Despite only taking up endurance sports in 2016, Veronika Vadovičová was Vietnam Jungle Marathon champ in 2019 and overall ATM champ in the same year. Here, she talks about her training, race strategy, nutrition and more.
What led you to running and endurance sports and when did you start?
I have always been very active but my passion for running and endurance sports was only discovered after living in Shanghai for three years. I was tired of the big city life and needed an activity to relax my mind. I decided to join a cross training workout group called Fitfam where I made friends with many like minded people. It didn’t take long and soon we would train together most days of the week and encourage each other to sign up for different races – this whole journey started in September 2016.
You were a triathlete before you became a trail runner. What led to the change? And what do you prefer about trail and mountain running?
I naturally started with triathlon as the environment in Shanghai is much more suitable for triathlon training than mountain running. It is a very flat city with big, wide roads so road running and cycling was easy to do. There are also a lot of specific groups and clubs that one can join and train with so conditions for triathlon training were really good. I did feel from the beginning though that swimming is not my cup of tea and also knew that running is my strongest leg out of those three disciplines. So then when a friend of mine asked me to join a trail race to get out of the city and do something new and I agreed immediately and fell in love with the trail from this very first race. Running up and down surrounded by nothing but fields, forests and mountains felt so refreshing and I loved it.
You won the Asia Trail Master Championship in 2019. How did it feel to be the ATM Champ?
It felt amazing. ATM is very special to me as it helped me discover my real potential and talent for trail running. Winning the 2019 series is just the cherry on top of the cake. The whole championship has been an incredible journey which helped me to meet lots of talented runners, make new friends from all parts of Asia, learn about different cultures and discover so many beautiful and remote places.
You won VJM 2019 and were second overall by only 7 minutes behind the male winner, Hisashi Kitamura. He finished totally empty, while you looked like you could run another 10km or more – were you tempted to push for the overall win?
Haha, I might have looked fresh but that was just my victory face for the finish line. In reality I was suffering in the last 10km and I could not have pushed harder in that kind of heat. I definitely struggled myself and had I pushed just a little bit more I would have ended like Hisashi myself on that day.
You looked confident and under no pressure at all along the course. Is mental strength one of the key factors to your victories? And what tactics would you do to keep mentally strong when it starts to hurt?
I think I am definitely someone who never wants to give up and pushes through, no matter how hard it gets. I think that in ultra running mental strength is so much more important than physical strength. The most important thing to me is to believe in oneself. In a race I often keep telling myself that I am strong and that I can do this when things get hard. Pain goes away, the body heals, but the feeling of getting it done and crossing the finish line is what stays forever.
What is your typical week of training?
I try to run at least five times a week and make sure there is at least one flat road run and one long (25km+) run included per week. I currently live in Hong Kong so it is very easy to get a mix of trail running and road running training. I also try to work on my strength and do strength exercises 3-4 times a week. 30 minutes is enough to keep the body strong enough. Stretching and foam rolling is also very important part of the routine.
Do you have a favourite intervals / structured style training session?
My training very much depends on how my body feels on the specific day and I don’t follow any structured training style at the moment. My favourite training run is my weekend run when I have a whole day to run on the trails without any time pressure and when I can push a little but also just enjoy the scenery.
What is your approach to pacing a long distance race?
What is important is to find the right balance between not going too fast at the beginning but also not taking it too slow. I definitely start quite fast and then adjust the pace based on my feeling. If I feel good I continue running fast and slow down a bit later in the race if needed. Usually one can feel what pace is doable and what pace is just too much in order to finish a long race. I don’t use the strategy of starting really slow to keep the energy for the later part of the race as I discovered this does not work for me. But different things work for different people so every runner must find what works best for them.
Do you have a drinking plan as well as overall nutrition?
Nutrition and water intake is so important in ultra running. This aspect cannot be overlooked. I make sure I am always hydrated – especially if I am running a hot race such as the VJM. Stopping at each CP and refilling water is important and I would not skip it to save time as it will not pay off. In a hot race I try to have a sip of water every km and try to drink 0.5l of water and 0.5l of energy drink between CPs. Food is important too and having at least one gel or bar/hour is key.
Lastly, what advice would you give to a first time ultra runner?
Running in the mountains is such an incredible feeling and no matter how many races I have done I still enjoy it the same way as I did during my first race.
My advice would be to just keep enjoying it. If things get hard and you feel like you cannot do it anymore forget about the race and just slow down, enjoy the views and embrace being in nature.
Want to read another Q and A with a VMM and ATM Champ – check out the Kim Matthews interview HERE