Jess Baker - 'shuffling' trail runner makes it on the world stage

Jess Baker was today named to the Great Britain team for the World 24 Hour Championships but, as she told Trail Running earlier, she is more at home on the trails

 Jess Baker (credit: DandyRunner)

Jess Baker (credit: DandyRunner)

Jess Baker is proof to anyone who believes they are not superfast at running that you can achieve great things. The Briton, who now resides in Australia, admits she is not a natural runners and calls herself “mediocre” at marathon. Yet her love of trails took her to finishing seventh at the World 24-Hour Championships last year and she was today named in the British team for this year’s event in Timisoara, Romania on May 26-27.

With a marathon PB of 3:14, she is not going to challenge the best in the country, but Jess realised she had a knack of running long rather than fast. “I just found the longer the distance, the better I do,” she told Trail Running.

Originally a footballer, she took up trail running in 2006 when in Hong Kong and she discovered the trails there. “There’s something unique about trail running,” she says. “Hurtling down hills or pushing yourself uphills, jumping over rocks. It was really exhilarating.”

She then she stepped it up further when she moved to Sydney. “I didn’t know anyone so went to join a football team, but it was out of season so needed to do something else, so I joined a running club,” she said. “And it really was a case of ‘I want to run a marathon once.’” She didn’t stop there, though. When she missed a turn in a 20km training run and ended up covering 32km, she was converted.

Since then she has amassed a catalogue of ultra-running achievements, including completing the Sakura Michi, a single-stage, self-supporting 250km run (155 miles) in Japan, in 29 hours 30 minutes.

“Personally my strength is the mental strength and the ability to keep going,” insists Jess, who admits, “I have a terrible running gait. I have this left leg like a limp. I shuffle along and I don’t really have the running gait or physique of how you’d picture a half-marathon or marathon runner. I guess it’s the ability to tolerate pain. It sounds clicheed but there is definitely a mindset.”

As much as competing for one’s country is a great achievement as she did in the world 24-hour event in Belfast, Jess found running endless loops of the 1.7km-long course to be an unusual experience.

“Twenty-four-hour running is so different to trail running. I think 24-hour running is way more intimidating than trail running,” said Jess, who completed 238km (148 miles) in the time limit. “Mentally running around for 24 hours is intimidating. With trail you’ve got all the views and the amazing places and the excitement because of the crazy weather, adrenaline, survival and all of that fun, exciting stuff that keeps you motivated and breaks up the monotony on your mind but also your muscles.

“Trail running is really social and in 24 hours we talked a lot less, which I think is counter-intuitive because it’s so boring.”

That trail running is anything but boring we can see as she describes one of her most memorable runs - the Transylvania 100k, in which she was first woman and eight overall in 21 hours 29 minutes.

“The weather conditions made it terrifying,” she said of having to run across the snow in the race which starts and finishes at Dracula’s Castle. “My achievement was to survive that race. As an afterthought, I thought I’d take my poles because we really don’t have any mountains in Australia that are pole-worthy, but I thought I’d take them just in case because there was snow. A few times I was going to slide off the mountain and I threw my poles into the snow to stop me sliding down the mountain.”

Highlighting the variety of conditions experienced on the trails, Jess elaborates on one of her favourite locations for running - the routes from near her home in Sydney. “You can drive an hour and a half and north and you’ve got the blue mountains, which are stunning, there’s load of trails up there,” she says. “You’ve also got the coastal runs as well and they’re just spectacular. There’s so much choice of trail. I could do a different trail each week all within an hour’s drive.”

Jess Baker’s ultra achievements

Big Red Run outright winner
Six-day, 250km stage race in the Australian desert

Part of a team who were the first in history to complete five desert ultra marathons on five continents

Great North Trail Walk fastest-known time
250km trail between Sydney and Newcastle - 54 hours 54 mins, with friend Meredith Quinlan

Coast2Kosci course record
240km route from Twofold Bay to Kosciuszko – 30 hours 4 mins

Laparinta Trail fastest-known time
223km – 60 hours 59 mins, with Meredith Quinlan

IAU World 24-Hour Championships seventh place
238km (148 miles) for GB

Sakura Michi winner
29 hours 40 mins for the single-stage 250km

Hume and Hovell Ultra Marathon, Greece
11 hours 3 mins for the 100k - third overall and first woman

Spartathlon, Greece
30 hours 58 mins for the 246k

Transylvania 100km
First woman and eighth overall in 21 hours 29 mins