Want to know more about Helen? Check out the Freetrail Podcast interview! Dylan sat down with the rising trail running star last week to learn more about her backstory and catch up after her most recent 50-kilometer wins.
Helen Mino Faukner grew up, as a northern California kid, playing soccer and then dabbling in track and field in 8th grade. When she went out for cross country during her freshman year of high school, she discovered trail running during weekend runs on trails with teammates and kids from other schools. That love of the trails continued to develop when Helen started running cross country and track in college at the University of Nevada Reno (UNR). Her love of trail running ultimately didn’t translate to cross country, and she quit the team to run with friends from the local running store instead.
“I was not very fast in college. I think I ran 37:18 in the 10k at the Mountain West Conference Championships and I quit on the bus ride home,” said Mino Faukner.
Her parents have been a big influence on her trail running experience but for very different reasons. When she gets lost or ends up off the trail she just keeps going and credits her dad for that. Her strong aversion to turning around and telling herself, “I just feel like it connects” is something she says she got from him. Her mom on the other hand raised her with a reverence for nature and a deeply rooted respect for our planet.
“I know that my connection to the outdoors and seeing myself as a part of nature is something that my parents taught me. They were taking me on backpacking trips before I could walk.”
She ran her first 50-kilometer race in 2018 but then stopped running for nearly two years.
“I moved to Truckee shortly after and we had a pretty big winter 2018-2019, I didn’t want to run in the snow and then I just never really started running again. I tried a few times being super casual about it by running 2-3 miles twice a week, but it didn’t stick and I realized I have a very hard time running casually.”
Mino Faukner recently returned from the challenging Speedgoat by UTMB 50-kilometer race where she had a superb day. She grabbed the women’s title in 6:09:16 and finished in 9th place overall on a course that packed 11,400 feet of climbing into just 50-kilometers.
“It went really well! I’ve heard about Speedgoat for years and have wanted to do it for a while, I always heard it was a high-altitude steep race in a beautiful place which is the type of racing I love. I’m just so happy to have these opportunities to spend a long time doing what I love the most. My goals were to have fun, try hard, and to win. I was stoked that I was able to achieve all of those goals!”
Earlier this year she had a great race at the 80-kilometer event a UTMB’s Valhöll race in Argentina, another race with a lot of climbing. There she finished first female and second overall behind American standout Cody Lind in a time of 8:30:52.
“Honestly, I chose Valhöll because I wanted to run CCC again this year and I didn’t want to run Canyons. I don’t really believe in running a race for the sole reason of qualifying for another race, I know if I am going to try really hard I need to be beyond stoked on the course and Argentina seemed like a cool place to get to go experience trail running. I had such a fun time! My best friend Tori got to go with me and the people of Argentina are so welcoming and kind. It was such a pretty course that really had a little bit of everything. 2022 was the year of me trying to figure out what kind of races I enjoy doing. I ran a road marathon, two uphill races, one really steep 42-kilometer race, and CCC. I learned a lot and realized a lot about what I do and don’t like when it comes to racing. I don’t like redlining; I don’t like having to pay attention to my pace. When choosing races now I know I want to run in pretty places. I like steep climbs and flowy trails.”
The 2023 CCC by UTMB race is Helen’s A race this year. She will leave for Europe the second week of August so that she will have time to run parts of the course during her final big long runs. She ran CCC last year and finished 13th in one of the best fields in history, impressive for her second 100-kilometer race ever.
“My main takeaways from that race were I need to learn how to run with poles, I don’t need to be faster at running. I need to be faster at hiking, and that I’m incredibly lucky. I made so many friends during that race and I think it just highlights how wonderful and supportive the trail running community is. The women I got to race with were so kind and uplifting and I love that about this sport.”
Regarding using poles, Mino Faukner started skate skiing this winter and she thinks that has helped a lot. But added that she is still working on learning how to run with them. To make sure she is prepared she has some longer mountain days planned where the only goals are to spend time on her feet and eat enough snacks.
“It’s so fun to get to go run around. I think it’s really fun to get to do back to back long runs and go stand on the tops of mountains.”
Helen is coached by Rick Floyd who was the assistant coach during her time at UNR, and he has been her coach ever since she got back into running. They joke that she ‘doesn’t actually like running’ and seemingly only likes jogging.
“Rick really understands me and that my happiness in training is the most important. I’m spending so much time training I have to enjoy it. Racing is great and so fun but really I just want to be jogging around always. I run for time, not miles and I have loved that transition post-college. Most of my training is done at low intensity. I think that this works for me because I don’t ever really think about my training or question if I’m doing too much or too little. I have full trust in Rick that I will show up ready to race and if I’m not that’s on him, not me because I did everything I was supposed to.”
In 2021 Helen started looking at some Fast Known Time (FKT) segments to use as harder effort training runs. Among those the Tahoe Yosemite trail really caught her interest. It mostly follows the PCT and in her view that is a well-maintained runnable trail. She said she would like to try running that someday.
“I also think the 7 Summits loop in the Desolation Wilderness was interesting for me because there isn’t a trail for most of it and it really pushed me out of my comfort zone to be on technical ridgelines for that long. It helped me find a deep appreciation for runnable trails.”
At this point she has raced one 50-miler and thinks that distance is the right amount – far enough where she doesn’t have to run so fast, but also not far enough to make her question everything about it. In her mind the two 100-kilometer races she has run have been the hardest things she has ever done and apparently made her ask herself if she really wanted to spend all her time feeling like that. But she is going back to CCC 100km and also said that she would like to try to run the Leadville 100-mile race in 2024.
When asked who she looks up to in the sport Helen said, “I look up to Katie Asmuth because she brings so much joy to this sport and she’s one of the most supportive and kind people I’ve had the joy of meeting. I also look up to Emkay Sullivan, she was one of the first people I met at UNR and I looked up to her during my whole college running career. I really admire her ability to give what she does her absolute all. Emkay got into trail running before I did and I’ve learned so much from her. She’s a great friend and I feel lucky to know her.”
When not running Helen teaches yoga (and does a lot of yoga), holds monthly race walking competitions, and has fallen in love with downhill skiing and skate skiing.
“Yeah, my goal is to have the most fulfilling and deeply satisfying experience in this existence that I can.”
We can’t wait to watch Helen take on CCC in just a couple of weeks, and while she might be questioning why she is running for so long we know she’ll be having fun doing it.