Athlete Interview – Cecilia Flori

It was around twelve months ago that Cecilia Flori popped up on the Ultra168 radar via Strava. A quick look at her training and I could see that this girl had some serious gas! That was confirmed following a number of really good results in races over the course of this year. I caught up with Cecilia this week to find out a little more about her running background, what racing is like compared to her native Europe and what she has planned for the foreseeable future.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into running?

I used to be a rock climber before I started running. I did run a little bit for general fitness, but only really around 5 or 6kms a week. Then in mid 2014, a triathlete friend of mine convinced me to do a half marathon with him, which was only two weeks away at the time!  I started running every other day and managed to finish that race in 1:43. I realised then and there that I loved running. After that race, I bought myself a watch and started training more regularly.

In 2015 I did my first ultra in Canada, the 50 Mile NorthFace endurance challenge and somehow managed to finish 3rd female.  This was something of a miracle, since I had only raced that one half marathon and a 10km. I never thought I could podium!

Was running competitively something you thought you would do when you initially started?

It wasn’t until I moved to New Zealand (February 2016) that I started training seriously. Not because I knew I could be competitive, but because I found a great running club (Hamilton City Hawks) and a great coach (Graham Dudfield).

In 2016  I won a few shorter distance trail races and then won my first 100km race, the Taupo 100km. Around this time I started thinking that maybe I was good at running and I could be competitive. In 2017 I entered the Tarawera 100 and competed with some of the world’s best ultra runners, placing 3rd and just 1:30 min behind Magda Boulet in 2nd place and 26 mins behind Camille Herron in 1st place. It was at this point I realised I could have a chance of being competitive on the international circuit.

How do you go about your training program and work out what to focus on?

I normally first decide on which race will be my A race, then work backwards to adjust my training plan accordingly. This is normally done with coach Graham over coffee 🙂

Since I mostly target 100+km races, a lot of my training will be aimed at building endurance. Generally I do between 140 to 160km (or higher) a week, depending at which point of my training I am. I also incorporate interval training and longish tempo runs, to develop my speed. During my training I also keep in mind the type of race I will be doing and gear my training to the specifics of that race. So for example for Mozart I did a lot of uphill running.

The Mozart ultra was a massive result, how did you approach it and what were your expectations?

The Mozart 100 was a really hard race for me. I had only run fast 100km courses with not so much elevation, and Mozart had much more elevation – I was quite uncertain as to how I would go. I enjoy running uphill more than downhill and had been doing more steep runs in my training, but I was not prepared for the amount of walking I ended up doing in the race. Some sections were just too steep to run.

Before then I had never walked in a race, so it was quite a learning experience. I learned the importance of power walking, while resting other muscles which would then be fresher when the steepness allowed running.

The most important thing that I brought home from the Mozart 100 is the following:  Training is very important but mental attitude perhaps even more so. During the race I had problems digesting food so much so that I ended up hardly eating.

I had trained for hills, I had trained for endurance, I had trained for speed – but I had not trained for stomach problems! This is when the mental attitude comes in, that is what eventually (at least for me) makes a difference between a DNF and a finish.

I felt pretty damn horrible for a big chunk of the race, but I kept the smile and the positive attitude and learned so much about what one can do if you keep believing. I was glad they had beer at the end for me!

What are some of the differences between running in Europe and over here in NZ?

From my experience of racing in both New Zealand and Europe, it seems that in Europe the courses are much steeper and require a lot of power walking. In fact one thing I noticed at Mozart was that most athletes used walking sticks to power hike the steep sections. On the other hand in New Zealand, the courses are much more runnable with maybe a steep climb or two but still potentially runnable.

What’s next for you in terms of racing?

For next year I still have to decide if I will do Tarawera 100km or 100miles, I’m also hoping to get into Western States too.

For the remainder of this year I would really like to be able to run the Javelina Hundred, but I am not sure at this stage if I will be able to take time off work since I have run out of holidays. Unfortunately balancing a full time job with running is harder than I thought. I am lucky enough to get gear sponsor from Grant Guise with Altra NZ, but if I could also find other sponsors to help me out that would be great 🙂

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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