Italian Martina Valmassoi is a top European ski mountaineer who took third at the 2015 The Rut 50k. In this interview, Martina talks about her skimo history, how she’s getting into trail running, what she thought of racing The Rut as her first ultramarathon, and if she thinks she’ll continue racing trails.
Be sure to read our results article for the full race story.
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Martina Valmassoi Post-2015 The Rut 50k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here at the finish line of The Rut 50k here in Big Sky, Montana. I’m with Martina Valmassoi who was women’s third-place finisher today. Congratulations.
Martina Valmassoi: Thank you. I’m more surprised than you, I think.
iRunFar: You are surprised? Why are you so surprised?
Valmassoi: Yeah, because it was my first 50k, and it was my fourth race this year. So I didn’t expect nothing similar as this. I was just okay. I wanted to try. I wanted to finish. That was my goal. Then when I started, I was feeling good. Okay, maybe it’s going to be better than what I thought.
iRunFar: I want to back up just a little bit because you, Martina, might not be somebody that the trail running community is familiar with. You’re somebody that the ski-mountaineering community knows well. You’re a very famous ski mountaineer in Europe. You’ve competed in the European skimo championships as well as the world championships.
Valmassoi: Yes. It’s been eight years that I’ve been on the international Italian team. I’m more familiar in the skimo world than the running world. It’s something similar. Most of the time, almost the same people, but it’s just people who love the mountains and it depends on the season. Normally I was just running for training. In winter I used to race much more because in the World Cup, you have two months of every weekend you have two or three races. It’s going from December until May, and it’s quite tough. It’s why I wasn’t thinking to make two seasons like Emelie [Forsberg] or Kilian [Jornet] does because I think it’s really hard, but why not try something or some races?
iRunFar: This has been your first summer sort of committing to racing trail races. You ran the Mont Blanc Marathon and a couple races at home.
Valmassoi: In Italy, yeah.
iRunFar: So now you’re first trail running race out of Europe?
Valmassoi: Yes, I’ve been in Miami, so it’s not my first time in the U.S., but it was a really different kind of trip. To be here in Montana, it’s just amazing. It’s so different from Europe. You have huge spaces. All the people are really nice. We just love to be here. Yeah, I was thinking I’ve tried two races that were about 35k. I thought, Okay, maybe I’m better in longer distance, so why not try once? There was a free place here with the Salomon athletes at The Rut, so I thought, Okay, why not try? It looks really technical, and I love technical terrain. So, yeah, it was the best place to try, I think.
iRunFar: Let’s walk through the race from today a little bit. The race started off in the dark, very cold this morning, and it spent some time down low sort of weaving through singletrack and some roads. How did you feel during that early part?
Valmassoi: I always start really slow. I was quite alone with a few guys. I was like, Okay, maybe I started too slow. I already lost the girls. You’re doing what you always do, Martina. But that’s fine, it’s long. Then when the light comes up, we did the first short downhill. Okay, I catch them. I love the downhill much more than uphill. So I was, Okay, I can start the race. There were all the girls—we were like six girls together, and we did most all of the singletracks and the flat part together. It was a pace that I was able to follow, so I was okay, because I know I have to follow my pace and not look to the other girls. But I was okay. This I can do it. Then they started to push a little bit more. So I take a bit of a gap from them and me, but then when we started the climb again, it was good. Yeah, I had my poles which I’m used to using in winter.
iRunFar: “Click, click, click, click, click.”
Valmassoi: Okay, why not? It’s a long race. It’s difficult to run all the time, so it was helpful for me having the poles. Yeah, in the uphill, I was feeling good. I was almost catching the other girls in the first downhill, but then I didn’t see them. I think they missed a turn. So they made a short loop, a turn a bit longer than what I’ve done, so I was in the uphill again, and they were just behind me. I was, Okay, that’s cool. We made all the second uphill together, almost, like one minute. There was Hillary [Allen] and another American. I don’t know. I don’t remember her name. Then it was downhill again, so I was like, Okay, now it’s my turn again. But then Hillary was coming fast, and she just caught me and she took advantage in the last part—the last uphill and the last long way to the…
iRunFar: Super-long, wavy downhill.
Valmassoi: Oh, yeah. I found it really long. It was really nice.
iRunFar: The course changed a lot from being very runnable terrain, to being very steep and technical either up or down. Obviously, I think, with your background in ski mountaineering, it’s the steep ups and steep downs that benefit you the most. What did you think of the more technical parts of the course today? Do they compare to things that you train on at home in Italy?
Valmassoi: We have a lot of technical trails, but not that rocky. It’s really particular here, this kind of rock, because every size and they’re moving and you didn’t know… Okay, I put the feet there…
iRunFar: Will they stay or not?
Valmassoi: Yeah, and so it’s… I like the downhill even when it’s technical. Of course, you’re not able to go as fast as some trails at home, but it was good for me. If it was like a singletrack fast, I’d be dead. It was really good for me to have those two uphills there.
iRunFar: Our reporters who were out on the steep and technical part said that you were the fastest mover coming downhill as well as flying uphill.
Valmassoi: Okay, that’s good.
iRunFar: The big climb to Lone Peak, you were just flying uphill almost the same pace as Emelie was.
Valmassoi: Yeah, I was feeling really good in that part. Yeah, they said on the downhill I was quite good. Emelie doesn’t take advantage in that part from me, so I was pretty happy with that. Emelie is strong. Even if she was probably a bit tired from the two races for sure, but for me, it was a good comparison for sure.
iRunFar: You’re used to training at some altitude in the Italian Alps and the Dolomites, but today is higher. These mountains are taller. How did your breathing and lungs feel today?
Valmassoi: My parents’ place is in the Dolomites, but now I live in Rio del Garda, in Arco. I live at 160 meters, so I was like, Okay, I was one week in Chamonix for the UTMB, so now I will warm up a little bit with the altitude. I will go one week in Chamonix, and it’s going to be okay. But then when I came here, the first three or four days were horrible. You cannot move. It was good to come on Tuesday so we had all the week to be acclimatized. But yeah, today it was pretty hard the first part of the race, but then you get kind of used to it.
iRunFar: They’re getting ready to fly the helicopter, aren’t they? I’ll ask you one more question before the helicopter gets really loud. You’ve now spent your first full summer trail racing. You have many winters in ski mountaineering to compare to it. Will we see you trail racing again in the future?
Valmassoi: Why not? After this experience, why not? Of course, I need to train more because I haven’t trained that much to race 50k, but now I know that I can do it, and it’s fun to race.
iRunFar: We’d better wrap up this interview. Congratulations to you, Martina, on your third place finish at The Rut 50k.
Valmassoi: Thank you.