Kristina Shou Madsen. Photo: JesperGrønnemark

Running athlete Kristina Schou Madsen on her world record, a longing for Kenya and abruptly changed plans for the spring

WIMA made an interview with Kristina Schou Madsen from Denmark, just a month before WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Then, in February, she set the world record for the fastest average marathon when she ran 7 marathons over 7 days on 7 continents. Kristina Schou Madsen seldom says no to an adventure, especially not when it comes to running and she loves to explore new challenges wherever they are. But now – after the race of her life – she has to adapt to the Danish Government’s advice against travelling and stay in the country.

Kristina Schou Madsen was born in Denmark. She admits that it is a problem to love running in hills and mountains when you live in a country where the highest peak is only 177 metres of elevation. But 34 years old Kristina has stayed true to Kolding, the small town in the southern part of Denmark where she was born. This is her base camp, from which she represents Denmark in the long distance mountain-running trail team and the national trail team. She is a professional runner who competes all over the world. And she has two astonishing world records on her list of qualifications.

Kristina Shou Madsen
Photo from the World Marathon Challenge.
The top picture – photo by Jesper Grønnemark.

WIMA’s interview with Kristina takes place just a couple of days before she is going to compete in the World Marathon Challenge in February 2020. The competition challenges the athletes to run seven marathons on seven continents over seven days. In 2019 she was the second female and the fourth overall runner. This year she aims higher. When WIMA asks about her goal she answers without hesitation.

“It’s to win the race and to set the new world record. It will be amazingly tough, both physically and mentally.  But I know that I can run faster than last year”.

And so she did. Not only did she set a new female record with the fastest average marathon time 3:25:57 over seven days. She also won the whole competition, outright both men and women. In total there were 19 female runners and 23 male runners. 

It was an experience to remember, from sun and wind, to snow and ice. Kristina was well prepared and focused.

“I don’t know any of the other men and women in the race, but I have done a competitor analysis for the female runners. I will have to average 4:52 min/km to reach my target” Kristina said, just before she left Denmark for the starting line that was planned to be in Antarctica. Due to flying conditions the race plan was changed in the last minute. Cape Town and the Africa Intercontinental Marathon was the new start up in the World Marathon Challenge, followed by Antarctica Intercontinental Marathon.

The race then went on to Perth in Australia, Dubai in Asia, Madrid in Europe, Fortaleza in South America and finally to Miami in North America. Each Marathon with its own difficulties and challenges. A big part of the race is to handle the travel time and all the logistics between the races.

With seven races in a row you also have to be tactical. Kristina knew she was in a good shape and her plan was to adapt to her competitors running. Adapting or not. She started by winning the women’s competition in Cape Town, 3:10:53, nine minutes before the second female. She was prepared that Antarctica would be her slowest race, as it was the only race in a cold climate.

“The race is in minus degrees, on ice and snow. The ice makes the surface a little bit more stiff and the snow sucks the energy out of the legs” she says. 

But in Antarctica Kristina was superior. With the time 3:54:20 she was the overall winner, twelve minutes before the next male runner, and more than 30 minutes before the second female.

Kristina Shou Madsen
In the World Marathon Challange 2020 Kristina Schou Madsen was the overall winner of the marathon on Antarctica. “I must say this continent is something special. It is so remote, so untouched and it is just pure nature. There’s ice everywhere you look and it is so unexplored by human beings” Kristina says.

In Perth Kristina was the second female 3:19:48, three minutes after the American runner Jessica Jones. This proved to be the only race in the women’s competition that Kristina did not win. But the fight was tough and anything can happen when you run seven marathons, seven days in a row. What is worth noticing is that the second female runner, Jessica Jones from USA, in the end also was the second overall.

In Dubai Kristina was the first female and the third overall. She was only 30 seconds after Milosz Pasiecnik from Poland, who in the end was the male winner in the World Marathon Challenge.

The race in Madrid had the most hills, and a total of 500 metres of elevation. 

“When you aim for a fast marathon time 500 metres of elevation is quite a lot. But that is an advantage to me because I am used to it.”

In Madrid Chen Huang from China was the fastest male runner. Actually he was the fastest in four out of five races (not Antarctica) and in this phase he was in the total lead. But after Madrid Chen dropped off due to a foot injury. With Chen out of the competition Kristina turned out to be the overall winner in both the two remaining races.

In Fortaleza she was the outstanding winner, ten minutes ahead of Jessica and 20 minutes ahead of the first male runner. In Miami it was more thrilling. But in the end Kristina won, 32 seconds before Philippe Richet from France.

“Fortaleza, Brazil, was the toughest race” according to Kristina. The race was in 36 degree Celcius and in addition the humidity was 80 percent. “You had to run smart and listen to your body the whole way. You could not just push through and fight, you also needed to listen to every signal from the body, interpretate, and take it seriously.” 

A new female world record was set. And the overall winner of the World Marathon Challenge 2020 was a female. Kristina Schou Madsen did it!

“I get motivated by setting the goals high. If it is almost a little bit unrealistic it gives me an adrenaline kick” says Kristina. 

“I always do my preparations as good as possible. It is about planning, training, mental strategies and to find out what motivates me to take me to the next level. I always do my best. I don’t think about failures, but I ask the question: What is the worst thing that can happen? And then I prepare for it.”

Now Kristina is spending a couple of weeks off season. Eventually it is time to prepare for the summer challenge, the National Trail Championship in Denmark. At the moment, her plans have changed dramatically due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation. 

This spring will be different for Kristina. No running in the mountains. No travelling at all. But a lot of training. Alone.
Photo: Jesper Grønnemark.

During March and April the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark advises against all non-essential travel worldwide.

“I was supposed to travel to the Lake District in England, but I’ve cancelled it. Until April I will train mostly by myself or in small groups of two or three people” she says. 

What happens after spring is difficult to tell. In September she hopes to run For Rangers Ultra, a 250 km stage race in Kenya. Kristina longs to come back to Africa. This spring it is two years since she set the Fastest Known Time, FKT, on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, in 2018. 

“A friend of mine asked if I wanted to join her on a fast track to the top. I googled it. And then I knew that I wanted to break the world record.” 

The FKT attempt started at a level of 1 600 metres of elevation. The 23nd of February at 06.00 a.m. she stood in the darkness, ready to start to climb the rest of the 4 295 metres to the top (5 895 metres above sea level).

Kristina set the Fastest Known Time of Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2018.

“The two first hours were before sunrise. I walked or ran slowly the whole way. On one hand this was a beautiful, unique and amazing experience, on the other hand it was really tough. When you go above 3500 metres your whole body screams for oxygen. Even though the scenery was absolutely fantastic it was one of the toughest things I have ever done” Kristina tells.

Kilimanjaro is a volcano with a top crater. It took Kristina 6 hours 52 minutes and 54 second to reach the top.

“The last 30 minutes I knew that I was going to reach the record. It was a little bit unrealistic. But I was so happy, grateful and pleased. I really like those kind of physical and mental challenges.

What is your biggest motivation for doing it all? 

“I really love to find big challenges. I love the nature. And I love to run “.

More about Kristina Schou Madsen 

  • Kristina Schou Madsen ran a marathon in the mountains for the first time during a visit in the Himalayas in 2013. 
  • Her career as a professional runner kicked off when she won The Jungle Ultra by Beyond the Ultimate in the Amazonas in 2016. 
  • Kristina runs her own business, Kristina Extreme Running. She coaches and organizes races, it is also possible to buy Virtual Run (and to get cool medals after the run) in her webshop
  • One of Kristina’s favourite running areas is the Lake District in England with rough terrain. In Summer 2019 she did the famous Bob Graham Round with 42 peaks in 18 hours and 45 min. Maybe one of her future adventures will take place there again. 

This is how Kristina prepare for her races: 

  • Kristina divide her preparations into four categories: physical, mental, equipment and course preparation. “You have to be in good physical shape and you need to do the right kind of training towards different competitions”, she says. “For example there’s a big difference in training for the World Marathon Challenge and breaking the FKT on Kilimanjaro.”  
  • The physical preparation is the basic – without that it doesn’t matter to build on the other areas. The second one is the mental preparation. Mental toughness is possibly the most important factor for success. Kristina spends lots of time before every race visualising the event and all the possible outcomes and scenarios. What happens if she makes a wrong turn and have to run extra distance? What if she gets injured or sick? Or what if she is not performing as one would expect to and loses motivation.
  • Thinking about each scenario beforehand, whilst you are calm, and having a strategy prepared in your mind means you can avoid panicking and wasting mental energy if something doesn’t go as expected during a race.The last two are also crucial – especially in ultra-trail races and mountain running. 
Kristina Schou Madsen set the female world record in the World Marathon Challange 2020. She was also the overall winner of the 7-day race (on 7 continents, during 7 days in a row).

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