Ragna Debats, who is from the Netherlands but who lives in Spain, showed her incredible athletic versatility in taking third and setting a women’s masters course record at the 2021 Western States 100, what was her first 100-mile race. In the following interview, Ragna talks about how the race unfolded from her perspective, what it was like experiencing American ultrarunning, and how she balances sports with the rest of her life.
Be sure to read our results article for the full race story and for links to other post-race interviews.
Ragna Debats Post-2021 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, I’m with Ragna Debats, it’s the day after the 2021 Western States 100. Congratulations on your third place finish.
Ragna Debats: Yeah, thank you very much.
iRunFar: It’s a hot Sunday, you finished the race 12 or 14 hours ago, how are you feeling right now?
Debats: I still feel like I’m suffering, I haven’t quite recovered the first bit yet, but I guess that will be soon over, and, then, I can start enjoying the whole experience a bit more, because now I still feel like it need some time because it’s been quite hard physically I think, because of the heat mainly, I think. And it takes a while to recover from this.
iRunFar: You’re a good runner in the heat though, you’ve done lots of races that have heat including Marathon des Sables, Transvulcania. How did you find the heat here in comparison to other races?
Debats: I think dealing with heat, it has a lot to do with your mind. If your mental eyes you can deal with it. Of course, you have to climb at times for it as well, but in the end your mind, which can help you or goes against you and as I was running I had heard, after the Canyons it gets better. It will get better after heat, so I pass the first 80 km enjoying and I was dealing with the heat well, and then, I realized that it wasn’t getting any better at all and that really, it was quite tough for me to accept. And I started having trouble with my food and everything. I couldn’t eat very well, and then, I thought it should be getting cooler, but it wasn’t, so I had like a little down there and struggled for a while. I lost quite a lot of time I think in between kilometer 80 and 100, but I got to Foresthill, then I was so pleased because me and Pere [Aurell] we had agreed that he would run with me from Rucky Chuck he only for the case and he had his bib on, he had his running shoes on and I was like, this is just such a big gift.
iRunFar: This is at Foresthill?
iRunFar: He was running 40 miles with you?
Debats: Yeah, he ran the whole thing with me and I was just so good, especially that first 10, 15k after Foresthill it really helped me to recover, hydrate, eat, but also just to push, don’t lose this pace, try to pick up the pace again like you are running before. Sometimes, when I go down a little bit, it cost me a lot to get back and he really helped me to get through this little down moment and start running again and start competing again. So it was such a good thing to have him running with me and it was actually my first experience running with a pacer. Yeah, the day before we were discussing, I mean obviously it’s nice but you’re pacer cannot help you so what is, how can it work, what is the point?
iRunFar: But you found that there was a point?
Debats: Yeah, there was a big point. It’s such a gift to run with him and also just to experience. It’s more intense to share it with somebody.
iRunFar: So you experience some of the unique elements of American ultrarunning, our iconic hundred-mile race, pacing, like a competitive American women’s field. What was it like coming from abroad and being dropped into American ultrarunning?
Debats: It’s been absolutely amazing. the whole experience in America has been so positive like landscape wise, but also just the people, friendliness of the people and about the race specifically. It’s just organized the best way you can possibly organize a course and I can really feel the people really love their race so they really… it’s their little baby, they look after their race and it’s all the details are being looked after. I didn’t look at the course but we were at Rucky Chucky river [crossinh three days before the race and there is a person already looking at the river and that was his task we saw other people at specific places, we saw the marking was done very well and I think there are so many volunteers and everybody has their tasks just works out perfectly. And that was very beautiful to see and to experience and to be amongst the people, to run in such a competitive field in my first hundred miler has been amazing, too.
iRunFar: Yeah, let’s talk for just a second about the competitive aspect. You are running in or podium position basically all day long. Did you come to this race going after podium?
Debats: I started actually with a group of women for the first 40k. I can only speak in kilometers, I kind of moved away. I ran slightly in front of them, but they were like one or two or three minutes away. I could hear them sometimes, so we were very close, and then, I like running my own race, so I never really tend to stick in a group so for me it was perfect. I knew they were there. I felt comfortable with my pace and I’m still running on my own and enjoying it. What was your question again?
iRunFar: Just about the competitive aspect of running for the podium finish.
Debats: My goal, I think, when you compete I mean you always have to have the goal of trying to get the podium place because that’s why you are competing in the end, otherwise you can do it another day like when there’s no race going on, so yeah, of course. And I knew I was strong so that I could be there but I also knew that there were so many women who were able to be on the podium. I mean all the women’s field was very, very strong, many women, many winners. I have won several races but all of the other girls they also win many races. In the end, it’s like a race between winners like winner attitudes and that makes it very interesting, of course. For me, it was like the ultimate challenge, because we are on our Rolling Mountains project and this means that we didn’t go to the states just for racing and I had to give in on scouting the course for example. For being here a little bit in advance and instead we travelled through several states. We were on the go all the time and I tried to train the best way I could and I had to help my trainer Rafa Flores, and Pere also is very focused. I think we were able to train very well but this is our project, what it’s like. Trying to combine family life with travels to a different state, adaptation to the circumstances and then the test, which is the other race and this was just the ultimate challenge for me and I feel very accomplished. I think I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve so I can’t be more pleased.
iRunFar: Last question and maybe more of a comment for you, your and what Americans define as the masters class now, age 40 and up, your 42, right? You set a masters women’s record yesterday?
Debats: Yeah, I read that this morning, I didn’t know that.
iRunFar: Besting the 19-year-old masters record of Western States 100 icon Ann Trason. She’s a many time winner of this race.
iRunFar: You bested her record by over half an hour.
Debats: Yeah, that’s really pleasing, I think. It also makes me feel a little bit old, of course, because I prefer to be a senior but I am not anymore, I mean I have to accept that. No, it’s very pleasing, I mean 19 years is a long time and having the record of this is an honor so yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: I really liked what you said about life is a balance. You’re balancing sport, family, job, travel, life, and you know that’s kind of like a little bit what masters running is about and you mastered masters running.
Debats: Yeah, that’s a good way of looking at it I think, yes.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations to you on your third-place finish at the 2021 Western States as well as your women’s masters course record.
Debats: Thank you very much, Meghan.