This year’s Diagonale des Fous certainly did not come easy for Emma Roca, but she toughed out a third-place finish. In the following interview, Emma talks about where she went too hard, what was challenging about the climate, why it feels like the Tour de France, and why every ultrarunner should run the race once.
For more on the race, check out our 2016 Diagonale des Fous results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Emma Roca Post-2016 Diagonale Des Fous Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and it’s the day after—wait, it’s still the day of the 2016 Diagonale des Fous. I’m with women’s third-place finisher, Emma Roca. You finished third place at Diagonale des Fous!
Emma Roca: I’m so happy!
iRunFar: I think you’re really sore, though.
Roca: Yes, I suffered. I wanted to be in a better place—not in the position but in the finish time—but the sensations were not as expected.
iRunFar: You said at the finish when you finished in 30:10 that you wanted to get under 30 hours. Was that the time expectation that you had?
iRunFar: So 10 minutes in a 30-hour race and you’re still a little disappointed in yourself?
Roca: Yes. [laughs]
iRunFar: I love it. So it seems there might be a little type-A perfectionism in you, a little bit?
Roca: Yes, completely. I’m such a perfectionist because I want to improve, but this type of results makes me improve better and have the best performance for the next one. NOT Diagonale des Fous for another one. [laughs] It’s so hard.
iRunFar: I’ve been watching you race now for about four years, and I’ve seen you at a lot of finish lines. You never look tired. Last night you looked worked. You had to have put it all out there for this third-place finish.
Roca: Yes, I rushed too much from the half of the race through the finish trying to catch the second woman. The first one was a galaxy away, so no problem. It was not a fight.
iRunFar: A Star Wars reference there?
Roca: Yes, exactly. The second, yes, she was there. I was running with her in some parts, so I knew how she was running. I tried on the downhills, but they were not as long as expected or as technical as expected to gain the time she was putting on me on the uphills. But we tried. One of the things that I love after finishing these races is that you’ve done as much as you could. You just gave the last energy inside your body, so I’m happy for that. I don’t care if I finally get third 45 minutes after second. I don’t care. But I fight until the end.
iRunFar: You’ve been to a lot of tough races around the world now, tough, long mountain ultras. Can you try to describe what Diagonale des Fous is like for you and maybe for other people who are considering this race?
Roca: It’s a mix. I think it’s a mix of ultra races. It’s hard because of the long distances. You have other long races. You have Transalpine—it’s a marathon every day. It’s a stage race, but it’s long. You have… well, I didn’t run the Tor des Géants, but it’s hard.
The first man [here] is more than 21 hours, so it’s long. Also, it’s hard because of the climate. In 45 minutes you have the most extreme heat and humidity with cold. You have to cover, and you have to put on the arm sleeves and everything. It’s like, Uhhh, 45 minutes before, I was okay, and now I’m freezing. Or, Now I’m having a heat that I cannot take off my body. It’s like, what happens. It’s hard because you don’t expect such a quantity of downhills, such technical with steep stairs and not many or not very clean. The rocks are there. They don’t care.
iRunFar: “The rocks don’t care.”
Roca: They’re still there. You have to adapt. It’s not like American trails. They can be technical, but they are very pretty. They are there, and you can run. Here also, some parts you couldn’t have a good pace because you went down, and then a little climb, then down and then a climb. Ahhhhh.
iRunFar: So it’s hard to find a rhythm.
Roca: Exactly. It’s interesting because it’s a lot of people watching it, so you feel you’re in the Tour de France with all the racers. This is a good sensation, but at the same time, I don’t like it with 3,000 people running.
iRunFar: Being surrounded by people so much?
Roca: In the beginning, the first 10k, you couldn’t go. If you had a problem, you had to just follow the line.
iRunFar: Keep going.
Roca: Yes, so many people all the time. This makes me a little stress. Also in the mountains, when you find many people telling you what to do when you come here. I prefer to be more alone.
iRunFar: A little more solitude than you found?
Roca: I was actually going to ask you about that, because as an observer—and I asked Javi Dominguez in our interview the same question—I found the Mafate crater to be a really interesting place as an observer because it’s this extremely wild and remote place but yet there are villages. So there are locals watching you pass though this really remote place. Then there are also all these hikers and backpackers who hiked up there to cheer for you. Then on top of that, there’s the media hounding you by helicopter and watching you very close. So, there seems to be this expectation at Diagonale des Fous that you take what’s an internal process of ultramarathoning here and you have to externalize it to the people and the culture. I’m really curious what people think of that.
Roca: For me, the balance is not good because then you don’t have your peace in the mountains.
iRunFar: There wasn’t enough peace for you.
Roca: No, because I’m comparing also with Hardrock which for me is the ideal. I’m there. I’m with the mountains. It’s like we are…
iRunFar: And the bears and the mountain lions are your company.
Roca: Here, it’s so many rocks, some spiders I didn’t like. I saw little mice, and that’s it.
iRunFar: And people.
Roca: Many people. All of them. But also, it’s kind and it’s good to see people. They just are cheering you. it’s okay. But when you’re in the wild that they have here, for me, I’d love to be more alone.
iRunFar: Walk us through your own race a little bit. The race starts out insanely fast running those pavement kilometers. You’re down by the sea. It’s nighttime. It’s hot and humid. Talk about the early part of your race.
Roca: I didn’t like it. This part is summarized by, “I didn’t like.” The expectation of the people cheering and everything was okay and it’s fantastic. But then, going up, pavement road, really hot, humidity, just sweating, many people—ahhhhhh. After, when you look back and you see all the headlamps, it’s nice.
iRunFar: It’s pretty.
Roca: Yes, it’s pretty. You see this also in Transgrancanaria and Transvulcania. You see this image of a snake of lights. But it’s hot, and not pretty.
iRunFar: It’s dark.
Roca: It’s from the city going to the mountains. But then when it gets light and we arrive to Cilaos, wow, it’s really nice. This night was also the moon.
iRunFar: It was an incredible, large waning moon.
Roca: Excellent. And when we went through Le Chemin des Anglais. The moon there—why I cannot stop here?
iRunFar: This was your second night out.
Roca: I did some photos with the cell phone—not at night because with the iPhone you don’t get photos with no light. But during the day, I had to stop and take pictures a little.
iRunFar: “Excuse me, I’m racing for the podium, but I’m going to take photos.”
Roca: I cannot get out of here without a photo of the canyons and the jungle. Wow!
iRunFar: Talk about the middle part of the race. The Cirque de Mafate gets a reputation for being just burly. Did it fulfill that reputation for you?
Roca: Yes, I go so slowly. All the time up, down, up, down—very steep, very long. The miles didn’t run out. Still here? Still… okay. I also had to be really aware of the water supplies because if you need to eat and you don’t have much water until two hours after… whooof. I didn’t know if from the creeks I could take the water, so I didn’t take them. It was really nice. It was hard for me. Also climbing to Maïdo on that first climb—whoa!
iRunFar: It’s a 2,000-meter climb starting at 100k in a 100-mile race. What does that mean? What is that like?
Roca: It was a sensation during the whole race at Diagonale des Fous. You have presents. You have presents. You have Maïdo …
iRunFar: Gifts, you mean?
Roca: Yes, gifts. Some of them, they fit you okay. Some of them it’s like… Oh, we have to do this part? Because at the end, just arriving to the Colorado trail to go down to the stadium, the last trekking before the Colorado, it was like fucking road up and down no sense through the trail that actually goes to the Colorado before arriving to the Colorado trail.
iRunFar: Which is the last trail?
Roca: After Le Chemin des Anglais, you have the last two uphills—long, tired, paved, and I said, “Why this gift now?”
iRunFar: “This is not a gift.”
Roca: No, and you never arrive. But it was really nice. For me, it’s one race you have to do once in a life for the ambiance, for the island, for the race itself, but to repeat? Man, I don’t think so.
iRunFar: Once is enough?
Roca: Once is enough. I am confident that in every race I finish, in every race I say the same. “I will not prepare.” Then after one month, “What is the application date?”
iRunFar: Okay, so I won’t hold you to that.
Roca: Diagonale, it hurts everything. Every little tiny part of your body hurts. Bump, bump, rocks here—and it’s volcano rocky. It’s really…
Roca: Yes, and it cuts you. I had a blister inside, and I just touched to a rock. The rock punched my blister inside the shoe, so the shoe started to be like a spot of water—a water spot inside the shoe. I said, “It’s the blister that leaked.” I was hoping that it wasn’t moving more. The rocks here are really volcanic.
iRunFar: The last question for you as it’s about to get dark. It’s beautiful.
Roca: It’s nice. It’s beautiful. Lots of sharks out there now.
iRunFar: You at the finish last night, you were properly worked. You leaned over. You had to sit down straight away. You limped away afterward. But there was also this sense of, “Rrrr, I did it.” You were a few minutes over your time goal. Maybe you’re a little more worked than you’d like to be. Are you going to fly away from the island still proud of this race?
Roca: Completely. Completely. I’m really proud to keep on going, to not desert, to not to quit, and just getting my pace and my time and get excited to race and to fight for it. For me, it’s the best—to have a race that’s hard but to fight to the end.
iRunFar: Congratulations. It was fun to watch you work it out there.
Roca: Thank you.