Race Director Chronicles: Sidónio Freitas and the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail

A profile of Sidónio Freitas, race director of the Maderia Island Ultra-Trail.

By on April 14, 2023 | Comments

AJW's Taproom[Author’s Note: This is the second of an eight-part series in AJW’s Taproom called Race Director Chronicles, where we profile the unsung heroes who make our sport’s racing possible.]

“As it has been from the very beginning, our goal is to deliver a world-class trail running experience that showcases the natural beauty and unique challenges of Madeira Island, while also providing fair competition in a safe, sustainable, and enjoyable event for all participants and spectators.” — Sidónio Freitas

Madeira Island is a Portuguese territory located in the Atlantic Ocean, over 900 kilometers west of Portugal. Since 2008, Madeira has been home to the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail (MIUT) running event, and from the beginning Sidónio Freitas has directed the race.

What began as a club-sponsored run for 141 participants in 2008 has grown to an international ultra spectacle, which attracts over 3,000 runners to the island every April. While the weeklong event features several distances, the marquee event is the 115-kilometer race, which traverses the entire island from Porto Moniz on the northwest coast of the island to Machico on the southeast coast. Packed into the 115 kilometers is over 7,000 meters of elevation gain across the stunningly beautiful and brutally rugged mountains of Madeira Island.

Sidónio Freitas (right) with men's winner François D'haene. François is holding the tape and the clock reads 13:50:49.

Sidónio Freitas (right) with men’s winner François D’haene at the finish of the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. All photos: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

As the longstanding race director, Freitas derives his deepest satisfaction in simple ways. “To me, the most satisfying aspect is when the race starts and then finishes without any serious problems.” And, after a pause, Freitas adds, “And, it is great and powerfully emotional to witness the people coming in to our finish line.”

Freitas believes that there are four components that make MIUT so special:

  1. Stunning natural scenery: The race takes place on the beautiful island of Madeira, which boasts breathtaking coastal and mountain landscapes. The route takes runners through a variety of terrain, along steep and long cliffs and lush green forests, providing an unforgettable trail running experience.
  2. Challenging course: The course for MIUT 115 is considered very tough, with steep climbs and descents. The technical terrain, abundant stairs, and unpredictable weather conditions make the race uniquely difficult. It is a true test of endurance and skill for even the most experienced trail runners.
  3. Supportive community: MIUT has a strong and supportive community of volunteers, organizers, and spectators who cheer on the runners and provide assistance along the way. This creates a positive and welcoming atmosphere that helps motivate and inspire participants to push themselves to their limits.
  4. Cultural immersion: The event provides an opportunity for runners to experience the rich culture and traditions of Madeira, including local cuisine, music, and festivities. This cultural immersion adds to the overall experience of the event and makes it a truly unique and memorable experience.
Katie climbing with a handrail and smiling.

Katie Schide taking the big mountains in stride on her way to second place in the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. Third place Audrey Tanguy is in the background.

Freitas and his team work hard not only to provide a world-class event but to offer participants a potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience, which goes beyond running to build a stronger community, raise awareness, and nurture cross-cultural understanding.

Of course, an event of this magnitude is not without its challenges, especially given the remote location. Freitas explains that he and his team spend months preparing for the race and grappling with what he believes are the three biggest challenges:

  1. Course management: The rugged and technical terrain of MIUT’s course presents a significant challenge for course management. We have to ensure that the course is well-marked and maintained, and that safety measures are in place.
  2. Logistics and coordination: MIUT involves coordinating a large number of logistics, including transportation, volunteer staffing, and medical support. We must ensure that all these elements are organized and functioning smoothly, to provide the best possible experience for runners and spectators alike.
  3. Environmental sustainability: With its sensitive ecosystems and diverse wildlife, Madeira Island requires careful consideration and management to ensure that the event is environmentally sustainable. In every edition we try to minimize as much as possible the event’s impact on the environment and promote conservation efforts.

“For me, above all else, directing MIUT requires a high level of organization, planning, and attention to detail. There is the need to balance the demands of managing a large-scale event with the need to provide a safe and sustainable experience for all participants.”

Finally, I asked Freitas what some of the biggest changes he has seen in the sport since the first edition of MIUT in 2008. Citing the boom in trail running’s popularity, increased professionalization at the elite end of the sport, advancements in gear and technology, increased diversity, and environmental awareness, it is clear to me that Freitas has his finger on the pulse of the sport. In his work as the race director of MIUT, it is also clear to me that Freitas is working hard to balance all the changes in the sport with the values that he and his race team hold so dear.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s beer of the week is, not surprisingly, one of Portugal’s most popular beers and one which is available in various places in North America. From the large Portuguese brewery, Super Bock, comes Super Bock Stout, a rich, hearty stout with all of the body and texture of classic stouts around the world. Super Bock Stout successfully marries the sweetness and bitterness of typical high-end stouts in a package that is surprisingly affordable.

Call for Comments

  • Have you run the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail and seen race director Sidónio Freitas hard at work?
  • If not, is it on your bucket list?!
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.