Basque runner Aritz Egea will race the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon for the fourth time on Saturday. In the following interview, Aritz talks about what Zegama means to the Basque people, his history with triathlon, and what the spirit of Zegama feels like as a competitor.
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Aritz Egea Pre-2015 Zegama Marathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Aritz Egea before the 2015 Zegama Marathon. How are you?
Aritz Egea: Fine, thank you very much.
iRunFar: This is your fourth time in a row at Zegama, yes?
Egea: Yes, it will be my fourth one.
iRunFar: Are you excited?
Egea: Very excited. Zegama for us is the most important race in all the year. The week before Zegama is a lot of nerves, but it’s okay.
iRunFar: You say for us because you are a Basque runner.
Egea: I am. For runners, I guess, it’s quite important, but for us it’s the most important.
iRunFar: Yeah, the last two years you were 10th place, and last year you were the top Basque runner, yes?
Egea: No, Jokin [Lizeaga] was one minute faster than me.
iRunFar: Oh, very close. But it was still a great time and a great race.
Egea: Yes, very great. In 2013 I improved my time in 12 minutes and I’m again the 10th. Twelve minutes improved but kept the same position.
iRunFar: And three years ago, you were 50-something place? Much further back.
Egea: I can’t remember. Yeah, it was my first year in trail running. I was a beginner, but now I have more experience.
iRunFar: Let’s talk a little bit about that. You were a cyclist and a triathlete before a trail runner.
Egea: Yes, I was first a cyclist and then a triathlete. Actually, I have been to Hawaii.
iRunFar: Yes, Ironman.
Egea: Yes, and after Hawaii it was like I didn’t have any objectives so I decided to change the sport, and now I’m here.
iRunFar: When did you start cycling? How long have you been an endurance athlete?
Egea: I have been very, very bad in the usual football and basketball and all kinds of these sports, so I always preferred endurance sports from very young. First at the school I ran. Then I started with cycling at 12 years age to 18 years age. Then I went to the university and trained for cycling and studying wasn’t very productive, so I decided to quit. Then I started with triathlon which was even harder than cycling, but it was quite good. I get quite good results. I actually have a good… I remember my triathlon times being very good. I enjoyed it.
iRunFar: So you enjoyed triathlon. Why trails?
Egea: Mainly to find a new objective but also to find something I enjoy but doesn’t take so much time. When I train for triathlon, I need 31 to 35 hours per week. Now I’m training 10 to 12 hours per week, so it’s easier.
iRunFar: Much more reasonable. You started from cycling and triathlon where you’re on the roads running. Did you run any trails while you were training for them or was it always road?
Egea: Always road. Always road. Now I try to not use the road at any time.
iRunFar: Well, the Basque runners are famous for being able to descend quickly. How did you improve in that?
Egea: It’s not true in my case. I think I’m a quite bad descender. I’m pretty good going up. It’s my best quality. Ascending mountains is the best for me; I enjoy it. Usually the technical parts are kind of a problem for me, but I’m not the worst and I’m not the best.
iRunFar: Is that why last year you were quite aggressive early in the race?
Egea: There are several reasons. One is that I’m not a good at descending, so I have to take advantage when ascending. Then it’s also my way to run. I’m strong at the beginning and I know that at the end I’m going to be less strong, so I try to take advantage.
iRunFar: But you do have experience with Ironman triathlon, so you’re new to trail running more or less, but you’ve raced for nine or 10 hours.
Egea: Yes, that’s true. Triathlon was exactly the same. In the marathon I’d start as fast as I could and then see what happened.
iRunFar: You race a ton. You run many, many races. Why? Last year you ran all five Skyrunning World Series [races].
Egea: Yes, the five Skyrunning races were my focus areas, but my total amount of races was about 20 races or something like that. Comparing with all the runners I think I run quite a little. It’s only about two races per month or something like that. It’s not that much. I like running. I like racing. The problem with racing is that with all races I have to leave my best. It could be a problem with rest. So I prefer to take it easy, and two races per month or something like that is okay for me.
iRunFar: This Sunday, you’ll be racing a great field again. What is your objective?
Egea: It’s quite complicated to tell you my objective. It’s going to be difficult to do a better time than last year, about four hours. It would be nice to be below four hours, but it’s going to be difficult. To improve position is also quite difficult because it doesn’t depend only on me but also how the other athletes fare. I will be happy if I’m more or less at the same time and the same position as last year, but I think this year I might be in a bit better shape than last year.
iRunFar: Good. I heard that Jokin is not running?
Egea: He had an accident on the mountain last week, so he’s not coming unfortunately.
iRunFar: So maybe you will try to be the top Basque runner this year?
Egea: Yes, hopefully others don’t get me, but that’s for sure. I have to try to be the best. Last two years, Jokin beat me, but this year he’s not here, I should be the first Basque I guess.
iRunFar: Will you wear a uniform or a Buff or something that is the Basque flag?
Egea: Yes, last year I used to run with the Buff, but this year I’m not running with any Buff. Yes, it’s kind of an identity mark.
iRunFar: Especially the fans and the people come out on the course, tens of thousands. It must be incredible for any runner, but as a Basque runner, what does it feel like?
Egea: Actually, I can’t say how it feels. You feel like a professional sportsman. For four hours, it’s like four hours of incredible feelings. When you are raised near Zegama, every body is in awe of you. It’s the race of the year. I will have this feeling forever.
iRunFar: Enjoy and best of luck.
Egea: Thank you very much.