It’s the day after the 2014 Transvulcania La Palma and Anna Frost opens the door of her apartment in Tazacorte in a bikini. A huge smile welcomes me and as I enter, she tells me, ‘I hope you’re hungry, we have cooked lunch.’
Sitting on the terrace, the sun beats down and I suddenly feel in holiday mood. It’s only after 20 to 30 minutes of chatting, laughing and eating that I realize I am here to interview Frosty! It’s crazy, it’s difficult to believe that less than 24-hours earlier, Frosty was pushing herself to her limits on the GR131 in one of the greatest comebacks this sport has seen.
We go some way back and I feel fortunate that I have not only shared time on the trails with the Kiwi but I have also often discussed her running and the problems she has had over the past 12-18 months. It’s been quite a battle. Just 1-year ago, I was sitting in the same apartment, drinking a beer surrounded by Timmy Olson, Cameron Clayton, Emelie Forsberg and others… they were all celebrating a successful 2013 edition of ‘Transvulcania’. Frosty enjoyed and participated in those celebrations despite the disappointment of not racing, the time wasn’t right and ultimately she had made the tough, but correct decision not to race.
A jump to the present; 12-months of ups and downs, finally, the struggles are over and we can all celebrate, a touch of Frost…
IC: I am joined by Frosty, laughing as usual, what a comeback!
AF: It’s nice to be back!
IC: Nice to see you back. It has been a tough old time. I guess winning the 2014 edition is like a time lapse; it’s where it all started back in 2012.
AF: Exactly, like I said, it was more than a win yesterday. Just standing on the start line was a win. Getting through the race was a win. You know, feeling competitive, feeling strong, going through ups and downs. Feeling yuck and then feeling good. You know how it is, it was a great feeling… the bonus of winning was incredible but the bonus to run and finish healthy is superb.
IC: The Transvulcania finish is one of the best out there too.
AF: Oh yeah, it’s an extreme one.
IC: Just 48-72 hours ago you said you didn’t have your 2012 form and I purposely in my race preview took the pressure off you. Of course, I said you could win, but this race was more about coming back and finishing healthy. Emelie was going to be at the race and we thought Nuria would be but she dropped out. She made the correct decision in my opinion.
AF: Yes I agree.
IC: You know what, the sport is in a learning curve at the moment. Runners are going to have to be far more savvy on when to race and when not.
AF: Yes Nuria is smart and she is a great runner. She has new objectives this year. She has Australia (a race she just won in a new CR) very soon and she is competing in the UTWT. She would have loved to be here and we would have loved it too but as you say, correct decision.
IC: A couple of months ago we were in Costa Rica. You were going to race a multi day but you had some bad news literally just days before the start. It was a tough time eh? You had to respect the recovery process and it seems as though in such a relatively short time you have come a long way. How and why are you finally finding a way to manage everything?
AF: I think I was patient. I have had no expectations. I took all the pressure off myself. I just wanted to be healthy and fit. If I hadn’t been I wouldn’t have raced Transvulcania. I haven’t pushed the miles or the hours. I would run an hour a day and no more. Once I could run an hour strong and comfortably then I would add more… I was cycling, walking, paddle boarding… I went back to basics and added core strength. I though I was strong; I did lots of work on it but in fact I was strong in one area but in another area I was weak. It was doing me no good. I am back to basics and I even focus on breathing while walking and running. I am doing yoga and I am calm with the racing. When I arrived in La Palma 3-weeks ago I knew I had 2 solid weeks to get ready. This terrain is hard. I was tired a week ago coming to taper so I knew I felt good. It seems as though I got it right. I wasn’t tired in the race and had no injuries… it worked!
IC: Lets talk about that 2-weeks of quality training. It will provide an insight and it will also tell us how you approached this race and maybe contrast it to 2012. I think back a couple of years, to 2012. You trained like a demon. You openly said, ‘I have trained like hell for this.’
AF: In 2012 I had 6-weeks of solid training. In this heat, on this terrain and your body gets drilled. Everything is extreme; the wind, the heat, the cold, everything… this time I had 2-weeks and I attempted 2 similar weeks to 2012 the only difference was I did many more hard weeks 2-years ago. For example, I did 4-5 hour runs, 3 times a week and the rest was 5-hours of training a day. Maybe running for 2-3 hours followed with yoga, swimming and cycling. I spiced it up.
IC: That’s a big training block.
AF: It was solid!
IC: I was thinking you wouldn’t have done that much… impressive! The course has altitude, much of the race is up around 2000m, and it can feel like a cold in your chest. Anyone who wants to run well in La Palma does need to acclimatize. How important is it for you?
AF: My first runs felt like that. The altitude kicked my butt. I felt sick, I felt tired and I could hardly move. But I think once you have spent time at altitude you adapt. For example, I was in Nepal in 2013 and that adaptation carries over and your body soon learns and switches on. I just need 2-3 runs and I feel okay.
IC: La Palma is not an easy place to train on the course, as you do need a fair amount of driving to access certain pints. I guess Tazacorte is as good as any… you can run up and down to Roques de los Muchachos.
AF: That’s what I love about this island. It’s tiny but intricate. You can go the same place and find a new trail, a new sight and a new experience; La Palma has so much to see.
IC: Lets talk about the race. Emelie was coming off skis and I have to say, I don’t think I have seen Emelie look so nervous before.
AF: Yes, she did seem nervous.
IC: Maybe it was the weight of expectation? Nuria of course wasn’t racing and my dark horse tip was Maite Maiora. I am pleased to say she didn’t let me down with 2nd place. After that, the ladies race was open. Krissy Moehl, Jodee Adams-Moore I guess was a contender, certainly early on she was in the mix in the top-3 but she struggled later on. Uxue Fraile always picks off people and she is strong in the latter stages and once again she placed 3rd. When you were racing did you realize Emelie was out?
AF: No, early on Emelie and I ran together. The start is chaos, people sprint and then suddenly you are in a 1-meter wide trail. Rocks are everywhere, it’s a black sandpit and it’s dark. Along with that you have supporters making noise… it really is bonkers. To get around people you have to go around the rocks. It’s volcano after all, the floor moves. You could hear people fall. I heard some commotion over someone falling and then a little later I could hear Emelie. I saw she had blood on her hand and I asked if all was ok? She said, ‘Yes.’ So we pushed on… after Los Canarios, around 7km I knew Emelie wasn’t around. I didn’t think too much of it. I just assumed she would come back to me. However I never saw her again. I was at Pico de Neive…
IC: So that ‘s 40K?
AF: Yes, 40k. I saw Jono Wyatt and asked about Emelie and Jono told me she was out. I said, ‘No way!’ I really wanted to run with Emelie. It was hard; I know only too well what it’s like to make that decision. I don’t think Emelie had a choice. It was a bad cut. Emelie wanted to race, she would have been strong I am sure.
IC: You pretty much took the race by the scruff of the neck and lead from the start. It’s all very well feeling good, feeling confident and being at the front… we can use Sage Canaday as an example, he takes the front, opens a gap and then he has to run scared. Sage does it to gain a buffer, as he doesn’t descend well, so he tries to keep Kilian and Luis at bay. But for you, you were chased for the whole race.
AF: Yes, you run scared. You have no idea… people try to help. Apparently in one place I was 20-min ahead, then 1k later it was 6-mins and so on and so on. You can’t rely on the info so you just have to run hard.
IC: How do you manage your effort? I guess the temptation can be to push, push and push. As you said, you can’t rely on info but you do have Salomon teammates at key feed stations so that does provide some security. Arnau for example told me about a story about Miguel Heras and San Fran. Arnau told Miguel he was 1st and Miguel heard ‘3rd’. He won the race but he was wrecked… he ran so hard.
AF: Yes he won by 30-min!
IC: Yes, great win though.
AF: Anything can happen so you have to run to the best of your ability. You can loose 6-min in a couple of miles if you have a bad patch. A race of this distance takes so much out of you, so, you just have to run your own race. If you push too hard, run someone else’s race, you will blow up! I know this course so well; I know every aspect of it. I know exactly how an effort should feel on every part of the course and I know how hard to push. I know when I can rest, when to climb, when to let go. I am fortunate to have this course nailed in my memory. But water, food, pace and self-awareness are so important. It can be over in seconds.
IC: From the start at Fuencaliente to Tazacorte, that’s the bulk of the trail. Where are the areas that you think are the most strenuous and the most difficult on the course?
AF: For me it’s the downhill. It’s a weakness for me. I want to get to the top of the hill as quick as I can…
IC: But that is 50k of running uphill?
AF: Yes, it’s part one of the race. Race one finishes here and then I start part two on the downhill. I ran the first half well but felt off in the second half as I was cramping a little. I eased a little but I was worried that I would give away time. It was about maintaining an effort, I felt okay in Tazacorte and then the third part of the race starts, Tazacorte to the line. It is about turning pain off and going for it.
IC: It’s easy to look at a course and worry. Many would worry about 50k uphill in a 73k race. The course is so varied; it has flat sections, long climbing sections, pine forest and plenty of technical train. It adds so much different stress. The Caldera weaves in, out and over, it’s a fantastic place to run but when racing it’s extremely difficult. It’s risky in this section. Do you take risks.
AF: A little of both, you are right, risk going too fast and you risk going over?
IC: I think that is what happened to Emma Roca?
AF: Yes, she was chasing 3rd place and went over on her ankle. She managed to hold on to 4th though. For me, I know I need to push because I need a buffer for the downhill but if you fall over, you can give it all away.
IC: The downhill is tough eh? It changes constantly. Dusty trail, pine trail which is extremely slippery by the way and then you have really tough rocks that are extremely technical.
AF: Oh yeah, the pine is slippery and then the lower you get the heat increases.
IC: The zigzag path to Tazacorte, another tough section, how long does it take to go from the summit to the sea?
AF: Around 90-min!
IC: Wow, that is a long time of 100% concentration.
AF: Yes, it’s really tough. When you come down the zigzags you can hear the crowds in the port… it is uplifting. I also had guys I was overtaking shouting encouragement, ‘Go Anna, go Anna.’ It was brilliant.
IC: In Tazacorte you had a course change this year, same distance but 2k of road was replaced with a riverbed trail. It was going to make the course slower… it certainly wouldn’t suit the faster ‘roadies’ but it would suit you, Kilian and Luis. While you are in the section, your watch had stopped so you had no idea of time, also, you didn’t know how far back Maite was, so, what impact did that 2km course change make?
AF: Your legs are like jelly after running downhill for 90-min. In the port I just refocused. The riverbed wasn’t a surprise but when you hit the beach and your feet sink it isn’t great… particularly knowing the road is just at the side. Mentally it is exhausting but it is a beautiful trail. You have cliff walls and you do get some shade. For me, I just knew it was nothing in the bigger picture, I knew I could hold on and keep going at a decent pace.
IC: You are making your way to the finish, you can hear the crowds from some way off…
AF: It’s amazing; you can hear the noise from a long way off. The final stretch seems miles away. I assumed the record was off! I was appreciating the time and I was enjoying the crowds. It was crazy, they were Mexican waving, cheering and clapping. It’s such a long way… It was only on the final few 100-meters that I realized that the course record was on. I turned the corner, saw the official clock and I took a breath and had to push and push for the record. It was a huge surprise. I was amazed!
IC: You were amazed, so were we! No disrespect but you said you didn’t have 2012 form, the course was tougher and Maite wasn’t on your heels so to come away with a new CR is quite incredible. It was 1min10sec yes?
AF: About that!
IC: Amazing comeback, amazing victory, you must be on cloud-9?
AF: Oh yeah… I got to the line and I pumped my first through the finishing tape. It was a massive relive mentally, not for the day, not for the win, not for the record… It was more than a yearlong race. It was a massive mental relief.
IC: And Emelie was there to give you the Champagne.
AF: Amazing, I saw her arm and I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness.’ But it was brilliant to share that moment.
IC: Do you feel a weight off your shoulders; do you feel in a good place? Moving forward, how do you take what you have learnt and what is the impact?
AF: I am happy. It’s a dream come true to finish injury free and feeling great. Of course the CR is a bonus! I have shared the experience and not just the people who were racing but also all those people who have followed and believed in me for the last 2-years. So many people are going through similar situations, hopefully what I have done will inspire people! The learning for me is patience, listening to my body and talking. We all need to talk, ask questions, seek help, don’t just ask one person, ask many and be open. Try different things, together we can help each other.
IC: This year’s race for me was the ‘Dream Race’, your victory is extremely popular and Luis Alberto topping the podium is such a popular win, he is one of the best in the world. He has often played 2nd fiddle to Kilian and now he has the win, the big win!
AF: Absolutely, it has been an incredible race and at the awards, Luis reached across to me and whispered, ‘I will never forget this day!’ It was just awesome.
IC: Frosty, we all will never forget this race! Many, many congratulations on such an incredible comeback it has been a pleasure to watch, support and follow. We all love a touch of Frost!
You can win Frosty’s signed Transvulcania La Palma T-Shirt by entering:
Follow Skyrunning and check out the 2014 calendar at www.skyrunning.com
Anna Frost is a Salomon athlete and her blog is HERE