The secrets behind the 40-year old Catalan ultrarunner’s winning streak
Just a few weeks after placing third in her first marathon at the age of 22, Núria Picas shattered her lower left leg in a climbing accident on Montserrat in Spain and was told she would never run again. Not one to accept limitations, the diehard mountain lover focused her recovery efforts on adventure racing and becoming a fire fighter. And in 2010, she earned a spot on the Catalan National Mountain Trail Team, winning her first Ultra Trail World Championship in 2012.
A mom of two boys, the Berga, Spain, resident has been winning the world’s top trail races ever since, including Transgrancanaria (2014, 2015) in Spain, Japan’s Ultra Trail Mount Fuji (2014), Grand Trail des Templiers (2012, 2013, 2014) in France, and the Ultra Cavalls del Vent (2011, 2012, 2013) in Spain. She’s also finished second at the famed Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, twice. This week Picas heads to Andorra to run the 42.5K Marathon dels Cims as a tune up race for her ultimate goal—finishing at the top of the podium at UTMB in August.
TRAINING SQUARED: I train using two sports in the summer, running and road biking, and two sports in the winter, running and ski mountaineering. I also have two trainers, one who creates gym specific sessions and another for outdoor sessions.
STOKE METER: I’m motivated to train all year because I love what I do. Perseverance and consistency are important. But I think excitement and effort are more important.
TICK TOCK: I train by time not by distance. I don’t use a heart rate monitor and will train anywhere from 15-22 hours a week. I’ve been doing this many years and know my body well.
MOM POWER: My children are an important source of motivation. Thinking about them helps me overcome the bad moments in races.
ALL IN: My biggest challenge is to give my best, my 100-percent. If in a race or practice I don’t achieve the desired position but have given everything I could, I’m satisfied. I like to arrive at races knowing I’ve done the training work. If I don’t, I’m not happy. Not training is like hurting myself.
SPANISH DIET: In my country we are lucky to have the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and olive oil. My favorite food is bread with tomato. It’s a typical Spanish meal. I eat meat and fish and try to avoid saturated fats. I take care of myself. However, I love dark chocolate and I can’t resist a beer every now and then.
SIX TO ONE: I train six days a week. I think that the day off is the most important day of all, because it’s when the body assimilates all the training from the week, and it’s when the brain disconnects. It’s like getting energy back to start again strong and motivated. I use my day off to write, read, and spend more time with my family and friends.
RELAX: It’s no secret that getting enough sleep, eating properly and doing stretching sessions is essential to recovery. Most important of all, I think, is to have a life without stress.
SELF-SPEAK: “Pain only lasts a moment and glory is forever.” That’s my mantra. I also remind myself repeatedly that the effort is worth it. In this life you have to fight and suffer to achieve what you desire. And, most of the time, without pain there’s no gain.
HEALING: After my climbing accident, it took seven years before I was able to run without pain. Eventually I started competing in local races and was reborn as a runner. My life was returned to me. Now I’ve won two World Championships and many different ultra races on five continents. That accident made me stronger mentally and physically.