Italy’s Francesco Puppi, who won the 2017 WMRA Long Distance World Championships, will represent his country at the Trail World Championships for the first time this Saturday. In our first interview with Francesco, he talks about his running history, his last couple years of racing in a variety of disciplines including mountain running, and how he thinks he’ll do on this weekend’s race course.
Francesco Puppi Pre-2019 Trail World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m with Italy’s Francesco Puppi. It’s a couple of days before the 2019 Trail World Championships, and we’re together in Portugal. Good afternoon, Francesco, how are you?
Francesco Puppi: Fine, thank you. I’m a bit tired from the journey and checking the course this morning, but it’s okay. I’ll have a couple more days to rest.
iRunFar: Yeah, you guys flew in from parts of Italy, from was it Rome or Milan yesterday?
Puppi: We flew from Milan. We sort of gathered together at the airport and we flew as a big group. Everyone is here. This morning we went on the course to check some parts. I must say, it’s not my type of course, but it’ll be fun for sure.
iRunFar: So, you saw a few kilometers of the course today. What did you see out there? What did you find?
Puppi: There was some guy that was telling us about the most technical part, so we went and checked that part. It is actually pretty technical from what I’m used to, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s twisty, it’s pretty rocky and you cross this stream in a small valley several times on small bridges. Also you have very runnable parts, so it’ll be interesting to see how the transition from the slower parts to the faster parts is. I think I’m looking forward to the more runnable parts and the uphill, but you gotta’ face everything [laughs].
iRunFar: Good attitude. So, this is our first interview with you. I’d love to get to know you a little bit as a person. You said you’re a teacher?
Puppi: Yeah, I’m a high-school teacher. I started last year after graduating in physics at the end of 2017. Right now, I’m teaching in a high school in Como. Before that I was a student. I live in northern Italy, close to Lake Como. If you know where that is, it’s north of Milan. It’s nice, I think, because you have a bit of everything. We live at the footsteps of the Alps, so once you get up to the mountains… yeah, it’s right out of the door. But we also have some flat roads and trails, too, to train on. You get to do pretty much everything.
iRunFar: So you can run in the valley around the lake and, then, run in the mountains on your big mountain days.
Puppi: [Nods] That’s our type of training.
iRunFar: We were talking before this interview and you mentioned that you lived in America for a year.
Puppi: Yeah, I was actually an exchange student in Indiana between 2009 and 2010. I lived in Muncie, Indiana, with a family. I’m still in touch with them, of course. It was an awesome experience.
iRunFar: Very good. I’ll be listening for a touch of the Indiana accent in your voice.
Puppi: Yeah, the Hoosier accent.
iRunFar: [Laughs] So, let’s talk about your background with running. According to race results, you do everything: you do cross-country races, you do mountain races, you do uphill-only mountain races, you do uphill/downhill races. You race on the roads, you race on the track. How did you get into running in the first place?
Puppi: I started running at age six with my cousin. I tried lots of different sports, but running has always been a constant for me. It’s always been what I loved to do the most. I was actually not very good at it when I was child. I didn’t have any good results, actually, but I loved it and I kept trying and training. Since, I started getting better, which was after I grew up.
I do a lot of races on different types of terrain and distance because my philosophy is: Any surface available. I want to be fast and fit on any type of terrain and surface, so I try everything and I love everything from track and field to trail running. This is my first Trail World Championships. This season has been what I wanted to do, so I’m really happy to be here.
iRunFar: Can you try to connect the dots for me between you as a childhood runner and now? When I look at your off-road running results from 2015 forward, you had success pretty much straight away. You must have come into off-road running having already found your talent, basically. I mean, you started off-road running in 2015, and in 2016 you hit the podium at Sierre-Zinal.
Puppi: Yeah. [Shrugs and chuckles]
iRunFar: Where’d you get that skillset beforehand?
Puppi: It actually came very naturally. I tried my first mountain races in 2013 or 2014. I remember running the national championships in Italy and nobody knew me in 2014. So, it was a big discovery for me. But things started to get better very, very soon. I was lucky for that. My first national team came in 2015 at Zermat Marathon, which was the WMRA Long Distance World Championships. It was my first podium finish in major championships. Then a year later came the podium at Sierre-Zinal, which was probably the most… one of the results I’m really proud of, because it’s an amazing race and that’s where the real mountain running atmosphere is.
iRunFar: You mentioned before that this is your first time doing a Trail [World] Championships. I think, if I have it right, the Zermat Marathon was your longest race in terms of time so far?
Puppi: Yes, that’s true. Until this weekend, yeah. I raced in Premana at Giir di Mont in 2017, which was the WMRA Long Distance World Championships. It was a race slightly over three hours but the distance was only 32 kilometers, so this weekend’s run will be much longer, I think.
iRunFar: So, this weekend you will run a trail running championships and you will, by a technicality [because the race is 44k long] enter into the ultrarunning world.
Puppi: That’s true.
iRunFar: What are you thinking ahead of both of those things?
Puppi: Well, I’ll have to see how it goes on Saturday. The trail running world is so big and I still have to discover it. So, that’s one chapter I want to start in my running career. Ultrarunning is, of course, part of it and, as I grow up, my running career becomes longer, I’ll move up in distances. But before then I want to have some fun in the mountain running and shorter distances, as well.
iRunFar: There’s a bit of a tendency for mountain runners to say, “We’re mountain runners.” And trail runners say, “Well, we’re trail runners.” And ultrarunners say, “We’re ultrarunners.” But there really is a lot of fluidity in these sports. At this race there will be terrain with characteristics of skyrunning, except you’re not in the sky per se. There will be sections that will feel like mountain running, but it’s all being classified as ‘trail running.’ The fluidity of it is fascinating, I think. Humans want to classify things, but maybe this is still an unclassified off-road world.
Puppi: Our mindset is probably not the best approach to a trail race, or whatever you want to call it. It’s just running out in nature on a trail. It doesn’t matter how I score, but the faster we run, the better. Yeah, I don’t like to separate the two worlds of trail and mountain running. Of course, to be fast and very fit, you need to do specific training and racing, even though I think mountain running and trail running allow you to be very flexible–both in distances and the type of terrain. Kilian Jornet shows that very well, I think.
iRunFar: Just the fluidity of being able to move from one type of terrain or distance to another. So, you’re competing for Team Italy. Historically, Team Italy has been pretty good when competing for the shorter-distance Trail World Championships [the course length changes from one year to the next, roughly alternating]. How is Team Italy looking? You ran with everyone today. How’s it going to be?
Puppi: I think they’re very good guys. There’s the veteran, Marco de Gasperi, who comes from a very good mountain running background. He’s like a crazy man, so you never know what he’ll do, but he’ll do well. The other guys are tough, so in the selection for this Trail World Championships all of them did well. Italy has historically been weaker on longer distances and better on shorter ones, so I think this year, it’s better for our team.
iRunFar: It’s really set up to be a successful place for Italy if you guys all race smart.
Puppi: Yeah, we hope so.
iRunFar: Well, best of luck to you and Team Italy on Saturday. We look forward to seeing you out there.
Puppi: Thank you.