We got to catch up for a run and a chat with our Elite Immortal Sam McCutcheon ahead of Saturdays Mt Difficulty Ascent, which is part of the ANZ Skyrunning Series.
Sam- first of all welcome to Team UltrAspire NZ! We are super stoked to have you on board and representing us!
- Before we get into your sudden rise in the mountain ultra-scene, tells a little bit about your running background. You have come to running a little later if life?
Definitely a late addition to the running scene and even latter to ultras.
During high school I was a competitive swimmer and quite involved in surf life saving. I was training with Duncan Laing and it was probably one of the fittest I have ever been. While not doing any specific run training (I was playing soccer) I found I could always get around the school cross country course in a solid mid-pack position.
I studied in Otago and as a student I found running was a good way to keep fit that would suit around my class times. I also had a good friend, Rosie Hill, who was keen to head out for a jog and having someone to run with helped a lot. I was just running casually at this stage but did enter a couple of local races: Dunedin marathon, Routeburn,
The real transition came when I moved to Wellington. After running alright at Round the Bays someone at my work convinced me to join Wellington Scottish in 2014 and it was good move. I enjoyed having some structure to my training and seeing how quick the guys there really were. Even though I would be tagging along out the back they were supportive and it was motivating to try and keep up each time.
After a year at Scottish I entered the 2015 Kepler Challenge. It is a race the old man has run and one I always wanted to do at some stage. Snice Kepler I have enjoyed the style and challenge that ultras offer; the views are also much better than road running.
- Have things been playing out as you imagined? You have gone from being relatively a total unknown standing on the start line of the 2015 Kepler Challenge, to the 2016 Australia/New Zealand Skyrunning Ultra Champion in the space of 4 months.
Not at all. I didn’t have a plan or anything post-Kepler and was actually looking forward to some diving and beaches over New Year. After Kepler Skyrunning got in contact and suggested I should do a couple of races down south, one of which was the Ultra-Easy. I always wanted to run 100km (for some unknown reason) but wasn’t sure if I would be able to get fit in time as the race was in 6 weeks. But I decided to commit anyway and train through the New Year period (still with some diving and beaches around it).
After the Ultra-Easy I was presented with the opportunity of going to Spain for the World Champs. Again, this scared me but I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I turned down the opportunity. I entered Buffalo a bit last minute on whim and a suggestion from Grant Guise that it would be good prep for worlds.
Overall I have been incredibly lucky in how it has worked out. But also glad I took the opportunities when they were presented.
- What is you think that has contributed to you busting onto the scene here in such a way?
The biggest factor would have to be the people I have met. Ultra/trail runner are pretty friendly people and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to some good sorts who I have met and have helped me out over the past few months. I also think that making the most of opportunities has been a big factor.
- What have you been up to since winning the Buffalo Stamped in April and how has the build up to Mt Difficulty Ascent this weekend?
I have actually just got back from a three holiday in America (trip had been booked before getting selected for the World Champ’s team). Since arriving back from that I have been focusing hard on getting the fitness back and reacquainting myself with some hills (the places we went in the US were pretty flat). Danny Garrett took me for a blat up in the Tararuas the other week and that was a necessary shock to the system.
Because I have only been back in NZ for a few weeks the plan is to train through Mt Difficulty. I’ll ease off a bit towards the end of this week so I can hopefully put in a good performance on the day but the main focus is Buff Epic in late July.
- 60km at Kepler, 100 at Ultra Easy and 75 at Buffalo- will this be your first sub ultra-distance mountain race?
Yea, kind of. It will be my first since I started training for ultras last year. While back at uni I ran the Routeburn (almost killed me) and shortly after moving to Wellington I ran the Triple Peaks Challenge in the Hawkes Bay (Cyclone Lucy meant they had to shorten the course to 42K). While the 44 at Mt Difficulty is less distance than the traditional ultra the times/altitude map indicate that it is still going to feel like a long race.
- How are you feeling about the World Skyrunning Champs later in the year in Spain? You are doing the 100km Ultra, with 8000mD+ correct?
Yea, that’s the one. I’m incredibly nervous about it. It’s completely unfamiliar terrain and a ridiculous amount of vert. Your description above is intimidating but the altitude map is even worse.
In saying that, I am also excited about getting over there and giving it a nudge. It will be am epic achievement and the pictures look amazing.
- Looking past the Skyrunning Worlds- are you going to do anymore ANZ Skyrunning races? You have a good shot at the overall title, does that motivate you? And will we see you at the Kepler again this year?
At this stage the end of my year is looking a bit more relaxed and aside from Mt Difficulty I don’t have any other Skyrunning events on the calendar. As I have found in the past that can change pretty quickly but I am looking forward to a bit of a break after Spain.
Kepler is definitely on the list though. Enjoyed the run last time and would really like to get a sub-5 if the stars align. Will have to look at getting some speed back after this 100K to try and keep pace with the Aussies (Dave and Marty).
- I think you said on the Team Altra NZ page you are learning to spearfish and like a good coffee. How is the spearfishing coming along, and who has the best coffee- your home town of Dunedin, or Wellington, where you currently live?
To be honest, I haven’t been in the water half as much as I would have liked. Had two cool trips at the start of the year (D’Urville Island and Stewart Island) but aside from those mission the freezer has been a little empty.
In terms of coffee, Dunedin punches well above its weight. It has been a few years since I was down there for any length of time but I remember Dunedin having a high proportion of quality cafes. In saying that I think I would have to give the title to Wellington. I am a bit biased by having lived in Wellington for the last few years but Wellington gets the job done. There are about four roasteries within 10 minutes of the house and the competition means that there is no room to do a bad brew.