Caitlin Schindel after winning the 2023 Puerto Vallarta by UTMB 50k race.

Caitlin Schindel is finding freedom — and success — on the trails

Caitlin Schindel often runs while the rest of her family sleeps. It’s the only time the nurse, wife and mother of three young children can find time to train.

“I feel like my life is just a puzzle,” Schindel says. “I have to look at it a week in advance and think about: Where am I going to squeeze everything in? Who needs to be at what place at what time? And I mostly run first thing in the morning before my husband goes to work. Then I know nobody’s awake yet and it’s my time — no one’s going to interrupt me.”

Schindel, now 33, had an impressive running career in her late teens and early 20s before stepping away from the sport for nearly a decade to focus on starting and raising a family. Her return to racing, roughly a year after the birth of her third child, is arguably even more impressive. Last fall, in her first trail race (and first race as a mother) she won the 2022 Beaver Flat 50 in a new course record and followed that up this year with a third-place finish at the Squamish 50 in British Columbia and wins at the Queen City Marathon and Puerto Vallarta by UTMB 50k race — all within a three-month span.

“It’s definitely a village that has helped me get where I am,” Schindel says. “I get so much support from my husband and my family and friends. Everyone’s been so wonderful and I couldn’t do it without them.” She says her Christian faith also plays a big role in keeping her grounded as she pushes her limits and chases big goals.

Running has been part of Schindel’s life almost as long as she can remember. Her dad loves running and, when Schindel was as young as six, he would take her out for short runs whenever she was having a bad day. “Somehow that always solved my problems,” Schindel recalls. “I wasn’t grumpy after.”

Despite falling in love with running at a young age, Schindel didn’t compete in the sport until her mid teens. She spent much of her childhood playing soccer — where her aerobic endurance made her a standout midfielder — before she joined the Riversdale Track Club in Gr. 10. She spent the last two years of high school running cross country and track for Rosthern Junior College and then ran with the Huskies as she pursued a nursing degree at the University of Saskatchewan.

Caitlin Schindel after winning the 2023 Puerto Vallarta by UTMB 50k race.
Caitlin Schindel after winning the 2023 Puerto Vallarta by UTMB 50k race.

Schindel was a standout athlete with the Huskies, winning the 2010 Canada West cross country women’s championship title as a fourth-year student, and carried her speed onto the roads after graduating. Working shift work as a nurse meant a lot of her training was done solo, but she also enjoyed running with former Huskies teammates and a performance running group coached by Saskatchewan marathon record holder Jason Warick. She tackled her first marathon in 2013 and ran 2:50:31 to set the course record at the Queen City Marathon — a record that still stands 10 years later.

Schindel dedicated herself to the marathon for the next couple years and, in 2014, ran 2:45:58 at the Chicago Marathon, which remains her fastest marathon time to date. Not long after, she took a break from racing to focus on her family.

Schindel chose the 2023 Beaver Flat 50 as her first race back because she had always loved cross country and trail running — and because it gave her an opportunity to compete without comparing herself to her pre-kids performances.

“With trail running, you don’t know what to expect, no two things are the same and I also really like the freedom of it too,” she says. “You don’t need to be so concentrated on your exact pace. Each kilometer is going to be slightly different because of what terrain you’re encountering.”

Her Beaver Flat 50 win cemented her love of trail running and set the stage for a jam-packed 2023. She travelled to British Columbia in August to run the Squamish 50, where she finished third, and three weeks later, won the Queen City Marathon in a blistering 2:50:50 — just 19 seconds shy of her own course record. “I was still quite sore when I was doing the Regina race, so I didn’t have high expectations,” Schindel said. “But it turned out better than I thought.”

Schindel had expected QCM to be the end of her season, but her husband had recently learned about the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), a highly competitive mountain trail ultra held in Chamonix, France each August. In order to qualify, runners must gain points by competing in other trail races — or land on the podium of a UTMB World Series Event. Schindel’s husband pointed out that one such event took place in Puerto Vallarta in early November, not far from where the pair had once spent a year volunteering after university. “I was like: ‘That would be cool, that would be awesome. But for next year.'” Schindel recalls. “And he said: ‘No. This year. I’ll watch the kids and you go.'”

So, a week after her QCM win, Schindel started training for a mountainous hot-weather ultra as snow swirled in Saskatoon. When she got to the start line of the Puerto Vallarta race, she was ready to push her limits and enjoy the experience. The race started in the dark and Schindel took off just behind the elite field. She had no idea where she was in the pack until she reached the second aid station at kilometre 15 and a volunteer told her she was leading the women’s race.

Schindel continued to push the pace, running through rising temperatures and trying to estimate how much farther she had to go on the sporadically marked course after her watch stopped working around kilometre 32. She tackled steep uphills, waded through water crossings, navigated around a herd of cows and finally sprinted through a farmer’s market to the finish line. “I knew I was near the ending and I was dodging people buying tacos,” she says. “I was kind of flustered, but it was kind of funny.”

Breaking the tape at the finish was a “surreal” feeling, Schindel says. As she was shepherded to the podium several minutes later, a race organizer told her to wear clothes from her sponsor and Schindel had to explain she didn’t have any. “Oh, well wear a shirt that says please sponsor me,” he told her.

After a full fall, Schindel is grateful to have some time off before she starts preparing for her 2024 races. She plans to kick off her season at the Boston Marathon in April and then shift her focus to trail running before jetting off to Chamonix in August for UTMB.

“This upcoming year is going to be a lot of traveling — but I’m really excited for it,” she says. If all goes well, she may even be in shape to try for a marathon personal best in Boston.