Ragna Debats, 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Champion, Interview

With full command of the terrain and competition, Ragna Debats, who lives in Spain but is from the Netherlands, won the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. In this interview, Ragna talks about what happened early in the race when she didn’t feel well for a bit, how she recovered and was able to run strong later on, how her win factored into her and her partner Pere Aurell’s decision to get married on La Palma island, and her plans for between now and next month’s Trail World Championships.

Don’t miss our results article which describes the full race story.

Ragna Debats, 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Ragna Debats, she’s the champion of the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. Congratulations, Ragna. Has it set in that you just won this race?

Ragna Debats: Yeah, I’m really pleased.

iRunFar: It’s probably set into your legs that you just ran and won this race today.

Debats: Yeah, I feel kind of tired now.

iRunFar: That was the first question I wanted to ask you. In the last five weeks, you’ve accumulated a ton of racing miles. How’s your body feeling? And how is your mind feeling?

Debats: Today, I felt really well. I felt prepared for the race, so I must have recovered well. Maybe in China, I still felt… physically I felt nearly recovered but mentally, maybe I felt a little bit weaker. Today, this is just such an amazing place, it’s such a great ambience. So many people believed in me and I just owed it to those people to win. Sometimes if people believe in you, you get convinced that you can win and you want to win, so that also helps. But I felt good in my legs, yeah. I think I’ve assimilated the desert run. [Ragna recently won Marathon des Sables.]

iRunFar: It has sunk in now.

Debats: Yeah, today it was kind of nice because there was lots of sand, similar to a desert, so I was thinking of the desert a lot today whilst I was running.

iRunFar: It wasn’t quite as hot today as it was in the Sahara, though.

Debats: No, it was hotter there, but a lot of people complained that it was hot here as well [laughs].

iRunFar: You were probably thinking, “Oh, this is just fine!”

Debats: I was thinking when I came down from Roque de los Muchachos [at 51.8k/32 miles] to the lower part that it was getting really, really hot. It’s a different kind of heat. At Marathon des Sables, you actually don’t sweat. You have dry skin all the time.

iRunFar: Yeah, it’s gone, it evaporates so fast.

Debats: Yeah, and here you feel like it’s more humid. It’s a different kind of heat.

iRunFar: This is the kind of heat that I, personally, don’t prefer.

Debats: Yeah, I prefer the dry heat because you’re just dry.

iRunFar: So, let’s talk about today’s race. You were sort of in it with the other frontrunning women straight away, but you weren’t in the lead for quite a while. Can you tell us about the early racing with those ladies?

Debats: We set off, and I looked around and noticed that Anne-Lise Rousset was willing to start very strong. Megan Kimmel was behind. I don’t know where she was exactly… but I knew she was behind. There was Elisa Desco as well and some other runners, probably. I followed Anne-Lise but I let her go, because I thought she started really fast and I know it’s a long race–74k.

Even though people say it’s a fast race, it’s always better to reserve… to start conservatively and look at how people go in the beginning. I just kept it, like, close to her. Most of the time I was one minute behind her. I saw her many times. Most of the time, actually. Then, when she started to slow down, I carried on at the same pace, basically, and I reached here and, then, I passed her just when Megan came up from behind. It was a surprise [laughs].

iRunFar: I was going to say, I think there was like…

Debats: We were running together, yeah. Anne-Lise dropped back quite quickly and Megan and I had a nice fight, because we took turns a couple of times. Then, I just felt slightly stronger. I saw, I don’t know… it’s just a feeling maybe [that I get] sometimes, but it’s good if you have this feeling. I felt I could push a little bit harder and I did.

iRunFar: Where exactly was that?

Debats: It was all between Los Deseadas [16.5k/10 miles] and Pico de la Nieve [42k/26 miles], on the climb. Then, I left Megan behind as well, and I just carried on. I was running in a slightly conservative way, because I didn’t want to push too hard. There was still quite a lot of the race left and I didn’t want to risk any surprises again. The top bit, I just tried to run fast, but not too fast. Then, I started to descend and descended as I could. My toes were hurting a little bit in the end. I ran against a stone and my big toe was like, “Ah!” So, I felt it a little bit and in the end, it was uncomfortable to go downhill, they have like cobblestones. It’s quite hard. The last part is a lot of asphalt and you have to really race down on the asphalt. It’s really hard on your legs. Then, I finally got to the lowest bit, the part on the beach. Then, it was just a climb up to the finish line.

iRunFar: The last kilometers of the race, you’re running on a road again and the finish line is quite a distance in front of you?

Debats: I thought it was quite long.

iRunFar: I wondered how you all felt about that, because we could see you for a long time.

Debats: Yeah, it was basically because when I left the last aid station, they told me that I could get in within record time, so I ran the whole climb. I was really tired when I got up there on the asphalt so I didn’t have any energy left to run fast or anything. I was just like, “Oh, I want to get there!” Yeah. So, I didn’t make the record, because I did 8:09 in the end. [The women’s course record is 8:04:17, set by Ida Nilsson in 2017.] But, having said that, nowadays the course is two kilometers longer, so I feel I have set a good time on this new course.

iRunFar: Right. When you crossed the finish line today, your daughter came running up to you with a flower and, then, your partner, Pere Aurell, who was the champion last year, he joined you. I didn’t understand all of it because it was in Spanish, but it seemed like a fairly personal moment was happening because you were talking about getting married in La Palma. What happened?

Debats: Last year, actually, it was on television–Pere asked me to marry him. It was a 10-minute interview and we had to ask a question to each other. I asked him my question and then on his turn, he asked me to marry him. This was on live television. Yesterday, we were driving in the car and we got lost. I went to him, “If I win tomorrow, we could get married here.” We were joking, and we said, “Yeah, it would be good. It’s a good place and it’s nice and warm.” This morning, I drove down to the start line with the speaker and I told him.

iRunFar: I wondered how it all came out!

Debats: He kind of told it to everybody. He said it in the morning in an interview. He made me say that if I win, we will marry here, if it’s okay with Pere. And, then, I won, so afterward it was like everybody knew about it.

iRunFar: So, is this for real? Have you guys said anything about it?

Debats: Yeah, probably. I would like to, yeah. We haven’t organized anything, obviously. But it would be nice to marry here.

iRunFar: You had a little talk or a mention of it since you were standing on the finish line a couple hours ago, you and he?

Debats: No, we just had lots of interviews. No romantic things. I had a shower and I was playing with my daughter. Now, I’m here. That’s all I did.

iRunFar: Fantastic! Well, I have just one question about the future. I know in a month’s time you’re racing in the Trail World Championships on behalf of Holland. Do you have any other races between now and then?

Debats: No, I’m not going to race [anything in between].

iRunFar: Just rest and do some specific preparation for that shorter and faster race.

Debats: Yes.

iRunFar: Awesome. Well, I hope you have a great recovery, and we’ll see you in just a month’s time at the Trail World Championships in Portugal.

Debats: Yeah, thank you.

iRunFar: Congratulations, Ragna.

Debats: Thanks.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

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