Emma Roca seems like she’s made for taking on the Hardrock 100. After year’s of success running 100-mile races around the world, Emma finally gets a crack at running Hardrock. In the following interview, Emma talks about why she wants to run Hardrock, what’s scary about running the Hardrock course, how she’ll deal with the high altitude, and why she’ll have to take even better care of herself than usual.
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Emma Roca Pre-2016 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Emma Roca before the 2016 Hardrock 100. How are you, Emma?
Emma Roca: Fine, thanks.
iRunFar: You’ve tried a number of years to get in this race, and you’re finally at Hardrock. What brings you here?
Roca: Yes. It’s a present to be inside this race. For me, it brings me the adventure. One of the best is Hardrock for me with Western States and Leadville. I’m thinking I will have done the three most important races in America. For me, I think I will stop then.
iRunFar: You’ve run a lot of races in America and had great success, probably the best success of any European woman if not European over here. You’ve done great at Leadville and Western States and Run Rabbit Run. Why do enjoy running in the United States so much?
Roca: I love the people, the ambiance, how the trails are conserved, and the philosophy of the people who run here. We run because we like it. It’s not because we want to show the others. This passion for the mountains and the respect for the environment, wow, it’s amazing, and also the landscape. You have summits and trails that you cannot find in Europe because they’re different, and you’re alone. Nobody!
iRunFar: Very alone. You can run…
Roca: Hours, days, weeks, and you don’t find anybody.
iRunFar: Yeah, and you’ve been out on the course already. You’ve been here a week. I assume you’ve had a lot of alone times out on the trails, yes?
Roca: And it’s a little scary because I have my family down in Durango, and I go out. If something happens, there’s no coverage for my cell phone. I cannot ask for help. I’m a fire fighter, so I’m responsible for myself, and I know what happens in the mountains when you are rescued. I say, “Come on, Emma. Be conservative and calm.”
iRunFar: We were talking a little while ago about this race, there are dangerous sections and risky sections. How do you plan to approach those during the race?
Roca: It’s one of the things that really scares me, Bryon. When you’re racing, you’re very competitive… well, in my case, I’m competitive. You just want to keep on going, keep on going, don’t fail, don’t stop. In this race, I will need to stop to think about to “pass through this trail,” to “don’t fall down,” to take care of myself, high altitude, night time, really tired, many miles, and then a tiny trail can be easy and it can be a nightmare. Also because there’s snow, a lot of snow passes. There are big rocks. There are big hills. The body has a limit.
iRunFar: It’s a different sort of challenge than running a Leadville or Western States or even UTMB.
Roca: Yes, completely. In UTMB, the trails are common trails. They’re a little wide. They’re not risky. Here in Bear Creek out of Ouray because of the water, there are many parts of the trail that are broken and you have to jump! If I jump, careful, because you have to jump correctly. Imagine after 60 miles, you have to jump…
iRunFar: Uphill, because it’s this direction.
Roca: Uphill, careful, because you can’t make a mistake.
iRunFar: For people who don’t… maybe you’ve heard of Bear Creek Trail before, literally at times it’s carved into the mountain or is just a narrow ledge with a few hundred meter drop. Sometimes the water drainages just deposited dirt across the trail, and there’s no traction. You jump across or sort of dance.
Roca: Exactly. Exactly. And this is in an ultra race. For me, it’s new.
iRunFar: Does that excite you?
Roca: Yes, but at the same time, it scares me. Because you are competitive, you want to be in front, you want to fight for being there… and then I will have these ten days before the race to relax and just be concerned about doing my race as always, but in this time, I will be really conservative and be really aware of myself.
iRunFar: That’s going to be hard because it’s a very small race, but there are a couple very strong women running the race—Anna Frost, hopefully Darcy Piceu gets in, Bethany Lewis among others. You are, as you admitted, a competitive person. Are you going to still be able to run your own race?
Roca: Completely. Completely. This time, more than ever. Completely. It’s a long, long, long one. It’s 29 hours? Many things can happen. It’s an adventure race. It’s not an ultra race for me now. It’s an adventure.
iRunFar: You have that background.
Roca: Yes, and I know what happens. In the beginning, everyone is fresh, but the time comes and goes, and then it goes fast at the end. At the end of the run, “What happened with these minutes?”
iRunFar: Someone could be an hour ahead with 15k left in the run…
Roca: And you catch them. I hope I will catch them, and they will not catch me. If I take care of myself and I do my race, who knows?
iRunFar: That’s kind of the Emma Roca way.
Roca: As I tell you all the time, if I arrive to the finish line and I say, “Emma, you have done all the best you can,” then that’s it. It’s my goal. It doesn’t matter the final classification or my position. I will do my best, and that’s it.
iRunFar: Have you ever dealt with a race where you’re going to be at high altitude for so long? There’s Leadville, but does it feel different?
Roca: Yes, because here it’s up, down, up, down. At Leadville, it’s really regular at 3,000 meters. It scares me the dizzy time. I did the 14,000 feet summit, and it was like, “Oh, what happens to me? It’s difficult to think!” I had to stop. I was stopping. “No way, I’m only 130 beats per minute!”
iRunFar: But you can’t! And you’re fresh!
Roca: Yes. Yes!
iRunFar: During the race, that’s 115 or 120.
Roca: And I cannot go faster.
iRunFar: Your background, aside from being a fire fighter, you have an advanced degree in biochemistry, and you’ve studied that. Obviously you’ve done some study on the nutrition side. Have you looked on that in terms of the altitude effect and how to deal with that? Do you have any special strategies for being up high?
Roca: We controlled 20 people, 10 of them were trained and 10 were not, and we did a treadmill effort with a bicycle at 2,500 meters. We compared and the people who were trained had more incidents of high altitude problems. Their bodies were really conservative. Their saturation of oxygen were lower than the others because their bodies wanted them to be…
iRunFar: The more trained people had a stronger…?
Roca: Yes. The body didn’t want you to force. It says, “I will lower down your saturation level, and then you will be slowly. Then I will conserve your health.”
iRunFar: Which could actually be a benefit in a race like Hardrock.
iRunFar: How will you… you’ve done it before, but how will you make yourself run conservatively because you’re going to run out of town here and there’s going to be a flat trail, and you’re going to want to run hard probably?
Roca: My heartrate.
iRunFar: You’ll run with that the whole race?
Roca: Yes. I know which is the pace and the times that compare with Darcy Piceu’s times that she’s done. Then I know which is the good time, slow or fast, and will regulate myself depending.
iRunFar: Have you for yourself seen the difference in what your sustained heartrate is at different elevations or have you worked that out?
Roca: I don’t know exactly. I just did these trainings, and I knew my pace wasn’t as fast as expected. Also in the downhills, “Why cannot I go faster?” So it was because my body wasn’t pumping correctly. I have the experience of Leadville, so let’s see if the experience of Leadville helps me.
iRunFar: So you won’t get worried if you’re climbing at a good effort but more slowly?
Roca: No, because when I go down to the altitude, I’m feeling instantly better and better. It’s amazing. When I go down, I say, “Wow, one minute before I was huffing and puffing and then, it’s gone.”
iRunFar: Will you use that strategically for fueling or hydrating at all?
Roca: This is very important. I have to take care of myself all the time even if I don’t want to because then you can dehydrate really fast at altitude. It’s one of the things we don’t know. Also our metabolism is burning more, more, more than expected even if you are at normal pace or your beats are normal. Your metabolism is wasting more because you’re at altitude. We don’t know that. We don’t realize. We just eat the same things that we were eating perhaps doing Western, but it’s not the same. We have to eat much more. It will be a compulsion.
iRunFar: On the opposite side, you want to eat less. It’s easier to have nausea and problems.
Roca: Yes, you have to get used to that when you are eating, and also the concentration of the salt and water and carbohydrates. Well, it’s an option that everyone must know for themselves.
iRunFar: What’s your plan for that?
Roca: I’m trying to have my good hydration mix, also salt pills because they are easy and then you can drink water. I also have two, one only with water and one with the mix. Then I do some race cookies also that are really good, some energy bars, and on the aid stations I will take food.
iRunFar: You will eat real food as well?
Roca: Yes, completely. I need it and dry food also—almonds, nuts…
iRunFar: Something that satiates the stomach.
Roca: Yes, and easy to digest.
iRunFar: It also helps mentally, at least I find, when you have something real.
Roca: Yes, that’s not energy, energy, energy, energy bar. Yes, completely. In adventure racing when I was racing five or six days nonstop and only sleeping two hours doing many disciplines in different countries, one of the things that I really wanted was bread all the time—bread with tomato—just real, normal food.
iRunFar: Your crew will be your husband and children?
Roca: And my friends from here, Travis Macy.
iRunFar: Will they have some treats from home or the equivalent?
Roca: I always order some pizza after 20 hours. At UTMB, I said, “Please, give me one pizza.” I don’t know that here. It’s difficult to assist.
iRunFar: Generally I make my pizza stop in Courmayeur. The pizza there is a lot better than in Ouray, I think.
Roca: Yes. I think also.
iRunFar: It’s some of the best in the world.