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Heather Dawe: athlete, mum, painter, writer, student, data scientist

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Heather Dawe | Adventures in Mind

One of the UK's leading endurance athletes, Heather Dawe has won Elite Mountain Marathons, the Three Peaks Cyclo-cross race, and completed the Bob Graham Round. Pushing harder still, she entered the Tour Divide – racing the 2,745-mile route of the Continental Divide in North America. In 2013 she decided to write about her obsession with the mountains in a heartfelt book, Adventures in Mind. Despite being one of the busiest people I have ever met, Heather was kind enough to give up some of her time to tell me what she’s up to these days and offer her perspective on the mountain-sports scene for women.


How do you feel your experience of competing in elite-class events differs to that of a male experience, if at all? Have you encountered much sexism in the sports you compete in?

I have a number of experiences of sexism when competing in elite-class events. Not from other competitors thankfully but I don’t think some race organisers attitudes to women who compete in elite-category events are what they should be. While I don’t think prizes are the most important thing in the world, it is surely a good thing to have parity in prizes between men and women? I could give a fair few examples where this hasn’t been the case. The fact that relatively few women compete in elite-class events in mountain marathons shouldn’t detract from the achievement of winning (or finishing) them. 

When you first started running and made the transition into the outdoor world and sports, did you find it hard to break into the scene, with nerves or shyness etc.?

To be honest I don’t think I ever really consciously tried to break into a scene. I just went along and had a go. Most of the time when I started out I had either a lot to learn or wanted to get faster (or both). I think I quite like being a rookie and I know I really like learning and improving. By ‘being a rookie’ I mean I enjoy turning up and trying something and then steadily getting better at it until I was good enough to have a serious go at winning it. Then of course your cards are marked and you’re not a rookie any more! I enjoyed it less then.

What would be your advice for a girl who wants to get into trail running or fell running, but lacks the confidence as they may think they are 'too unfit' or 'will look silly' or something?

The fell running world is a very friendly one, as is the running world in general. I would suggest running with a friend or two, maybe join a running club. If you are interested in racing then go for a short race to start with and have a go (do you see a theme emerging here). As long as you can walk up a hill you’ll be fine (whisper it, but lots of people walk uphill in fell races).

How did writing Adventures in Mind make you reflect on your achievements as an athlete?

I wrote Adventures in Mind as I wanted to explore the drive I had to keep pushing myself in the mountains. I suppose the very fact that I was writing about some of my athletic achievements meant I reflected on them. To be honest though, I have only really fully reflected on them years later. This is generally now, when I try and go out and hit the times I used to. I have two children these days and am imminently turning forty. While I am not past it quite yet (at least I hope not!), I realise now that some of the things I did in the past were quite an achievement physically. A good example is my time at the 2008 Three Peaks Cyclo-cross. I have never really been a fast athlete just very stubborn. The Three Peaks Cyclo-cross in 2008 was a good example of this. I really wanted to win that year – I simply would not countenance anything else. I also trained properly for a change. By this I mean quality training, enough sleep, no beer and I lost a bit of weight.

Do you have any current goals/races/events planned?

I am currently working on getting myself back to having a decent endurance base after the birth of my second daughter last year. I am planning on doing a couple of events this year (the Dales 300 bike-packing event in July is one of the main ones – a superb low-key event that covers 300 kilometres of brilliant mountain biking in the Yorkshire Dales over a weekend). Apart from that I am still hoping I have a Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay Round in me – having done the Bob Graham in 2008 I've always wanted to do the three. Current thinking is to build up to doing the Paddy Buckley next year and the Ramsay a year or so after that. This year, as well as chasing after two small children, I am focused on picking up my data analytics business a little and (finally!) finishing my PhD thesis. On the writing and art side of things I am occasionally doing the odd painting and I am really excited to be working with Claire-Jane Carter, Helen Mort and Vertebrate to get our Waymaking project ready for publication in 2018. That is currently enough to be going on with!

Check out Heather’s revealing title Adventures in Mind. Also, Heather talks about her transition from no sport to athlete in the video below.


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