Gemma Arenas won the 2016 Ultra Pirineu and, in doing so, became the Skyrunner World Series Ultra division champion. In her first interview with iRunFar, Gemma talks about her life outside of sport and how she got into mountain running, how her race played out, and what is next on her racing calendar.
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Gemma Arenas, 2016 Ultra Pirineu Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Bagà, Spain. It’s the day after the 2016 Ultra Pirineu. I’m with women’s champion, Gemmas Arenas. Congratulations!
Gemmas Arenas: Thank you.
iRunFar: I’m also with Hillary Allen who finished in second place yesterday. She’s going to be doing the translation. Gemmas, this is your first interview with iRunFar. Before we talk about yesterday’s race, I’d love to know a little bit about you. How did you start running?
Arenas: I began to run with mountains only two years ago. I did some other sports for six years. I’ve always been an athlete. I work. I have two kids. I’m married.
iRunFar: First of all, where in Spain do you come from?
Arenas: A little bit south of Madrid, very flat.
iRunFar: When you are not running, you’re a mom. Do you do other work also?
Arenas: I have a three year old and a five year old. I spend time at the house with my friends after I work. I work at a big business having to do with electricity. I train when I can, when I have time.
iRunFar: You also run in races on roads and flat terrain. Is that how you found mountain running, was by running flatter surfaces and then discovering mountains?
Arenas: Yes, where I live is very flat. There was one time that I was curious about it, and now look at where I am.
iRunFar: You just thought you’d try it and had success doing it?
Arenas: I train for mountains during the races because I can’t see them from my house.
iRunFar: You can’t train for mountains from home.
Arenas: Yes, yes, a very little circuit around my house of about 11k with about 200-plus meters gain in the whole thing. I do up and downs. I do mainly the training for mountains during the races.
iRunFar: Train while you race.
Arenas: Yes, there’s a place about 40 minutes by car where there’s a little bit more in the up and down. If I don’t have to work then I can go there. My husband and I train together, and we also race together. [Hillary Allen says: I met her and her husband at Transvulcania. They were racing together. They have to leave their kids with grandparents or someone to go train together.]
iRunFar: Let’s talk about this season of running. This year you’ve participated in the Skyrunning World Series Ultra division. We also saw you start UTMB just a month ago. You went all in with your mountain running this year.
Arenas: Yes, my season was very long. I did a lot of races, but I train very little because we don’t have mountains. During the week I don’t train very much, but then I have my races. I started with Transvulcania and had a sixth place there. Then at Madeira I had a first place. At Val d’Isère [High Trail Vanoise] I had a fourth place. Here, another win. I’m very happy with my season. At UTMB, I had problems with my stomach at the beginning of 28k. I thought, with more than 20 hours of running, it was silly to keep running. I retired and recovered.
iRunFar: And you’re back again. It was good training for Ultra Pirineu.
Arenas: Yes, my legs felt good for UTMB. It was just my stomach. So I arrived here at this race with a lot of excitement.
iRunFar: You could see that excitement in you very early in the race yesterday. You were running with great force straight off the starting line, and all day you were running with a huge smile.
Arenas: It’s just like you, Hillary. We smile to feel good because we just enjoy doing what we’re doing.
iRunFar: The long distances of ultrarunning, 110k and 15 hours, is a long time when you’re used to shorter distances. How did you know how to pace yourself yesterday and how to start?
Arenas: It’s very hard to plan because so many things can happen in a long race. I like to run moment to moment and kilometer to kilometer. If your head is in it and your legs feel good muscularly, you can just keep going. It’s literally moment by moment.
iRunFar: This race is unique. It’s different from some other European races where there’s lots of up and lots of down but also runnable sections where it’s not so technical. Coming from European mountain running where things are more technical, how did you find, where you’re way up high in the mountains, but you can still run? What did you think?
Arenas: I liked this race a lot because there’s everything—the steep ups, the steep downs, the runnable. You get to use a lot of different skills. This is more comparable to Transvulcania because there’s a lot of running there as well and more flat compared to other Skyrunning races like Val d’Isere which is just up, down, up, down. There’s no break or rest or recuperation. I liked this race a lot.
iRunFar: My last question for you. You’re now the Skyrunner World Series Ultra division champion. What now?
Arenas: Relaxation! I will celebrate with my family, but I have one more race in October, the [IAU] Trail World Championships. Thank you for all the support and cheering in the [Skyrunner World Series…]