Northern Ireland international runner, Karen Alexander has been a fixture at the top of end of race results since I started running. I have watched Karen race, and compete well over all sorts of terrain in different parts of the world and earlier this month I saw her demolish the field at the Lost Worlds 25k on the Causeway Coast, where she was the first competitor to finish (including the men).
Recently Karen has enjoyed wins at the well respected Cooley Legends Half Marathon (Carlingford) and just last weekend, the Moy River Half Marathon in Ballina, County Mayo (Ireland), where she beat the previous course record by almost three minutes.
Full Name: Karen Alexander
Current Category: Female Vet35
Associated Club: Sperrin Harriers
Personal Bests: 5 miles – 30:01, 10k – 36:54, Half Marathon – 1:23:05, Marathon – 2:55:58
What is your favourite Northern Ireland event? I cannot pick out one in particular but I do love the off road half marathons, especially the Causeway Coast and Cooley Legends (in Carlingford). The Causeway Coast is one of my favourite training grounds as well! What could be better than running off road along one of the Wonders of the World?
You recently won the Lost Worlds Causeway Crossing 25k, during which you were the first runner (including the men) to finish. Were you happy at this, how did it make you feel? I loved it! As I said, this is one of my favourite training grounds. We had perfect conditions for the race; the wind was with us the whole way. I felt a bit disorientated running in the opposite direction as I practiced the route one day in March when the wind chill must have been -3 oC. It was awful and it took me 2 hours 16 minutes that day, so it made the race feel like a breeze in comparison. I don’t really purposely set out to beat the men. I’m happy enough as long as I’m first female!
Over the years, you have competed on the road, in the mountains and on trails. What is your favourite terrain and why? It has taken me a while to settle on my perfect terrain but it is definitely Trail. I cannot navigate; I can get lost on a roundabout. This rules me out of navigational mountain running. I am hopeless descending fells as well. I prefer trail marathons to road marathons because the time barrier is less of an issue and I haven’t managed a sub 3 hour road marathon since Belfast 2008.
You have also raced over a wide variety of distances in the time that I have known you, would you say you are more of a long distance runner? or do you prefer the shorter races (5m/10k etc)? I do not have to hesitate with this answer. I hate to race anything shorter than 5 miles as it takes me about 3 miles to settle into the race, I even find 10k fast. I would love cross country if only it was at least 2 miles longer! My ideal distance seems to be 10 miles or half marathon. I have a built in dislike of speed work which stems from my school days. Although, I’ve been told often enough that if I did speed work in training, I would see results during shorter races.
When did you start running? I started running relatively late. It was only about ten years ago when I took on what was at the time a daunting task of running a leg in the Belfast Marathon relay for my church team. After that Trevor Dallas (a church friend and Sperrin Harriers member) encouraged me to join the club.
Why do you run? A great way to de-stress after a day in the classroom! I run because it makes me feel good mentally and physically. God has given me a talent which I have been able to use to glorify His name. It is so good to have the health and strength to run, especially when I think back to my early 20’s when I was enduring severe, prolonged illness.
What is your next race and what do you want from it? I have entered the Achill Island Half Marathon on 6th July 2013, which is a holiday. This is my next planned race but I tend to take each week at a time and see what the weather is like with regards to local races.
What is your favourite training ‘session’? I don’t have one! I do not have a structured schedule with speed work, reps etc. I just go out and run. How much time I have, how my legs feel and what the weather is like, determines the outcome of each training session. I love a good session on the hilly mountain bike trails in Davagh Forest. I recommend it!
What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals? Before a race, especially a morning race, I would have breakfast cereals and a soda farl (I love my starchy carbs). After a race, my favourite treat is a chicken fillet burger and chips and a bottle of ketchup!
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running? Without a doubt the silver medal in the World Mountain Running Long Distance Challenge in Slovenia, 2011. I will never forget that achievement which was way beyond my expectations. Second to that is my third place in the Belfast Marathon 2008, when I was running for Christian Aid in memory of my Grandad.
What is your running ambition? To be honest, I’ve achieved it. How can I better that world silver medal? Nevertheless each time I race my ambition is that I’m ‘in it to win it!’ As long as I continue to enjoy running I will continue to get a thrill from it!
What other sports do you like? I enjoy Gymnastics. Since about nine years of age I was passionate about gymnastics. However, I did not have the opportunities to develop my skills. I wasn’t the most graceful though and became too gangly! I can still do the splits and walk on my hands though! I wonder if there is a world record for completing a half marathon on your hands!