With the precision that his country is known for, Switzerland’s Diego Pazos perfectly executed his race plan to take second at the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. In the following interview, Diego walks us through how his race went from the early running in a large pack of frontrunners to how he tried to create a calm bubble for the first half of the race, and from when he started to push his effort a little harder to how it feels when a race goes according to plan.
For more on how the race played out, read our MIUT results article.
Diego Pazos Post-2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. And I am with Diego Pazos who was the second-place finisher of the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. Congratulations Diego, you had a heck of a race.
Diego Pazos: Thanks Meghan, hi everybody. Yeah it was kind of perfect race for me, it was very nice.
iRunFar: Do you think it was a perfect race?
Pazos: You can always do better I think, but it was what I was planning in my head. And I could manage the race I wanted, so for that it was perfect. Then some parts I lost a bit of time, where you can always improve I think.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about the race a little bit. Early in the race, like for the first maybe 15k, you were right there at the front, sort of with the leaders. And then you kind of dropped back and maybe chilled out for a lot of kilometers. Like maybe until you were reaching a high point of the race, 60 or 70k in. Was that all intentional on your part?
Pazos: At the beginning we were a pack, we were 20 together.
iRunFar: Yeah, 20 guys or 18.
Pazos: It was round of observation, I think something like that. So actually if I was first or 20th it was the same, it didn’t matter. Sometimes I was in the front, leading, putting a rhythm to see how the other runners were reacting, and sometimes somebody else was doing that. So I think the first 20, 25k was not really representative of the race. Then at the second climb, Tim [Tollefson] went in the front and François [D’haene] decided to follow and they started to go fast in the second climb to Estanquinhos. And then three or four runners went with them. I didn’t want to go at that moment. It was too early for me in the race and I prefer to stay calm during the first part of the night. And to really enter in my bubble. I let six or seven runners in the front and I was in the second pack, in a small group where I find myself very comfortable and I wanted to manage the first part of the race like that. So it was intentional. Yes, it was intentional in that sense.
iRunFar: What was the night like on this course? It is so interesting because you change altitude so much, you are going into the weather, like up into the fog, and then back out again, down to where it was a bit warmer. Tell me what the night felt like.
Pazos: Yeah, when we were going up it was quite good because in the trees, it was not so cold, the temperature was good. But when we were reaching the top always it was very windy and sometimes you know, it was not raining but it is kind of wet weather. I don’t know how you say in English but kind of brume [foggy], we say it in French. So I covered myself twice every time we are at Fanal and then before Estanquinhos just to be sure that I didn’t get cold or something like that. So I was careful for that and for the hands because I know that I have problems with cold hands so I put some double gloves. So it was kind of prevention. In this part of the race I was more careful about these moments not to ruin my race. That was the biggest objectives. The first 40k I think.
iRunFar: For me looking at your splits compared to the other men, it seemed like you just got faster in the race’s second half and maybe that was you pushing at times or that was just other people slowing down and you had maintained yourself so well in the first half. To what do you attribute to the second half of your race?
Pazos: At least that was my strategy, to be really good in Curral [das Freiras at about 60k] and from that point to give it all. And really to push in this uphill and to maintain the pace between the two picos. And then I knew that it was going down the last part, usually I really love downhills so I knew that even if I was a bit tired at the end I could maintain the rhythm. So the strategy was really to be very prevention the first 40k, try to find a good position between 40 and 60, not to be too far. Just ask a bit the distances, the gaps, and try to maintain the gap so not to lose too much time and try to come back or at least to take all the guys that started too fast.
iRunFar: And so it was on the climb from Curral up to Pico Ruivo that you moved into podium position for the first time, is that right?
Pazos: Yeah exactly. I was fifth with the six just behind me in the uphill before Curral. I did a really good downhill so I just caught Maxime Cazajous who was fourth just entering the Curral aid station then he went out a bit before me. So I was 30 seconds behind him, you saw me on the road, you know.
Pazos: I caught him just after in the road and then we went together until the start of the climb and then I went alone in the climb. And I knew that Tim was not so good. I heard that from a Portuguese who was on the track. So I said okay, I will try to catch him before the Pico Ruivo, and I did that maybe 200 meters elevation before Pico Ruivo. At that moment Tim was not so good. We talked a couple of seconds together just to be sure that he was not bad or something. He said, no, okay, just a bad moment. And then he was feeling a bit better because he was staying, you know, like 50 or 100 meters behind. So we had a nice battle until Pico Ruivo. Then he arrived maybe 20 seconds after me. Then we went between the two picos and there I felt really good as well so this part, this climb and between the two picos, I did a really nice section and then I didn’t see him behind anymore. So I was third and they told me that the two were together and actually at that moment I was always looking forward, you know, not thinking behind. Okay, I knew that maybe Tim could be a problem in the last part because it’s a very runnable part…
iRunFar: And he is quite a runner.
Pazos: And he’s a very track-and-field athlete, which I’m not. On that part I say, I will think about that later. Now I want to try to close the gap [on the leaders.] I said, okay the win, maybe we can go for the win. And they told me that I was 15 minutes behind in [Pico] Ruivo or something like that, and then he shout that I go at 12 minutes, so I said, okay maybe we can try something. And then I tried but the uphill to Poiso, I felt good but not so good as before. So I said, okay maybe be careful because it’s still long afterward. And I knew that Germain [Grangier] was not feeling so good so François went alone. So I said, okay maybe Germain, I can take him, so just searching place to place and when I come to Germain, he was not feeling good.
iRunFar: Had he fallen at that point?
Pazos: And he fall, I think he cramped and then he fall. So then they told me that François opened the gap. He was, I don’t know, 20 minutes before, so I knew that it was very hard on the last 17k to come back, one minute per kilometer to… For François it’s almost impossible. I knew that it was like that and then I started thinking about Tim behind at that moment because I didn’t know. Five, 10 minutes?
iRunFar: And you crossed the finish line running really hard and you said something like, “What’s the gap now, or when’s the next man?” And then people said, “It’s quite a long time.” And you said, “I didn’t need to go as hard as I did.”
Pazos: Yeah, sure, I didn’t know. I thought it was three, four, five minutes behind. In this last part you can lose five minutes easily, you know.
iRunFar: If you can’t run hard, right?
Pazos: Yeah, if somebody is really strong behind. So that’s why I was like pushing, pushing, and yeah I couldn’t enjoy the last parts really. But then I was happy the last two or three k’s, I didn’t see him behind I knew that I had bit of gas in case we had to fight. So it was better the last two or three k’s.
iRunFar: Well that was a great story of your race.
Pazos: Thanks. It was it was actually a very funny race. I like when you have to mix strategy and of course when you have the legs to do it it’s even better. When you are not feeling good since the beginning, you can have all the strategy you want and not do anything.
iRunFar: When your body’s there and you can tell it to go faster, go slower, relax, or push hard, it’s nice to have the body to do that.
Pazos: Exactly. That’s why I love ultra[marathons], because you have a lot of parameters to manage and I’m enjoying when you can press one button or the other.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you…
iRunFar: …On your second-place finish, and we’ll see you down the trail.
Pazos: Yes definitely, maybe in two weeks at Transvulcania.
iRunFar: Yes, you’ll be seeing me there. I’ll be seeing you.
Pazos: But we’ll see. I’ll recover first this week, we will see. I’m registered, otherwise UTMB.
iRunFar: Congratulations again.