Passionate long distance runner, mountain trail walker, horse endurance rider and explorer of the Great North; constantly striving for change and vitality in life, dynamic and tireless, she feels a deep connection with nature and the environment. When she is not planning for a new adventure, Rachel trains athletes and amateurs, preparing their minds and bodies to face their limits and go beyond them.
Rachel, tell us your story: how did you realize that your passion was so important?
The path that brought me here was a little bit unusual: I studied Law and Criminology and I started my career as a lawyer in England, then I moved back to Switzerland and joined the police. I really liked my job because of its dynamism, but something was definitely missing. In 2010 I finally realized how strong my passion for endurance outdoor sports was and that the spirit of challenge, the sense of achievement and fulfillment that those activities gave to me was everything I wanted. So I quit my job and headed off for the Alp Trekking, a two-week trek set among the beautiful Alpine peaks. In nearly fifteen days I walked and ran 530 kilometers as the first woman to face this trail completely alone. On those peaks I had the ultimate coup de foudre and decided never to stop doing what I loved. Back home I started RFB Concept, which aims to train people mentally and physically for better performance in challenging endurance events. I practiced and studied a lot, and now I can declare myself an enthusiast, satisfied with my achievements both as a trainer and as a runner.
What are the fundamentals of your training?
My approach to training is a holistic approach. Mental preparation gets the same attention as physical, if not more: it’s definitely the mind that shapes the body! It took me a while to understand how important it is to take care of your mind while preparing for a physical effort. Years ago, I was all for the “maximum effort with maximum output” creed, then I discovered Dr Phil Maffettone’s training approach, which totally changed how I trained. Combining it with mental preparation techniques, I developed a method that teaches how to connect body and mind for better performance and increased well-being. Each of us is different, we each have our own pace, and sometimes to improve we just need to slow down and listen to ourselves.
Do you find this body-mind connection on the trail? What are you looking for, walking and running for so long?
Finding this interaction is the first step in all my excursions, and the feeling just gets stronger as I walk and run. Loneliness is helpful there: listening to your heartbeat and senses, you slowly learn how to understand your body-signals. You also feel a complete and overwhelming symbiosis with nature, which is undoubtedly the greatest gift. I just love the feeling of running, of moving fast on the trail; it doesn’t stop me enjoying the moment, being fully in what I am doing, and taking in the scenery – on the contrary! And of course there is the pleasure of meeting your limits and surpassing them, going beyond your own assumptions. I have always admired people who refuse to limit themselves… I mean, life is really too short to be small!
How do you face the difficulties of such challenging trails?
First of all, it is essential to be prepared. Preparation is even more important than the trek itself: you must study the maps, the alternative paths, the weather conditions and so on. Yet no matter how well you prepare yourself, it’s unrealistic to think you can predict every possible hitch. We can’t protect ourselves from everything, and we shouldn’t be afraid of unpredictable events, because fear always leads to bad decision-making. Always. One thing I try when I feel a bit down or tired is positive thinking: I imagine myself reaching my destination and seeing at last all the people who have supported me – and that helps a lot.
Speaking of preparation, in the last few months you are getting ready for a great adventure, and this time you won’t be completely alone…
In August I will start on the longest and toughest expedition I’ve ever faced: the Nordkalottleden trail, a 800 km long trail that runs through Norway, Sweden and Northern Finland. It’s really demanding – I’ll have to walk and run for about 40 kilometers a day with a 12 kilo backpack on my shoulders and nobody keeping me company… except for two exceptional friends: Sparta and Nyx, my beautiful dogs! I met them by chance in 2011 – or, rather, I saved them from an unfair end – and it was love at first sight. We bonded immediately and now have a pretty strong relationship: they usually train with me, and are definitely used to long walks and runs! This is why I thought I should take them with me on this Northern adventure. Going on trails with them is amazing: we communicate without even knowing it, we adapt to each other’s pace and they are really helpful when it comes to listening to the path and understanding the surroundings. They have also taught me something important: challenges are good, but the greatest thing on such adventures is to really enjoy the path and sometimes even stop to stare at the wonders around you. We have been preparing a lot for this and I am so looking forward to sharing the Great North experience with them!
Why did you chose the Nordkalottleden, and what motivates you?
I have always been attracted to the Northern regions, maybe because of my Russian origins, or maybe because I’m attracted by people who live differently from us. Northern people have an amazing traditional connection with nature that I deeply admire. Apart from that, Hiking for the Arctic – which is what I decided to call my adventure – has a clear purpose: raising awareness of the continuing climate change that is causing so many environmental shifts. I will also be able to contribute to some major research conducted by anthropologists at the University of Lapland’s Arctic Centre; its purpose is to understand the life of Sami people and other indigenous populations who are also struggling because of the changes their land is facing. My strongest motivation, therefore, is knowing that I am not just running for my own sake, I am doing it for a better cause. And I know that even on those days when I feel exhausted, this will help keep me going. People expect me to make it, and if I can be of some inspiration for others, I will consider myself satisfied.