Switzerland’s Christian Mathys surprised the world in taking third at the 2019 Trail World Championships. In this interview, our first with Christian, he talks about how he’s as surprised as everyone else about his performance, why he so aggressively led the men’s race from the start, how he out kicked Italy’s Francesco Puppi in the last 800 meters to maintain his podium position, and his career as a commercial airline pilot and its affect on his training.
For more on what happened at the race, read our results article.
Christian Mathys Post-2019 Trail World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Christian Mathys. You’re Swiss and you finished third today at the 2019 Trail World Championships. Congratulations.
Christian Mathys: Thank you very much. I’m so happy about it. It’s great.
iRunFar: This is my first time watching you race. I’d love to learn about you and who you are.
Mathys: I’ve run since I was two years old. But then I switched to soccer, unihockey, back to running a bit, road racing, mountain running, back to road racing marathons and back to mountain running. And then I started trail running and also mountain running in parallel.
iRunFar: You have competed at the WMRA Long Distance Championships before, but not the Trail World Championships.
Mathys: No. This one here was my second real trail [race] with a backpack and drinks.
iRunFar: And your longest race? Was it your longest race also?
Mathys: No. The first trail run was 54k. That was the selection race for this one. Now I’m here and it was good.
iRunFar: Excellent. And I just learned that you are a commercial pilot?
iRunFar: I think you are the first high-level runner who is also a commercial pilot that I have met.
Mathys: Yes. And I think I am the fastest airline pilot because we already had some championships for airliners and I won that.
iRunFar: You did? I didn’t know there was such a race.
Mathys: It’s a 5k and 10k.
iRunFar: Fascinating. Tell me a little bit about your work, because the travel that you do for your job has to affect your life a lot.
Mathys: It does. At most it’s the sleep rhythm because I’m a long-distance pilot and I usually work on the way to the destination. The flight is during daytime and on the way back it’s a night flight. So my work shift changes 12 hours.
iRunFar: That’s incredible.
Mathys: And then finding back the rhythm is more or less impossible for me.
iRunFar: You said you fly Airbuses and long hauls. Zürich is your home airport. Where do you usually fly to?
Mathys: A lot of destinations, maybe New York, Montréal, or the other side, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Johannesburg.
iRunFar: Wow. So you’re not going back and forth into the same time zones and then back again?
Mathys: No it’s a computer program that gives me my destinations.
iRunFar: Incredible. How do you fit your training into that?
Mathys: I train everywhere, every time, on a treadmill most of the time.
iRunFar: You’re a treadmill trainer?
iRunFar: How did you train for the Trail World Championships on a treadmill?
Mathys: I put 15% uphill. And then some intervals or 40 minutes interval training.
iRunFar: I’m so impressed. I really am.
Mathys: And for this one here also some outside training. On trails.
iRunFar: In the destinations you were at?
Mathys: No, not really.
iRunFar: When you were at home, okay. Let’s talk a little bit about today’s race. You took the men’s race out, and you were in the lead pretty quickly with a break between you and the rest of the field.
Mathys: I wanted to have the lead because it went into a singletrack trail which was technical and I’m really good at that, so I had to have the lead to play my strengths. And I had maybe 30 seconds I took from them. And then my weak part comes, it’s uphill.
iRunFar: The uphill is your weakness?
Mathys: Yeah. Then they caught me at the top point. On the downhill to the first real aid station, I once again distanced them. Then on the uphill, they came closer and closer. It took some time.
iRunFar: But you led the race for over half the way. When were you passed for the first time?
Mathys: About 28k? I don’t know exactly.
iRunFar: Now, a lot of people experienced cramping today, including you.
Mathys: Not total cramping, only signs of cramping. But I knew it was not far from real cramps. So I had to take a bit back. It was okay.
iRunFar: When were those twinges of cramping? When did that start for you?
Mathys: Maybe 10k before the finish until about 2k before the finish. Road running is perfectly fine. And there I had a huge fight against the fourth-place [finisher Francesco Puppi of Italy].
iRunFar: I mean, it was really close at the finish line.
Mathys: He overtook me.
iRunFar: And you took him back?
Mathys: And distanced me by 50 meters.
iRunFar: Wait, where was that?
Mathys: 2k before the finish.
iRunFar: When you hit the road?
Mathys: Yeah. And then about 800 meters before the finish, I overtook him again.
iRunFar: So 2k out, he passed you and gained a 50-meter lead. And then you slowly gained it back?
Mathys: Yes, yeah.
iRunFar: And then 800 meters out, you passed him. Did he fight back?
Mathys: No, I tried to go as fast as I could, and he was giving up.
iRunFar: Incredible. And that’s how the third-place position sorted out?
Mathys: Yes. I told myself, It can’t feature, that I get fourth place. No, I want a medal. And I got it.
iRunFar: Fourth place is truly the toughest place to finish.
Mathys: Yes but he’s a [WMRA] Long Distance Champion, so he already has his medal. For me it’s more important.
iRunFar: And so you crossed the line in third place. A fight until the end. Take me to your head at the finish line. What was inside your head?
Mathys: I was relieved, totally. I was just lying on the ground and it was perfect.
iRunFar: Do you consider your goals met for this race?
Mathys: Yes. And also for my life.
iRunFar: What does a person like you do now? I mean, this is a huge breakout performance for you. Do you let yourself dream a little?
Mathys: I think it will be a cut in my career, sports-wise. [I will] cut back a little because next year I am going to be commander and that uses a lot of energy and time. The training won’t be at first position anymore.
iRunFar: At this point in your life, you’re going to pursue your piloting career?
Mathys: Yes. Maybe afterward I will come back, maybe. I don’t know yet, but we will see.
iRunFar: Excellent. Well, congratulations to you on your third-place finish and congrats on being the fastest commercial pilot there might be out there.
Mathys: Thank you.
iRunFar: It’s great to meet you, Christian.
Mathys: Thank you very much. You, too.