Interview with Rea Iseli

15. November 2022

Fotos: Thaidotrun Co.

Rea Iseli secured the title in the Up and Down race at the World Mountain Running Championships together with Judith Wyder and Maude Mathys. On the 10.7-km route, they needed to conquer 475 positive and then negative metres difference in altitude.

How did you find «your» day? Can you give us an insight into your race and how you were feeling

Experiencing the emotions of the other runners during the races in the preceding days motivated me tremendously and I could hardly wait to finally stand at the starting line. I was definitely nervous yet much more relaxed than at other such events, because after all my health problems, I felt at this stage it was a great gift to be able to compete at all. The aim was to initially hold myself back during the first flat section due to the heat and humidity, keep up as well as I could during the first half uphill, overtake the runners within range during the second half before the downhill section and then play to my strengths downhill. During the race itself, I somewhat exceeded my capabilities when running uphill, but fortunately found a pace that was close to my limit without exhausting myself too much. I was most excited about the downhill section: The thrill of safety versus intransigence when it came to catching up with and overtaking the front runners at the right moment. I was able to overtake ten runners and had a good feeling that a medal for the team could be within reach. That was motivation enough to not let up, even during the last flat section in the blazing sun, and to fight for every position right to the end. At the finish I was completely overjoyed because I knew that I came close to my current best possible performance that day. This was topped when I learned our team had won and I personally had achieved the fantastic 15th place.

How did you prepare for this race? What tips do you have for amateur runners? 

I only switched to mountain/trail running this year. The most important thing for me was to improve my strength with specific exercises for mountain running. At the beginning I had great respect for downhill running because I’ve frequently had problems with my knees the past 10 years. It is important to slowly get used to this load. It’s best to first start by incorporating up and down routes into your leisurely endurance run. Preferably on soft trails instead of asphalt - your musculoskeletal system will thank you - and you can gradually get used to the uneven ground. If you manage this without any problems, you can gradually progress from endurance runs that focus on fast downhill running to intervals. I’ve done a lot of up and down intervals lately, such as running uphill fast for 1 minute, downhill fast for 30 seconds and then taking a break and repeating this several times. Such a training unit feels even more strenuous than just doing uphill intervals but don’t worry because this is good thing, as your sore muscles are sure to tell you.

A few months ago, you were still incapacitated with an inflammation of the heart muscle. What were the most important insights for you during this difficult time? 

In such a situation, it is incredibly important to follow the advice of the experts and, in my case, take a complete break from sports. After I got the okay to return to sports, I had to be patient and gradually get my body used to the «normal» training load again. This was necessary to prevent a relapse. Even if it seems ridiculous, it’s best to start with intervals in which you walk most of the time and incorporate 1-minute runs. It’s also important to pay attention to your body’s reaction when you build up the load. At the beginning, I really struggled with an increased heart rate at a much lower endurance pace during the short repetitions. You don’t mess with the heart and since you don’t feel any pain like you would with other overload injuries, it is important to be patient and strictly adhere to the guidelines. Today I am just incredibly grateful that my body is once again able to perform at its best and am also highly aware that this cannot be taken for granted.

What do you fundamentally believe are the 3 key factors that lead to success?

For me personally, passion and joy play a very important role. This motivates me to train and also gives me the necessary bite when things get tough. Besides this, a certain degree of determination is important to achieve the best possible continuity in training and it also spurs you on to complete the less enjoyable training units. Maintaining a healthy relationship with success is also important. It’s best not to only associate success with performance-oriented goals and rankings, because you can only influence your own performance.

Do you have an insider tip with regards to training, equipment, nutrition, or recovery?

As previously mentioned, on a mental level it’s crucial that you don’t lose your joy for the sport. If this starts waning, it may be time for a training/competition break. You will then have the opportunity to reflect on the question, «Why do I actually run/what drives me?» and find out how to rekindle your joy and passion.