The 2024 Hardrock 100 is history! Check out our in-depth results article for the full race story, as well as our interviews with champions Courtney Dauwalter and Ludovic Pommeret.

Ragna Debats Pre-2024 Western States 100 Interview

A video interview with Ragna Debats before the 2024 Western States 100.

By on June 25, 2024 | Comments

Ragna Debats, who is from The Netherlands but who lives in Spain, is back at the 2024 Western States 100, to follow up on her taking third and setting a masters course record in 2021. In the following interview, Ragna talks about the serious health journey she is undergoing, what brings her back to racing Western States again, and what she hopes to get out of a second attempt at this event.

To learn more about who’s racing, check out our women’s and men’s previews and follow our live race coverage on race day.

Ragna Debats Pre-2024 Western States 100 Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Ragna Debats. It’s Western States 100 week for 2024. Hi, Ragna. How are you?

Ragna Debats: Hi, Meghan. Fine.

iRunFar: Welcome back to Western States.

Debats: Thanks.

iRunFar: The last time you were here was three years ago when you set the women’s masters record and had an incredible podium finish. Are you excited to be back here?

Debats: I’m super excited. I feel very grateful. I had a really good experience in 2021, and ever since I finished, I’ve wanted to repeat it.

iRunFar: It’s hard to come to a race like this that has the challenges of altitude and then heat. You had a great first Western States race. You podiumed. You ran a really fast time. You set the masters course record, besting what was already a really strong record. What brings you back to come do it all again?

Debats: When I raced in 2021, I felt like my preparation wasn’t really specific because we were here on a road trip. We were traveling every day. We did long distances, covering as much as we could actually. And I raced, and I felt I really loved the circuit. I felt that if I trained for it specifically, or I asked myself like, “Could I do it better?” And yeah, that’s how I finished. I finished super happy, because I think I made the most out of it. But I felt I could be more competitive or more stronger, and that’s why I wanted to come back. Then the year after, because of injury, I couldn’t come back. And the year after that it was Covid, so I couldn’t fly to the US, so I lost my entry. And last year, I ran Javelina [100 Mile] to try and win a Golden Ticket to be able to come back.

iRunFar: For a Dutch runner living in Spain, it’s a bit of an epic to get a Western States qualifier. You have to come to America, run a big race to get your Golden Ticket to run Western States.

Debats: Yeah.

iRunFar: You have to really want it, in other words.

Debats: Yeah. I think you really have to want it, but also I really love the United States. So for me, it’s a very good location to escape and to race here, because I really love all the races I’ve done here. Every year I hope to be able to travel to the United States, and I just want to be here and to race.

iRunFar: Well, here you are again.

Debats: Yeah. [laughs]

iRunFar: You’ve had an interesting lead-up to this race. A couple of months ago, you were on the flanks of Aconcagua going for the women’s fastest known time on Aconcagua, and then you ran into some health issues. Is that correct?

Debats: Yeah, that’s correct.

iRunFar: Do you want to talk a little about that?

Debats: Yeah, of course. I think it’s important because it has affected me a lot, and I know there are others, not the same as what I’ve experienced, but there are a lot of people actually struggling with their guts. And sometimes, I think we are not aware how we can help ourselves. So, I’ve had a very interesting journey toward this race because I think it must have started whilst I was at altitude, on the Aconcagua. It started that I had problems with my diet, my digestion, and I had many days I had diarrhea or I couldn’t go to the loo, and I had problems. I felt very fatigued.

First, I thought it was because of having been at altitude and I thought my body just needs rest. And also I thought the problems I was having, were due to some kind of bacteria from Aconcagua. But then I went back into training after having rested, and it just got worse and worse. And I felt it was like a chronic fatigue. During the day I had no energy, but the worst was when I was running, there was no energy. Really no energy. I had to push really hard and for nothing, for very little. And it took me a long time to recognize that something was really going wrong. But finally I got really alarmed and I went to see doctors and I was diagnosed with SIMO, which is small intestine methane overgrowth. The symptoms are the problems with the with the digestion, and you can have chronic fatigue as well.

iRunFar: So, the issue is that your body was not able to digest food properly?

Debats: Exactly.

iRunFar: The illness caused you to not be able to actually absorb what you were eating.

Debats: Yeah, exactly. The illness causes that whatever you eat, your body doesn’t absorb it, and the more difficult to digest, the more complications you get in your body. Because it already tries to do something with it, but it can’t. And actually the mitochondria who will normally create the energy, who transport it to the muscles and to the organs, they change their mood. One part is creating energy, supplying it to the organs and to the muscles. And the other part is the alarm part, where they don’t create energy, and they actually make you feel, because they don’t work, you feel really tired. And it is kind of a defense system of your body’s survivalist instinct. Because when you are ill, for example, normally you go into your bed because you have no energy, right?

iRunFar: Right.

Debats: Well, this is what happened to me all the time. Like, my body was telling me go into your bed. Do nothing. And instead of listening to these signals, I had to ignore it, because apparently, nothing was wrong with me. So I had to do my daily life.

iRunFar: Yeah.

Debats: I had I wanted to train. I wanted to do, I wanted to just keep having my life, so it was very hard. It was a process because I’m strong-minded, and I trained, and I did all the things, but I felt so fatigued and I felt I wasn’t really able to deal with it anymore in the end. That’s how I found out what was going wrong. Whilst I was taking the antibiotics, I really noticed that I really made a big change. Suddenly I went out running and Pere [Aurell, my husband] was saying, “You’re back.”

iRunFar: Oh, wow.

Debats: It was a big change. Even though people were saying when you take antibiotics, you might feel tired, I was like, no way. I’m not tired.

iRunFar: There’s no way to feel more tired.

Debats: I feel the best I felt in such a long time. But then afterward, the real process starts, because you have to make sure everything works well, the mucosa have to be restored. You need to help the good bacteria to grow again. And it’s quite a difficult task with a lot of changes to the diet, but also dealing with emotional things, stress. It’s been super interesting, but it’s been a very different journey.

I can say only that I’ve been able to train because my fatigue levels don’t really depend on my training. I mean, I can control my training, or my coach can control my training, so he knows, okay, today maybe you are fatigued because we’ve done this training, but other days he will tell me, no, you shouldn’t be fatigued. You should feel fine. So if I feel fatigued, I know it’s because of other things, because my body is probably not absorbing what I’m giving to it.

iRunFar: So for you this year, you’re coming to this race with a lot of antibiotics, a lot of healing, a brand new daily nutrition plan, and then also a brand new race-day nutrition plan. Everything is new or different for you this time.

Debats: Yeah. That’s a good summary.

iRunFar: Whenever a person comes back to a race, you always wonder what brings them back. Performance is, of course, a thing, but here you have a new sort of health reality or health journey that you’re going through. So how do you mesh that desire to be a better version of yourself with knowing there are a lot of variables for this day for you?

Debats: Yeah, I think the approach is quite different. I used to have a very competitive approach to the ambitious one, to try and be on the stage. But my actual condition is different. So, I have to refocus a little bit. This whole journey has been really interesting.

For me, a good race doesn’t really depend on the time or on the placement, I think. It really depends on how I am managing with my body and how I’m driving, like on a boat when you’re sitting down and I’m moving this ship through the water from beginning till the end.

iRunFar: That’s a great metaphor.

Debats: Yeah, it feels like that. And I will be really pleased, and it’ll be a big step forward for me, for my health, if I can achieve that. On the other hand, I know that I’m well-trained, so if everything goes well and I can manage my psychological, my emotions, and nerves, and I can connect my body and my mind in the right way, I am sure I will be able to do a really good race.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I really hope I feel this calm and my body is going to react really well. The nutritions I’m going to give to my body are quite different. There are things I’ve never tried during a race. Not in this kind of dimension. It’ll be really interesting. I feel confident and really positive about it. I’m really looking forward to it.

iRunFar: Well, best of luck to you in your second Western States.

Debats: Thank you.

iRunFar: It’ll be really fun to watch you make the route from Olympic Valley to Auburn once again.

Debats: Thank you.

Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.