Born in the hilly Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, Fernanda Maciel first discovered a passion for running on her way to school and back.
"I was a gymnast when I was eight-years-old, and part of my preparation was running," she explained. "I was a very good runner, but it was part of my training as a gymnast. I really started running when I was going to the school in Brazil – I was using running as a kind of transport.
"So, I was going to school and back, just running. My city is Belo Horizonte, it’s a big city, with six million people. And this city, it's on a mountain.
"Going to the school and back wasn't so far, maybe eight kilometres to 10 kilometres, but to get there it was very steep downhill, and to come back, very steep uphill. So that was how I started running daily."
From running to school, to becoming one of the most renowned ultrarunners in the world. Maciel won The North Face TDS Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in 2009, before triumphing at The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail in 2011 and The North Face Transgrancanaria in 2012.
She was then victorious at the Everest Trail Race in 2013 and The North Face Endurance Challenge Brazil in 2015, also placing second in the Ultra Trail World Tour of 2014.
"I started competing on the mountains because I realised, 'wow, my half-marathon time on the road is the same time as my half-marathon on the mountains, I should be a mountain runner'," Maciel laughed. "I started to focus on the mountains, and I am still here loving my sport."
The 41-year-old has been blazing a trail for female ultrarunners, becoming the first woman to run the Camino de Santiago Compostela and the Aconcagua. The latter mountain is the highest in the Americas at 6,962 metres tall.
Maciel revealed she was "super happy" to see an uptake in ultrarunning among girls and women.
"When I started to run, I was maybe the only girl running," she said. "And now, many women are doing trail running. That’s super inspiring for me because then I need to train harder to beat them."
Maciel is now working with her sponsor The North Face to give everyone the chance to experience trail running, even from the comfort of their own home.
The North Face have launched the Power Further VR and 360 experience, giving everyone the opportunity to immerse themselves in the trails of Mont Blanc, one of the world’s most epic mountains.
Users are able to experience 360 degrees panoramas of Chamonix, Notre Dame, Lac Combal and La Flegere, seeing firsthand what the runners witness as they tackle steep inclines and descents.
Alongside ultrarunner James Poole, Maciel narrates the experience and reveals what first drew her to the mountains. She hopes it will encourage others to take up the sport, and gave her advice to those who wanted to progress on from virtual reality.
"I think it is important to have proper shoes, and also a backpack, because usually when you start going for long distances on the mountains, sometimes it's rainy or the weather's changed. Bring some food and a jacket just in case, and then you can explore more."
Maciel was particularly complimentary of The North Face’s VECTIV™ shoe, which has been developed after years of research, athlete testing and proven on-trail success. The shoe aims to provide superior stability, grip, and shock absorption.
Alongside the need for high-quality equipment, Maciel also emphasised the importance of enjoying the time out on the mountains.
"Don't push so hard," she said. "When you do endurance training, go and enjoy the mountains, and spend many hours there and enjoy it.
"The training over shorter distances, sprints, intervals, gym workouts, that’s all super important, but don’t forget to go and explore when you do endurance training. That is when you get the passion for running on the mountains."
Maciel was speaking on behalf of her sponsors The North Face.News Now - Sport News