Interview with Kirra Balmanno

Kirra Balmanno is an impressively accomplished Australian mountain runner & veterinarian. She bought a one-way ticket to Europe in 2016 and fell in love with the mountains. Now she lives in the beautiful city of Innsbruck. Get ready for a little German lesson, and to learn about some Swiss snacks that you might like to try on your next long run.

It’s an honour to have you on the blog. How are you doing?

Thanks Chris. I’m doing really well thank you! I have just come back from a few months in the Middle East and Nepal, running in the desert mountains, the Himalaya and challenging myself in a very different way with ten days of silent meditation in a technique called Vipassana. I am energised and inspired for the year ahead, especially having just moved to the beautiful city of Innsbruck where it’s snowing outside my apartment window right now!

2018 has been a pretty big year. What was the highlight for you?

There’s been so many! If I had to pick just a few (and keep it running related): being a part of the ALPSinsight team on the reconnaissance mission of the Via Valais – a new nine day trail running grand tour through the heart of the Swiss Alps; revisiting Nepal (which is always a powerful experience) where I won the Manaslu Trail Race and completed a solo project of running up to Annapurna Base Camp and back; exploring the desert mountains of Oman; working with Lizzie Hawker as a trail guide on her training camps around Monte Rosa and living the warmer months in a chalet in the Swiss Alps, exploring the spectacular and infinite amount of mountain trails in Valais.

What was your most recent race, and what was a highlight for you?

It was the Manaslu Trail Race just a few weeks ago. The whole experience was a highlight to be honest. The incredible scenery: being immersed in the Himalaya and surrounded by the highest mountains in the world, the humbling feeling of running at high altitude, the warmth and kindness of the people that I met along the way and the snow leopard prints I found in the snow as we climbed to the border of Tibet on our rest day!

What do you have planned for 2019 and what are you most excited about?

I am really excited about a big self-supported multi-day, light and fast run that I’ll be doing through the  Caucasus in Georgia. I also have an exciting lineup of mountain races to run in Europe and I can’t wait to explore the mountain trails up above Innsbruck, but I’ll have to wait for Summer for that.

What has been your greatest running achievement so far?

Not a competitive achievement but the one that made the most impact was running solo around the Annapurna Circuit at the end of 2016. It was my first experience at very high altitudes, alone and in unfamiliar mountains. It taught me a lot about myself and has opened up my mind to the infinite amount of possibilities for adventure and my own capabilities.

What has been your greatest running challenge so far?

Injuries have definitely been the biggest challenge for me in the past. Acceptance of injury and taking time out from running has not been an easy process but has no doubt given me a more balanced perspective and has taught me a lot about patience, pain perception and maintaining a positive mindset. Challenges are here to teach us important lessons and I can be thankful for my injuries for teaching me a lot about my own mind and body.

Can you tell us a bit about your work as a vet?

Yes. I graduated from the University of Queensland in 2013.  I started my own veterinary locum company when I moved to Europe a few years ago where I take on short term contracts in consulting and surgery at vet clinics all over the UK.  I work a few intensive weeks to months and then spend the rest of my year doing solid time in the mountains, mostly the Alps and Himalaya.

It seems unrelated, but is there anything about your work that transfers over to running?

I think that my running transfers more to my career as a veterinarian than vice versa. The level of grit, perseverance and the positive mental attitude that it takes to be a good endurance runner is transferable to my professional work in the fast-paced, dynamic and at times stressful environment of 24 hour emergency veterinary hospitals. Playing in the mountains is about being adaptable and decisive in certain situations such as capricious weather and route choice. I think the same qualities serve well for vets too.  Being a locum veterinarian allows me the freedom to be flexible and to afford the opportunity to take large chunks of time out to feed my other passion – mountains and Berglaufen (und Deutsch lernen ;))

What’s your number one strength exercise, and why is it so great?

I am really passionate about strength training. It is really important, not just for high altitude athletes, but for everyone to help maintain bone density and muscle strength as we age. My favourite exercise would have to be pull-ups. I always include 3-5 sets of these as a warm-up and to get my mind in the zone. They’re great for improving balanced and functional upper body strength which is otherwise lost when running, a lot. It’s also good to have some strength for scrambling or via ferrata encounters when running in the mountains. The deadlift and bulgarian lunges are staples in my strength training routine too. Why? They’re functional and strengthen the posterior chain to reduce risk of injury and improve performance.

What’s your favourite post-run food, and what do you eat during long runs? 

Post run for me is all about getting the macros right to restore lost glycogen and start recovering quickly. I like a big bowl of steamed veggies, some boiled eggs, brown rice and a tahini/lemon juice dressing (which is often leftovers from the night before). If it’s a really hard session, I’ll make a protein shake as well. My favourite combination at the moment is whey isolate, banana, turmeric, pepper and a thumb of fresh ginger mixed with part water/part oat milk. Mega lecker!

I race mostly on gels so this is what I consume during my long training runs too, about as often as I will take one during racing. For the longer, slower, endurance projects or photoshoots where we’re out all day, I eat more normal food like bread with avocado, figs and nuts and some swiss specialities like Bärli-bieber (a gingerbread with a soft almond filling and full of energy) and Swiss chocolate (the coop, a swiss supermarket, has these 400g bars of nut chocolate and a few rows of this is perfect!).
What piece of advice would you give to new trail runners? Stretch, sleep and don’t forget your strength and core work 😉

What’s next on your race calendar?

I will start the season with my new local, the Innsbruck Alpine in May. Before that, it’s a lot of training in the snow and the gym. 

Many thanks for your time, and we wish you all the best in 2019.

Follow Kirra

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