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Tracksmith Versus: Emmie Collinge

If you’ve read METER #1 or #2 you’ll recognise the name Emmie Collinge. In issue 1 she wrote about the rise of running crews and issue 2, together with photographer Phil Gale, she’s written about the rise of the Vertical KM and the unique style of the Italian running scene.

Originally from the UK, but now living in Italy, by way of Germany and Switzerland, she works as a translator while at the same time knocking on the door of elite level running. In the past two years she’s won and been on the podium at a number of road 10k’s and placed second at the World Mountain Running Championships, leading the British Team to gold.

With issue #2 of METER now available to non-subscribers, we thought it was a good opportunity to find out more about what makes her tick.

All photos by Phil Gale — these photos were taken as Emmie conducted a session of hill reps above their home in the mountains of Northern Italy.

You’re a translator — how did you get into that?

My parents used to live in Germany before they had us four children, and we grew up in a very multilingual and multicultural household. It was always important for them to stress that there’s so much more out there in the world that we could discover. We watched the Tour de France obsessively as kids, and when I saw the TV presenters switching effortlessly between languages to talk to the riders, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do in the future. Then I got more into foreign films and decided I wanted to write subtitles. That’s still the main goal but I am really happy to have got to a position now with two cycling magazines where I’m essentially translating work that I really believe in too.
After picking up German, studying it at university and spending two years in Berlin, Swedish and Dutch felt far more natural to learn. Now I’m making somewhat halted progress with Italian — I really should find a teacher.
Emmie wears Women’s Harrier LS and Van Cortlandt shorts

You were a obviously a talented runner as a teenager, did you ever consider pursuing running as a career?

As a 16-year-old runner I’d have loved to have carried on — I got an England vest as a junior and there were so many older athletes that I really admired. But it was the pull of having a social life that meant that I gradually drifted out of the sport. I never completely deserted running, but the running scene at Newcastle University in the north east of England wasn’t particularly glamorous or exciting, so I spent the first two years exploring the city and just getting out on my own when there was nothing better to do. It wasn’t until my final year that I really knuckled down again.

You seem to have run a lot of different disciplines — from the track to mountain running. You even finished up on the podium at the international 10k in Valencia last year. Do you believe the different disciplines benefit each other?

You have to really start with track and cross-country as a youngster, and then move into road as you get older. I remember the very first 10km I did when I was 14 in 2003 and it was a revelation. I’d spent years limited to 1,500 metres as the longest distance to race and have a time on, and I just loved how running even further felt so good. I clocked 37.54 and won the women’s race. I planned on doing one 10km last year when I was feeling fit but the course was 200 metres short to my frustration. Then I got a free trip to Valencia at the end of the season when I was exhausted and ran a fairly good time but I have my sights set on far quicker. It’s always nice to be able to compare times and it gives you the added confidence going into other races (particularly mountain ones) if I feel that I’ve got a faster speed in my legs than the other competitors.
Taking silver at the World Mountain Running Champs

Placing second at the World Mountain Running Championships and taking the team win must have been an incredible experience. You seem to have struggled with injuries the last couple of years — did you know you were in such competitive shape?

No two mountain races are the same and that’s the attraction. You could have a super tricky, steep climb and then a wide, flowing descent — or the other way round. I prefer to only do uphill races as I have a tendency to brake too hard on descents. The World Champs, fortunately for me, had quite a brutal steep climb followed by lovely singletrack, then a less-than-inspiring gravel fire road down to the finish. I had no idea what standard to expect, but over the past two years I have beaten a lot of the top athletes on the European circuit. I probably feared the American team the most. When the gun went it was quite a quick start but as soon as we hit the climb I found myself in the lead group. Then I just had to stay there. The gravel road downhill must have suited me more than many others thanks to the occasional bit of speed work on the flat that I do.
I’ve only ever had one major injury, which came at Christmas last year and kept me out of running until May this year. I probably deserved it and I’m quite glad it happened as I’ve now learned a lot about for stretching, strengthening, and just how crucial these are — and I’m unlikely to underestimate their importance again.

In METER 2 you’ve written about the Vertical KM and how it is one way for off-road running performances to become somewhat quantifiable. For such a simple sport, running can be strangely striated — do you think runners should be more broad minded to trying different disciplines?

Mixing up the terrain that you run on can only be a good thing. If I was training on the road every single day I don’t think I’d be robust enough to keep training. And for me, running is so much about a release, it’s about sneaking in a run when I desperately need a break from work, and the liberation from work is then so much higher when I can use the run to take me to a high mountain pasture. I definitely think more mountain runners should add in speed sessions, road races and flat speed, as that’s the only way they’re going to remain competitive as the level of mountain running increases with the increasing presence of African runners.
Likewise, I’ve found I feel much fresher and more motivated for road races when I run in the mountains a lot. And stronger too — it’s less of a grind when you mix it up, you’re going slow and producing a lot of force on the climbs, then really stretching out on the descents. Your body takes less of a beating and you’re getting two or three workouts into every run without really trying.

Follow Emmie’s adventures on her blog, on Strava and on Instagram. Follow photographer Phil Gale on Instagram.

Read Emmie and Phil’s features in METER magazine by purchasing a copy or a four-issue subscription.

The Bell Lap Race kit, Harrier Longsleeve top and Van Cortlandt shorts featured in these photos are available from Tracksmith for women.

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