Italian Francesca Canepa finished second at the 2012 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc before going on to race and win the 300-kilometer Tor des Géants about a week later. She returns to the 2013 UTMB after an already-heavy racing season. In this interview, Francesca tells us how she balances racing and running, being a mother, and her work. She also shares her thoughts on Lizzy Hawker’s injury and if she’s planning to run Tor des Géants again this year.
[Editor’s Note: Here’s our full 2013 TNF UTMB women’s race preview.]
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Francesca Canepa Pre-2013 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Francesca Canepa before the 2013 UTMB. How are you?
Francesca Canepa: I’m pretty fine because this year I had lots of injuries but now it’s okay. I have just a problem that I don’t know if I’m in really good shape, but I know that I am better from my injuries.
iRF: You’ve run so many races already this year, though.
Canepa: Yes, I did some really hard races and they were okay because when I find something really steep my problem is okay. When I run with a really good stride, then I have some problems.
iRF: So running Ronda dels Cims is okay.
iRF: What do you think has been your best race this year—Ronda dels Cims? What has been your best performance this year?
Canepa: This year I think Ronda dels Cims has been the best one.
iRF: Last year you had a very good race here at Mont Blanc. You were second to Lizzy [Hawker]… pretty close.
Canepa: No, not so close.
iRF: Not so close, but not so far.
Canepa: Not so far.
iRF: Lizzy is not here this year.
Canepa: I know. I’m really sorry for her because she’s really inspiring for me and I want to be with her. The race without her is not the real race. However, I’ll try to do my best like she does every time she races.
iRF: No matter whether another woman is here or not, you’ll run your best race.
iRF: And there are other good women here—Emma Roca, Núria [Picas], Rory [Bosio].
Canepa: All of them are really good racers. I think that doing my best will be the challenge for me. My results will be good if I do my best.
iRF: You’re very good in the mountains and the steeper the climb the better. There’s more flat early in this race. Do you worry you’ll be too far behind?
Canepa: Yes, I really worry. That is my problem.
iRF: You live over in Courmayeur. These are your home trails. When you get to Val Ferret, when you leave Courmayeur and go up to Bertone, will you get extra energy? Are you excited?
Canepa: I hope to have energy when I will be there. Everybody tells me that when an Italian arrives in Courmayeur, they want to stop the race. I hope this will not be the case for me. I hope they’ll give me some strength to go to Chamonix.
iRF: This year will be better than last year. Last year you didn’t get to Italy during UTMB. This year, Monte Bianco is yours.
Canepa: I hope.
iRF: You do a lot of races. I’m sure you train a lot. You have a couple kids, and they just ran the kids’ race, yes? Do you also work?
Canepa: Sometimes I’m a teacher, a snowboard teacher, but really sometimes because I teach just two days/week (Sunday and Saturday). Sometimes I do some translation from English to Italian because it’s okay for a part-time job.
iRF: When do you find time to train because you have kids and you race a lot?
Canepa: I race a lot but I don’t run or train a lot. For me, the training takes just an hour per day so it’s not too much. I think that races are really hard and so my body needs some rest. It’s okay during the week to stay relaxed.
iRF: So race and relax. Last year you didn’t relax. You ran UTMB and a week later the Tor de Géants. Why?
Canepa: Yes, because last year my main goal was UTMB and Tor de Géants was something I didn’t know at all. So I tried and would see step by step. It was a really good race. I won it. This year once again, same challenge. I know that it will be really hard because now I know what is Tor de Géants. So I don’t know. However, these are the two races near my home, so I love them and it’s okay. I love to race at home. It’s really beautiful but really difficult for the body and for the mind.
iRF: So when you’re running UTMB tomorrow and you’re running it on Saturday, can you get Tor de Géants out of your mind?
Canepa: I don’t know. I will try to not think about Tor de Géants and really do this race step by step because UTMB is a really hard race for me.
iRF: Many of our viewers may not know Tor de Géants. Can you tell us a little about that race? What is the TDG?
Canepa: Tor de Géants is a really nice journey because you have to go across all the Aosta Valley. You are always on steep hills and steep downhills. It’s really hard for the body, but the main thing and the most important is that people are really near the race. Everywhere you go, you will find someone who is cheering or offering you something to eat or some encouragement and so on. It’s something that goes straight to the heart.
iRF: That’s incredible because the race is more than 300k and how many days did it take you last year—3 or 4?
Canepa: Four because we had a lot of stops (for weather).
iRF: So it could take somebody three days but it could take the back of the pack eight days, and there’s always somebody out there. The community is so involved.
Canepa: Yes, the community is so involved everywhere—during the night, during the day, always.
iRF: During the race do you stay at the refugio? Do you stop and eat and take sleep?
Canepa: For the first part of the race I was like on UTMB, then I began to stay a lot of time for eating. But to sleep, not much time—just two hours the first time and two hours the second. I was sleeping not so much. For eating, I was like at a restaurant.
iRF: At UTMB or Ronda des Ciims, you eat sports food. At Tor de Géants it’s pasta and cheese…
Canepa: Yes, before Col Bruson I eat five parts of pizza. Then I was flying. This was a really good thing. It’s a really different race. You can’t compare with anything.
iRF: Best of luck at UTMB and at Tor de Géants.
One bonus question for you, Francesca. Best pizza in the world, I think. What’s your favorite pizza?
Canepa: Margherita. In every part of the world, Margherita. Just Margherita.
iRF: Excellent. I might have to go have some Margherita pizza tomorrow during the race.
Canepa: Okay, me too.