Bagà (special envoy) Núria Picas and Miguel Heras smile. They have already been asked the question before, everyone wants to know how two veteran athletes do it to defeat the younger ones over a distance of 100km. “Because we like it a lot, I guess!” says Núria. “There is no magic recipe, eh?”, adds jokingly the athlete from Béjar (Castilla y León). He is 48 and she is 46. A year ago they won the Salomon Ultra Pyrenees, probably the most emblematic mountain race in the Pyrenees. A year later, they return to defend the title. In 2022, on a day that was hot enough, Núria returned to the test and prevailed with such superiority that she ended up dancing to the rhythm of Rigoberta Bandini with her daughters. In fact, the Catalan had not even participated in it for four years, partly due to injuries, but she returned through the big gate and set a new record for the event. Heras struggled a bit to get past the Russian Dmitri Mityaev, but finished first. When the Russian arrived, he knelt before Heras in admiration. He was turning 50 and had defeated a lot of young people.
“You have to train hard, make sacrifices, keep a very strict diet,” admits Picas a day before defending the title. “But it’s our life, they love the mountain.” “When you are older you also have more experience. You know the mountain better and you know yourself. When you wake up on the day of the morning race you know that you will have to run for fourteen hours. That it will be hard. You know that you will have to suffer, but because you know each other, you see it in a different way”, says this woman who has been running all her life, since the time when “few people ran 100 km races”. And even less women. Returning to the Ultra Pyrenees is always special for her, because last year she returned through the big door. “There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t be able to run them anymore, I think I had an ankle injury that caused me pain when I was chasing my children. But I was able to recover. I even participated in two ultramarathons incognito, afraid of being recognized, to see how she was. The truth is that after suffering so much, I deserve to be able to compete without much pain,” says the runner born in Manresa in 1976.
Picas, who has won events such as the 170km Montblanc Ultra Trail in the past, arrives in good form. In fact, he threatens to lower last year’s mark of 12 hours, 12 minutes and 37 seconds, the record of the test. “The Salomon Ultra Pirineu is the race that saw me born as a long-distance runner. It’s the race of my life. And as long as I have strength, I will be at the starting line”, he always says with a laugh. A firefighter by profession, the Manresana always transmits positive energy, even when she talks about the pain she suffers during the hardest moments of the test. “Physically I feel very well and mentally I also look very strong. I would even dare to say that I am stronger than last year, although the ultra-distance depends on many things. You have to have the day. Last year he was coming off a long period of time without competing. The uncertainty was very, very big, but in the end I won the race and broke the women’s record. This year’s scenario is different. I start as the favorite and this is an added pressure that you have to know how to manage. My strategy is not to change much from last year. Bring the right nutrition, follow the set rhythms and have the same mentality.”
There will be no shortage of support. Years ago he left Manresa to live in Berguedà, so he will run home. “I want to soak up the magic of this race, people, people, mountain, mountain, garden. This gives me lots and lots of energy. It’s my turn to try to take it and enter the finish line”, he adds.
Heras, the all-terrain plumber
The case of Miguel Heras is also surprising. Until a year ago, he worked as a plumber, a job he combined with his passion for mountain racing. Despite accumulating almost twenty years of racing, he did not turn professional until recently with the support of the Salomon brand, when he already has an enviable record. For the Castilian, brother of the cyclist Roberto, four-time champion of the Vuelta a España, the Ultra Pyrenees is his favorite test. He has participated in 8 of the 12 editions, won it three times and climbed the podium 6 times. “You always have to be careful. Don’t overload yourself by training the days before and bring gear just in case. The temperature can change a lot. In 2012, the doctors made me drop out because it was cold and I didn’t have enough gear and my body temperature had dropped to 34 degrees,” he recalls. This year, by the way, Roberto Heras has also signed up to participate. Your challenge, finish.
This year, the race is in its 14th edition. And, as is usually the case, the organizers have sold all the places for each of the four tests that will be contested over the weekend, limited places because since it goes through natural parks, they want to limit the presence of athletes. Requests to participate are higher, but the organizers agree with the authorities on a number that allows them to ensure that they do not harm nature. Of the four races, the most anticipated will be the Salomon Ultra Pirineu, the ninth under this name, because when it was born in 2009 it was called Ultra Cavalls del Vent, a race inspired by the crossing that unites eight refuges of the Natural Park of Cadí-Moixeró Then Picas and Heras were already there.
The start will be on Saturday at 5.30 in the morning, when 1,100 runners will gather in Plaça Porxada de Bagà to start flat and the light from their fronts will illuminate the night. The departure from the square has become an iconic image that this year is the star of the commemorative shirt, designed by artist and professional trail runner Caitlin Fielder. The athlete from New Zealand, who resides in Andorra, will participate in the 21 km race on Sunday. With 100 kilometers and 6,600 meters of positive gradient, the Salomon Ultra Pirineu crosses emblematic high mountain sections of the Cadí Moixeró Natural Park and goes through the park’s nine mountain refuges, which will act as refreshments during the weekend. Athletes go from climbing snowy peaks when the sun comes out, in very cold weather, to descending into valleys at over 25 degrees. “In this race the hardest part of the gradient is at the beginning, which can help, because you have more energy, but it also has a catch, because you have to save energy for the end,” says Heras, who last year went fourth or third at the start and went back up to overtake Pau Capell and Mitiaev. The Russian, by the way, will not be able to participate this year due to visa problems.
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