Ragna Debats found out that she had an entry to run the 2021 Western States 100 just a month before race thanks to an invitation from the Ultra-Trail World Tour. In the following interview, Ragna talks about what her strong 2019 was like, how it’s sometimes been a challenge to run races while traveling with her family, how she likes more runnable courses, and how she comes to the Western States 100 start line well prepared. As a bonus, you get to meet her dog Lily.
Ragna Debats Pre-2021 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ragna Debats before the 2021 Western States 100. How are you?
Ragna Debats: Hi, Bryon. I’m fine. Looking forward to the race. It’s a countdown now and I’m ready, so just waiting.
iRunFar: The last time we had a normal racing season, 2019, you had a really good year. You won the Marathon des Sables, Transvulcania, CCC. How did you feel in 2019?
Debats: I felt really good. After 2018, just the year I won the Trail World Championships, I wanted to do some different things, and I couldn’t be more pleased to win the races I picked which I wanted to do and winning them was even more special of course. And then 2020 was also a great year because we started our Rolling Mountains project, which is a project in which we travel to all the different continents and race an ultra race on each continent. So for many people I think 2020 was like a year without many races, and for us it was actually a very full year with plenty of races as well.
Debats: We’ve never stopped really. And now it seems, wow, just a dream to be here at Western States because I only knew this probably like a month ago.
iRunFar: Alright back to the interview. So last year was a full year for you. Did it feel different though with just, did you go to the races more for enjoyment than competition or what was the experience like last year?
Debats: Yeah I think it was slightly different because Rolling Mountains is the ultimate challenge I think. Combining family with traveling and with racing and you always have to give in on one of the points. You can’t have them all 100% so of course also the racing was a lot more difficult. Some races we were able to prepare more thoroughly and other races were more difficult to prepare. Just took them as a, not really like a fun race but just the best we could basically.
iRunFar: Did you learn anything? Was that good preparation for this year coming back to more competition like Western States with your family here?
Debats: I think definitely last year was a very interesting year to learn and also for our bodies to get used to all different types of circumstances and adapt to it very quickly. And I think this has made us a lot stronger, both physically and mentally. We spent a lot of time in very cold, very extremely cold place, but also in Costa Rica where it’s extremely hot and very humid conditions. Running in those sort of conditions is something your body remembers afterward. So I feel a lot more comfortable now with hot conditions than I used to.
iRunFar: And probably good mental preparation as well.
Debats: Yes mentally as well, because you have to go with all sorts of things, and when everything gets easier again it just seems all really smooth and easy. [laughs]
iRunFar: So you just found out recently you were going to run Western States, yes? Is that because of the travel or?
Debats: Well, it was on my wishlist, and I know it’s not very easy to get into this race, and my only option was through the Ultra-Trail World Tour. It was only when they told me I had a bib and of course I said, “Yes, I want to go there. I’m here in the States.” So it wasn’t so long ago, yeah.
iRunFar: So you were here already, in the United States.
Debats: I was going to be here and originally in the project I wanted to run Western States. This was last year, and it was canceled and I didn’t have a bib either. And this year it just seemed to work out. Yeah.
iRunFar: Very nice. So that’s, if I remember correctly, you started Transgrancanaria this year.
iRunFar: That would have been your longest race ever?
Debats: No, I ran a couple of longer races. My longest I think was in Mallorca I think in 2018 as well, after the main season. That was like 135k?
iRunFar: Which race was that?
Debats: I can’t think of it right now. [Editor’s Note: It was the Tramuntana Travessa 128k.] Last year I ran the Montreux Trail Festival. It was probably the most competitive race we ran in Europe. That was 110k but it had 8,500 positive altitude.
iRunFar: So a similar amount of time.
Debats: It was a similar amount of time.
iRunFar: At least within a few hours.
Debats: I think the thing I hold on to, because I know more or less what it is to run that amount of hours, and even though the terrain will be very different, I think it gives me good indication of what it will be like.
iRunFar: What do you think about, there will be a lot of running, not just hiking at the end of this race?
iRunFar: And you’ve only known you’ve had a bib for a month. How have you prepared in that short period of time?
Debats: I’m a person that adapts more easily to runnable terrain than to very steep terrain, so it’s more natural for me to run fast for a long time than to climb hard and steep for a long time. So for me, in that sense, it’s easier to prepare this type of race I think. But yeah I’ve never run such a long distance in such runnable terrain. I really look forward to it, because I expect it to be amazing because it’s what I like. I think I’ll be running through beautiful scenery. I’ve seen some of it yesterday and the paths are all smooth so this is something, when I train, I enjoy most.
Debats: Because you’ve got all the scenery, and the trails are easy. So I think this is nice. I love this.
iRunFar: So you’re excited about this.
Debats: I’m really excited. Yes.
iRunFar: Which is a lot of the strongest competitors from Europe are really well suited for that mountainous terrain. What do you think that reason is? Is it your background in the sport? What makes you excited to run?
Debats: My background is not really running background, because I’m recently new. Not really new anymore but I started late, running, and I don’t come from an athletics background. I don’t know, I think my body just seems to adapt more easily to it. Maybe in the Netherlands everything is flat so when I was young, I didn’t go up and down all the time. Like if you live in Spain, it’s most likely that you live in a place where you have to climb and descend all the time.
iRunFar: Yeah. Or at least in the Pyrenees.
Debats: Yeah. So it might be but it also might be just my body, what I’m made for. But I enjoy both. I love being out in the mountains. I love climbing to the white summits. That’s what I really love. But my body seems to be ready more naturally for just the flat or runnable.
iRunFar: This should be a good race for you then.
iRunFar: What made you choose Western States as one of your first very long races?
Debats: I think from the United States it’s one of the most prestigious races. It’s a very old race and that makes interesting the story behind it. It just seems like a classic. From all the races in the United States, I wanted to do Western States, and I would love to do Hardrock 100 as well. They are completely different races and they would be like a perfect match. Like the more mountainous, steeper one, and high altitude, and this one which is the most athletic, long race, I think.
iRunFar: So you’ve been road tripping around the United States with your family, and you were just in the Durango/Silverton/Ouray area in Colorado. How did you enjoy that?
Debats: I really loved it. Absolutely loved it. We did actually go on some of the Hardrock stretches, but we had followed my training schedule completely because I wanted to be as fit as possible for this race, so I haven’t been able to climb all of the summits. Not too many anyway. I had to find like a middle way of running in the mountains. I loved the Colorado Trail because it’s quite smooth, quite runnable, but still at altitude with nice climbs and descents as well.
iRunFar: And good scenery.
Debats: And good scenery, yes. So that was, for me, seemed like the perfect option to train, and it’s amazing. In between Durango, Silverton, and Ouray, you’ve got everything you need to get ready for any race, I would say.
iRunFar: Nice. What are you looking forward to most this weekend?
Debats: I’m just looking forward to racing. I’m getting out there in the mountains and hopefully feeling good, feeling strong, and just like, I hope it’s going to be like my Trail World Championships in 2018. Like a smooth, regular race, consistent race, and good feelings, and I hope it will be like the championships where I felt like I was just celebrating all the work I’d done before. And anyway I’m so happy to be here and I think my path so far until here has been perfect, so nobody can take that away from me, and I feel like I’ve accomplished this whole part of the journey already. Running the race will just be the final part of it. Hopefully it will be good of course.
iRunFar: So you’ve come to the start line as the best you. You’ve done all you’ve done.
Debats: I think so. I’m really a person who knows myself. I know that anything can happen. Your results will be at the finish line, and you can’t expect anything before that. I think I’ll also definitely be one of the persons who can be at the state at the finish line, and I think I’ve done all the work toward it so I feel confident, and unless something happens, I think I can run a good race.
iRunFar: And you’ve had so much success at 50k, 80k, 100k. How do you think you will be able to control the pace for 160k? Do you think that will be a challenge to be even?
Debats: I don’t know. Normally with me it’s a natural, like if I run an 80 mile, my body seems to just tell me, “This is your pace.” And if I run a 50 mile my body seems to also tell me the pace and if I run a five mile, which I’ve done a couple of times and I love that too, then my body also reacts and I’m ready for it. So, but it’s not something I will plan. I never look at my watch like, “What pace am I running at?”
iRunFar: By feel.
Debats: I run by feel and hopefully also this time it will work.
iRunFar: Well great. Best of luck to you this week.
Debats: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: And one quick bonus question. What’s your puppy’s name?
Debats: She’s called Lily.
iRunFar: This is the little troublemaker [because she knocked over the camera and tripod]. [laughs]
Debats: [picks up Lily] [laughs] This is the one. Kisses.