With his second-place finish, Romania’s Robert Hajnal was the breakout surprise in this year’s UTMB men’s race. In the following interview, our first with him, Robert talks about his history with sports and running, his successful mental strategy, and how his race went.
Robert Hajnal Post-UTMB 2018 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Robert Hajnal of Romania. Congratulations on a tremendous race!
Robert Hajnal: Thanks. Thanks a lot. It was really great.
iRunFar: You’ve had some really good performances in the past. You’ve been strong here at CCC. I think you had a good Lavaredo [Ultra Trail] in the past, but what happened yesterday?
Hajnal: It was kind of a miracle for me—it didn’t pay off if I didn’t put the hard work in it, and a good nutritional strategy, I guess, and just to be patient and to expect very good runners to have troubles and be in the back of them and just pass them. That’s how it happened.
iRunFar: That’s a good strategy. You were well prepared and had a good strategy of running your race, but could you have expected to be second at UTMB?
Hajnal: No, I was thinking that last year Kilian [Jornet] was second, so it’s unbelievable, but I expected to be in the top 10. It was a dream to be in the top 10 but not the second.
iRunFar: You were at the Trail World Championships at Penyagolosa earlier this year and were a strong contender but didn’t have a great race. What was the difference between that race and this weekend?
Hajnal: I was starting to make the similarities. I trained a lot for Penyagolosa, too, and was there for one month-and-a-half like here for one month. There, my nutrition went poorly and I puked two times there. That’s what happened there. I made the hard work like here.
iRunFar: No stomach problems here?
Hajnal: No stomach problems. I only puked once on the climb from Courmayeur to [Refuge] Bertone. I don’t know why.
iRunFar: It’s not like you felt bad for a long time?
Hajnal: No, no, just five minutes. After that, I felt great. It’s usual—you puke and you feel better.
iRunFar: Yeah, did you have any other problems or difficulties during the race?
Hanjal: No, I really felt good during the night. From Les Contamines to Courmayeur when I saw what good runners I passed, I really had wings.
iRunFar: It gave you some encouragement?
Hajnal: Yeah, sure.
iRunFar: You moved up the entire race. Is that a good mental strategy for you?
Hajnal: It’s the way I like to race—start slow and at the finish give all. I think the negative split is under-appreciated. All the good runners are going too fast, in my opinion.
iRunFar: Even if you don’t have an actual negative split like in a marathon maybe, in a trail ultra, that approach of trying to run fast in the second half, you tried it…
Hajnal: I tried it, and the winner of the TDS this year, the Polish guy [Marcin Świerc], tried, too, and it paid off.
iRunFar: A few years ago Ludovic Pommeret won—some of that was other issues—but you can work up.
Hajnal: That’s a well-played race from Ludovic that year.
iRunFar: As we saw yesterday.
Hajnal: I didn’t win it.
iRunFar: No, not this time.
Hajnal: Not this time.
iRunFar: Have you always been an athlete?
Hajnal: No, I started running only five years ago and doing ultras since 2013.
iRunFar: So, five years to second place at UTMB. So you never ran but you played sports?
Hajnal: I played football/soccer when I was really young, but not an elite because they wouldn’t take me for a Barcelona interview if I played an elite level.
iRunFar: But you were active? How did you find trail running?
Hajnal: Yes, it was a perfect moment when I really wanted to know the mountains. A friend of mine invited me to this event, a 28k with 1,800 meters of elevation. I didn’t know what that means. I went there, suffered, and came in 17th place from 50 other participants. After one year, I saw there were many races and ultramarathons. I saw a 100km race and said next year I’d register and win it. I won it… in Romania.
iRunFar: And you just keep going with it. What is the trail running scene in Romania?
Hajnal: It’s very, very popular as a sport. It’s becoming much more popular every year. We don’t have so many ultramarathons, but we have great races to race there.
iRunFar: Now you’re one of the heroes of Romanian trail running with your performance yesterday.
Hajnal: Yeah… I guess?
iRunFar: Do you have any other races planned for this year?
Hajnal: I just will take a break, and after that I will see. I don’t know.
iRunFar: You could just retire and leave on top now.
Hajnal: That’s a good plan… and make five children.
iRunFar: You have five children?
Hajnal: No, I make five children.
iRunFar: I was like, you did that in five years with five children? No, do you have a family?
Hajnal: No, only my girlfriend and my mother who support me very well.
iRunFar: What do you do during the day? Do you have a job?
Hajnal: I work for the Romanian Army like Mr. Tom Evans.
iRunFar: What is your role?
Hajnal: I’m in charge of sports for my unit. It’s a very good part of it.
iRunFar: Cool. Well, I hope to see you race again soon. Congratulations, Robert. Enjoy.
Hajnal: Thanks, Bryon.