Ragna Debats, who is from the Netherlands but who lives in Spain, is one of the favorites for the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. In this interview, Ragna talks about how she quickly recovered from racing the Marathon des Sables just a month ago, what kind of training she’s focused on in the last few weeks, racing the Yading Skyrun last weekend in China, and her thoughts ahead of Transvulcania.
Ragna Debats Pre-2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Ragna Debats. It’s two days before the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. Good morning, Ragna. How are you doing?
Ragna Debats: Good morning. I am well. Just had a nice breakfast and it’s a lovely place so I’m feeling well.
iRunFar: It’s actually a perfect-weather morning on La Palma right now.
Debats: Yeah, I think so. It’s a little bit cloudy, but it’s nice, pleasant. I don’t need any clothes so it feels light. [laughs.] Just got to mentalize and prepare for the race.
iRunFar: I have so many questions for you because I just saw you four weeks ago at Marathon des Sables and so many things have happened in your world since then.
Debats: Yeah. It’s been really fast, everything, because I came home from Transvulcania, I mean from Marathon des Sables, and I was thinking, should I go to China or not? But I came home and I felt pretty well. My muscles seemed to be okay so I thought it would be a good idea to go to China and to speed up, do a nice climb there, and also at altitude.
iRunFar: At altitude, yeah.
Debats: So it’s something interesting, just for the race itself, but also interesting for the season to do some practice at altitude, and hopefully that’s some good work.
iRunFar: So a logistical question for you. Marathon des Sables is a week-long stage race, carrying a pack, eating a little bit less than normal. How did you do the recovery for the three weeks between Marathon des Sables and Yading Skyrun?
Debats: Actually I didn’t do a lot of like, recovery. I came home I think three days later, after the last stage, and that’s when I started training.
Debats: I did a lot of double training sessions like, not too much long distances, because I already had done the volume I think.
iRunFar: Yeah, all the volume was there.
Debats: So I did basically in the morning I did a training session outside, and then in the afternoon I did something in altitude, in hypoxia because I didn’t, I live at three, four hundred meters above sea level. It is very low. For China I needed to get up to 4,700 meters, a little bit higher even, and it’s quite, it’s something I’m naturally not used to because I’ve never, I’m from Holland. I’ve lived below sea level for a long time.
Debats: So it’s something I really, it’s still something really interesting. Something I would like to explore a bit more actually. But yeah this time it was the first time I did it at home with the mask on my face and only like short sessions because I still had to take Marathon des Sables into account, but I felt okay for training so sometimes I just went for a walk at altitude and sometimes I ran and most of the time uphill. Even when I walked because the race in China is mainly uphill and only a slight downhill.
iRunFar: So you have like a machine, a mask, and a treadmill.
Debats: Yes. The whole set.
iRunFar: Is it like in your basement or a separate room or where do you go to do that at?
Debats: It’s like outside of the house, like we have the garden and at the end of the garden there’s a little, it’s not a shed, not a house. Some building.
iRunFar: It’s where you train.
Debats: That’s where we have our fitness things. So we have all different kind of things. I sometimes go to another place to do, to work with machines, but normally, for most exercises we need to do for strength training we can do at home.
iRunFar: Right there. Excellent. So just last weekend, well five days ago now, you were in China out doing the Yading Skyrun, which is a high-altitude, short-distance skyrace. How did you feel on race day?
Debats: I felt recovered. I did a very express trip to China. I only arrived one and a half day before the race, which is not enough really normally. I always want to be there three days before normally, to give your body enough time to recover from the trip, because I think for me traveling is tiring for your body even though you’re just sitting down, your body gets tired.
iRunFar: Dehydrated and just weird.
Debats: Just a weird feeling, yeah. And also the time changes and everything, but I arrived I think around 3:00 in the afternoon, so I didn’t do much that day but to sleep for a long sleep. I slept about 13 hours.
iRunFar: Amazing. As a mom you have to love that.
Debats: Yeah. [laughs.] Doesn’t happen very often. And then it was just the last day before the race so I went running a little bit and then it was race day, and straight after the race I went back. So I was actually traveling more than being in China.
iRunFar: In the airplanes more than in the country.
Debats: Yeah. And then, I’m pleased to race because the preparation I did was very short, very intense, and a lot of things to take into account, but everybody when I got there was like, what, you’re arriving now? What did you do to prepare? How did you manage? And I was like yes, I had to fit it in somehow and I wanted to try. And it was definitely worth it because I think it worked out. I mean if you want to be completely acclimatized you have to maybe go there like a lot of time before.
iRunFar: A lot of time. Ten days, 12 days.
Debats: I think even a lot more. I think 10 days is good for proper acclimatization but not like a natural, like a complete one.
Debats: I always think of people who have grown up at altitude for example, or who have lived there for many, many years, they have a different kind of…
iRunFar: Their whole body.
Debats: Adaptation to it. Yeah.
iRunFar: Especially for that high of an altitude there, because you’re starting to get into that extreme altitude that’s a very special type of adaptation.
Debats: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
iRunFar: Well here we are back at sea level.
iRunFar: You’re back to the Transvulcania. This is a race you’ve done before but in my opinion the last time you were here, between then and now, you’re just a different athlete. Your performances have just gone up so much since then. Do you feel like a different person since the last time you raced?
Debats: I think I’m definitely a different person. There was, last time it was my second ultra race I think, and apart from that, apart from not having a lot of experience, I came here very tired because we just did a trip around the world. Came back, and we did it with our daughter.
iRunFar: Oh, wow.
Debats: It was very, it was great. I mean it was an amazing experience but it was very difficult for us to, for our bodies. So we were very, very tired, both me and Pere [Aurell]. He didn’t actually finish the race and I did finish, but I didn’t feel like I was competitive. And so it was a different thing. I think now I’m a lot more experienced and I could do a good race. If you think about it, it’s a sort of distance that suits me. It’s a runnable race which is something which normally suits me, so in theory it could be a good race for me. [laughs]
iRunFar: [laughs] On paper.
Debats: On paper. We’ll see what it’s going to be.
iRunFar: So you’re from the Netherlands originally but for a long time you’ve lived in Spain and you’re pretty integrated in the Spanish trail running culture. Can you try to describe what Transvulcania is to Spanish trail runners for the rest of the world, because it’s just a very unique thing for your running culture.
Debats: For the Spanish people you mean.
iRunFar: I think so, yeah.
Debats: So, yeah. I mean it’s an amazing place to start with. Everybody, you want to be here because it’s like a party, it’s like a holiday place, it’s a place to go with your family, so that’s to start with. I think it’s a nice race. When you are running you have all these nice views on the beaches. The climate is nice, so when you come with your family they’re not going to be cold or anything watching you, but they’re just there enjoying the weather, enjoying the views and everything.
iRunFar: Easy for your family also.
Debats: Yeah, I think so. And the whole atmosphere. I think this is one of the greatest races in Spain because the people are so involved, and not just the organization, everybody on the island is very involved. It’s a very mediatic thing, it’s on television. The people just out there, it’s like Zegama Marathon, everybody just in a good mood, cheering, so that makes it into, some race really, just spectacular. It’s a nice race because the whole, it’s athletic, very fast, runnable. It’s very fast for the distance because it’s a lot of kilometers but…
iRunFar: They go by quick.
Debats: They go by really quick. So it’s a real challenge for athlete athletes but also for amateur athletes, as well. I think it makes it more accessible because you can actually cover the distance in a reasonable amount of hours, so it’s a very attractive race, I think.
iRunFar: For a lot of reasons.
iRunFar: Well best of luck to you this weekend.
Debats: Thank you.
iRunFar: And we’ll see you out on the course.
Debats: Yeah, thank you.