Italy’s Francesca Canepa returns to defend her title at the 2019 UTMB. In the following interview, Francesca talks about why she returns to a race she’s already won, what she thinks is exciting about this year’s women’s competition, what relationship she has with Mont Blanc as a mountain she lives next to, and how she stays calm amongst the craziness that is the UTMB experience.
Francesca Canepa Pre-2019 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Francesca Canepa. It’s a couple days before the 2019 UTMB. Good morning Francesca, how are you?
Francesca Canepa: Fine, thank you.
iRunFar: You are the defending UTMB champion, how are you feeling a couple days before the race?
Canepa: Difficult question. I feel accomplished because winning the last year was a gift so I’m really happy and fulfilled. I mean, this year I don’t need to do something special. My only goal will be maybe if I can, to improve a little the chrono because anyway last year I lost some time in the specific points so I remember where and I try to do best. But anyway, I don’t think it’s possible for me to stay under 25 and so, this year we have some previous champions that are really stronger, we have Courtney [Dauwalter], we have a really great field so it’s an honor for me to be here once again but really my idea is to enjoy this year, I want to enjoy.
iRunFar: But sometimes you know, enjoyment leads to a really good performance. Just being yourself in the mountains and you have a good day.
Canepa: Yes that was exactly what happened last year because I enjoyed all the time and I felt good all the time. But 100 miles is really something you can’t know before how it will happen so, yes, I try to enjoy it in the same way so not to be in a hurry and just take my time as usual. I prefer to take my time and not go after people. I don’t know if it would be enough to have a good result but it’s not my problem this year. I really would like to enjoy the journey because I think Mont Blanc is a special mountain for me. I live here and so if I take my time and step-by-step I can have the time to say thank you to volunteers and to people and it would be something that give me a lot. So I try to do this.
iRunFar: I want to ask you about your relationship with the mountain and the place. You live just on the other side by Courmayeur. What is it like to run around your home mountain and to run through your country and your neighborhood in the middle of such a big race?
Canepa: It is something special because it just happened here so it’s something I really appreciate. Ss I told the last year in the press conference after the race, here I always feel at home. When I’m here in France I feel at home and when I’m in Switzerland, is the same because all the people speak French. So for me it’s okay, I like to speak French and when I can speak French I feel good so it something special and I really enjoy it.
iRunFar: Coming to this part of Europe from America, it’s really interesting because the fluidity of country boundaries. Yes it’s Italy and France and Switzerland but everything is so fluid you can move between countries so easily and people are so friendly and welcoming of people who are from just the next country over.
Canepa: Yes but I think it’s not in Europe, it’s something that it’s a particular here. As once Michel Poletti said we are “le pays du Mont Blanc.” So it’s different because all people that live around Mont Blanc share something special. So I think the feeling you feel is something that you can find just here in this kind of village because of the Mont Blanc.
iRunFar: I love that, that’s so nice. I want to ask you a little bit about the Western States 100 because iRunFar comes from the U.S.. You were at Western States this year! I know you had foot trouble but you got to run the iconic American 100-mile race.
Canepa: It was amazing. It’s the first time that I have such a bad race in terms of result but it gave me a lot. Because it was true that all the community is so involved and you feel a lot of warmth everywhere and so if you have a bad race, sort of it doesn’t matter because you have all the rest. It was really, really interesting and the race itself is wonderful. I like the path and everything and aid stations were incredible with all the cheering people. So it’s an experience that I would like to repeat but it’s really difficult because this year I was invited and I think they want to never invite me anymore because of my bad results. But anyway I recommend this race to everyone who wants to feel the real essence of the running.
iRunFar: You said off-camera before we started this interview you had problems with blisters at Western States?
Canepa: Yes, it was my first time with blisters. I wasn’t able to fix it but anyway I think when you have such a problem, is quite impossible to fix because it hurts a lot, the problem is it’s just a blister but the pain is so hard that for me it was impossible to run and in the last 20 kilometers I had to walk so it was–anyway, I took my time to appreciate more the cheering.
iRunFar: You really had the time to appreciate.
Canepa: Yeah sure, I had a lot of time. But when it was runnable, for me it was really good because I like this kind of race.
iRunFar: So back to UTMB an Mont Blanc, this year’s course I believe is going to be a little bit different from last year’s course. They removed a couple climbs as of the weather last year, the Pyramides Calcaires in your country, that climb and descent will be back in as well as the last ascent all the way to Tête aux Vents, is that correct?
Canepa: I don’t know. I don’t know exactly because I normally don’t for such information.
iRunFar: You just go run?
Canepa: Yes but I’m afraid about Pyramides because I never done before. So I don’t know how it is. Because in my previous year when I drop out I didn’t pass Pyramides so I don’t know. But Tête aux Vents, I prefer because compared to what I had last year it was so awful, I liked it a lot.
iRunFar: Going up, being able to leave the trees and be up on the platform and see the view.
Canepa: It’s wonderful, this will be really good and anyway I prefer because it’s–the terrain is better. Last year it was really, really difficult for me.
iRunFar: My last question for you, coming to UTMB is always so different for many people because it’s such a big race, there so many people in Chamonix, the crowds are so much more, so my question is, you always seem so calm like not really bothered by all of the wildness. How do you find that calm amidst all of this craziness?
Canepa: I try to stay focused in myself and that’s all because I am aware that there are a lot of people. I say hello to everybody and so but I think that for me it’s better to stay in myself because if not I feel too confused and so it’s difficult to manage. My calm is just because I try to stay in my soul.
iRunFar: Okay. I think that’s good advice for a lot of people who, you know, to try to find the calm within when it’s wild outside.
Canepa: Yes, sure, and I can say that maybe if you focus too much on all the crowd and everything you waste a lot of energy because anyway, something penetrating your body, so if, I think it’s better to enjoy but to stay anyway focused. And then when everything is finished you can enjoy everything else.
iRunFar: Let it all in.
iRunFar: Well, best of luck to you at this year’s loop around Mont Blanc and may you enjoy the journey.
Canepa: Thank you very much.