After winning CCC in 2019, Ragna Debats will take on UTMB this year. In the following interview, Ragna talks how she doesn’t think of herself as a masters (40+) runner, what her life has looked like since Western States, and what emotions she’s feeling ahead of running UTMB for the first time.
Check out our women’s and men’s previews before following our UTMB live coverage starting on Friday.
Ragna Debats Pre-2021 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ragna Debats before the 2021 UTMB. How are you?
Ragna Debats: Really good, thank you. Yeah.
iRunFar: Yeah? I want to go back in time a little bit. At Western States you had a wonderful run. And you were the top, you ran the fastest time ever for a woman over 40 years.
iRunFar: Do you ever think of yourself in that context of showing what’s capable, you know, not as a youth?
Debats: No, not at all. I mean it came to me as a surprise. Actually it surprised me a lot, because it was a record like from a lot of years ago and I thought there were, like, a lot of women with the same age as me running these kind of distances, so it was quite a surprise. But yeah, no, normally I don’t consider myself like an old lady yet.
Debats: But I know I’m getting older and I have to accept it, and I’m also really happy and proud that I’m still strong, and that I feel, yeah, strong to participate in these types of races.
iRunFar: And strong as a mother as well. We were just with your, your two children and a couple of dogs and you have chaos in your life.
Debats: Yeah, it’s quite a big chaos. We try to organize ourselves a lot, because otherwise it would be like very difficult to do what we actually do. Also of course because Pere [Aurell] is also an elite runner and he also needs to train. And so we have to manage our family life, our running life and everything. But we love it, and it works out. [laughs]
iRunFar: It does. Before Western States you were on a big road trip in the United States. Have you settled back into home after Western States at all?
Debats: I actually don’t have a home at the moment.
Debats: So but our like, home you could say is Pere’s parents’ house, that is the base we go back to when we come back from some kind of journey. But after the United States we’ve only slept there two nights. One night and then I left. And then a couple of weeks later, another night and we left again. And I’ve been in several places so I haven’t actually stopped traveling.
iRunFar: No? There’s no just calm one place.
iRunFar: How long have you been here in the Alps?
Debats: I think we’ve almost been here for a month now.
Debats: Yeah. But we haven’t been here all the time, and I haven’t been like on the course. I have been on part of the course but not the whole course. So it hasn’t been the focus to be here and to run on the course but the focus has been just to, to be away from the heat from the place where we live and to be out in the Alps and the mountains. To enjoy and to be able to, to train well at a higher altitude and to be able to [be a] family and enjoy also the summer.
iRunFar: Yeah. Must be a big transition because leading to Western States you were intentionally training in the heat, and more runnable terrain.
iRunFar: Have you enjoyed switching the focus?
Debats: Yeah, I think was a perfect combination. For Western States, I never really left the mountains because I was just in too nice places to not to go and climb to summit of the mountains. So I would say like for Western States, I didn’t actually train so super specifically. But I did do a lot more runnable runs, and the American trails help a lot because they are often very runnable, not so steep. And, yeah, after that I went straight to the, to the Buff Mountain Festival in Catalonia. And there it is everywhere, really, really steep. So I started to, yeah, training block there and build up mountain training. Lots of training with poles.
iRunFar: Yeah. Did you recover well from Western States?
Debats: Yeah, surprisingly well. The first three days I felt horrible. I felt like, “Gosh, am I going to be normal again?” I, I didn’t function at all, and I just felt like I would have locked myself in a room on my own and didn’t want to be with anybody, didn’t want to, I couldn’t stand anything.
iRunFar: And that was your first experience over 160 kilometers, yes?
iRunFar: So you could think that was the normal.
Debats: Yeah, then for me it was just like interesting to see like how my body reacted. And then actually, after those three days it felt like a normal recovery. Pretty fast actually. And so my trainer was still like trying to stop me from running and I was like, “I want to go! I want to go!”
iRunFar: Hopefully you listen to your trainer.
Debats: Yeah I do listen to him because I know that he is right, always. [laughs]
Debats: So yeah, and then after I’ve done some, I’ve done a longer race, not very long, but like, I think 70 or 80 kilometers. Seventy, I think. And then I did a shorter one. And my body seems to like be recovered and well and full of energy.
iRunFar: And you’re hungry to race.
Debats: So yeah, as well, so yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: Did you, in running Western States, did you learn anything about racing a longer amount of time or distance?
Debats: Yeah, I think especially mentally it’s good experience to already have done like, a hundred miler before doing another one. [laughs]
Debats: And, yeah, it’s just the same really as another ultra race but it’s longer and you can have, like, difficulties are, might be like, profounder, like more difficult to deal with. And yeah, I think for me the difference was also that tiredness will set in. Just like the feeling of like I need to rest, like sleep.
Debats: That is something, yeah, you have to deal with. And I think that there’ll also be something, it’s going to be difficult in this race because at Western States we ran everything during the day basically, and here we have a whole night. And normally I sleep at night. [laughs]
Debats: So I have to tell my body to stay awake for one night like when I was younger. [laughs]
iRunFar: I don’t think your children will let you sleep during the day on Friday.
Debats: I don’t know. Actually my daughter has been really good. She’s so grown up. I’m surprised by her because yesterday my friends came, and I just came to say hello, but they are here to help us and to look after them whilst we are racing. And they came, they came up with their son, and Onna said, “Maybe I’ll go, I’ll go with them.” Like, and I was like, “Oh, well, yeah. You can choose. You can either stay with us, sleep with us, and go with them the next day, spend the day with them, or, you can go with them.” And she went with them and I was really, really surprised because she’s only six. She’s nearly seven now, but still so young to go. I mean, she knows them, but so far it has been with Mommy and Daddy, or, with Grandma and Grandpa. Not with anybody else. She’s comfortable with them and she’s confident. Yeah.
iRunFar: So two years ago you ran CCC and you won the race. Are you excited, nervous, what are your feelings moving up to UTMB?
Debats: Yeah. On Monday, when UTMB week started, I felt like real excitement. Like, and then I always feel like I’m more sensitive to anything and I go with my body. Am I okay? Like, I am, but I’m okay. [laughs] I have nothing to complain about. And, but yeah, I am nervous. I mean, yeah, I think I’m nervous, and I’m really excited about it. I don’t know if I feel pressure. I think, I think I’m quite mature than that sort of thing. I really run this race for myself, and I feel, I don’t feel so much pressure of, like, running competing with other women. And from the, from the press or anything. I don’t really like go into that. So I don’t really read too many things about me because I know I have been like, put as a favorite. But I don’t, I try to just focus on myself and yeah, to just plan my own race and to run my own race. And if it all goes well, I will be really happy and I think that if it goes well for myself, it will also go well…
iRunFar: Relative, in position.
Debats: In perspective to others. In position. Yes. So yes.
iRunFar: What do you think the biggest challenge will be out there for you?
Debats: I think, yeah, because the accumulation of hours, and then I think probably in the morning like the end of the night is almost always a little bit hard to change. Like the last hour of the night is you really look forward already to see the light again. You have enough of seeing only your, your headlight in front of you and… But that’s also why I went scouting the first part of the race, until Courmayeur. Because that’s the part we will be running in the night, and I wanted to know where I will be running. And it is amazing. Landscapes are absolutely amazing. And now I just hope that when I, when I’m running there again in a couple of days that I will just see the same landscape, even if it’s dark, but I can see them and, and enjoy that and I think that will help me pass the night.
Debats: Hopefully I have enough energy left to do good far during the day because that’s, that’s going to be important.
Debats: That’s where you can lose or where you can win.
iRunFar: You bet. Good luck and enjoy the views out there and have a great race.
Debats: Thank you.
iRunFar: Thank you.