Special Feature – Runner Profile: Megan Wilson

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Runner Profile:  Megan Wilson (by Lee Maginnis)…

Who is the mysterious Megan Wilson, appearing unannounced to win mountain races in the Mournes when most people assumed she was somewhere across the Irish Sea? Did she really cycle across China on her own? And where is the legendary Dark Peak?

Rumours abound, and it was time to try and catch up with the elusive, bubbly, and extremely likeable adventuress… Easier said than done! After being tracked down and agreeing to this article, Megan (without any warning) promptly vanished for a couple of months – before reappearing, having notched up a brilliant race win in Asia. She then managed to sit still long enough to answer a few questions. Thankfully! Because, does anyone have a clue where she is now?

Where is “home” in Northern Ireland?

My family are based just outside Killyleagh, near Delamont Country Park. Although, I was also very lucky to spend all my school holidays growing up outdoors on the shores of Donegal, not too far from the cliffs of Slieve League.

When did you begin running?

I started taking an interest in running in my mid-teens. My dad was very busy training for marathons and ultras at the time and I took a notion to join his shorter runs as a way to spend quality time with him. It wasn’t long until I was racing some cross-country at school and going to local road fixtures at the weekend. I loved how good it made me feel.

When did you begin mountain running?

My first taste of ‘real hills’ came in my last year of school. I have my dad to thank again as he literally dragged me out to a Hill and Dale Series Race (Slieve Martin) one Spring evening in an attempt to get me to take a break from revision. I remember running the race in my scuffed up Brooks road shoes, not having a clue which direction I was meant to be going, and being absolutely certain that everyone there was crazy. I must have spent more time on my bum on the final descent than on my feet, but I was so full of adrenaline when I crossed the finish line that I couldn’t wait to do it all over again.

Eventually I found myself a pair of fell shoes and ran a lot of local mountain races in the Mournes that summer. However, I then moved to the flat fenlands of Cambridge for University and it was a few years before I properly returned to the hills and mountains again.

Any track or road PBs?

Hmmm those words haven’t featured in my vocabulary for quite some time… In fell running fast times are usually dependent on the weather and underfoot conditions (and going the right way).

Did you do any other sports at school?

Yes, loads as I found it very difficult to sit still as a kid (and still do). If there were a spare moment I would usually fill it with a sport; hockey, tennis, cricket, you name it; I was playing it.

How did you end up at Dark Peak Fell Runners?

It took me a little while to learn about Dark Peak. They have always been quite a traditional fell running club and tend to keep to themselves (adding to the air of mystery). One day I got roped into some Wednesday heather bashing with a friend from the club and I guess I fitted right in.

You describe Sheffield as “the gateway to the Peak District.”. What training and competition opportunities does living there give you?

I moved to Sheffield in 2015 for an MSc at the University. Believe it or not I was naive to the fact the Peak District was on the city’s doorstep until I arrived suitcase in hand. In my first months it was difficult not to venture off-road along valley trails on my morning runs and soon I was being regularly late to lectures having chosen the scenic detour over another new moor home…

Sheffield really is the UK’s ‘outdoor city’ and where most of the UK’s best climbers, mountain bikers and fell runners congregate so there is never a lack of competitive racing, expert advice or training company if you need it. For me it has been really humbling getting to run alongside Nicky Spinks with Dark Peak.

What is the highlight of your mountain running career to date?

I am still very new to the sport, but it probably has to be my first ever international race experience in Taiwan and somehow winning the race outright – that whole adventure is an article in its own!

What is your favourite race?

The Mourne Seven Seven’s. That might seem a crazy answer to those who know the nature of the rather challenging route, but for me it takes in some of the best of my home hills and I constantly look forward to the next opportunity I will have to come back and race it.

Where is your favourite place to train?

The Kinder Plateau. There are endless ways to train on this Peak District high point and Dark Peak have some amazing tracks in the archives to get the legs strong. Fancy a Kinder Killer this weeked?

Do you view yourself as best over short, medium or long mountain races?

I like to think I am better at longs as they are my favourite length races, but I think my results might beg to differ.

Do you feel like you are best at ascending or descending?

Uphill all the way!

How much of your training is off-road?

In the summer most of my training is off-road; I usually do 3-4 decent fell or trail runs in the week, and a steep hill session too. Add to that playing around on the trails with my mountain bike or climbing on the local gritstone and there isn’t much room for the road or gym. It’s in the winter when conditions off-road and the weather are poorer that I tend to hit the strength training hard to prepare for the upcoming race season.

You have an obvious love of the outdoors and adventure, have you always been like this or did it develop over time?

Since the age of two when I set off on my first solo adventure a mile down the road with my little green wheelbarrow (unbeknown to my parents) my independent and rather curious nature has always evoked a need for adventure. I get a buzz from pushing myself outside my comfort zone and enjoy learning new skills. There is no better environment for adventure than the outdoors, and strangely I feel most content when I am in the middle of the wild with just my own company and my tent.

Is sport in your family?

My family has always been very active. My dad and I definitely share the running bug, but the cool thing is that my siblings and I all somehow fell into our own sporting niches so we were never in direct competition growing up. My middle brother is an avid (Del Potro look-alike) tennis player, and my little brother has played rugby obsessively since he was big enough to hold a ball, in fact he plays to quite a high level today.

You have also been known to embark on some epic adventures on your bike. Could you briefly outline your exploration of South America and China?

Cycling across South America and China all began as, being a student, it was a very cheap way for me to travel for as long as possible. South America was my first two-wheeled adventure where I started in Mexico and made a beeline for Ushuaia in Argentina, crossing the Andes several times. It was a steep (literally at times) learning curve but I very quickly fell in love with the simplicity of it; pedalling from one place to the next with minimal possessions and little agenda. After my MSc and not sure what I was doing next in life, I decided to go to China as I had I worked out it would be cheaper exploring on my bike while job hunting than living in the UK while job hunting!

From Beijing to Chengdu via many many provinces, I stayed as long as my Visa would let me (6-months) and was truly captivated by the people and their culture to the point that I continue to study the Chinese language today. There were definitely plenty of terrifying moments on the road, and I questioned the rationale of my life-choices at times but, ultimately I don’t have any regrets from these adventures, only great stories. I am of course plotting to take to the road again in the future.