News & Updates

8 June 2023 • Mountain Running

Caitlin all set for world trail running test

Caitlin Fielder has developed into a highly respected international performer with a series of impressive performances on the Golden Trail Series. Credit: Jordi Saragossa

Caitlin Fielder is all set to compete in the short trail race for New Zealand at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Innsbruck-Stubai on Thursday evening at 7pm (NZ time). We chart her journey to the biggest competition of her life and her dream of landing a top five spot.

Caitlin Fielder is not the sort of person to let the grass grow under her feet. A one-time boxer, professional artist and partner to New Zealand professional road cyclist George Bennett, Caitlin is not short in a rich line of story angles.

Yet the 30-year-old’s most immediate target is the 2023 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Austria, where the Kiwi will aim to produce an eye-catching performance on her New Zealand debut.

One of the leading performers in the Golden Trail Series over the past couple of seasons and a former two-time winner of the 50km race at the Tarawera Ultramarathon, the Athletics Nelson-based athlete is not lacking in pedigree.

Now all set for her maiden appearance for New Zealand, Caitlin hopes for a quality performance which will help raise her profile in her homeland.

Raised in Rotorua, Caitlin was a keen water polo player and footballer in her youth who back then only did running for fitness at school.

“I wasn’t bad at school, but I would only finish third or fourth in cross country races,” she says. “I never thought then you could be a pro in sports.”

Moving from Rotorua to study a Bachelor of Science at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic she later moved to Nelson to take up a role at the Cawthron Institute, where she worked as a aquaculture technician.

It was during her time in the South Island city where Caitlin took up boxing. Enjoying the high intensity training she had one bout but was introduced to ultra running through a friend who entered the 2016 85km Old Ghost Ultra.

Deciding to join her, she trained for the challenge and enjoyed the experience and finish third women in 11 hours and three minutes. Twelve months later she returned to run nine hours 25 minutes and if the Old Ghost Ultra offered an exciting glimpse of her running potential, it took a relocation to live in Spain with partner George which acted as the true catalyst.

While he prepared on his bike for major events such as the Olympic Games and Tour de France she opted to pursue her running goals more vigorously.

“It was only after I met George when I thought, wow, maybe I sport is an option as a living,” she explains. “When we moved to Spain there were so many fun running races that I decided I wanted to train for them.”

Fully embracing the environment, Caitlin gradually immersed herself in the running world. She adopted a coach, Francesc, increased the mileage and continued to improve. The faster she ran the self-confessed ‘late starter’, stepped up her training and recalls a breakthrough moment arrived in 2019 when placing sixth at the OCC behind New Zealand trail running star Ruth Croft.

“It was after this race I met Jono Wyatt (the six-time World Mountain Running champion) from New Zealand and after chatting to him he started coaching me. He is super supportive, very relaxed. He always says to me before a race, ‘just go out and have fun’. He has progressed me very rapidly. I really gel with Jono, which is what you look for in a coach.”

Today based at high altitude in the tiny Principality of Andorra nestled high in the Pyrenees is the perfect training environment. Racking up between 100-140km a week – depending on the time of year – she has thrived and year on year is making significant progress.

Winning the 50km Tarawera Ultra during a Covid hit 2020 she repeated the feat the following year while also impressing internationally. She placed third in the 2021 OCC UTMB Mont Blanc and the following year took a big step forward to finish sixth overall in the Golden Trail Series.

“I definitely felt quite strong for most of the year,” says Caitlin. “One of the highlights was finishing second in the Mont Blanc Marathon. I had good consistent results.”

However, the Kiwi was the suffer a misfortune in the Golden Trail series final in Madeira, Portugal when slipping and breaking two vertebrae on the first stage of the five-day race.

“I fell down some slippery steps and landed on the GPS tracker which I was carrying on my back. It was incredibly painful, but I kept on racing all the stages. Although I could not race anywhere like my best.”

A full-time artist, Caitlin has carved out a niche as a specialist in painting shoes. The trend started ahead of the 2016 Tour de France when she created a piece of art with the shoes worn by George ahead of that race. Since then, her art has been in demand, and she has painted the shoes of dozens of leading cyclists including two-time former Tour de France winners Tadej Pogacar and current Giro d’Italia champion Primoz Roglic.

“I’d been doing art for quite a long time and when I moved to Spain, I had to figure out something I needed to do for a living,” she explains. “I’d come from a science background but that was a little harder to get into Spain and that’s why I started the art. The shoes have developed into something quite niche.”

Describing George as “super supportive” and a “monumental” help in terms of her nutritional approach, she has executed more quality running performances so far in 2023.

In February, she finished second in the Tarawera Ultramarathon and last month claimed another impressive international performance placing second in the Zegama Marathon in Basque country – having finished 11th in the race 12 months earlier.

“I was happy to finish only a few minutes behind American Allie McLaughlin in Tarawera and the result in Zegama in horrific weather was a good too,” she says.

Next she moves on to make her New Zealand debut over the 45km distance in the short trail race at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Innsbruck-Stubai brim full of confidence.

So, what are her expectations for the big day?

“I haven’t represented New Zealand before, so I’m pretty excited,” she says. “My big dream is to finish top five, but I just hope to have a good race and see where I end up, but I’m definitely aiming for top five.”

Harbouring no regrets that the talented trail runner did not take up running earlier she is instead basking in the enjoyment of a sport where she has a contract with Salomon.

So what is it that the European-based Kiwi loves about trail running?

“It is quite hard to articulate what it is like to experience the mountains and the nature when you are truly alone and in your own space. It is so serene, I’m just grateful I get to experience something people rarely do.”

***Caitlin competes in the short trail race at the 2023 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Austria from 7pm (Thursday). Follow her in action here via the livestream.