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Adam Campbell is a Victoria, BC-based competitive ultra-marathon and mountain runner who happens to also be married to one of Canada’s top Olympic distance triathletes, Lauren (Groves) Campbell.

Growing up primarily in Lagos, Nigeria, he whiled away his time playing on the nearby beaches on his boogie board and was involved in many sports at school. Of course, a childhood in Nigeria means soccer and there on the pitch is perhaps where he developed the large aerobic engine that powers him across mountain ranges and through ultra-distance races that he competes in today.

A bio by his sponsor, Arcteryx

“Adam qualified for the Canadian Mountain Running Team in his first trail race and continued to post the best-ever finish by a Canadian at a Mountain Running World Championship at the Jungfrau Marathon, a gruelling 42-kilometre uphill run with 6000ft elevation gain from start to finish.”

Personal bests:

10k -31:42
Half-marathon – 1:11
Marathon – 2:29:11
50 mile – 5:44:00

Christopher Kelsall: Being married to a top-level Olympic distance triathlete, the two of you must spend vast amounts of time training for your respective disciplines. Do the two of you do much running or cycling together?

Adam Campbell: Definitely on both counts. Lauren has been away, training and racing around the world quite a bit the past few years, so we don’t get to train together on a consistent basis, but when we are together, we make a point to get out for runs and bikes. I’ll even occasionally throw on fins (flippers) to try and help her with swim workouts, but even with a little extra propulsion, she kicks my ass in the water. Her schedule is much more structured than mine, so I’ll often help her with her workouts, or adapt my training to mesh with hers. I really enjoy helping her, we share a lot of laughs on the trails or roads and she’s pretty damn fast, so she keeps me on my toes.

Although we met outside of sport, in a Psychology class at Queen’s University, our entire relationship has developed along with our athletic pursuits. We moved out west together to train full-time, I proposed to her while out on a run and we’ve supported each other through the highs and lows of sport, it’s definitely a big part of who we are as a couple.

CK: I notice in your blog it appears you are running in the Rocky Mountains, is this so? The photos are breathtaking. When you came back from France, it was photos of food. Did running across the Rockies make you hungry?

AC: Most of the recent pictures on my blog are from the Alps, not the Rockies and it’s hard to separate Europe from the food. This is a bit of a generalization, but overall they have such a healthy relationship with their diet. The food is clean and natural and it’s something to savour and enjoy, plus, I was there on holiday and food is always a factor in a great holiday. To answer your question though, yes, running through the mountains makes me hungry. Big days outside, putting in long hours on my feet and trying to get as much vertical into a run as possible, often at altitude, is a great way to build up a hearty appetite.

CK: Can you tell us about your excellent performance in France this summer?

AC: The race that I did has a rather long name, Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC for short), it takes place at the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc race festival. The CCC is a 98km mountain run in the Alps with, 5,600 meters of elevation gain and loss. It is named after the three main towns in Italy, Switzerland and France that the race runs through. The whole race festival has become the epicentre of international mountain ultra-running and it has a real carnival atmosphere, with about 6,000 participants across a variety of ultra-distances and tens, if not hundreds of thousands of spectators around the course and in the towns and villages along the route. It’s rather surreal for what is normally a grassroots sport that typically hands out belt buckles and race t-shirts to finishers.

My race at the CCC went about as well as I could have hoped for. It was easily my longest and most challenging run and I was able to put together a solid race to finish second against a very good international field. Despite being a  beautiful and iconic setting, it definitely tested me physically and mentally, which is all part of the appeal of mountain ultra-running. It also confirmed my enjoyment of the sport and the setting that the races take place in, making me interested in and hungry for more mountain challenges.

CK: Whose training method to you follow? Do you have idols or mentors from the two disciplines?

AC: I have lots of idols, mentors and advisers from a variety of disciplines. I’m naturally very curious and love information, so I spend a lot of time asking questions, looking up blogs, reading about races and studying mountains, athletes and training philosophies. It’s just as much a part of the sport to me as the running itself, I’m a huge running and mountain geek at heart.

I have been working with Jon Brown for the past 2-3 years and he has really helped me understand the need for consistency and volume in training. Although it’s been a learning process for both of us to adapt to the different demands of mountain ultras. Things like learning how to power-hike efficiently and quickly (a hard one to swallow for most “runners”), a focus on vertical gain and time on the feet, rather than pure miles, getting in nutrition on the run, knowing how much quality to do, how to rest for and recover from races etc…

Although at the end of it all, I think we’d both agree that training is quite simple:

  • Train on the type of terrain that you’ll be racing in, or come up with your closest approximation of it.
  • Be consistent.
  • Run lots, some hard, most relatively easy.
  • Rest if you need it and enjoy the process.

Follow that for a few years and you’ll be quite successful. As I said earlier, although I follow a plan, due to my personality and life, I allow myself some flexibility with my training and will follow my instinct or opportunities, rather than my schedule, if it feels right.

As for athletes or people that I admire, I admire anyone who pursues their sport or activity with passion and integrity. Athletes like my wife, Simon Whitfield, Jasper Blake, Scott Jurek, Jonathan Wyatt, Kilian Jornet, Anton Krupicka, Geoff Roes, Mike Wolfe, Reid Coolsaet, Chrissy Wellington, Craig Alexander, Haile Gebrselassie, Steve House, Uli Steck etc…it’s a very long list and one that is constantly growing.

The soon-to-be lawyer

CK: As you recently wrote in a blog post where you quoted Pablo Picasso,“computers are useless, they only give you the answers,” do you think if Picasso was a trial lawyer, who lived by the adage, “never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to,”  would he have had a different outlook?

AC: Possibly (how’s that for a lawyer non-answer). I think Picasso died in 1973 (thanks Wikipedia), so the computer that he was talking about is not the same beast as the one that we have today. Speaking from experience, the Internet has made legal research way easier, so I think he would temper the word “useless” a bit as he would likely use a computer, or at least have an articling student/legal assistant do some research for him on the computer. Some situations do require answers or at least information to base your reasoning on.

Despite that, I think the gist of his comment would still be applicable. The law and legal practice is incredibly nuanced and there rarely is the right answer. I think that any trial lawyer who expects a certain answer, or a decision to go their way, can get themselves in trouble, because witnesses are inherently unpredictable and judges and juries are the ultimate arbiters, so the decision rests in their hands, out of the lawyer’s control.

The witness box is an intimidating place, with the bizarre form of questioning, the need for accurate recall from past events, the emotional and sometimes personal nature of the subject matter and the pressure of the consequence that the answers can result in, all boil over into a rather intense scenario. Add in hostile witnesses and people who give long-winded answers (like me, to this bizarre question) and the lawyer doing the questioning can often find themselves getting unanticipated answers or answers to the wrong questions. So although trial lawyers try to live by that adage, what actually happens is not nearly as black and white as they would like.

This might be to Picasso’s benefit because he isn’t as risk-averse as most lawyers and would be willing to ask more challenging and probing questions and would be more willing to accept unanticipated answers. Although this is a risky strategy and it could just as easily backfire.

CK: Would he have been a good trial lawyer?

AC: I think that he would have been a good trial lawyer during his cubist period. His ability to take a strange mix of lines and images and make a vision appear from it would be a very useful skill. A good lawyer can take the facts presented and weave/draw them into the narrative that they want the judge, or jury to decide the case on. However if his legal theory evolved the way his painting did, he would most likely have ended up getting disbarred for pushing the boundaries too far. The law doesn’t always like non-conformists, no matter how talented or genius they are and surrealist law likely wouldn’t be tolerated, no matter how bizarre most people think the legal system is. Either that, or he would have become a Supreme Court Justice.

Ultimately though, I think we’re all lucky that he took the path he did. We have too few artistic geniuses and far too many lawyers 🙂

CK: Do you continue to study law or are you officially a lawyer now?

AC: I don’t think that you ever stop studying the law, it’s always evolving (philosophical answer). I’m done law school, but I’m currently articling at a Vancouver-based law firm, so I have a few months before I’m officially “called to the Bar.”

CK: What area of law are you focusing on?

AC: The firm that I’m articling at focusses mainly on the management side of labour and employment law and I’m enjoying the process of specializing in a field, but I’m interested in a wide range of legal areas. The interesting thing about the study of law is just how malleable the degree can be. You can really fit the skills and training that you learn in law school into a number of different paths.

Back to sports

CK: You were once a triathlete, yes? Did you play a variety of sports growing up?

AC: Yes, I moved out to Victoria, BC to train at the (then) National Triathlon Centre. I was on the National Development Team for a few years and won the Canadian Duathlon Championships. With my wife and most of my friends still involved in triathlon, I still have a strong connection with the sport and can easily see myself toeing the line at more multi-sport races in the future.

I’ve always been a huge sport and outdoors buff. I’m definitely happiest when I’m outdoors and in motion. I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and lived essentially on the beach, so I was really into surfing and boogie and bodyboarding when I was young. I was also really into sailing and tennis and of course, being in Nigeria, soccer was a huge part of my childhood. When I moved to Canada, I played a different sport almost every term in high school, from football to rowing and ended up settling into endurance sports in about Grade 11 and 12. I was on my varsity cross-country running, nordic-skiing and swim teams at University, so it’s fair to say that I’ve played a lot of sports.

Although running is my focus and my real passion, I still dabble in other activities. I love pick-up ball sports, I go to the climbing gym a bit, I cross-country ski, I snowshoe, I bike and I’m about to pick-up some back-country touring gear to keep exploring the mountains through the winter.

CK: Being an ultra-runner would your toe-dabbling go as far as ironman or perhaps 70.3?

AC: I’ve already raced an Ironman and did quite a few, what were then, half-ironman distance events, on top of some draft-legal and non-drafting triathlons. If I were to get back into them I’d probably stick to the 70.3 or shorter distance races & keep my ultra challenges for running, but, never say never right?

Ultra and mountain running culture

CK: What are your current ultra and mountain running goals?

AC: My goals are to keep exploring how good a mountain ultra-runner I can become. I’m really excited to try my hand at the 100-mile distance next year. Having made the jump to 50-mile and 100 km races this year with some good success, I’m curious to see how I can handle the extra distance. I’m also a bit apprehensive about it. One hundred miles is a long friggin’ way to run and I realize that it’s a big jump from what I’ve done. Success at one distance does not always translate to success at the longer runs, but I’ll never know if I don’t try.

There are so many different races, in amazing places, but you can only race a few 100-mile races a year, so the hard part is figuring out what venues and races inspire me most. However, at the same time, I don’t want to fully pigeonhole myself and I’m more than happy to toe the line at races of a variety of distances. I like doing events with history, with great competition or in beautiful settings, so anything that fits that criteria is game on. However, my aptitude seems best suited to the long runs.

I also want to keep improving my mountain sensibility. Moving in the mountains is a very different skill than moving across roads or regular trail and it is a skill that can only be practiced and developed with lots of exposure to the environment.

There are a lot of interesting places to see and trails to run and I feel that mountain ultra-running is as much about the lifestyle and culture and places that you get to explore in training as it is about the racing. So maximizing my time with good people in beautiful places is definitely a goal (I’m sure I just reinforced the mountain ultra-runner/hippy stereotype for a few readers with that last sentence).

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