Next month, the 9 Dragons Ultra takes place in Hong Kong. Ahead of the race, we’ve got a series of interviews lined up with a number of leading women runners. The first is Francesca Canepa, the former snowboarder turned ultra runner. A prolific racer, her big result last year was winning UTMB. In this interview she talks to us about how she manages her big schedule, what she thinks about when she runs and why pressure is pointless. Thanks for Francesca for taking time out of schedule to chat with us.
You do many races each year – How do you manage your body to cope with such a busy schedule?
Normally I don’t schedule too much of my season because I like to run and race based upon feel. But of course, I think that average at least 10/15 races a year. I manage my body just by staying tuned on to it. I listen if it tells me that it’s tired or not. If it is, I simply rest more and when I say rest I mean doing nothing at all. Just sauna and couch!!😁
Do you typically target one or two bigger races and use the rest more as training runs?
Actually no, I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself. This typically happens when you invest too much in a specific event. So I just try to do my best every time I have a bib. But of course, when I race shorter distances I don’t expect to perform super well. I don’t like to push myself too much and if you want to succeed in shorter races you have to. I use shorter races for training and having fun. And because they end so early!!
What do you love most about ultra running?
I think my favorite part is evolving every time you have to face a problem. And in ultra running, you have some sort of problem almost every time. I like to see how my body reacts and progresses during a race and in my whole athlete life. Passing through different moods during a single race and finding the resources to deal with bad moments is part of the challenge. I like to analyse everything and get a better understanding of what happens to me.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
I train five days a week, with two days of pure relaxation. When I run, I stay outside for no more than two hours. If I don’t go outside I bike at home and do some core training.
What excites you about coming to Hong Kong to race?
First, I like Hong Kong because of the variety of scenarios it has. It has mountains, beaches, town, everything. And I like big towns, I’m really fascinated by them, so I like to enjoy the time I have before and after the race. Then, I like the stage race formula. It’s great to run 80 km, sleep and run some others 50 km. It is a great challenge for the body because you have to start again with an incomplete recovery, so it will be tough.
With the rise in popularity and professionalism of trail and ultra running does that place more pressure on leading runners such as yourself?
I think pressure is pointless because it’s related to what other people think about you. It’s stupid to try to be appreciated by everybody because it’s impossible. So I prefer to stay focused on what I’m doing and my own goals. Of course maybe people normally expect us to always perform but it’s impossible. We are humans and we have to deal with highs and lows. So, personally I try to not read race previews or similar stuff and just follow my body. Pressure can do a lot of damage on a brain, and I want mine to stay healthy.
Do you feel the sport does enough to encourage more women to run ultras? If not, how could we do more?
Mmm, my perception is that women are still not aware of their potential because of the educational system we have. I think it would be useful to offer some more training/motivational camps just for women. Maybe offering more interviews in which athletes can explain how they really manage their family life still being on the top. Everything is doable, but I guess it needs to be shown.
What do you think about when you run? Are you focused on the race and winning? Or do you simply run in the moment so to speak?
I think a lot. Sometimes I try to encourage myself. Other times I sing, or I dialogue with my soul in another language. Typically the one that is spoken where I am in the moment, or some times in French simply because I love it. And, I normally don’t think to win because of course I would like to. But, as you never know how a race could go, I prefer to stay low profile and just manage my steps.
What’s your favourite race or place to race?
I definitely love woods, so I like races in woods. I hate technical races, edges, rocks and similar because I’m not used to it. But as I like nature, I don’t have a really favorite race, every place is great.
What other races will you run this year?
My main problem will be to face WSER. I’m not used to running so much and in the warm, so I need to establish a plan. But I think it will be interesting to do this experience and I don’t expect to perform. I just want to enjoy such an epic race. Then I’ll be back to UTMB because I want to give back some gratitude to the race that changed my life. It gave me so many emotions that it’s still impossible to find words to explain how blessed I feel. My goal will just be to smile all the 100 miles long and what will have to happen will happen.
If you could pick three people to have dinner with, who would they be and why?
Caroline Chaverot because she has been the only athlete that trusted me when I was disqualified from Tor de Geants and told it on the social media. I’m really grateful for that (and she knows it because we talked about it). Andrea Huser because she gave me great advice for UTMB and Renato because he is always on my side. That’s all 😊😊I don’t need a lot to be happy.