On interview: Ambassador Ariane Lüthi on how to reignite a love for running

On interview: Ambassador Ariane Lüthi on how to reignite a love for running

On-running.com recently conducted an interview with London-based musician and design student, Eleanor Dunlop. After growing apart from running due to developing an unhealthy association with the sport, Dunlop’s love for taking to the road was reignited during the lockdown brought about by COVID-19.

On South Africa decided to send the same questions to some of our On Ambassadors, to gauge how someone who has grown out of the habit can again find the initial spark that led them to running in the first place, and how the lockdown has affected that relationship.

On Ambassador, Ariane Lüthi, told us her story.

When and how did you discover running?

I remember that I participated in running competitions as a kid.

What brought you back into running?

After eight years of competitive swimming, I gave triathlon a go. I joined a running group at university to work on the intensity, and improved quite quickly, which was nice. But I always had to be careful not to overdo it, as I had the lungs and the endurance, but my body wasn’t used to the impact. 

Can you remember your first run or big run milestone?

I still have memories from my first running competition when I was about 8 years old where I made it onto the podium. I can’t remember whether I came first, second or third, but I still know that I won a white and blue canvas chair. I was so proud and happy to have won something.

What does running mean to you?

Running as such plays a rather small part in my life, and is just a form of cross training that supplements my bike training really well. Sport, however, is my life. I love being an athlete and find it the greatest privilege to be able to make a living out of racing my bike, although it is everything but glamorous.  

Is running a constant in your life?

I try to run once to twice every week, but sometimes it becomes a bit too much during my bike racing season, and I have to skip it for a few weeks. 

What do you think about when you are training?

That depends a lot on the intensity of the training. If I need to do hard intervals, I don’t have much energy to think about anything else, but to push myself mentally to go as hard as I can. When I do long rides, I process whatever is going on or bothering me on that day. Sometimes I’m a little bored of my own thoughts, then I listen to podcasts. 

What effect has the pandemic had; how did your relationship with sport change in 2020?

The forced break from racing was actually good for me. After 10 years of very intense racing, I was in a hamster wheel a bit, I think. Not being able to race for some time made me hungry and more motivated again to stand on that start line and push my body to the absolute limit. 

Do you have a set schedule each week?

Yes, my coach, Benjamin Justesen from Denmark, creates a master plan to build up the form towards my main goals. How he manages to get me peak shape for my most important races in the season amazes me every year. 

Do you ever find it hard to get out there?

Yes, for sure. At the end of a hard training block when the body is already tired, the weather is terrible or if I have some super hard intervals scheduled, which I know will hurt, I definitely struggle with motivation sometimes. Normally that’s just one bad day, and after a bit of rest, the motivation is there again. If I struggle for a longer period of time, it’s always a sign of something being wrong. If I look back at the times I really struggled, I now know that I was either suffering from depression, a virus or overtraining. My level of motivation is therefore a very good measuring gauge for my overall health. 

What would you say to someone new to running or sport?

First of all, it’s never too late to start with sport. My professor in sports science actually proved that although our biological mass degenerates with age, our trainability doesn’t! Anyway, to keep the body injury-free and healthy, it’s wise to get some advice from a coach on how to build up from the fitness and skills level you are at. It’s not necessary to make all the mistakes others have made, so get yourself some tips from people who have been there and have done that.

What did you fall in love with: running or winning (if you are competitive)?

I definitely love training – well, moving in general. It’s like therapy for me. I need to move my body otherwise I’m not happy.

Winning is the cherry on the cake, and only tastes really sweet because you put in a lot of hard work to stand on top of the podium. 

Do you still get the same buzz, now that running has switched from a hobby to professional ambition or from elite level to hobby?

Yes, definitely. I absolutely love my job. However, there were and probably still will be times when the pressure I put on myself becomes a little overwhelming and takes the fun away. But that’s part of the fascinating challenge that professional sports is.

Did 2020 make you value the running/sporting community more than you had?

For sure! And in that sense, COVID gave my career a real boost. After 10 years of racing intensively, it was good to step out of the hamster wheel for a moment, and get back the feeling of missing to race. It made me more hungry and motivated again.

What does your typical run look like?

I use running mostly as a warm-up for my gym training. So, it’s short and simple, something between 10 and 40 minutes, low-intensity. 

How does sport help with other areas of your life?

I suffer from depression and have been taking medication for it for four years now. I use a serotonin booster to lift my mood. It is scientifically proven that the body releases similar hormones to regulate the mood while training. Being active has helped me a great bit to cope with this mental illness, really. And I think it is the reason why I jumped at the opportunity when the door opened to do this professionally. Although I am using antidepressants now, I feel a great difference in my mood if I need to take a break from training in my off season, for example. That’s why I actually keep moving at least a little during off season as well. I just need it to be happy. 

When you do not feel like training, what inspires you to get out there?

Having goals I want to achieve definitely helps. I try to think about the most important race that I want to do well at in the near future, and combine it with the feeling of a big win of the past. I know that I need to put in the hard work to get this feeling back.

What is the best running advice you have received?

For running, specifically: To build it up slowly, but steadily. With my swimming background, my body isn’t the best at handling the impact of running. Therefore, I start with 10-minute runs, and slowly build it up when I get back into it in my off season from MTB racing.

Apart from running/sport what are your passions?

I’d love to path the way for young female cyclists who’d like to become professional athletes as well. Therefore, I am part of the Cyclists’ Alliance, a rider union for professional female cyclists. I wish I could change things more quickly, that there is more media covering women’s cycling and especially the mountain bike marathon discipline, and also that the sport becomes more inclusive and we see more African cyclists racing at world-class level. 

Which On shoes are your choice and why?

I have the On Venture for trail running and hikes up the mountains in Switzerland, the Cloud for my warm-up run to the gym, another pair of them for the gym workout itself, and lastly, I have a Cloud Terry and a Roger for casual wear and traveling.

Finally, why On?

I have pretty wide feet in the front, and the On shoes give me enough space there. Apart from being super comfortable and light, I also just love their look.

We have two South African professional athletes as Global On Ambassadors, read more about them here.

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