The Cirque Series kicked off this past Saturday, June 24, at Deer Valley, Utah, with hundreds of participants testing their strength and will on the first of several high-elevation trail races in the series.

The Cirque Series is meant to challenge beginners and pros alike. Photo: Courtesy of Chris Whitaker Photography

The Cirque Series is an intense high-elevation race that keeps even the most accomplished runners on their toes. It’s meant to be an event for all ages, with different classes of runners separated by ability. The kick-off for 2017 featured “Bacon & Coffee” stations, in addition to the traditional aid stations, a beer garden, product demos, live music and more.

After all was said and done, the Cirque Series crowned the champions for the Men’s and Women’s Pro classes. Giselle Slotboom and Brett Hales walked away with the illustrious titles in these divisions, earning a $500 cash prize as well as the respect and admiration of their fellow athletes.

The Pro Women’s podium, with Giselle Slotboom taking first. Photo: Courtesy of Keith Fearnow

GrindTV spoke with Slotboom a few days after her victory, with one goal in mind: Get inside the psyche of a champion.

We wanted to know what really goes into winning a mountain race – the preparation, history and determination of a champion.

How long have you been running?
I have been doing track and field since I was 6 years old. When I was about 15 years old, I started to focus more on distance running. I was still doing some all-around track competition.

Slotboom making her way through the wooded area of the race. Photo: Courtesy of Chris Whitaker Photography

What are the most common injuries you sustain while training and competing?
I have had a lot of injuries over the past couple years. The most severe was when in 2013 and 2014 I had patellar tendinitis and had two major surgeries on each knee (four total). That still flares up once in a while, but I am way excited to be back running and racing.

What is your training regimen before a race?
That really depends on the type of race I am running. Usually I will hit a workout early on Tuesday or Wednesday and do a couple base runs.

The day before the race is “pre-meet,” which is around a 4-mile easy run. For big races, I taper and take it a bit easier earlier in the week, with a faster and shorter workout. While smaller races, I train “through” the race, which means less tapering and harder workouts [at the] beginning of the week.

How would you train if you weren’t at a high altitude? What do you recommend for athletes who live at sea level?
Growing up in the Netherlands, besides the occasional summer holiday to the Alps, I didn’t know much better then training at sea level. I wouldn’t do much different at sea level than at altitude; still hit your speedwork, long runs and base runs – the paces are just a bit faster to get the same benefits.

When you live at sea level, you can probably still find a hill, or like I used to do in the Netherlands, one of the flattest countries in the world, find the biggest bridge I could and do hill repeats.

With the uphill being your hard work and the downhill recovery, it adds some volume to your training.

Slotboom hails from the Netherlands, one of the flattest countries in the world. Photo: Courtesy of Chris Whitaker Photography

Do you ever train outside of the mountains?
I train more outside of the mountains than in the mountains. This is because I am combining my start in mountain running with track and field and do most of my workouts on the track or on a dirt road or [similar].

My goal is to add some more mountain training after I compete in Dutch Nationals track, as the mountains are my favorite place, so that will be fun.

Where do you live now? Does that influence your readiness for performing at high altitudes?
Salt Lake City. The city is such an awesome place to train; you’ve got great trails so close by, mountains to run and [the] ability to train at altitude, and that definitely helps to run races like the Cirque Series. The acclimatization really takes about a week if you’re coming from sea level.

Lastly, what’s for breakfast before a big race?
Oatmeal with peanut butter with some kind of fruit. Nothing too fancy, just something filling and tasty.

Pro Podium Results:

Pro Men:
1. Brett Hales
2. Riley Cook
3. Rory Linkletter

Pro Women:
1. Giselle Slotboom
2. Katie Thompson
3. Betsy Bies

Check out the Cirque Series website for more information.

Check out more about the Cirque Series

Looking for a trail race to join this summer? Try the Cirque Series

The Cirque Series: Back for 2017 with a rebrand and new events