. Even if you divert from your goal – there is a lot of goodness in and of itself in stretches, going for a walk, and just embracing movement.
Ultimately, she sums it up quite nicely by saying that “as physical beings, we are designed to move”.
Claire now uses her physiotherapy qualifications and personal experience, to run ‘Applied Movement’, helping people who find movement challenging or difficult or want to move even better than they already are. From sports injury, to conditions like hypermobility, Claire dedicates her time, off the trail, to help people get back on it. More about Claire can be found at: www.appliedmovement.co.nz.
I left Claire that day feeling pretty good about myself. She has that affect on people I think, to want to go out and just do stuff, be yourself, and not be held back by anything.
Many thanks to Claire for all her help and contributions to this post.