TT Plus preview: Qu Lijie is Talking Trail Running

Next weekend the busy spring campaign in the 2016 Asia Trail Master series begins with China's SuperTrail: Tsaigu Tangsi Plus, aka TT Plus. Host of the event is Linhai, a beautiful yet little known mountain retreat in Zhejiang Province, not too far away from big cities Hangzhou and Ningbo. It is the second edition of TT Plus, and since the beginning last year one of the key ambassadors of the race is also one of China's leading ambassadors of trail running in general. Qu Lijie, also known as Shan Hu, belongs to the first wave of Chinese trail runners who took up the sport over five years ago. Hailing from the Northeastern port city of Dalian, Qu Lijie is a familiar face on the circuit, and what she perhaps lacks in pure running speed, she makes up for in stamina and perseverance. Qu Lijie was the first Chinese woman to complete the 330k long Tor des Geants in the Alps, and last year she won the tough Translantau 100 in Hong Kong. Of course, she also has UTMB under her belt already. With TT Plus on Saturday she initiates her Grandmaster Quest in the Asia Trail Master series. High time to have a good talk with Qu Lijie.

By Xiaozhao Zhao & Kris Van de Velde

Q: You are a passionate runner, but what do you actually do for a living?

QLJ: Hi, I am a columnist, running coach and alpine mountaineering guide from Liaoning province in the Northeast of China.

Q: Was running part of your upbringing as a child and teenager?

I started running in 2009. I was a very naughty girl, who loved being in the open nature, but I never considered running as a likable sport before on the basis of sports science and the competitive regime in school. I was clumsy at physical tests, and failed in the 800 metres running several times...

Q: When and why did you decide to take part in trail running competitions?

I started ultra trail running in 2011 when I went to study in Beijing. A friend named Tai Fungin from Hong Kong encouraged me to try the TNF 100 Beijing and run it together with her. So I thought it was a good opportunity to enjoy the local nature and challenge my physical boundaries. I did not prepare for the TNF 100 race, but there were 2 things that impressed me during and after that race.

First, the trail running gear. I had never heard of compression tights before. So, in the race I wore a transparent pantyhose instead! To my surprise, we ran through bushes along the trail and those scrubbed my pantyhose into rugged pieces full of holes! It was so funny...

Then, after the race, I suffered from pain and soreness in my legs.  Even going to the toilet at home became an ordeal for me, because I had to perform a squat above the closet! And standing back up was even more painful!

Q: Do you also run road marathons? If so, what is your best time on the marathon?

I ran some marathons years ago besides trail running, but now I almost focus entirely on trail races in order to save more time to family. My personal best time on the marathon is 3:27.

Q: Do you travel a lot to do trail races, and what is your favorite destination for running?

I often travel to different places for races, either to race myself or to do my job as coach for my clients. Chamonix in France is my favorite place for running, of course the place where the UTMB starts and finishes.

Q: How much do you train? Do you have a coach or do you use a running coaching app?

I never plan any monthly mileage, I just run according to my own convenience and mood. I run when I am eager to run. A Suunto GPS watch is enough for me to track the data during training and racing. I do not use any mobile apps, but I do have a good coach myself now.

Q: Do you have a specific objective in trail running, or you just wish to run for fun? Is it easy to combine with work and family?

I have only one aim:  training must be fun and running must be with happiness and seriousness. I always thrive to balance running, working and personal life. Because I wanted more time for training and racing, I had to give up other things, such as shopping in department stores.

Q: Which is arguably not a bad thing. Do you have any sports heroes? 

I do not have any idols. really.

Q: How do you feel about trail running in China. There are so many races now almost every weekend. How do you select your races?

More races mean more runners. It is good for the boom of trail running. My decision on entering a race is determined by 2 factors:  1) the style of its race director, and 2)the challenge of the course and the natural environment..

Q: Do you see a difference between trail running in China and other countries?

There are big differences in races everywhere, as well as in culture and social atmosphere. You cannot make a simple comparison between races because every race has its own pros and cons.

Q:  In TT Plus, you will be running against the 2015 Asia Trail Master champion Ma Yanxing. Do you think you can beat her in this hilly race?

Ms Ma Yanxing is very strong. I respect her. I think as a pure runner she is better than I am.

Q: After TT Plus, the next race in China to score points for the Asia Trail Master ranking is in Wenchuan, Sichuan, on 15 May. Will you take part in that race also?

I know that will be a very interesting race, but this year I cannot make it. 

Q: Thanks to our partner Erun 360, it is now easy for Chinese runners to take part in Asia Trail Master races outside of China. Would you consider racing in e.g. Indonesia, Philippines or even Kazakhstan?

I’d like to try! I am glad to know about so many amazing races now in such beautiful places with their own unique nature and cultural background.

Q: What was your best trail running experience so far?

Training an racing on trails bring the best out of me. Each run has its own meaning and is like nature's best gift to me.

Q: Do you feel trail running races must have big mountains, or would you also do trail races that are more flat and without mountains?

For me, trail running means an event or a challenge on mountain trails, yet the elevation gain is less important than the overall feeling of happiness I get.

Q: Are you a sponsored athlete, and if yes, which brand is endorsing you?

I love Salomon.

Q: In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing the sport of trail running in the near future? What is it you would not like to happen?

Feeling free and happy on your own feet in nature is in my view the essence to the popularity of trail running, regardless of how many people are actually running races. But I am worried about the impact of the outdoor sports industry on the environment. For example, logging trees to build a race course, or littering. But I think things will be better in the future.

Q: A final word to our readers?

No matter what sport you like, keep smiling and enjoying what you do!

We will! Good luck and we hope you enjoy the 50 miles of TT Plus this Saturday!