Known for his success at shorter European mountain races, Tòfol Castanyer brought his A-game to his 100-mile debut with his second-place tie at the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In the following interview, Tòfol talks about what he thought the biggest challenges of running his first 100-mile race would be, how his race with Iker Karrera was much more dynamic than it appeared, and how he and Iker decided to finish together.
You can read our results article for the full story on how the 2014 TNF UTMB unfolded.
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Tòfol Castanyer and Iker Karrera Joint Post-2014 TNF Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview
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Tòfol Castanyer Post-TNF Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Tòfol Castanyer after the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Congratulations on your second-place finish, Tòfol.
Tòfol Castanyer: Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m very happy.
iRunFar: That is an amazing 100-mile debut. You’ve run the 100k distance before. You’ve won the CCC here when it was 86k. But could you imagine running such a great race in your first 100 mile?
Castanyer: It was my first 100 mile. It’s very, very different than 100k. It’s a lot of distance, a lot of differences running all the night—it’s my first one—with rain. I think, I suppose for all UTMB or races of 100 miles are very special. Yesterday for me was a very special day. Arriving in the podium in the second position is difficult to imagine.
iRunFar: Before the race, what did you think the biggest challenge for running 100 miles would be, or running UTMB?
Castanyer: I was in an interview with Salomon Spain talking about this with Iker [Karrera]. More people who can listen to that. For me, the better runners before the race was François D’Haene, Iker Karrera, Anton Krupicka, Tim Olson, Luis Alberto Hernando—it was a very important run. But for me I think François was more strong and he wins… I don’t know if he wins easy, but during the race he was ever in the top. Yesterday I think was the best.
iRunFar: But before the race, what did you think the biggest challenge, the most tough thing for running 100 miles would be? Going into the race, what did you think would be difficult?
Castanyer: One thing was I never run during the night. It was my first experience in this. The second thing, sometimes—I don’t know how to explain in English—I suppose that in the race we have different moments where my body wasn’t well. In races of 100k, used to be one time that your body says, “Now I’m not well.” I suppose that in a race of 20 hours, I suppose that my body have two or three moments like this. It’s the two different things that for me I suppose wasn’t a problem for me. The night was not very difficult. It was more difficult, the rain in the night than the night. I ran well with the light. The problem with eating during the race was a serious problem. In between Courmayeur and Champex-Lac, my body says, “I don’t like anything to eat.” It was a problem. I arrived to Champex-Lac in not very good condition, but I suppose in a long race that’s normal.
iRunFar: Yes, the stomach is a major challenge, as much as the legs sometimes or more.
Castanyer: But things that I never proved before—new things in a race. But if those things were the problems for me, the positive part is my head is so strong to win these bad moments.
iRunFar: You’re really happy to have faced these challenges, and your head was always…
Castanyer: Yes, it’s also a new thing but positive things. I know that I can, with my head or with my spirit, I can in the bad moments be positive and right them and continue.
iRunFar: That’s good to remember not only when running but in life.
Castanyer: Yes, yes, of course. It’s the same.
iRunFar: During the race, what did you enjoy the most?
Castanyer: Enjoy? Physical in the first part because you’re well—until Les Houches and after as well. But in Courmayeur, we were about 8.5 hours, the rain was very, very high. We are going to the record time. And of course the finish line was the best moment of the race.
iRunFar: For many reasons—it was your first. For Iker, it’s one thing. He finishes second. He finishes with a friend. For you, it was also your first 100-mile finish. Did you think of that at all as you were coming down the finish?
Castanyer: Yes. For me, going to the first 100 miles, the best race of the world, and arriving at the podium—for me it was equal to my second and third. IN the last 10k from La Flégère to Chamonix, talking with Iker, I think that both say that we are friends, we’re on the same team, it’s not necessary… for me to enjoy the sensation of arriving together… I don’t know if it’s the same to win, but for sure it’s the same to make second or third.
iRunFar: What would you have gained if one of you had been five minutes ahead in second place?
iRunFar: It’s better for sure…
Castanyer: I was talking this morning with Iker because yesterday I was going to my hotel and Iker to his and we can’t talk, this morning we were both talking about the sensation of the finish line. I think it’s very good, very good. Arriving together is not… yesterday Iker was saying that to arrive together is not…
Castanyer: It doesn’t divide it. It’s more. I don’t know if the mountain… I started to run in athletics, not in mountains. Sometimes the philosophy of the mountain and the philosophy of athletics is a little bit different. Sometimes the finish line… yesterday with Iker and me, the real philosophy of the mountain. After 150k together, in moments I’m going two minutes before and after… because yesterday I was going better downhill but Iker was going better in uphill. When the race is up, Iker was one or two minutes before me in the first 100k with François. After 150k together, I think Iker and me, both heads without talking, seemed that the finish line is, like, little. For me, my body and my head say, “You must arrive together.”
iRunFar: But between Courmayeur and Tête aux Vent, no.
Castanyer: No, no, no. During the race it was a very hot race and very exciting. In Courmayeur, François and Iker had about five minutes before me. After Courmayeur, in Bonatti, Iker was not very good, I think. We arrived together. After, it was me that had stomach problems. I think it was a very exciting race.
iRunFar: It’s interesting because from the outside, we only see a snapshot of the aid stations and all three of you are always together, but the race was very dynamic.
Castanyer: No, no, no. The race to be sure was very, very hard. It’s certain with the three runners, four with Luis until Bertone, goes together. But the race was very, very hard. All the people, Iker was better in up. He goes harder.
iRunFar: And you’re behind.
Castanyer: Yes, and me two minutes after. But in the next downhill, if I can pass Iker, Iker or François, I think the finish line is the finish line, but the real race during 20 hours was very exciting race with a lot of alternatives with three or four of us. But the finish line is the finish line.
iRunFar: Congratulations on the finish and the great race.
Castanyer: Thank you so much. Sometime next year again?
iRunFar: Yes. And a bonus question. You just finished your first 100-mile race. Do you think you’ll run another?
Castanyer: Yes. Sometime in America.
iRunFar: Is there any…?
Castanyer: I run the Pikes Peak [Marathon].
iRunFar: The ascent or the marathon?
Castanyer: The marathon when Pikes Peak was in the World… I run in 2010. And I know that in America they have a lot of 100 miles, no?
Castanyer: No so technical.
iRunFar: There are some, yes.
Castanyer: Oh, okay. But sometime one day I’ll go to USA and run.
iRunFar: It would be great to see you come over and run a race.
Tòfol Castanyer and Iker Karrera Joint Post-2014 TNF Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Iker Karrera and Tòfol Castanyer after their tie for second place yesterday at the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. It was an amazing story and an amazing race. I’ve just learned from talking to Tófol that although you were ‘together’ the entire race, for much of the race it was dynamic. You (Iker) would go ahead on the climbing and you (Tòfol) would go ahead on the descending. Do you think those are your strengths normally or was it just in this race?
Tòfol Castanyer: It’s normal. Until the last 10k, the race was very dynamic and exciting and with different alternatives. Iker was better in the up. I was better in the down. We had some problems [holds stomach]. I think Iker also. We ran the first 100k with François D’Haene and after with Iker and me. There was different alternatives. I think it was a very competitive race, but the finish line was different.
iRunFar: Have you two run together before either at Advanced Week or other races?
Iker Karrera: Shorter races.
Castanyer: Shorter races?
Karrera: Spanish Cup.
Karrera: Six maybe?
Castanyer: Yes, a lot of times.
iRunFar: So you two have known each other for awhile?
Castanyer: I think, yes, Spanish Cup is about 30k or 55k.
iRunFar: No talking?
Karrera: Not ultras.
Castanyer: No, not ultras. I think the first winter…
Karrera: Yeah, the first winter we run together.
iRunFar: During that race were you actually together or were you just in the same race? Did you spend time on the trail together?
Castanyer: To run together?
iRunFar: During the race… your first ultra?
iRunFar: Were you both on the Salomon team at that time?
Castanyer: Both on the Salomon team. But Iker said that the first race for us to run together, but Iker and me, I think we had a training camp in Mallorca and last two years Iker was in Mallorca. We don’t run together, but we have life’s different moments together on the same team and that’s also important.
iRunFar: During the race, Iker, do you know he’s a better descender than you? Are you thinking about that?
Karrera: Yeah, I saw that Tòfol can descend better than me. I had some problems, not very good feelings on downhills. I know it’s a race with the finish on a downhill. Oof. The last kilometers may be for me quite hard because I suffer a lot with my feet.
iRunFar: So in Vallorcine are you thinking, There’s a big climb; I should go very strong and leave Tòfol?
Karrera: No. No, not really, no.
Castanyer: I think that the problem was not that I was better in downhill or he was better in up. Yesterday I have some problems to go up well, and Iker had some problems to go down well. It’s not that I’m very good…
iRunFar: It’s not always that way.
Castanyer: I suppose that Iker had some problems in his foot. Me, I had problems with moving well with up.
iRunFar: It’s the circumstances not your characteristics.
Karrera: No, no, no, no, no. I know Tòfol goes up very fast. Normally…
Castanyer: Iker, normally his downhill is well.
iRunFar: Basques always descend well. It was fun watching you two when you were together because you Tòfol) are much shorter and you (Iker) are much taller and you’d be running at the same speed. Your (Tòfol) legs would be going [fast motions and sounds] and Iker would be [slow, heavy motions and sounds].
Castanyer: Sometimes. His legs are very, very long.
Karrera: I’m not so tall.
iRunFar: The ground doesn’t quite make it the same here.
Castanyer: It’s not a problem.
iRunFar: Were you talking together lots when you were running together?
Karrera: Yeah, we talk together about not so much. We’re in it for running, not for…
iRunFar: Not for having a conversation.
iRunFar: In the aid stations when I saw you, sometimes François would be ready a little earlier, or you (Iker) would be prepared a little faster than Tòfol, and then you would talk a little bit and you would decide to wait.
Castanyer: Yes. I never do it. It was a thing that, I don’t know how the people start faster or not, but I see yesterday that I suppose that the three runners are in the same team and, yes, when I finish my food or my cake or my recharge, I saw Iker was well or François asked to Iker, “You are well?” but done talking.
Karrera: It wasn’t a strategy.
iRunFar: You were saying when Luis Alberto Hernando going to Col du Bonhomme. You ask if he is okay. You’re not going to try to make your change in the race because you are faster in a checkpoint.
Castanyer: Sometimes it’s possible that you have a better time maybe in the checkpoints and don’t stop. Yesterday, we were talking about and when one goes…
Karrera: It’s very natural. It’s not a strategy. It’s natural.
iRunFar: At one of the, I don’t know which aid station it was, you both sat down for five or 10 minutes. You had fruit; you had sandwiches. Somebody was cutting the fruit there.
Castanyer: Not fruit but melon. I don’t know if you ask, but in the TV in Mallorca, my wife say to me that the TV show that I asked to Iker, “Wow, you have melon?” Melon is… I don’t know in English.
Castanyer: I ask because in this moment I can do a lot of things. I can eat a lot of things, but they show melon. “Wow!”
iRunFar: It looks perfect? For a picnic?
Karrera: Normally it was prepared. For me, the last kilometers it was difficult to eat gels and bars. Only I could eat sandwiches or mainly fruit, fresh fruit. It was prepared. Doya, my girlfriend, has melon for the last kilometers. In the last checkpoint she prepared the melon and it was the best.
iRunFar: You shared with your friend?
Castanyer: No, I asked Doya if Iker had a lot of melon. No, I don’t take the melon of Iker.
iRunFar: It’s your secret strategy.
Karrera: It was perfect because I eat half of melon and leave half for Tòfol and the melon is finished.
Castanyer: Doya said to me, “We have a lot,” and fixes me one.
Karrera: The last kilometers for the stomach and the mind is more easy to eat this kind of food.
iRunFar: Real food. So did you two have an actual conversation with 10k to go? Did you talk and say, “We should go together?” Tell me what happened.
Castanyer: What happened? I don’t know exactly. I don’t know if Iker said to me, “If you like to go downhill, you can go.” I think that I say, “I don’t go on the downhill.” For me, it’s also important to arrive second and I suppose that we decided to arrive together or something like that.
iRunFar: At that point did you know you had a lot of minutes to fourth place?
Castanyer: Yes, all of that is because we have references to the fourth and fifth place. I think it was about 45 minutes.
Karrera: Forty-five minutes.
Castanyer: I suppose that if there are more people to go to the podium, it was impossible to make this.
iRunFar: You would have gone downhill or tried?
Castanyer: Or Iker in the up goes faster. But the circumstances were the first thing was that we have, not sure, but it was very good to not lose the podium.
Karrera: I remember in 2011 in Vallorcine, I arrive and my team…
iRunFar: Greg Vollet?
Karrera: No, John, tell me, “Don’t stop.” Someone I know is very near. Don’t stop. I eat something and go.
iRunFar: This time, no.
Karrera: This time, no.
iRunFar: On the final descent and the run through Chamonix, mentally were you able to think about it and enjoy it more because you’re not fighting to the finish?
Karrera: It was more relaxed than normal or another race that you’re all competing in the last kilometers. It was quite more relaxed really.
Castanyer: Yes, but when we are going to the finish line with Iker in the last kilometers, for me it was very difficult to think of the moment that we crossed the finish line. It’s this moment that was more exciting than I think in long times before.
iRunFar: It’s that moment of crossing the line.
Castanyer: Yes. Crossing the line with Iker together with all the people for me was very amazing.
iRunFar: Was it one of the greatest emotions of your life?
Castanyer: It’s one… I don’t know, there are a lot of types of emotions. Like the emotions when CCC two years ago here, because it was different circumstances that I arrived with the 2,300 of the UTMB that started, this photo or this picture of the finish line with Iker…
iRunFar: With you forever?
iRunFar: Congratulations, you two. I hope you have great memories.
Castanyer and Karrera: Thank you.