She's Got Gumption: Cat Simpson

gumption[guhmp-shuh n]  
  1. initiative; resourcefulness:
  2. courage; spunk; guts
  3. common sense

Gumption is an excellent, old-fashioned and sadly underused word. To me it captures all that I find inspiring in others- self reliant spirit bordering on feistiness, and a serious backbone of common sense. So many people in the running and sport community inspire me, and they're usually not 'professional' athletes. It's the people making their sport work in their world, because they love it, because they need it. 

I wanted to start a series of posts, interviewing these total badasses and gaining some insight into what drives them. The person to immediately spring to mind was Cat Simpson. She is an incredible ultrarunner; has raced all over the globe; placed in multiple marathons; and has just launched a new career as a coach.

Cat very kindly agreed to give me some of her time and answer a few questions I had rattling inside my head.

The Atacama at one of its less dry spots- all photos from Cat's site

So, Cat, you're a month out from kicking ass in Chile at the Atacama Crossing. Congratulations on your 2nd place and placing 3rd in the marathon del Bío Bío so soon after! Did you expect to do so well in the Atacama?

Thank you! I'd hoped to do well and secretly wanted to finish on the podium, but nothing was a given during a race like Atacama - so much can go wrong. But fortunately everything went to plan, albeit that the race was much, much tougher than I expected!

Could you tell us about your highest moment in that monumental race, and about your lowest?

The lowest was probably on the first day, when I had a very big reality check. The course started at over 3,000m altitude and I felt exhausted. It was much tougher and more technical than I expected, and I spent most of the day kicking myself for not feeling prepared. But after that, it was all one big high, to be honest. Once I chilled the f-ck out I really enjoyed myself. The scenery was beautiful and I can't really think of anything I'd rather do than spend a week doing something I love, surrounding by like-minded people.

The Atacama is very dry, did you struggle at all with dehydration?

No - a lot of people did, and to be honest, I hadn't trained under hot conditions, so replacing electrolytes was a guessing game, but I took salt tablets and drank regularly and it all worked out OK.

Would you say Atacama was more a mental or physical challenge?

Definitely mental. That's not to say that it was physically easy, but it's easier to train your body than your mind; I sort of feel that mental training is something that comes with time, but then it's easy for it all to come crashing down again (as it nearly did on the first day). Atacama (and other long, multistage races) is one of those things where it really helps to be able to zone out and not think about what's ahead (as it's inevitably going to be lots of tough miles!).

Are you considering doing any of the other desert races in the series in future? Why or why not?

Well, never say never, but they're not cheap, so not in the near future. If money was no object I'd do the next Marathon des Sables, as I'd love to compare the two.

On Training

How did you get into ultras?

Probably because I was trying to out do my other half, Jon. Or I think it was more likely to be because I'd got bored of running road marathons and chasing PBs, and had heard ultras were 'easier', because the pace was slower and the scenery nicer than running on a road around a generic city.

What would you say is the no 1 training required for ultras?

I think listening to and respecting your body (and mind) is really important, learning when to stop.

What is your diet like during training? During life?

Hm, it could be better, but I think it's fairly 'balanced', ie I don't deny myself anything or really worry about what I eat.

I look at people like you and think you are superhuman, but do you struggle with training at all? Or with motivation?

Aw! I struggle with motivation from time to time, but find that having big race goals that I'm genuinely excited about, and mixing up training by using it as a chance to see new places and hang out with friends, helps.

What do you like most and least about training where you live?

London is an amazing city, but it's pretty rubbish for big hills or technical trains. But it's pretty well linked, so there's no excuse for not travelling further afield for these.

It's no secret that training for any racing takes time and energy- ultras even more so- would you say you've sacrificed anything to be as good a runner as you are?

I definitely wouldn't say I've sacrificed anything; if anything, running has massively enriched my life, both in terms of experiences and friendships. I'm not really sure where I'd be without it.

Now for the big questions, what keeps you running? What is your favourite thing about it?

Although I love that I've met so many amazing people through running, I think the solitude and opportunity to have time to think and reflect on life is what keeps me running (and sane).

Cat with Susie Chan at the Race to the Stones finish- all photos from Cat's site

On Racing

Do you have a particular strategy for the marathons and ultras you compete in?

Not really, but I think that enjoying yourself leads to a much higher chance of success - I tend to do better in races when I'm happy and relaxed.

When things get tough, what keeps you going?

Food and alcohol at the end, probably. Mental lows are inevitable though so it's good to know why and when there might crop up and to have strategies in place to cope with them; sometimes I count to 100 or focus on my breathing, or something else that I'm grateful for.

On Travel

Your website makes it clear that you gain joy in seeing the world and exploring it through running. Where would you say is the best place you have run in the world?

It's freshest in my mind, so it has to be Atacama - it was completely unique. There are also loads of great big city marathons out there; Budapest and Marrakech both stand out for me as favourites.

And where would you say is the best place you've traveled, irrespective of running?

I loved India: it was before I was a runner anyway, but it couldn't have been more different from Western culture, which I like to get away from when I travel.

Cat with Jon at the Country to Capital finish- all photos from Cat's site

On What's Next

You've recently changed careers to become a coach, could you tell us more about that and how its going for you?

It's going really well! After spending many years traveling to run races, I just really wanted to be able to pass on some of the knowledge to other budding run adventurers!

And I think we are all dying to know, whats the next race, the next challenge?

I'm doing two really hilly, technically races next year, because that's what I'm really shit hot at running on (not)! The first is Trans Gran Canaria, a 125k race across Gran Canaria, and the second is my first 100 miler along the North Downs Way.


Thank you so much to Cat for taking the time to reply to my questions. You are amazing.

So the message from Cat to you: enjoy yourself, enjoy the people you meet and enjoy whats around you. In addition to being such an athlete, through every interaction I've had with her Cat has been humble, friendly, and kind. That's a role model folks! This is also my 100th post, can't think of anyone better to spend it on.

Who inspires you?


  1. Well done for bringing 'gumption' back! Great word, and highly appropriate in this case. A wonderfully inspiring post - thank you for writing it and thanks to Cat for her answers.

    1. Thanks Autumn! And yeap its a cracker of a word!

  2. Great post!! Love reading about Cat - she's SO inspiring!!

    1. Yeah shes absolutely amazing :) Was so chuffed she was happy to chat to me!