The 2019 UTMB champion, Pau Capell of Spain, is back for the race’s 2022 edition. In the following interview, Pau talks about the year-long journey that’s brought him to this starting line from an injury and the surgery it required, how he has a race plan that he’ll follow from start to finish, and what it’s like to be back racing UTMB feeling wiser as a runner.
Pau Capell Pre-2022 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Pau Capell It’s a couple of days before the 2022 UTMB Mont-Blanc. Hey, Pau. How are you?
Pau Capell: Hey, I’m good, thank you.
iRunFar: It’s been a while since I’ve seen you at a race because of COVID-19 and you had some surgery last year. So, it’s really nice to see you.
Capell: Thank you. It has been too long for me because one year recovering, to come here in Chamonix is too long, but yeah, I’m very happy to be with you because it means that I am ready to run.
iRunFar: You are the 2019 UTMB champion. You ran that race with what we would say in English is like, “with abandon.” You just, you just went. How does it feel, yeah, after your journey through injury and coming back here and being healthy, like, how do you feel right now?
Capell: I feel that I lived my best moment of my life in 2019. With this victory, with the feelings in the race with yeah, with the support of the people that encouraged me too much during the trail. And yeah, and today when I think it’s like wow, what a day, you know. And I would like to repeat this year, but you know, it’s really complicated because you have to be in your 100% in all the details during the race. Not only run, it’s more acclimatization, the assistance, the weather, all the things have to be in line. And yeah, I will say this year I feel good. I train. So we’ll see at the start.
iRunFar: At UTMB last year, just around the race you had surgery, yeah? Can you tell us about what happened and the surgery?
Capell: Yeah. So last year in June, in Andorra Ultra Trail, I suffer, I don’t know something on my knee. I feel something strange there. And I decided to stop the race at kilometer 70. But two weeks later, after this stop, in my hometown, I listen, crack on my knee. I broke my cartilage and I had to do surgery. They put out this part of the cartilage. So, they told me that with time, with recovery, I will feel better and I could run again.
One year ago, I was here in Chamonix, not race, but I did my first running here. So it was like okay, I just start in the best place, running only 20 minutes and one year after I am here, ready for the run. It has been too long, the recovery but it’s part of the job.
iRunFar: Now how many months have you been able to train something close to regular?
Capell: So more or less after four or five months of the surgery, I felt good. I felt good. I run in Gran Canaria, Transgrancanaria. And it was the first big race that I could run in March. So yeah, after July to March. It has been too long for me, but yeah, it’s part of the job. I always say that everybody suffers problems, injuries, so it’s not an excuse. When you recover, then if you have the doctors with you, the physiotherapists with you, and people you love around you to encourage you to run again. So then you only need to do it.
iRunFar: I’ve heard the saying in running that after you get injured you also get smarter because you learn all of the little things that your body needs and to get, you know, back to where you were. Do you also feel smarter?
Capell: Yeah, for sure. And yeah, and when I was younger, I know that I run more aggressive. I didn’t have experts in my life, so I only wanted to run fast. Go with my 100%, go-go nonstop, and today it’s different. We have a plan. I’m 30 so I need …
iRunFar: So young.
Capell: Not so young, no. So I need to be careful with my health. Yeah, do maybe during the week more cycling than running. And yeah, and then in the race for sure be smart and think that, for example, in UTMB is 20 hours running, is too much. And yeah, if I pushed too much in the start, then I will not finish the race. So I have to be calm and all the family knows. I know the family isn’t the same way. Okay, Pau. Now you’re 30. Be calm and you will finish.
iRunFar: I love that. What has your prep, what have your preparations looked like ahead of this? Have you been training at home? Have you been in the Alps? How have the last couple of months been?
Capell: Yeah, the last couple of months, I have run in Lavaredo Ultra Trail. I suffered COVID-19 there.
Capell: So I had to stop because my body was not with me. It was my body and my legs and my brain and it was impossible. And after that, I did a good recovery of this issue. And then in July, I did a good volume of training. I ran three races of long distance.
iRunFar: In Spain, right? At home? Or near home.
Capell: Yeah, it was near home in France, but very close. And one in Turkey, it was far. But yeah, it was 60k, 70k. And yeah, I felt really good. And I came here one week to train on the … on the track of the UTMB. I did it in four days with a friend. And yeah, today I’m here. I think that we did our job. I have a trainer is Laia [Diaz], and she is more intelligent than me, and she knows what I have to do. So I follow, I follow her plan.
iRunFar: I love that. How do you see this going on Friday and Saturday? Like if you had you know, your A goal happen, how do you see this going?
Capell: So I don’t know. I know that people will start fast like always.
iRunFar: Like you did in 2019.
Capell: Well, I don’t know. If some people want to do it, I will not do it.
Capell: So I have my plan for sure of the race. The breaking 20 [hours] is there but I can’t start the race thinking in breaking 20. Because I did my best day of running when I won the race in UTMB. It was my best day of my life. And I think it’s complicated to repeat the best day. So I have my plan. I don’t want to push more than I think that I have to do. And Jim [Walmsley], Kilian [Jornet], Pablo Villa, Hannes [Namberger]. A lot of runners will be there and I think it’s too long to push in the start. So be careful in the start and then in maybe Notre Dame, in Col du Bonhomme, we will see what is happening in the race.
iRunFar: There are still a lot of kilometers after Col du Bonhomme. That’s the first marathon. How do you see the night going? And perhaps the next morning? It seems like in this race, the winner emerges after Courmayeur.
Capell: Yeah, sure. Sure, because Courmayeur is the first stop when do you decide if you want to continue or not. So you have to take this refreshment. Go there, take your things, and go out because if you think a lot there, you maybe decide to stop. So in maybe Champex-Lac, between Courmayeur and Champex-Lac is where you can do some calculation about your times, about the other runners.
Then after Champex-Lac is the last marathon. And I think that if somebody is thinking about breaking 20 or about winning the race, it happens after Champex-Lac. So Champex-Lac is the second point where you can decide if you want to continue or not. So you have these two points.
iRunFar: What I really like about the final marathon is you’re back to where there’s so many fans again. Like at all of the aid stations and up on the cols there’s all this like momentum that’s sort of sending you towards the finish line, eh?
Capell: Yeah, it’s because it’s the day and the people are awake and the people come there, come there to see the race and to see the runners. But the problem is that for us, it’s complicated to manage this because we’re really tired. We arrive there and the legs are saying all the time, “Please stop.” And you know that you have to continue and the people are saying “Come on, come on, push!” And you think, “No, no, I can’t push. It’s impossible.”
Capell: So it’s complicated but yeah, is the last 42k is try to do a step by step. It’s, “Okay, the next point is Trient. And let’s go to Trient.” And then we arrive there within wait, and with the family and go to Vallorcine. And it’s like this.
iRunFar: What will it feel like to make your way around the loop again after, yeah, the journey you’ve been on with injury and coming back to health?
Capell: I don’t know. So, for me, it’s important, if it’s a question, it’s important for the family, to be with motivation, to be ready to start again. If I would come alone, or maybe with my team only with the North Face in this case, it will be very complicated. I need, I need to arrive at a checkpoint to see my girlfriend, to see my father, my brother, my sister, give them a hug and then continue.
Because it’s when you are, when you’re really tired and you think, “I can’t,” they are the people that they say, “You can do it! We are here for you. And if you want to stop, you can stop. We can talk if you want a little bit, maybe two minutes in the checkpoint, and then you can continue.” And when you do a hug with your father or with your mother, what else? It’s more than the gym.
iRunFar: I see a career in motivational speaking when you retire from running.
Capell: [laughs] I don’t know. If I improve my English maybe a little bit but if not, it’s complicated.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you in making the loop around Mont Blanc again.
Capell: Thank you. I hope to see you in the finish line. In the start line for sure but in the finish line, too.
iRunFar: We will see you there.
Capell: Thank you.