From Kilimanjaro to the Amazon jungle, from world records to philosophy, the Danish athlete who finds life in running

I feel lucky, because running allows me to visit faraway places all over the world. The natural element plays a big role in what I do. When I run alongside Everest or in the Amazon jungle, for example, I feel completely alive. I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I have the feeling of being immersed in this fantastic, almost unreal, natural wonder. The fact that all this is connected with running, with what I love most, gives a unique meaning to it all.”

Kristina Schou Madsen is not simply a professional runner, she is a pioneer of the contemporary extreme trail. Quick, conscious steps have led her to every latitude of the world, facing challenges impossible and unthinkable for so many, in some cases all, human beings. From Denmark to international mountain or desert giants, through world records such as the 7 marathons run in 7 days on 7 different continents… Utopian goals, unthinkable milestones. Because for years Kristina has been trying to rewrite the history of extreme running-a history she did not know until 2008.

“As a child I always played soccer, then I did 20 years of boxing. It wasn’t until 2008 that I ran my first half marathon. It was a revelation and in 2013 I participated in the first extreme race, the Everest Marathon: I finished second and that was the definitive gateway into this sporting universe. A universe that changed three years later when I won the Jungle Ultra, a multiple stage ultra marathon in the middle of the Amazon jungle. After that result I decided to quit my job as a sports teacher and completely focused on this path.”

And the running epiphany led Kristina to discover and shape a new philosophy of life, one of calculation and sacrifice, of endless physical and mental effort, of competition with others and, first and foremost, with herself. Dedication. This is the core of a sport that, in the mind of this favorite daughter of a running cradle (out of 10,000 Danes, on average, 36 run marathons), has merged with everyday existence.

“Running is my life. When I run I relax, reflect, brainstorm new ideas, and at the same time I challenge myself, becoming physically and mentally exhausted. Running means so many things…. It is a continuous mind game for me, touching on areas as diverse as preparation, nutrition, logistics, etc. I know I don’t have a perfect body for the sport, I know I’m not genetically the perfect runner, but I’ve realized that everyone has a chance to become great at something: it just takes passion, hard work and knowledge. At the moment I am the only Danish person living off of extreme running. It is a great privilege and I hope to inspire many young people, I hope to pass on to them the idea that if you really want something, you can get it.”

Passion, hard work, knowledge. For Kristina, these concepts take the form of books to read, scientific attention to rest and, strange to say, moments of family leisure. It is essential to focus on the moment you are living, this athlete capable of breaking the record in the ascent of Kilimanjaro explains, adding that energies should be invested yes on performance, but also on relaxation, avoiding contamination of each other. A magic formula that can also defeat time, as Eliud Kipchoge, great example and guiding spirit of this ultra runner, demonstrates.

“You may get older, your physical capabilities may decline, but athletes like Kipchoge show how you can keep pushing your limits further and further. The ultra trail is about your mind. It is the mind that raises your performance. Running for me is a great personal journey, where I can continue to discover who I am, my true identity, it allows me to reach a state of purity. When I am away from everyone, in the middle of nowhere, I feel like I am absorbed in this huge introspective journey. During a race anything can happen, the important thing is to keep the mindset fixed on “it can always be worse.” When I got lost in the jungle I thought about just that. I was first in the leaderboard and, a second later, I didn’t know where I was anymore…. In those moments you need mental strategies, and I developed many of those strategies through boxing. Reacting lucidly always, despite the gravity of the situation, that’s what the gloves taught me.”

Kristina confides that she has no long-term goals, but she is planning an unparalleled double feat. From the boiling Namibian desert to the Swedish, polar freeze: in the coming months, running will take the Danish athlete to experience this climatic antithesis and participate in two totally opposite races, united solely by the challenge between body and long, very long distances. “I don’t know where I can go, the important thing is to always set new goals.” Kristina greets us by sharing this awareness and reveals her willingness to narrate this endless mental and sensory journey through ink. And this, we are sure, will be a must-read book.

Credits: Kristina Schou Madsen
Photo Credits: Jesper Grønnemark
Testo a cura di Gianmarco Pacione