The first time I met Brittany Charboneau was in the summer of 2019 at a Peak Performance Running practice for youth athletes in Golden (Colorado). Both Charboneau and I were helping with the practice and we ended up having a conversation about trail running. She didn’t know much about the sport, but picked my brain to see what it was all about and seemed excited to give it a try someday.
Fast forward one year: Charboneau surprises the trail running world by winning one of the most competitive trail races of the year, the 2020 Pikes Peak Marathon. Although not yet a common name in trail running circles, Charboneau has been making a name for herself over the years as a road runner. She recently placed 13th at the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials with a blistering fast time on 2:33:14, on a challenging course no less.
For this article, I spoke with Charboneau about her experience racing the Pikes Peak Marathon, her transition to the trails, and plans for the future.
[TAYTE POLLMANN] Let’s get right to it. You’re the 2020 Pikes Peak Marathon champion. Congratulations! Tell us a little more about the race itself. How did it play out? Am I correct in saying this was one of your first trail races? Did you go in expecting to be a top contender?
[BRITTANY CHARBONEAU] The Pikes Peak race was such a blast! It felt so good to be racing a real race after so many races were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. I had just run the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop 18 days before, which has a huge variety of up and down climbing over almost the same vertical gain as Pikes, so I was excited to get the climbing out of the way early on for Pikes. My plan was to run as strong and steady as I could on the climb, hen let gravity do the work on the descent.
Allie McLaughlin was amazing out of the gate and took off on the ascent. I didn’t plan to keep up with her, but when I realized that we were only about 40 seconds apart at the top, I thought I had a decent shot at going for first or second place. I just kept trying to gain ground and get a lead on the descent, so when I passed Allie at about mile 20, my goal was to try to channel my road speed and stay upright. It was incredible when I got back into town and crossed the finish line in first place!
I haven’t been running or trail racing for very long. I debuted last summer at the Leadville Heavy Half and have been dabbling in trail since then. Pikes was my second actual trail race as I raced the Silverton Alpine Marathon earlier this summer. I’ve been having a really strong trail season, so I knew that a win at Pikes was within my capabilities, but I had no idea what to expect for the race itself. I’m thrilled with the result!
[TAYTE] How did you train for the Pikes Peak Marathon? Was this a focus race for you this year?
[BRITTANY] My focus before Pikes was the FKT on the Four Pass Loop, which involved a more ultramarathon-style training approach with back-to-back long runs over specific elevation gains. This is what prepped me for Pikes and why I felt so prepared.
Originally, Pikes wasn’t a focus race for me. I would have thought I would be training for my fall road season, but when everything got cancelled we decided to shift. My plan then was to try to build up my trail resume to try and make the US Mountain Running Team. I figured with the Four Pass FKT and Pikes’ win, I would have a good shot!
[TAYTE] Tell us more about your running background. What made you decide to crossover to trail running?
[BRITTANY] Traditionally, I have been a road marathoner. Last year I was supposed to run the London Marathon but had to back out last minute due to a back injury with all of the road-pounding. My coach convinced me to incorporate trail running into my training for the softer surfaces, variety, and to take advantage of the amazing trails in our backyard, which is when I made my debut last summer in Leadville. I dabbled last summer but really decided to put some intentional and focused training on the trails this summer since so many road races have been cancelled. I’ve been hooked ever since and now that I’m over my fear of wildlife and nature, I am more excited about trail running than ever!
[TAYTE] Tell us how road running compares to trail. What kinds of adjustments did you have to make? How do they compare?
[BRITTANY] I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well road and trail running compliment each other. Obviously, I’ve had to let go of pace per mile when it comes to trail, but this has actually been a refreshing change of pace (pun intended) because I don’t have to stress about hitting paces, I can just focus on effort. I absolutely love the mental grit both road and trail take, and I think I’ve been able to use what I’ve learned on road strategy towards trail. Physically, road takes a lot more out of my body, but mentally trail can take more out of me because of just the amount of time I’m out there (2:30 for a road marathon vs. 4:30 plus for a trail marathon).
[TAYTE] What are your plans for future running and will it include road and trail?
[BRITTANY] Of course my big goal for road would be to make the 2024 Olympic Team, and my goal for trail would be to make the US Mountain Running Team and win a world title. I’m really excited to keep exploring in both and having fun watching how well they both compliment each other. I am grateful to have options and be able to run, especially since so many other sports are not able to have competitions right now.
[TAYTE] What advice would you give to other road runners who may be considering trail races?
[BRITTANY] It’s not as scary as you’d think! I was always afraid of nature and animals, but there’s something so special and not scary about being on a run in the mountains. I wish I would have known that even though the paces look slower on trail doesn’t mean that it’s not still super fun to see how challenging some of these giant climbs and runs can be!
[TAYTE] You refer to yourself as “The Funny Runner.” Could you tell us where that moniker came from?
[BRITTANY] When I quit my corporate job about three years ago, I really wanted to pursue my running and comedy careers, hence why I invented “The Funny Runner.” At the time, I had been studying improv and sketch comedy for the past two years and had aspirations to one day be on Saturday Night Live.
I continued performing and teaching comedy here in Denver while training in running for the next couple of years. As my running training started ramping up before the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, I didn’t have as much time or desire to pursue comedy, so for now it’s on the backburner. I do still incorporate elements of my comedy background into my training and try to keep running as “funny” as possible!
[TAYTE] What else would you like to share about yourself?
[BRITTANY] Yes! I am also a youth and adult running coach under my coach’s company Mercuria Running. This has actually been a pivotal part of developing my own running and training because it adds an extra layer of purpose and enjoyment for me.