Thursday, August 25, 2016

Athlete Interview: Shawn Crafford

An Irish Lephrechaun: Shawn Crafford
A couple of years ago via social media, aka Twitter in this case, I "met" Shawn Crafford. He is one of a group of runners that I interact with daily. We say hello, jibe each other, check on each other, and encourage one another. Shawn is also a fellow Runner's Tea ambassador, our Irish connection to those across the pond. Shawn recently had a great opportunity to run the Great Wall Marathon in China and so I caught up with him to talk about his running and this once in a lifetime event.

Brad Zinnecker/Trail Running Faith: Shawn, welcome Dude! Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into running.

Shawn Crafford: Most of you know my running background but for those that don’t, I was introduced to running in my boarding school days when I was in high school. I was seriously obese and took up most of the sport’s on offer. Basketball, athletics, swimming, tennis, and even squash. It wasn’t until later in highschool that I took up cross-country and loved it because it was a great way to keep fit for rugby and all the other sports I played. My high school was also based in the town in South Africa where the Comrades Marathon starts or finishes every year and so I started helping with that which inspired me to one day run this iconic ultra marathon.
Brad: Wow! Shawn, Comrades is a pretty big deal! Earlier this year, you raced another pretty significant event: the Great Wall Marathon.  Tell us how you made the decision to run such an epic race?
The Great Wall of China
Shawn: The decision to run the marathon wasn’t made lightly. Funds were non existent last August, (2015). The race director offered to pay me a commission for each runner or walker I got to enter The Great Wall Marathon and that did allow me to renew my passport and pay something towards my visa. By that time, I had made my mind up to go to China but just didn’t know how I was going to get the funds together for flights and spending money. I eventually decided to suck in my pride and get a Go Fund Me account and within three hours of opening it a very good friend basically covered my flights...
Brad: That's so cool Shawn. As you got ready for the Great Wall Marathon, what challenges did you have in prepping for it and how did you overcome them?
Shawn: My biggest challenge was coming back from injury. Most runners have been through some sort of injury before at some point in their running career. I tore my right abductor in September, 2015, after doing way too much mileage. I would have probably healed a lot quicker if I had listened to the doctors and physio, but like the passionate over zealous runner that I am, I ignored them until I couldn’t run at all. I started from scratch again in February of this year with the help of a team from @Mpg_Coach, aka #myprogramgenerator. When I got to the race start, I was about 60% fit.
A view of a valley from the Great Wall of China.

Brad: What did your wife/kids/friends think about you running such an adventurous race way overseas!?!
Shawn: My wife couldn’t believe that I was going because things are tight at home. The kids were super excited for me because they knew how much effort I had put into getting myself over to China. I don’t think I have ever been so driven in all my days. There were days when I literally walked around like a zombie and once or twice I even didn’t go on social media.
Brad: GASP...REALLY??? :) I'm not sure that's allowed in this day and age is it? Anyway, when you landed in China, what was your first thought/impression?
The Olympic Stadium in Beijing.  Shawn is on the left in orange, Mark Pattendens is in the green.
Shawn: The first thing I noticed was the heat. We landed at 9am and had lost at least 6-7 hours of sleep. I really don’t sleep well on planes and I was really totally hyped up. The smog was brutal, even worse than described in the books I read before going to China. However, as you leave Beijing, it isn’t quite as bad, (though not a lot better).
Brad: Tell us about the course for the Great Wall marathon?  How much of it is on the Great Wall?  Elevation Change?  Number of stairs?  Terrain on the wall?  Height of the steps?  How many runners?  What was at the aid stations?  Give us the lowdown...

Shawn's Strava screenshot of the elevation change during his run in the Great Wall Marathon.
Shawn with the runner he helped on the Great Wall of China.
Shawn: As you can see from my Strava screenshot, the incline is crazy and the descent is really scary. In some spots it is a shear drop... I actually ended up helping a first time marathon runner and we only managed 14 kilometers in 4.5 hours. There were 60 people entered in the marathon but only 17 completed the full marathon distance. It was seriously challenging and very hot. To be honest , I would love to attempt it again but not for a few years! This marathon was not as well organised as it should’ve been because water stations were few and far between. If I hadn't had my Camelbak, I think we would have been a seriously dehydrated. It was also the first time that the marathon was held on this wall so it wasn’t well known and really dangerous in spots.
Brad: What did you enjoy and what would you do differently?
Shawn: I enjoyed the tour that was organised by Mark Pattendens (the amputee) tour guide. In addition to the marathon, we also travelled to the Forbidden City and got to see the Olympic Stadium. What an amazing piece of modern engineering. There was so much to see and just not enough time to see it all. I would definitely love to travel the length of China and do a lot more exploring. It is such a fascinating place.
Group of runners for the marathon.  Shawn is towards the back right, in blue.
Brad: What’s the number one moment you recall from the race?
Shawn: There were so many moments throughout the race and even after the race. During the race it was definitely all the struggles along with helping someone else who had never done a full marathon. Even though we didn’t complete it, it really felt like we had. Meeting Mark Pattendens in person was humbling and totally inspiring. If you are lucky enough to meet the man in person you will understand what I mean. I am very glad to call him a friend and I can’t wait to catch up with him again in the future.
Brad: What do you think is the connection between physical and spiritual endurance, especially for a race like the Great Wall marathon?

Shawn: In every run I have done in the past there has always been a connection made between the two. The Great Wall Marathon was no different except for the very physically demanding stairs that never ended and the sheer drops! One thing that I was very spiritual was the history of the wall. This very wall we were running on had once been manned by many soldiers and some of those soldiers would have lost their lives in battle or possibly fallen to their death. History ooze’s from the Great Wall.
Brad:  Thank you Shawn for sharing your story with us.  I'm glad to call you my friend and that you were able to go.  Pretty neat that people from all over the world could come together and get you over there for this once in a lifetime event.  You represented us well. The willingness to help another runner when it might impact your own result is always an act of selflessness.  Keep up the good work!  

Thanks for reading about Shawn's adventures and enjoy these final pics below from China!!!

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