La Réunion’s Alexandra Clain is the island’s highest-placing female in recent years at the Diagonale des Fous, after finishing fifth last year and sixth in 2014. In this interview, Alexandra talks about her work in agriculture and how she fits running around it, what it’s like to be a female runner on an island dominated by men’s running, if she’s challenged by the trail running conditions on Réunion, and her race strategy for this weekend.
[Editor’s Note: Thank you to Jérôme Désiré for the translation assistance.]
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Alexandra Clain Pre-2016 Diagonale Des Fous Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m on Réunion Island. It’s a couple days before the 2016 Diagonale des Fous. I’m with Réunion’s Alexandra Clain. Nice to meet you!
Alexandra Clain: Nice to meet you as well!
iRunFar: When I look at race results from Réunion Island and I look at top girls participating in races on Réunion Island, your name keeps coming up. Can you tell me about your history with trail running and how you got into the sport?
Clain: I’m quite new on the trail running. I started in 2011. It’s my fourth participation in Diagonale. I finished sixth in 2014. I finished fifth last year. Now, I got a chance to enter the UTWT [Ultra-Trail World Tour] this year, and I took it. I have had a good experience. This year I’m more looking at time results more than classification because I know with the time, the classification will follow as well.
iRunFar: This might not be a question that’s easy to answer in a couple of sentences, but when I look at race results for Réunion Island, there are lots and lots of men participating in trail running and some women but lots fewer women. What’s it like, the dynamic of men and women, running on Réunion Island?
Clain: Yes, it hasn’t been a long time since women started trail running here. Of course now, it’s obvious that there are more men than women. It’s not about whether it’s more difficult, but it’s about budget. You have to work and have some money to get into those races. Sponsors tend to help women a bit more than before. Obviously the mentality is going to evolve and improve and give women a chance to show what they can do.
iRunFar: I’m told, correct me if I’m wrong, I’m told you and your husband have some sort of a job in agriculture. What do you do for a living?
Clain: Yes, we are agricultural farmers. I spend a lot of time in the field. I sell salads and all those nice things. I spend three times per week in the mornings at the markets. I have to get there very early in the morning. That gives me plenty of time as well to train in the mountains, and that’s a really good thing.
iRunFar: I imagine that for somebody who lives on Réunion, the challenges of Grand Raid Réunion are different than for somebody who comes from the U.S. or from Europe. When you think about Grand Raid Réunion, what are the challenges you think of?
Clain: There are not big challenges because we live here. It’s just because we’re lucky enough to live here and spend time here. We know the field; we know the trails very well. The challenges are more when it comes to the race itself. Do I have the right food and the right adaptations? It’s more of a question of what happens during the race. There are no big challenges other than that.
iRunFar: I love it. That is so cool. This year, you have participated in the UTWT and you’ve gone abroad and participated in a couple UTWT races. Can you talk about your experience of going to race outside of La Réunion?
Clain: Yes, it was a great experience to go and challenge other girls from around the world. Obviously they’re all different runners. The challenge is more in the fact that you don’t know the trails, so you have to work with them. You don’t know what to expect. In terms of recover as well, you have to take into account that you have to take the plane. The flight is quite long as well. You need time to recover as well. That makes it very interesting. Overall it was just a fantastic experience. As for me, I thought what made me stronger was my mental strength. That’s where I’m stronger now. That’s what I’ve learned from this experience as well.
iRunFar: My last question for you. I’m learning how interesting the food is here, the meshing of the French and the Creole cultures, and I’m also learning that some of the local athletes don’t eat typical racing food while they race. They have some of their own foods that they make. Are you going to be eating anything interesting during the race?
Clain: Yes, of course. I have a specific alimentation during the race, a specific food, especially like sweet potatoes that I use always and a proper soup that I use as well that I make. I have my own soup.
iRunFar: That her crew will bring for her?
iRunFar: Was there a word with manioc?
Clain: Yes, it’s like a sweet potato as well.
iRunFar: Do you fry it? Bake it? What do you do with it?
Clain: Yeah, like a potato.
iRunFar: Just eat it like a potato? So you boil it.
Clain: Yes, you boil it.
iRunFar: It’s fun to learn a little bit about that. Thank you very much. Best of luck to you on your crossing of the island this weekend.
Clain: Thank you very much.