The ultra world has seen its share of successful skiers-turned-runners. Courtney Dauwalter. Stephanie Howe Violett. Corrine Malcolm. Just to name a few.
Aspiring to join those elites is Madison Hart, a 22-year-old former high school free ride skier who found trail running five years ago as a stress reliever while attending Montana State in Bozeman. Earlier this year Hart won the Tahoe Rim 100, her third race at that distance.
“I dove head first into the ultra world as I did my first ultra less than a year after I started running. And ‘logically’ I did a 12-hour race, because why would you start with a 50K?” she says with a laugh. “From there I was kind of hooked and still in love with it.”
Free ride skiing, also known as big mountain skiing, allows the participant to find features on the slope (natural formations, cliffs, etc.) and pair as many together to get points for style, she explains.
Climbing, learning, running
Hart, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., started running with friends who were on the Nordic ski team at Montana State as a way to get outside and stay in shape.
“Bozeman has a cool trail system in town,” she says. “Once I built up some endurance, I was finding that I could run to these trails and then see how far I could go. And actually it was getting on dirt and it was pretty much just every day trying to go a little bit farther and see how much of Bozeman I could see on my feet.”
In 2016, Hart did her first trail race, the Rendezvous Mountain Hillclimb, which goes up Jackson Hole Mountain. The race features 4,139 feet of climbing in just 6.1 miles. She calls it “mostly an exploration thing for me,” but she was hooked.
The following year she entered and won both the Tommyknocker 12-hour run in Golden, Colo., and the Trail Rail Run 50-miler in St. Regis, Mont.
Those races set up her for her first 100-miler, the Javelina Jundred in October. At the end of 2018, she ran just over 100 miles at Across the Years. Both proved to be learning experiences that would pay off later.
Hart admits she didn't respect the distance when she lined up at Javelina.
“I pretty much took my 50-mile time and just doubled it and was like, ‘Oh, no problem,’” she recalls. “I was shooting for a 16-hour, 100-miler for my first one, which was stupid. I went out fast, which worked great until about mile 75 when I got mechanical issues.”
Her hip locked up — “I couldn't really run at all. Spent a lot of time crying.”
At Across the Years, she also went out too fast. “I'm pretty good at going out too fast,” she says with a laugh. “At Tahoe, I had no intention of following the top females when they went out hard. I'm just going to wait. So patience really was more of the name of the game at Tahoe, which totally paid off. I ran pretty much the whole time. I was still running at mile 90, still running at mile 98, 99 finished running. So that was a cool feeling.”
Hart didn’t just win Tahoe, she recorded the seventh-fastest finishing time in the race’s 14-year history. Ahead of her on the all-time record list were elites like Nikki Kimball, Candice Burt and Roxanne Woodhouse, who placed second this year.
“It is cool to think that I'm not incredibly far off Nikki Kimball's time,” she says. “I idolize her. I think she's amazing. Just being able to see what these women are doing and be on the same course as them is super cool for me.”
Hart understands patience is required so that she can be competitive now but also have a long career.
“It's hard. I'm learning as I go,” she says about striking a balance. “But yeah, it's really a patience game and having a great coach is super critical for me. If I didn't have a coach I'd probably be running way too much, and not prolonging my career with this, which is really what I'm trying to do now because I know I can run that course faster.”
Her approach to nutrition
In her training, she aims to adapt to being able to run on a full stomach, a philosophy she learned from her roommate.
“I've been more almost experimental with what I'm eating,” says Hart, who was vegan but now considers herself pescatarian. “So we'd eat a really big breakfast before we would start our run and we wouldn't let it digest fully. We’d eat a massive meal and then 45 minutes later go run and we’d feel bad for the first hour or so. It's training your stomach when there's food in it to keep moving and just settle.”
When it comes to nutrition during her training and racing, Hart is on the Honey Stinger elite team. She has been using their waffles, chews, bars and other products since her dad, a cyclist, was using them.
“Their waffles are probably my favorite thing ever,” she says. “I eat them all the time. I use their gels for shorter, harder efforts, and their waffles and cracker bars for longer stuff. The cracker bars are like candy — just filling and good.”
Hart is dairy-free as well as being pescatarian. “My diet has fluctuated over the years just trying to find what worked,” she says. “I was a vegan when I really started to get into running. I don't think I was doing it correctly, which was part of the problem. But now I've found a nice balance with eggs and some fish to keep myself fueled.”
When she does eat fish, she makes sure that it is sustainably farmed or caught fish. It’s part of her interest in conservation, animal and environmental issues.
“When I found out more about the environmental impacts of (eating meat), it instilled in me how not eating animal products is a sound environmental decision.”
In May, Hart will graduate from Western Colorado University, in Gunnison, with a major in environmental sustainability with an emphasis in journalism. Her goal is to find a job that allows her to help promote sustainability, something that grew out of her passion for outdoor running.
“It came from spending so much time outside,” she says. “I see it personally, but you can also see it pretty commonly with other people when they start to spend more time outside and connect with nature, and they start to realize why it's important. As trail runners, we rely on the trails pretty much every day for our happy place. And it's important to want to protect that and everything around it.”
Women in ultra running
Hart’s advocacy does not stop with conservation issues. She is also concerned with the disproportionate percentage of women in the sport of ultra running.
“The systems need to change a bit,” she says. “I have a problem with a lot of the lottery systems for these races and it is changing. If you look at High Lonesome, their model for trying to make it a 50-50 field is super cool. (Founder and race director) Caleb Efta is doing amazing things with High Lonesome, but it is disappointing when you see races like Hardrock that had, in 2018 I believe, a field of 15 percent women.”
Hart thinks part of the issue is educating women runners that they do have what it takes to run an ultra.
“I personally think anyone can run an ultra, and it doesn't matter if you're the fastest person or the slowest or if you're a male or a female,” she says. “Changing that narrative a bit and making it known to women that it's not this crazy feat. It's just something you have to want to do is important just to get more women out and finding ways to make women feel safer on the trails too.”
Like many women runners, Hart has experienced unwanted attention and unwarranted catcalls while on the roads.
“I get nervous about running alone, I get worried about other people harassing me or just being weird. I don't really worry about animals as much as I do people.”
In addition to graduation, Hart is planning a big 2020, aimed at getting faster. She has an FKT in mind, is toying with the idea of Rocky Raccoon in February and wants to return to Javelina in October. And, of course, she will enter the lottery for Western States. She has considered trying to go for a Golden Ticket but she is exerting patience, knowing her time for the historic race will come.
With continued patience, solid coaching and a continued passion for the sport, Hart will develop as a runner with a bright future.
“I'm now getting more comfortable with running this far, but I'm really motivated by the idea of pushing how fast I can do it. I think for me too, it's just calming. I feel like I find out the most about myself, and I feel the most like myself when I'm running or when I'm racing or just involved in the running community. I feel like I fit in and I have my little place in the world.
“I'm excited for what's to come honestly, because I think if I keep being patient and putting in the work and training under great coaches, I plan to keep improving. That's my goal.”
Name: Madison Hart
Hometown: Boulder, Colo.
Number of years running: 4 (2020 will be year 5!)
How many miles a week do you typically run: Depends what I am training for, but normally between 65 and 90 miles.
Point of pride: I am an avid baker; I can make a mean loaf of focaccia.
Favorite race distance: 100k
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Oatmeal and a banana with a big cup of coffee!
Favorite piece of gear: Ultimate direction Ultra Vesta
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Shadow by Macklemore and IRO
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Great things never come from comfort zones.
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Instagram: @justmaddiehart
• Facebook: Maddie Hart
• Blog: https://maddiehartruns.wordpress.com