In the past year, Portuguese runner Ester Alves has top-ten finishes at competitive races like UTMB and Transgrancanaria. This weekend, she’ll take on another talented field at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon. In the following interview, Ester talks about how she came to ultrarunning, what’s her background in sports, and what her goals are for the weekend.
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Ester Alves Pre-2015 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ester Alves before the 2015 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. How are you, Ester?
Ester Alves: Great. Great. I hope to get into the start line and then start the race.
iRunFar: It’s Thursday evening before the race and you’ve just arrived. You live in Portugal. Was it an easy trip?
Alves: No, it wasn’t. Three flights and a hard trip, yes it was. It’s okay. I hope Transvulcania is bigger than every effort to come here.
iRunFar: You’re here at Transvulcania. Is it your first time at Transvulcania?
Alves: Yes, it is. I was invited to be here and I’d love to do it.
iRunFar: Looking at your results from the past year, you’ve done a lot of longer races like UTMB where you had good success. You had success at Transgrancanaria this year. Is this a short race for you, or do you usually mix your races?
Alves: No, it’s not a short race. It’s never a short race. Any race is short enough. It’s a different race. It’s hot here. It’s an island and there’s a lot of humidity in the air. It’s hard to race in this environment. It’s a challenge. I just think, It’s a new challenge. Let’s go for it!
iRunFar: You’ve certainly faced some challenges this year. You’ve already run Transgrancanaria. You’ve run Madeira Island. You just ran a stage race in Portugal.
iRunFar: That’s a lot of kilometers for this time in the season. Do you feel strong or do you feel tired?
Alves: Not tired, but strong is not the perfect word. I feel I can do this race, and I’m trying to follow training for all these races. The rest is very important. Trying to get equilibrium for all this.
iRunFar: Your background is in physiology, yes? What sort of physiology? Is it athletics?
Alves: No, it isn’t. I’m doing a PhD in hormones and with a particular hormone, adrenaline or epinephrine. The American people say it “epinephrine” and they don’t use adrenaline. I study adrenaline and the pathways of adrenaline in memory and not in sports. It’s perfect for me because I can understand other pathways of adrenaline in the body and in effort.
iRunFar: Do you think that makes you more conscious in training and racing of not doing too much?
Alves: Yes, sometimes. Sometimes it’s important to know a little bit of how the body acts.
iRunFar: What is your background in sports?
Alves: I left my mother and started to run and do everything, so all my life I’ve played different sports. I rowed. I cycled; I’ve done three levels of cycling in Spain. After this, then running mountains.
iRunFar: When and how did you get into mountain running?
Alves: I was invited with a friend to train in the mountains. I loved it. After that I knew Carlos Sá. Everyone knows Carlos Sá. He’s a good teacher and good friend. I admire him so much.
iRunFar: So you get to see him sometimes?
Alves: Sometimes because we live close to each other. It’s good to receive something from a good athlete like him.
iRunFar: So he’s a good mentor and teacher?
Alves: Yes, he is.
iRunFar: Ultrarunning, you can think about the physiology and the scientific approach, but there’s lots to learn that is art as well as science.
Alves: Yes, yes it is. Long-distance running involves resistance, it involves strength, and it involves so many pathways and equilibrium between all of them.
iRunFar: A lot of international ultrarunners would know Carlos Sá, but can you tell us a little more about trail running and ultrarunning in Portugal?
Alves: In Portugal there are different mountains like Serra da Estrela, like Gerês, like Lousã. Not higher mountains, but with a great biodiversity. It’s getting started in Portugal, the trails. A lot of Portuguese people come to Spain and a lot of other places and try trails outside Portugal. But in Portugal it is getting started.
iRunFar: There are some trail races and some ultramarathons?
iRunFar: What are your favorites in Portugal?
Alves: There are different races. We can’t say there is a good race, but there are different races. We have to do all of the differences.
iRunFar: Here you are. There are a lot of very strong women here at Transvulcania, but you’ve raced many of them at Transgrancanaria or UTMB. Is there anybody you’re looking forward to racing on Saturday? Is there a goal or anyone you often race close to that maybe you want to beat this time?
Alves: No, I don’t chase anyone for beating. I chase my goals and my times in trying to survive all the difficulties of the trail. We know we are going to find many difficulties during the race. It’s perfect that when you’re finished with the race and all of the challenges and all of the difficulties—you’ve won it. After that you can think about, Okay, I finished in sixth or in third or in first. That’s the last part.
iRunFar: You can tell if you’ve had a good race no matter what your position is. Do you have a goal?
Alves: Yes. Yes, I’d love to chase the top-five women. Who knows? The trail is hard to tell. If you are going well or if you are not because you have to control many things—the food, your resistance, the velocity, many things, going up and going down.
iRunFar: You were saying there is heat here, so hydration.
Alves: Yes, I came from the cold land of Portugal and now I landed in hot.
iRunFar: That might surprise a lot of people who don’t know Portugal well. It’s on the Iberian Peninsula and you think of Spain and hot, but where you live is not.
Alves: It’s not. In May it’s not many hot. In my town last week we ran with rain every day, with many rain and lots of cold. Okay, let’s go to change.
iRunFar: Maybe a holiday in Transvulcania!?
iRunFar: Good luck. Enjoy.
Alves: Thank you.