Merrell - Who is Ragna Debats?
Pro:Direct Running is proud to announce the addition of the Merrell MTL Long Sky
to our trail collection. Popular with outdoor enthusiasts for over three decades, Merrell
started out by manufacturing high-quality hiking boots before expanding into trail shoes. They have taken all that experience and used it to develop a serious race day shoe. How serious? Serious enough to win one of the worlds most prestigious trail races on the feet of one of the sports greatest female athletes!
Ragna Debats has achieved the highest stage that a trail runner can achieve, in 2018 she became World Champion in the overall category of Skyrunning and Trail Running. She has made her passion for nature a way of living. Now, along with her family, she has embarked on the Rolling Mountains challenge, a project to visit the 7 continents and compete in a trail competitions at the highest level.
“I run for me, not just to win. I seek to improve myself at all times”
From dreaming of becoming an Olympic horse rider to becoming double world champion in Skyrunning and the Ultra Trail. Ragna Debats has one extraordinary life, she never expected to be a trail runner. Ragna followed her dream of becoming an Olympic horse rider throughout much of her early life, until the politics of the sport became clear as she grew older noticing that the financial backing required to reach the top of the sport was making it harder to progress.
“I realised my body is made for this”
Ragna woke up one morning and said “enough is enough” she decided to stop pursuing her dream and went for a run to discover the same feeling of freedom as she did when riding through the forest. In 2018 Debats was crowned the champion of the Marathon des Sables, one of the toughest footrace's on earth.
“I train so I feel free, just me and nature”
We caught up with Ragana to find out more about the life of an elite athlete and what she loves the most about Merrell.
1) The MDS is a huge undertaking, how do you approach a race like that mentally?
I think it is important to have the right motivation and a positive mind! If you are physically prepared and you have the right mindset, you are most likely to succeed.
2) How do you approach the physical training and is it important to try and recreate the conditions of the race in your training? What does your typical training day look like?
I ran a multi stage race at the beginning of my preparation which served me as a volume training and gave me more experience in a multiple day event. Then, together with my team, we made a training plan. In the beginning, we didn’t focus too much on the conditions we expected to get in a dessert, but in the last month before the race, I tried to find similar conditions.
I mainly trained in a dry river bed with all sizes of stones and gravel to run on. We also worked specifically on running with a weight, I did several interval training sessions with different kinds of weights. I also went to the gym regularly to strengthen my abdomen and back muscles.
3) Was this your first time running the MDS?
Yes, first time out in a dessert! I loved the experience!
4) When did victory in the race become a reality for you and how did it feel to perform so well at such a prestigious race?
I didn’t know what to expect in the desert. I knew people prepare really well for the race and are very focused. It took me as a surprise to feel so well and run so easily amongst the first 10 runners.
After the first two days, I put my goals really high as I wanted to make the top 10 (general classification), but on the third day I had some problems with my back (oedema, caused by the bouncing of my backpack) so I had to take a step back and conform myself with a less ambitious plan (winning the female race).
5) What keeps you motivated each day to get up and out to tackle the demanding stages?
I really love what I am doing and I try to choose different challenges every season, which really challenge me. This year, I am travelling together with my family and running one big race on each continent. We are travelling with a cameraman who captures the whole experience in real life. Tomorrow, we will try to ascent the Aconcagua in a short expedition of 4 days. On our website www.rolling-mountains.com you can follow our adventures.
6) Running the distances you do must need a high number of calories, how do you manage your nutrition both before, during and after the race?
I’m like a chameleon! (She laughs). I am lucky that I don’t need much food. I took about 3000 calories per day which really filled me and kept me going.
7) How long does it take to recover from the MDS? What did you do to build your body back up?
I’m not sure to be honest. I felt really energised when I finished MDS so I decided putting another race in my seasonal planning. From the dessert I went to the high altitude running a fast course between 3000 and 4800m of altitude (Yading Skyrun).
I obtained a satisfactory second place.Two weeks later I won the mythical Transvulcania (70K). Afterwards, I felt tired for over a month. I guess I had accumulated a lot of fatigue.
8) What is it you think that draws so many athletes in to take on what is such a tough race? Is it the challenge? The community? The prestige of finishing?
Yes, I think it is the challenge! When you start, you don’t know if you will be capable of completing it. I think it is self-fulfilling to overcome such a tough challenge!
9) Can you talk us through your trail running journey? Where did it all begin for you?
I started running 10 years ago, after abandoning my dream to participate in the Olympics in the sport I practised from a young age: dressage.
I progressed slowly and year after year I became stronger. In 2018 I won both World Championships of Trail and Skyrunning and I also won the ISF Overall World Series. The year after I ran MDS.
10) What have been some of the hurdles you have faced in your rise to the top of the sport and how did you overcome them?
In the first years of running I had to overcome a lot of injuries related to my skeleton. Fisures, bone fractures,... My body had to get used to the stress of my new sport. Horse riding is a non impact sport and running, on the contrary, is a high impact sport.
11) How did your relationship with Merrell begin and what is your opinion of their running footwear?
We started working together in the year my daughter Onna was born. I remember talking about my collaboration with Merrell whilst Onna was crawling around the office. I was enthusiastic about the light and flexible footwear and immediately felt part of the Merrell family.
12) What features are most important to you in a good trail shoe?
Its weight, flexibility and minimalist design.
13) What Merrell shoes do you use for training and which on race day? Why do you choose these shoes and what are the key differences between them?
In training sessions, I often use the more minimalist shies with 0 or little drop. I also run on the same shoes I use during the races as they are good shoes for both and I like to keep a habit of using them regularly to have a natural and comfortable feeling during my races.
14) What are the key features of the Long Sky that work for you and how did it perform at MDS?
For MDS l, together with Merrell we designed a special shoe similar to the Long Sky, but even more adapted to the conditions of the desert. It performed amazingly well!!
15) Can you talk us through your involvement in the development of that shoe? Did you enjoy the process?
Yes, it is great to be able to adapt my footwear to my needs and it feels satisfactory to help to improved and evolve our sport.
16) What are your goals for this year?
Combining competition at the highest level with our travel life! All the Rolling Mountain races are challenging, but maybe UTMB will be the most challenging one! Rolling Mountains involves travelling around the world in a family context and running one big race on each continent!
17) What would you say to someone who is unsure to try out trail running?
Try it out, enjoy and I am sure you’ll be hooked up soon!!
18) What’s your advice for someone trying out Merrell shoes for the first time?
If the shoes are very different to the shoes you were used to, take it easy and give your body the time to adapt. Any sudden changes are difficult to manage for human bodies. You will note that Merrell shoes are comfortable from the first minute you put them on and you will love wearing them!
If you enjoyed Ragna's story, you can follow her journey on her Instagram page (@RagnaDebats) learn more about her 2020 running at www.rolling-mountains.com.
To view the Merrell brand at ProDirectRunning.com click here.