Catching Up With Polina Carlson

Polina Carlson is one of the top female distance runners in the country. Currently training to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trails, Polina has run a 2:35 marathon, a 1:13 half marathon, and a 34:12 10K. 

She is just as fast on the trails as she is on the road and track. The 2013 and 2016  XTERRA Trail World Champ recently won the XTERRA Gunstock Trail Half Marathon in October and was 9th at her first ultra – the Broken Arrow Sky Race 52K – which included many miles of snow and ice.

We recently caught up with Polina to talk about tennis, training, and the trails at Kualoa Ranch.

Q. I read that you started out as a tennis player? What made you fall in love with running?
A. Unlike tennis, running is the body’s most raw form of freedom. I also discovered that race-day atmosphere is a very unique thing. There is just something fundamentally different about attempting a PR in the woods across the street and going to an energy-packed, awesome, new place where everyone is also trying to do the same thing together.

I fell in love with running because it is not just about winning or losing, it is about the journey to complete what it is you set out to do, and pushing yourself to achieve something great.

Q. Can you share a typical training day?
A. I usually get up around 5-ish and, after a Honey Stinger honey waffle and some coffee, I head out to start training. I run about 90 miles per week – sometimes a little less – but usually only when I taper for a race. On my return home in the morning, I will have run about 9 to 14 miles.

After aiding my recovery with compression boots, I have a big mid-morning breakfast. When my breakfast has gone down, I do a core workout and various exercises to develop strength. After the morning strength/core session, I have a meal. The final run of the day is an easy local run. The total workout comes to about three to four hours a day. Training is such an integral part of my life that it rarely seems like a chore. 

Q. What do you love about the race at Kualoa Ranch?
A. Kualoa Ranch is stunningly beautiful, which helps when I’m hurting badly in the later stages of the race. The climbs are challenging but I love how you get a little reward at the top of each hill and be able to enjoy the views of the ocean. Every time I race at Kualoa, I feel such a sense of freedom and happiness to be surrounded by such incredible beauty. 

Q. I saw that you did an ultra this past spring. How was that? Was that your first?
A. Since it was my very first ultra skyrace with over 10,500 elevation gain, I was mostly there for the experience. The terrain on the course itself was absolutely amazing, but I decided that it would be better for my career to stick with shorter distances which plays to a lot of my strengths and also aids my goal to qualify for the 2020 Marathon Olympic Trials, which I’m currently focusing on.

Q. You are such a talented road runner but have also found success on the trails. The two don’t always translate – how do you use your training on the roads to help trail racing and vice versa?
A. I focus on hills, and for my long runs, I often pick a hilly route. I also spend time in a weight room – at least twice a week. I love trail running, so having the XTERRA Worlds on my racing schedule is a good excuse to spend more time on trails. Leading up to the XTERRA races, I spend a lot of time in the gym working on strength which gives me confidence, especially for the XTERRA Worlds where you need to have power to muscle up those big hills!