Just a few days ago, the Catalan ultrarunner Pau Capell defended his title in Transgrancanaria, with an amazing victory in the 125km with 7500m elevation race, finishing it in 12h 42min 08s.
I was lucky enough to have him answer a few questions about how he trains his body, his mind, and his nutrition to achieve such performances. His beliefs reveal the importance of the emotional balance that maybe we don’t often realize is that important for ultra runners who seem to focus only on spartan trainings and nothing more. It turns out that his personal life plays a decisive role in his performance and it’s something he advises all runners to prioritize.
Hi Pau! You were recently talking about how you’ve changed the way you train, that you train differently now than when you started running. What do you think is the thing that made the most difference in your performance? What’s the one thing that you didn’t use to do and started doing and helped you improve?
Now I don’t only train my running, but I combine it with other types of cross training (elliptical, cycling, tonification, TRX, skimo), and this helps me work out more muscles that I need in order to be a more complete runner from a training point of view. Also, my nutrition is a “hidden” type of training that allows me to perform better in trainings and competitions.
How do you choose the races you’ll add to your competition calendar? Some runners are better in technical races, others in soft ground or speed races. Do you choose only races with profiles that suit your preferences or you also include some races that can pose challenges or difficulties?
I always choose the races depending on the motivation that gets me to sign up. I obviously include in my calendar some international races that are part of some world series, but when it comes to what types of races usually motivate me the most, I always go for the technical difficulty of that specific route or for the culture in the country where it’s held.
Regarding your nutrition, you were saying that you’re very careful with what you eat when you are training for the race. What is your nutritional objective during the competition season? Losing weight or keeping a certain weight, reaching a certain body composition (body fat vs muscle), doing carbo loading, or anything else?
My nutritionist, Anna Grifols, adjusts my meals based on a target weight that will allow me to train and compete to my maximum potential. It’s very important being light in order to climb faster. Also, in long distance races where we run for many hours, a lower weight means tiring the muscles less.
Every runner has mornings when they just don’t feel like getting out of bed to go running. How do you overcome those moments? What makes you train even when you don’t really feel like it?
Haha, I really think you should be doing what you like and if you do, you won’t feel like oversleeping. Of course that there are moments when I’d like to sleep or rest more, but those trainings are the most valuable ones for me, because the sacrifice I make is part of the game and part of racing. Seeing our dreams come true is what makes us work hard to achieve them.
Which is your favorite race so far and why?
For the moment, it’s UTMB. It was a dream that I’d had since I was little. Running around the entire Montblanc… just magical.
You made a great point that training your mind is as important as training your body, and I can totally relate to that as I’m sure many other runner do. What makes you think “I can do this” when your mind and body are so tired and convinced that you can’t push harder in a race?
The mind is always important and it helps you push a bit more than the legs can, but we also have to listen to our bodies in order not to push more than our limits allow us. We should be aware if our objective is achievable and if it is, we should go for it 100%. If we’re trained to increase our mileage or improve our time, then that’s the moment when we have to use our mind to push us. But we can’t set higher and higher limits to reach every time because that’s when incidents happen.
In most cases, my thoughts are higher than myself: I think about my family and my girlfriend and that’s what helps me push until the very end.
Finally, what’s the number one advice you’d give a runner who is looking for balance between having a job, a family, a social life and training for competitions?
I’d tell any runner to never prioritize training before family life. Competitions and trainings have to come together with a basic emotional balance and that’s something that we achieve when we have a healthy family/partner or healthy friends that we care about, and feeling their warmth. That’s the right way to make progress.