Racing driver Charlie Martin and her love of trail running

TR meets the racing driver with a 1hr 22min half-marathon PB and a deep-rooted love of running in the mountains


Charlie Martin isn’t just speedy behind the wheel – she’s pretty swift on foot, too. Yet, with a love for the mountains, she says running is more about the journey than how long it takes to get there. It’s for that reason that Martin, who hopes to be the first transgender driver to compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours, decided to run the Hardergrat Trail, a tough 30km Swiss hiking route.

How did you get into trail running?

After a few years of running, I peaked at a 1hr 22min half-marathon. I was running four or five times a week and, while I loved it, after reading Born to Run I was convinced to explore barefoot running and get off-road for the longevity of my knees! I’ve always been into hiking and being in the wild, so this seemed an obvious move. 

As a competitive sportsperson, is it hard to shift focus like that?

I think if you’re wired that way then it’s hard to fully escape your own instincts, but ultimately the journey is now more important to me than the time taken to complete it. 

What made you want to attempt the Hardergrat Trail?

I was told about it at Christmas 2017 and it sounded pretty nuts (which instantly upped the appeal!), and I adore the mountains. After looking at pictures online I was instantly sold. It looked breathtaking and, being as we’d just celebrated new year, I told myself I would do it in 2018. When I set myself a goal, there’s no backing out.  

You must love adrenaline to take on something so technically challenging?

For sure, I’m an adrenaline junkie. I think anyone who competes in an extreme sport has to develop techniques for mastering their fear. Most people I showed the photos to were like, “OMG that looks terrifying, be careful you don’t die!” It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. The terrain and gradients are so intense that we were climbing and descending 80% of the time. I was fit but not as fit as I’d have liked (trying to replicate that topography, and altitude, is hard in the Midlands...). Towards the end,
I was using all of my mental strength to overcome the fatigue.

How does your fitness help you in motor racing? 

In a race, you can be in a 45°C car, often without ventilation, kitted out in fireproof clothing with your heart rate at 150bpm for an hour. On a test day, this might be six hours over a day. You lose a lot of fluid and it’s pretty brutal; maintaining focus is critical. The fitter you are, the less oxygen your muscles need to maintain the same work rate – oxygen which can be used by the brain to think, process and react. So increased fitness means you can stay more alert in a race. 

Do you have any bucketlist runs?

My friend Duncan, with whom I ran the Hardergrat, was telling me about the time he ran the Zermatt Marathon, which piqued my interest. Doing the Hardergrat had a profound effect on me; being high in the mountains surrounded by the kind of scenery I dream about compelled me to visit the Alps more often. It was such a short trip that I felt sad tearing myself away from that environment so soon. I was spellbound for some time after. 

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