World Class Canadian Mountain and Ultra Runner, Adam Campbell suffered life-threatening injuries last October when he experienced a massive fall during an FKT attempt in Roger’s Pass, British Columbia. His brush with death and aftermath was so stark that those close to him can’t really understand how he is still alive, let alone not paralyzed. Go one step further, he is going to again take on the brutal Hardrock 100 Mile race with over 33, 000 ft of elevation gain in July. After featuring heavily a few times in this iconic mountain running event in the past and even coming close to winning it in a field that had Kilian Jornet his approach will be somewhat different and we are still blown away that this is on the cards and Adam is making massive gains towards this objective already.
We asked Adam some questions about what happened in that accident and what he is doing to get fit, health and ready again to take on some ambitious, super exciting and inspirational project.
Warning: Your Inspiration-ometer will blow a gasket…
AC: It’s been a bit over 5 months. My accident happened on August 31st 2016, so relatively recent and my body is still healing. I have another surgery late this summer to remove the metal rods from my back. In theory this will give me more mobility, but I am not particularly looking forward to having my back cut open again.
AC: I continue to suffer complications, with tight muscles, imbalances, deep scar tissue etc. I broke my pelvis (iliac crest) and have a metal pin in there. I broke my T8-T11 vertebrae and have metal rods in my back. I had extensive lacerations across my pelvis area, including wounds down to the bone and the rest of my body. I had stitches between every single knuckle, as well as down my arms, face and neck. I also suffered several small fractures in my ankle because the ligaments and tendons tore bits of bone away from it. In hospital I suffered serious digestive issues due to a post-operative paralytic ileus, which basically means my stomach stopped working. I suffered serious bloating and incredible pain. It was the worst part of my recovery. I couldn’t eat for 10 days and the pain kept me from sleeping, it was a horrible feeling.
Where are you at now in your recovery if you could give a scale of where you’re at now and how far from 100%? Is 100% likely in terms of racing at that Elite level again?
AC: I have no idea what my ultimate recovery and capacity will be. I would hate to limit what I am ultimately capable of but I do know that I improve weekly. It will be a long-term, multi-year process for me. I’ll continue to work hard and push myself, because ultimately I enjoy doing that. I get to rediscover my body and learn how to use it in a completely new way, that provides a great deal of possibilities.
AC: This time of year I ski tour quite a bit, especially on weekends, which is convenient because it’s relatively low impact, so long as I don’t fall, it provides a lot of strength and it is more or less sport specific and, most importantly it allows me to get back into the alpine with my friends. Plus, if it’s good enough for the likes of Kilian in the winter there must be something to it. On top of that, I have been getting back to running with a focus on frequency rather than long runs to get my body used to the impact of running again. I’m also in the climbing gym 2 to 3 times a week and am doing strength and mobility work almost daily. Add in a nearly weekly physio session and it makes for a rather full schedule.
Is the training you’re doing low impact to reduce stress on the body or are you clear to run freely yet?
AC: I am free to run, but I have to monitor my body quite carefully with it. Running flats seems to be the hardest on me. I was using the Alter-G (anti-gravity) treadmill quite a bit, but am starting to taper that off. I try to do one or two harder runs a week but they can beat me down quite a bit so I give them a lot of respect and mostly do them uphill to ease the pounding on my joints. I find running hard on the flats quite jarring to my hip and spine still and I am very conscious about avoiding any compensation style injury. I am also very careful not to run based on pace, since I have no idea what my body is able to do and I don’t want to put any undue pressure on myself. I have done a few harder runs but I try to do them entirely on feel while maintaining good form. My left ankle has very limited range of motion since it is still swollen so I can’t apply proper force to the ground which seriously limits my running speeds. I may be the only runner in Calgary celebrating the continued snow because it makes the roads quite a bit softer for me.
AC: I am probably running about a quarter of what I was doing this time last year. It’s definitely the least running I have done in the last 18 years but I am grateful for every stride I can take. My overall exercise and training hours, if you count my mobility work is more or less on par with what I have done in the past.
AC: I have only done one race, a ski mountaineering race at Panorama Mountain Resort called Steep Dreams. I struggled a bit on the long course race since it had some technical downhills that were hard on my ankle and hip and I was scared of falling. I surprised myself on the uphill only race finishing 4th, which was great. It snowed a lot after the race so we had a great time skiing powder afterward, even though I was definitely tired.
AC: The only race I have for sure on my schedule at the moment is the Canadian Ski Mountaineering championships at Lake Louise, the Ken Jones Classic on March 25-26th. I will likely do a 50km trail race prior to Hardrock and I will definitely do some local 5 Peaks events but I have not decided which ones to do yet. I have to play that by ear depending on how my body is holding up and how my training is going. My main goal is to arrive at the start line in July uninjured – relatively speaking and strong enough to be able to keep moving for up to 48 hours.
What is your plan for Hardrock 100 come race weekend. What do you expect out of it, not only physically but spiritually and psychologically?
AC: Oh wow, that is a very heavy and complex question. I plan on making the race a real celebration of my friendships and my love of moving through the mountains. I have invited a lot of my closest friends to come down and join me for the week going in to the race and I have asked my good friends, Aaron Heidt, Nick Elson , Dakota Jones and my fiancee, Laura Kosakoski to help pace me through the latter half of the race. I warned them that there will likely be a lot of walking involved but it will be truly special to share that time with them.
I imagine that it will be incredibly emotional for me and it will also be very hard on me physically. I have no idea how my body will hold up to that level of exertion and fatigue. The race has broken me physically when I was in peak shape and has humbled many of the greatest mountain runners in the world so I am mentally preparing for some hard miles out there. I also imagine that I will be on the go for far longer than I have been out before so that will add a new level of challenge to the event.
Regardless, I’ll do what I always do; I’ll take the race one step and one mile at a time. I’ll celebrate small victories and will be incredibly thankful that I am still in a place to experience these special places in the world with awesome people. It really is a beautiful part of the world and we do do these events for pleasure so that’s what I’ll focus on.
AC: I will likely include a lot more biking and mountaineering rather than straight running. Basically doing what I can to get in big days in the mountains. I also have to continue to focus on increasing my strength and range of motion, so I’ll be running less miles than I have in the past.
AC: I’m not sure it has changed a great deal. I have always had a huge love of being outside in high and wild spaces and pushing myself physically. I am still doing that although, before I believed that if I could get fit enough and push myself hard that I could be competitive against the field in most races that I competed in. My current reality is that I cannot afford to compare myself to others but rather it is entirely me challenging myself and what I can do.
I am also placing a much higher emphasis on safety and learning the more technical side of mountain sports. There is so much to learn about the mountains and moving through them. I think I rushed a lot of my learning, whereas now I have the opportunity to slow down a bit and really think about what I can do to minimize and limit my risk and exposure so that I can have a long and happy life in the mountains.
How do you stay positive and focused on getting physically healthy and fit again. Any tricks, mantras or rituals?
AC: As I’ve said, there aren’t specific tricks, just an overall positive attitude. I realize that I am incredibly lucky to be alive and that I am not paralyzed. If I had fallen even a centimeter differently in either direction my outcome could have been very different so I am just grateful for everything that I am able to do on any given day.
AC: The support has been amazing and overwhelming. Aside from my close friends, family and fiancée, who have been amazing, the global running community has been so supportive. I continue to get daily messages from people wishing me luck, or sharing their stories of overcoming adversity. There are some truly inspiring and incredibly caring people in our community.
AC: I don’t have any specific goals yet. I have spent the entirety of adult life racing and competing. However, over the past few years I have found myself increasingly drawn towards using my speed and fitness in personal challenges in the mountains. While trail and mountain running will always be my main and true love, this shift in focus has lead me to taking up a wider range of activities, including climbing, alpinism and skiing. Basically using the tools and skills that make the most sense for the environment and time of year that I am engaged in. I will continue to compete, because I enjoy the camaraderie and accountability to train that racing brings. However, it will no longer be my sole focus.
With my recent accident, I am also taking more time for mountain education, with specific attention on safety in the mountains and taking the time to develop my technical skills, so that I can have a healthy and long life of enjoying them with my friends and family.
I have also been offered an incredible opportunity to work with Arc’teryx to help them develop their Alpine Running line with a focus on fast and light efforts in the mountains. Arc’teryx has supported me since 2007 when I ran my first mountain running races and I have always greatly admired their dedication towards making the most innovative and beautifully crafted apparel. I am beyond excited to be helping them with their footwear now as well. I’m really looking forward to working with Arc’teryx to further develop the Alpine Running category.
I would also love to get involved in organizing more camps to help introduce people to the mountains, as well as travel the world a bit more. I have done a fair bit but it would be great to keep feeding that bug and meet new people.
AC: I had the great pleasure of skiing with Nick back in December which was amazing for me and I think he found it somewhat cathartic as well. Dakota and I have talked via text and on the phone a few times. They are both incredible people that I respect immensely. They literally saved my life and I could not have asked for two better companions for a mountain outing. I cannot imagine what they went through watching me fall, it would have been a nauseating feeling and they both told me that they were expecting to come across me dead when they made their way down to me. I am very much looking forward to a reunion with both of them this summer.