Ragna Debats returns to run the 2022 UTMB as one of the women’s favorites for the second straight year. In the following interview, Ragna talks about why she dropped from last year’s UTMB, her strong start to her season, how a fall while racing briefly derailed her season, how she’s stuck to her training schedule since then, and how she’s dealing with pre-race stress this year.
Ragna Debats Pre-2022 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here, with Ragna Debats before the 2022 UTMB. How are you?
Ragna Debats: I’m fine, thank you.
iRunFar: Beautiful day here in Chamonix.
Debats: Yeah, the last two days have been absolutely amazing. Really good views. Before that, there was some rain, and the rain is coming back.
iRunFar: It’s probable, yes. You had a really good start to your season. You won Transgrancanaria [126k]; you won the 100 miles at Istria [by UTMB]. How did you feel through those first months?
Debats: I was really happy because it’s some kind of confirmation that you are going the right way, you’re training well, you are in good shape and I’m not getting younger, so it felt like, I could still do it. So it was like that, yeah.
iRunFar: Good to have that confirmation. And then you had a little bit of a challenge. You’re running a training race in May and injured yourself pretty badly. What happened?
Debats: I had a really nice plan. I wanted to do a marathon and then a longer race, and then I wanted to do Lavaredo [Ultra Trail] [120k]. But at the first one, which was like a training race, I went up the first hill and I fell over some stones; I slipped and I hurt myself on my leg, and I have a big scar now. It wasn’t a complicated injury, but still, it took a long time to cure it and I couldn’t train in a normal condition. So it was like a big setback, which completely removed the second part of my season this year.
iRunFar: And then you try to run Lavaredo, but you weren’t prepared.
Debats: I tried anyway, because I love running and I didn’t want to miss out. I shouldn’t have raced there. I knew when I was standing at the start line, somebody asked me, “Hey, how are you?” And I was like, “No, I think I’m not, I won’t be up front because I’m not ready to race.” But still, I was hoping to actually just finish the race with a good feeling, but that wasn’t in it either, so I just dropped out and accepted that it hadn’t been a good idea.
iRunFar: When did you start feeling strong again?
Debats: I think, after Lavaredo there was like a week went by, and my trainer didn’t send me a training schedule, and I actually ran a race like seven days later, the Stubai Ultratrail, because I just, I’m so sore, I just wanted to finish a race. So I just wanted to finish it. Finished in second position, very modest but anyway, I was happy, this was my goal and it was a good training. And from then on I told my trainer, I want to train well from now on. I want to know what I’m doing every day, exactly.
We are going to have very good communication and just see if I can get ready for UTMB. Or another race, if it’s too early or whatever. And he said, yeah, that’s good. I mean, it worked really well. The feelings came back quickly and yes, also I feel, it makes me feel more confident. And then I have a very strict training schedule and I really, really stick to it, like 100%, which I have done all the time.
iRunFar: Except for that one race, you snuck …
Debats: We started just after the other race.
iRunFar: It’s a line, yes. Because you do, it sounds like you have a temptation to maybe just run an extra race, or?
Debats: Not really, no, I’m actually somebody who sticks to the training schedule a lot, I think. But sometimes a little bit more flexible. In a sense like, I like to do some road cycling or maybe I have to run for three hours and it’s a four-hour run or something, but this time I have done it very, very … Yeah.
iRunFar: Do you think maybe not having run Lavaredo will have you be a bit fresher for UTMB this year? Like having fewer race kilometers?
Debats: It’s probably what people think, I don’t know. I don’t know, I mean I feel fresh. But I’ve also trained a lot. Sometimes racing, you combine racing with resting after a race and then building up again, but it’s different. It’s probably better when you train a lot and you don’t race so much, because your mind is also fresher to race. So yeah, probably I arrived less tired. Like in my head, I really look forward to the race, yeah.
iRunFar: Yeah. Maybe a little more passionate or fire, whatever you want to say. So, you did run UTMB last year, but you weren’t able to finish. What happened during the race?
Debats: So last year, stress really got on me the last week. I think it’s always really hard to manage mentally. Last year, I just felt big pressure. I think the mental pressure you put on yourself, I know, then it works out on your body, and then I started running that evening. From the first step, I felt like I can’t run. I felt blocked, I couldn’t run. It just felt, yeah, I could have just stopped after one kilometer.
iRunFar: Yeah, you knew.
Debats: But I didn’t because I thought, it’s a 100 miler, it’s a long race and maybe in an hour I feel better. And then I kept looking for all our moments like, Okay I didn’t feel better in an hour that maybe I will go to Les Contamines and I will see there. And then when I went there, I thought, Let’s do the climb and go to the other side. So that will be done. Courmayeur. And then I thought, Oh it’s a good training because I’m running in the night. And when I was at Courmayeur, I don’t know why I didn’t step out, it was like a moment of hesitation. But I kept on going and kept on going all the time. All the time. Not feeling well. Not being … I didn’t feel satisfactory at all. I felt like, I just felt disappointed and sad with myself.
But then I climb to La Flégère, well to the Col des Montets. And when I was there, I was thinking like, But I don’t want to enter Chamonix with a lot of very, very happy people like clapping and celebrating, because I don’t have anything to celebrate. Actually, I feel sad and I’m not happy with myself at all. And I didn’t want to go through the streets. So I thought, Is there another trail that goes down? But I don’t know La Flégère so well. So I said to myself, okay, let’s just go back to Col des Montets and then meet my team there.
iRunFar: It’s a really long way to just …
Debats: It’s a long way to go down I realize that when I was going down. I was like, huh.
iRunFar: So you kind of know why you felt that way last year. What are you going to change the week before the race this year?
Debats: Yeah, just to avoid stressy moments. I know it’s always, it’s up to you. People may claim you, maybe there’s a lot of action, a lot of fuss in Chamonix. It’s all in your hands, so I try to be more relaxed and to concentrate also on other things and not to be too strict for myself and hopefully arrive, like with my batteries full of energy and not empty.
iRunFar: You are just, before we were talking, you are hanging out with Luis Alberto Hernando and you are saying how he feels less stress. Did you maybe take any lessons from him on not having those expectations?
Debats: Actually, yeah, he was saying with the years, he feels less stress and less pressure and I was saying, for me, it’s the opposite. I used to cope with it really well, and it even helped me and it made me feel like, yeah, I’m part of it. But the last couple of years, it’s actually become more difficult to manage for me for some reason. I don’t know, maybe, I don’t know.
iRunFar: Well, I hope you can relax this week and not be stressed, and enjoy more of the race this year.
Debats: Yeah, I hope so.
iRunFar: Good luck.