Iker Karrera is one of the world’s strong mountain ultrarunners and he showed it once again in placing second at UTMB for the second time at the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In the following interview, Iker talks about how his race went, what it was like running with his teammates for so much of the race, what he thinks about the spirit of mountain running, and what his running background is.
Read our results article for the full story on how the 2014 TNF UTMB unfolded.
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Iker Karrera and Tòfol Castanyer Joint Post-2014 TNF Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview
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Iker Karrera Post-2014 TNF Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Iker Karrera after his second-place finish at the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. Congratulations, Iker.
Iker Karrera: Thank you. Thank you very much.
iRunFar: This is the second time you have been in second position at UTMB.
Karrera: Yes, the second time I have been here and the second time in second position. I think I have something with the ‘second,’ but it’s nice.
iRunFar: It can’t feel bad to be second to your teammate Kilian Jornet when that happened, and now you were second to your teammate François D’Haene who had an amazing race.
Karrera: Yes, two very amazing races—the first with Kilian and Miguel [Heras]; the second with François and Tòfol [Castanyer]. I’m very happy with these two races for my personal trajectory, very special moments. It’s very nice.
iRunFar: You are very lucky because you have shared two very special races. You were with friends for so much of both races. Three years ago for almost the entire race, and this year for the entire race, you were with friends. Is that an important part of running for you?
Karrera: As I say before, there are very special moments. It’s great to arrive with Tòfol both together, it’s very special. The emotions that you feel in this moment are indescribable. You must feel this. It’s impossible to explain. These moments are like fire in your skin or your life. It’s special moments.
iRunFar: It’s something you’ll always remember.
Karrera: Yeah. I say that if you arrive together with one friend, it’s not divided the result, it’s multiplied—the results, the emotions, the memories, all. You multiply them.
iRunFar: During the race this year, were there times when you thought of going faster or trying to leave—not at the end—but earlier, were you trying at all to go faster than François or Tòfol?
Karrera: At the first kilometers every year are very fast. In this case, I thought the American runners or other runners go faster than us, but no. The conclusion was the Salomon team was the fastest team. Very early we were just the three Salomon runners and Luis Alberto [Hernando]. It’s a race.
iRunFar: It’s interesting that you mention that because three years ago it was you, Kilian, and Miguel with Sébastien [Chaigneau]. This year it’s you and François and Tòfol with Luis Alberto. The first half of the race, you were running four together. Are you and François and Tòfol trying to work as a team to leave Luis Alberto or is Luis Alberto part of that group?
Karrera: No, this part of the race, Luis Alberto was part of the group. I remember in the descent downhill of Bonhomme, he fell down. We stop. We ask him, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m okay.” So we start. These situations in the first part of the race, the night is very hard, so this part of the race is going and we are running in a competition, but if it happens something, we must help. This is the real situation in this part of the race. Yes, we are in competition and we try to run more fast and we try to let him. but it’s not a strategy.
iRunFar: If there was strategy, if you see Luis Alberto fall, you and Tòfol and François could say, “Go faster! Go faster!”
Karrera and iRunFar: Nooooo.
iRunFar: It’s not the spirit. Even with so many amazing runners at a very prestigious race, the sport is more than just winning.
Karrera: This is the form that we know and we run. This is our philosophy, our form.
iRunFar: It’s great to have that camaraderie, but as an individual you must be at some point in the race be thinking, I want to win.
Karrera: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, but really François, just at Bonhomme, we saw he was the heartiest. I think it’s not possible to win versus François. Maybe if I can do podium, it’s nice, but to win against François something would have to happen.
iRunFar: And you don’t want something…
Karrera: No. Yeah, so after in La Fouly, François decided to go. Okay, François go. We try to arrive, and if it’s possible for Tòfol and me to do the podium, perfect. This was the objective. François—first position because the race put François in the first position. After, Tòfol and me, we try to arrive to ascend the podium. To arrive together was in the last kilometers that we decided.
iRunFar: So between La Fouly and Tête aux Vents, are there times in there where you’re thinking, Maybe I run for second and leave Tòfol, or…?
Karrera: Yes, in some moments I try to push. On uphills I was maybe more strong, but I had problems with downhills. My foot (blisters), both, got descents less good. I thought, uphills, I can pass Tòfol, but in downhills, sure, he passes me. So…
iRunFar: That’s interesting because from the outside it seemed you guys were always together and you at some point had just decided that. But that was not until 10k to go in the very final moments that you decided to finish together?
Karrera: Finally we decided just on the last downhill.
iRunFar: At La Flégère?
iRunFar: That’s amazing. I forgot to ask you at the beginning—I’ve never interviewed you on camera before. What is your background? What is your history with endurance sports?
Karrera: Really I started in competitions quite late—20 or 22 years (old). I did road, short races, but many injuries. That’s not my specialty. After, I started in our country in, not ultra, but trail running.
iRunFar: Zegama? For people who don’t know, Iker is Basque and Zegama is the most famous race there.
Karrera: Zegama—I live 30k from Zegama. For me, it’s my training camp. I did Zegama and short mountain races. After, two years I did a little bit where I left competition. I dedicate more to alpinism. Then in 2009, I come back to do ultra trails. I’m here.
iRunFar: You love it, yes?
Karrera: Yes, I love it.
iRunFar: Is this the end of your season?
Karrera: No, if my body recuperates okay or good, I will go to Réunion for Diagonale des Fous.
iRunFar: You have not… have you raced a lot or races this season? I have not seen a lot of results from you. Has this been your focus, UTMB?
Karrera: Yes, UTMB was my focus. I did some other races and at the beginning of this year, it was not good for me—some pain, some problems. But they lasted two weeks. I recuperated totally. I got prepared well for UTMB.
iRunFar: So you’re feeling stronger and stronger now later in the year, so maybe at Réunion you can run strong again.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations here and best of luck if you go to Diagonale des Fous.
Karrera: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Iker Karrera and Tòfol Castanyer Joint Post-2014 TNF Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Iker Karrera and Tòfol Castanyer after their tie for second place yesterday at the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. It was an amazing story and an amazing race. I’ve just learned from talking to Tófol that although you were ‘together’ the entire race, for much of the race it was dynamic. You (Iker) would go ahead on the climbing and you (Tòfol) would go ahead on the descending. Do you think those are your strengths normally or was it just in this race?
Tòfol Castanyer: It’s normal. Until the last 10k, the race was very dynamic and exciting and with different alternatives. Iker was better in the up. I was better in the down. We had some problems [holds stomach]. I think Iker also. We ran the first 100k with François D’Haene and after with Iker and me. There was different alternatives. I think it was a very competitive race, but the finish line was different.
iRunFar: Have you two run together before either at Advanced Week or other races?
Iker Karrera: Shorter races.
Castanyer: Shorter races?
Karrera: Spanish Cup.
Karrera: Six maybe?
Castanyer: Yes, a lot of times.
iRunFar: So you two have known each other for awhile?
Castanyer: I think, yes, Spanish Cup is about 30k or 55k.
iRunFar: No talking?
Karrera: Not ultras.
Castanyer: No, not ultras. I think the first winter…
Karrera: Yeah, the first winter we run together.
iRunFar: During that race were you actually together or were you just in the same race? Did you spend time on the trail together?
Castanyer: To run together?
iRunFar: During the race… your first ultra?
iRunFar: Were you both on the Salomon team at that time?
Castanyer: Both on the Salomon team. But Iker said that the first race for us to run together, but Iker and me, I think we had a training camp in Mallorca and last two years Iker was in Mallorca. We don’t run together, but we have life’s different moments together on the same team and that’s also important.
iRunFar: During the race, Iker, do you know he’s a better descender than you? Are you thinking about that?
Karrera: Yeah, I saw that Tòfol can descend better than me. I had some problems, not very good feelings on downhills. I know it’s a race with the finish on a downhill. Oof. The last kilometers may be for me quite hard because I suffer a lot with my feet.
iRunFar: So in Vallorcine are you thinking, There’s a big climb; I should go very strong and leave Tòfol?
Karrera: No. No, not really, no.
Castanyer: I think that the problem was not that I was better in downhill or he was better in up. Yesterday I have some problems to go up well, and Iker had some problems to go down well. It’s not that I’m very good…
iRunFar: It’s not always that way.
Castanyer: I suppose that Iker had some problems in his foot. Me, I had problems with moving well with up.
iRunFar: It’s the circumstances not your characteristics.
Karrera: No, no, no, no, no. I know Tòfol goes up very fast. Normally…
Castanyer: Iker, normally his downhill is well.
iRunFar: Basques always descend well. It was fun watching you two when you were together because you Tòfol) are much shorter and you (Iker) are much taller and you’d be running at the same speed. Your (Tòfol) legs would be going [fast motions and sounds] and Iker would be [slow, heavy motions and sounds].
Castanyer: Sometimes. His legs are very, very long.
Karrera: I’m not so tall.
iRunFar: The ground doesn’t quite make it the same here.
Castanyer: It’s not a problem.
iRunFar: Were you talking together lots when you were running together?
Karrera: Yeah, we talk together about not so much. We’re in it for running, not for…
iRunFar: Not for having a conversation.
iRunFar: In the aid stations when I saw you, sometimes François would be ready a little earlier, or you (Iker) would be prepared a little faster than Tòfol, and then you would talk a little bit and you would decide to wait.
Castanyer: Yes. I never do it. It was a thing that, I don’t know how the people start faster or not, but I see yesterday that I suppose that the three runners are in the same team and, yes, when I finish my food or my cake or my recharge, I saw Iker was well or François asked to Iker, “You are well?” but done talking.
Karrera: It wasn’t a strategy.
iRunFar: You were saying when Luis Alberto Hernando going to Col du Bonhomme. You ask if he is okay. You’re not going to try to make your change in the race because you are faster in a checkpoint.
Castanyer: Sometimes it’s possible that you have a better time maybe in the checkpoints and don’t stop. Yesterday, we were talking about and when one goes…
Karrera: It’s very natural. It’s not a strategy. It’s natural.
iRunFar: At one of the, I don’t know which aid station it was, you both sat down for five or 10 minutes. You had fruit; you had sandwiches. Somebody was cutting the fruit there.
Castanyer: Not fruit but melon. I don’t know if you ask, but in the TV in Mallorca, my wife say to me that the TV show that I asked to Iker, “Wow, you have melon?” Melon is… I don’t know in English.
Castanyer: I ask because in this moment I can do a lot of things. I can eat a lot of things, but they show melon. “Wow!”
iRunFar: It looks perfect? For a picnic?
Karrera: Normally it was prepared. For me, the last kilometers it was difficult to eat gels and bars. Only I could eat sandwiches or mainly fruit, fresh fruit. It was prepared. Doya, my girlfriend, has melon for the last kilometers. In the last checkpoint she prepared the melon and it was the best.
iRunFar: You shared with your friend?
Castanyer: No, I asked Doya if Iker had a lot of melon. No, I don’t take the melon of Iker.
iRunFar: It’s your secret strategy.
Karrera: It was perfect because I eat half of melon and leave half for Tòfol and the melon is finished.
Castanyer: Doya said to me, “We have a lot,” and fixes me one.
Karrera: The last kilometers for the stomach and the mind is more easy to eat this kind of food.
iRunFar: Real food. So did you two have an actual conversation with 10k to go? Did you talk and say, “We should go together?” Tell me what happened.
Castanyer: What happened? I don’t know exactly. I don’t know if Iker said to me, “If you like to go downhill, you can go.” I think that I say, “I don’t go on the downhill.” For me, it’s also important to arrive second and I suppose that we decided to arrive together or something like that.
iRunFar: At that point did you know you had a lot of minutes to fourth place?
Castanyer: Yes, all of that is because we have references to the fourth and fifth place. I think it was about 45 minutes.
Karrera: Forty-five minutes.
Castanyer: I suppose that if there are more people to go to the podium, it was impossible to make this.
iRunFar: You would have gone downhill or tried?
Castanyer: Or Iker in the up goes faster. But the circumstances were the first thing was that we have, not sure, but it was very good to not lose the podium.
Karrera: I remember in 2011 in Vallorcine, I arrive and my team…
iRunFar: Greg Vollet?
Karrera: No, John, tell me, “Don’t stop.” Someone I know is very near. Don’t stop. I eat something and go.
iRunFar: This time, no.
Karrera: This time, no.
iRunFar: On the final descent and the run through Chamonix, mentally were you able to think about it and enjoy it more because you’re not fighting to the finish?
Karrera: It was more relaxed than normal or another race that you’re all competing in the last kilometers. It was quite more relaxed really.
Castanyer: Yes, but when we are going to the finish line with Iker in the last kilometers, for me it was very difficult to think of the moment that we crossed the finish line. It’s this moment that was more exciting than I think in long times before.
iRunFar: It’s that moment of crossing the line.
Castanyer: Yes. Crossing the line with Iker together with all the people for me was very amazing.
iRunFar: Was it one of the greatest emotions of your life?
Castanyer: It’s one… I don’t know, there are a lot of types of emotions. Like the emotions when CCC two years ago here, because it was different circumstances that I arrived with the 2,300 of the UTMB that started, this photo or this picture of the finish line with Iker…
iRunFar: With you forever?
iRunFar: Congratulations, you two. I hope you have great memories.
Castanyer and Karrera: Thank you.