Catalan runner Emma Roca finished third at the 2012 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, and she’s back, in part, because she thinks she can do better. In the following interview, Emma shares what she does for a living, some details about her conversion from adventure racing to ultrarunning a couple years ago, and which model of Hoka One One shoes she’ll be running in this weekend.
[Editor’s Note: Here’s our full 2013 TNF UTMB women’s race preview.]
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Emma Roca Pre-2013 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
Emma Roca: My friend—two countries!
iRF: We’ll find another country soon. Were you at Transvulcania this year?
Roca: I would love. It’s a race that—why not?
iRF: Where do you live? Where in Spain?
Roca: In the Pyrenees—just in the border between Andorra, France, and Catalunya. I’m just there. Only 1.5 hours from Barcelona—I have all my family there. They are far but not too far.
iRF: Just far enough.
Roca: Just far enough. I can be in the Pyrenees training. I’m a firefighter, the rescue fire fighter. For me it’s being 15 minutes from home is my work and also the mountains and also the snow. So everything is very close. I think it’s part of the success of being healthy, trained, and also happy.
iRF: Wow, we just totally jumped right into an interview without even trying. Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Emma Roca before the 2013 UTMB. Different start to an interview—I liked it, Emma.
Roca: Thank you.
iRF: We’ve met before, but this is the first time we’ve talked in front of the camera. Can you tell us some of your endurance sports background? You weren’t a runner originally. You were an adventure racer.
Roca: Well, I started in triathlon and duathlon. Then I did some mountain marathons in Catalunya—it was a marathon that was very popular. The Catalans and the Spaniards were there. And I won! I said, “Whoa! Mountain marathon? I like it!” The concept with the mountain, with the snow… after doing duathlon, triathlon, mountain marathon, then I started adventure racing because you can mix everything and you can be there with a team. That’s a very good experience to know oneself and their limits because you are giving five, six, seven days nonstop deciding when to eat, when to sleep, when to stop. It’s like, “My goodness, when will we finish this nightmare?” Every year I said I’d stop doing adventure racing and I continued and continued during 10 years. I won the 2010 world champs. After winning the world champs, I talked with my team and said, “Oof, I’m a mother of three beautiful kids. I’ve been racing many years. Why not do relax time?” They said, “Oh, but we need to find some women.” “I will help you find a woman to race with you.” Then they’re still trying to find someone, but I tried to do ultrarunning because I’m used to the long distance and also because my mind is filled with stuff.
iRF: So is that what you enjoyed the most out of all the sports in adventure racing? Running was your favorite or your best?
Roca: Yes, it was my favorite during this time, during adventure racing. I loved the running part. Even I was more feeling better after the second and third day. With my teammates, they said, “Stop, don’t rush. Slow down.” I say, “No, let’s go. I’m feeling good after the thirdday.” So for me it was an open door to see how I was in ultrarunning. I started two years ago. The first ones, I didn’t exactly know the pace and how to feed me because you’re alone. In adventure racing, you’re a team and everyone takes care of the other ones. I was like, “Hmm, I have to be aware of myself all the time.” It was good—a new adventure. It was tougher because the speed was much higher, but also for myself, it was different and also very, very beautiful to be alone there. Marathon des Sables was a tough experience because of the heat but also the solitude. Nobody behind… nothing… only the dessert. No.
Roca: Desert. Dessert is the finish when you eat. The desert was really a good experience.
iRF: So you’ve been ultrarunning for just two years. Last year you were thirdhere at UTMB. Have you improved even more since last year? How’s your fitness?
Roca: I hope so. I hope so. I learned about the mistakes. Also, my trainer said, “Emma, you have to do more interval training.” I said, “I don’t like it. I don’t like to rush. I’m used to being a very normal pace and not be rushing.” So he introduced me to more suffering trainings and also the altitude this last month in Colorado—great country. I love it. I love the state and Crested Butte. I was like at home with a very big family and very friendly. I think that my improvement will be… well, my improvement. I hope it will be good because of the altitude and because of the interval training and the rest time. I think it’s very important for improvement. It’s one of the things that I don’t have it really good because I have three kids at home, so it’s not easy to sleep all the night because one or the other needs to go to the toilet or is thirsty or something. So it’s not easy for me to be rested.
iRF: Have you found rest this past week?
Roca: It was three days before that I came here with my husband—just these three days. So I’ve rested a little and slept.
iRF: So you feel relaxed now, yes?
Roca: I hope so. Yes, I do.
iRF: With your adventure-racing background, I’d guess you know some of the ultrarunners from the United States that come from that background. Who do you know?
Roca: Rebecca Rusch, Travis Macy, a lot… it’s like a big family. Mike Kloser, Dave Mackey… a lot of them when I see them and everyone with his own… Travis with the mountain bikes or Dave still running an ultra distance, I say, “Wow, a long time ago, more than 10 years, we met and we are growing together.” It’s real nice.
iRF: And you did just visit the United States for how long? Where did you go?
Roca: One month. We went to Utah to do the Speedgoat race. Like this. I said, “Oh, impossible.” High altitude and a lot of fast women all the time. I was like, ahhh, rushing to trying to be in the top. It was impossible to catch the third. I finished fourthand was very happy. It was a big, big, big challenge for me. After, we spent three weeks more with family. We exchanged house. We spent a great time in the Swift’s house in Crested Butte and they spent also, I hope, a great time at our house in the Pyrenees.
iRF: It sounds like you’ve had a great summer so far and an exciting weekend ahead. Best of luck, Emma.
Roca: Thanks a lot.
iRF: Bonus question, when you went to the Marathon des Sables, did you wear the Hokas?
Roca: No, I hadn’t met them. After, yes, but before, I didn’t know them. It was in 2010 or 2011 that I raced, so it was just beginning—Hoka shoes. I saw them for the first time in Sables. I went to the guy and said, “What are these shoes?” He said, “Ah, they are great.” “Sure? Because they seem like to be to a disco party.” He said, “No, they are great.” Then when I came back to Spain, I asked and asked. There is Christophe [Le Saux] who is from Hoka and is an adventure racer also. “Christophe, I want to try it.” “Yes, for sure.” “Nico, I want to try it.” “You want, Emma?” “Yes, for sure.” Then, the first day I tried them it was like, “Ah, perfect.” I’m getting old. I’m doing a lot of distance. I have some pains. So if I have a lot of cushion, it’s perfect.
iRF: Which one are you wearing tomorrow?
Roca: Tomorrow—Rapa Nui. But I’m bringing the Stinson Evo. Rapa Nui are a little lower. For me when you are tired, it’s more stable. For me, I will use Rapa Nui for tomorrow.