Hungary’s Ildikó Wermescher took seventh at UTMB 2018, another solid performance in her long and successful mountain-ultrarunning career. In our first interview with Ildikó, she talks about living in Germany and working as a Montessori math teacher, her 20-plus years of running experience, how UTMB went for her this year, and her now-infamous story of encountering a mountain lion while running the 2017 Western States 100.
Check out our 2018 UTMB results article for the full story of the race, as well as links for all of our post-race interviews.
Ildikó Wermsecher Post-UTMB 2018 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Ildikó Wermescher. She was the seventh-place finisher at 2018 UTMB. Congratulations, Ildikó.
Ildikó Wermesher: Thank you.
iRunFar: I think this is iRunFar’s first German translated interview, but you’re not German by birth. You’re Hungarian?
Wermescher: Yes, I live in Germany for the last eight years.
iRunFar: You are an ultra trailer of about ten years? Ten years you’ve been doing these races?
Wermescher: Yes, I used to be a road runner, but since 2009 I’ve run on trails.
iRunFar: This is iRunFar’s first interview with you. I’ve gotten to see you race before, but I don’t know you. Can you tell iRunFar’s followers about you? What you do for work? Your previous history with running?
Wermescher: I’m from Budapest, Hungary. Eight years ago we moved to Germany because my husband works there. Now, I live 50k from Munich.
iRunFar: I understand you might be a teacher of mathematics which was one of my favorite things to study, but I wasn’t good at it.
Wermescher: Yes, I’m a mathematics and physics teacher.
iRunFar: For young kids or…?
Wermescher: Yes, I teach at a Montessori school and this year teach fifth, sixth, and seventh grades.
iRunFar: You said you have a history with road running before ultra trails. What’s your sporting history?
Wermescher: My story is that I started running late in life at 23 years old. I did just road stuff and the occasional trail. Then in 2009, I ran for Hungary in the Trail World Championships, and after that I only ran trail ,because it was the best.
iRunFar: Before starting to run ultra trails, did you prefer running shorter or longer races? What were you the best at?
Wermescher: Before ultra trails when I was road running, I did run really long distances. My first 100k on the road was in 2003. In 2008, I participated in the 100k road world championships in the Netherlands. I also participated in 2009. Another thing why I hadn’t really touched trail before was because in Hungary, they don’t really have many trails. The tallest mountain in Hungary is 1,014 meters. They’re like, “middle mountains” or foothills. I’m not a stranger to long distance. It’s just the trail that is a little different. My first competition ever was a marathon—the Marathon of Budapest.
iRunFar: I think you’ve always been fast. I searched your name in results. These long road things you’ve done, they’ve all been quite quick. You were quite good at the outset.
Wermescher: When I was a kid, I played handball a lot, so I was a lot faster when I was a kid. I was over 30 years old when I ran the first of these 100k road races, so I don’t feel that I’m particularly fast. I don’t feel I can run fast on flat surfaces. What I can do very well is run technical downhills. I’m really strong on technical downhills.
iRunFar: I also feel like the times I’ve seen you race over the years, you’ve been very consistent. You don’t start super fast, but you stay the same pace throughout the race and therefore you move up in the rankings and finish quite high.
Wermescher: Yes, always at the start line of the race, I think about the whole race and choose a tempo or rhythm I’m confident I can maintain for the whole race. If anything, I choose a conservative tempo and, then, the second half of the race I’m able to move more quickly.
iRunFar: Let’s talk for a couple minutes about UTMB. You have been in the top 10 before. Did you come back here with a main goal or ideal finishing position?
Wermescher: Yes, I had originally been coming hoping to run better than the times I’ve run in the past, but, unfortunately, with my sickness, it absolutely wasn’t possible. Another goal I made was that I hope I can come back in the future and race a better time. You never know how you’re going to place, so I don’t want to come back with a place goal in mind but with a time goal. I actually didn’t want to come back to UTMB at all. I told myself, I’m 53. What are you doing here? After this year, Okay, I guess I have to come back again.
iRunFar: I don’t think it really matters your age. You are doing just fine here if seventh place when you feel ill is your result.
Wermescher: In a big part, I have my husband to thank. He was crewing me, and when I got to Courmayeur, I said, “I’m done. I’m out.”
iRunFar: I’m pretty sure she said, “kaput,” which is my favorite word.
Wermescher: The word “kaput” came out. My husband said, “Yeah, look around you. All of the runners are kaput. All of the runners are broken. UTMB starts now. Go do your thing.” He sent me onwards. I stayed 19 minutes in Courmayeur. I just didn’t want to go on.
iRunFar: Awesome. Wow. Talk for a minute about the weather. The race started in the rain, and then you may have experienced some cold temperatures at the tops of the cols. What was the weather like for you?
Wermescher: I don’t think the weather was that bad. I didn’t even use my jacket during the whole race. I ran my race in two t-shirts and arm warmers and a Buff on my head. Yes, there were points when I had to wear two pairs of gloves because it was cold and it was windy and raining, but that’s actually something I really like about trail races. I like that in one race you can have all four seasons.
iRunFar: Which you basically did over the weekend.
Wermescher: Yeah, that’s just part of the game.
iRunFar: Last question for you is unrelated to UTMB, but it will be of interest to at least half of our audience who are American English speakers. You, whether you know it or not, have achieved a woman icon status in America because you met a mountain lion during the Western States 100. Can you tell me that story?
Wermescher: That was not very nice, Meghan. This is something I’d like to forget. It’s also like the weather, and it’s a part of the game. For example, running in Australia I’ve seen a Kangaroo. [Translator: That’s a little bit different.] My husband ran with me from Foresthill because he was my pacer. He was able to stay about 10 miles and then the heat was so much for him he got cramps everywhere and had to stop. I continued on alone. Then, there’s the river. I crossed the river alone. It was 10-20 miles after the river.
iRunFar: Maybe mile 90?
Wermescher: I ran the last 20 miles with these characters who will appear later in the story, so it was probably mile 80. I was going, and I have a really good headlamp. All the sudden maybe five meters in front of me I see a puma. I didn’t know what to do, but I didn’t panic because I was actually born in an area of Romania that has a lot of bears and wolves. I just tried to stay calm and think what I could do. I turned my headlamp around to the back slowly and backed up very slowly. Eventually, I kept backing up and kept backing up and backed around the curve. Even when I got back far enough I could still see the glowing eyes. I didn’t know what to do, but at that point another pacer and his crew arrived. The pacer had a really good headlamp and flashlight. He played around with the light to freak the puma out which worked because then the puma wasn’t seen anymore. Then, we continued onwards. It was the last 20 miles, and I stayed with them the entire rest of the way. I’d run back 400-500 meters backwards to the guys who were back there and then went forward with them for the whole rest of the race. I was so scared I stayed with them.
iRunFar: You finished eighth place even with the puma encounter? Literally like a personal nightmare. It’s a thing that small women think about when they go trail running.
Wermescher: Yes, it was very hard.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your seventh place here at UTMB. Thank you so much for the interview. It’s been really awesome to get to know you a little bit.
Wermescher: Thank you for the opportunity and for the congratulations. It’s really nice you followed me like that for the whole race.
iRunFar: We were following you. Congratulations.