Zuzana Bartasová: I'm very competitive, I've never been able to go to a race thinking I'm just going to enjoy it
Tromsø Skyrace, Trofeo Kima, Buff Epic Trail, Ultra Skyrunning Madeira, Royal Ultra Sky Marathon or perhaps the famous Transvulcania, where two years ago she finished among the world's ultra leaders in 10th place. Zuzka Bartasová. Excellent runner, organizer of Trail envy , architect, mother of twins and also Skratch Labs brand ambassador for the Czech Republic. How does one slip into running shoes after maternity leave? Where to get motivation for training? What about injuries and the biggest racing crisis? She revealed this to us in the following interview.
To begin with, let's take a short trip to your childhood, what are your sporting backgrounds and when did the first impulse to run and race come?
I was always drawn to individual sports, I dabbled in everything. Most of all, I wanted to do athletics, unfortunately there was no club at our place. For a while I tried to commute to the district town, I think I was 14 years old and I even completed a few races (sprints and long jump), but I couldn't manage it in time. I spent the winter regularly in the mountains and I think the slopes gave me a good foundation for everything else. In college, I did everything possible, climbing, skating, MTB, squash, I started swimming, winter was all about the slopes again, later I added cross-country skiing. I hadn't run yet. That came later when I started working and didn't have as much time for activities that require a partner, equipment or some kind of indoor environment. Running is the most efficient, the cheapest, and also the most destructive (if you want to be). Around the age of thirty, I was dealing with a minor life crisis, I was alone and had enough time, I discovered long-distance walks, on which a few people even ran at the time, I was terribly tempted to try it. How much can a person endure.
You won your first race - the Kysucká stovka. How do you remember him?
It was 2014 when I started. That was a funny time, kind of punk. I went headfirst into everything, I didn't think about anything, I simply packed my backpack and went somewhere to the Czech-Slovak border for a 120 km race. These events usually start at night, and there are plenty of bears in Kysuce. I remember singing to myself all night because I was really down. That year the weather was beautiful, there was no snow, and during the day it was warm and sunny. That gave me a lot of energy, I was able to keep running and finish in usable condition as far as possible (blisters).
Which skyrunning races do you like the most and why?
I like races in Italy or Spain, I like that the whole host town (village) lives for the race. What I like about the whole concept of skyrunning is that you can relatively quickly cover distances that would take several days to walk normally with a large bag. Of the Czech ones, I like the Prague 100, it's a race with a unique atmosphere.
Which female runner from our or the world scene do you admire the most? And what about rivalry, are girls as competitive as guys?
Before I had children, I admired mothers who could combine racing and family. Now that I have them too, it hasn't changed, rather the opposite. I admire it even more. It is true, however, that many of the elite girls who were involved in skyrunning have now embarked on the path of motherhood. Emelie Forsberg is gardening, Judit Wyder has a second child, Anna Frost and Landie Greyling are also expecting a second child. I like girls who work hard and are not ashamed of it. Kačka Matrasová comes to mind from the Czech scene.
I'm very competitive, I've never been able to go to a race thinking I'm going to enjoy it, I'm actually allergic to this formulation. The race is to leave everything there. Some girls tend to downplay this and pretend it's nothing. In fact, the rivalry is there and big. I appreciate it when we can admit it to each other.
Can you explain to those who haven't run a skyrunning race how it usually goes?
It is usually run at a high altitude, up and down, you climb a lot of altitude meters and the length varies from 20-50 km, longer distances are already in the ultra category, but in recent years they have been retreating. Some hills are too steep or technically demanding on the edge with climbing, so they are not run. Time then races by.
You have been racing for many years, do you see any changes in the individual events, either for the worse or for the better?
In the last 2 years, I've fallen out of it quite a bit, so I can only judge from what I watch from afar on the networks. I have a feeling that ultra is already a bit past its zenith. Many good male and female runners are exhausted, injured and unmotivated. In my opinion, this sport cannot be played at the top level at a long-term sustainable level. Such an icon of skyrunning, Kilian Jornet, recently came down from the mountains and is grinding the asphalt (he ran the road top ten in 29:59). I actually do the same thing. :)
How would you describe yourself as a runner?
My characteristics also apply to running, so I'm sometimes quite unconceptual (that's why I need a training plan), sometimes I'm stubborn, but on the other hand, I think I can also be strong-headed. It happens only rarely that I would be thrown off by external conditions (bad weather, a pressing shoe or marginal fatigue). The crazy thing is, when I'm injured and can't run, I tend to wallow in self-pity.
Is it possible to train for the biggest hills in the Czech mountains?
Yes, I even think that you don't need those hills that much. It is important to strengthen the whole body and be fast enough on the flat. Uphill, it's not that much of a difference. The only thing that can limit someone is the technical terrain and runs, for that you need to go somewhere from time to time and dance among the stones.
Can you tell us something more about your training plan - how often do you run, how many kilometers do you do per week, something from statistics like VO2max, or if you also do other sports?
I run practically every day, something between 60-90 km a week. Of that, I do more intensive training twice a week, and the rest are tempo runs and trots. In the last year, I used to run a lot even with a stroller, when there was no other option. The feeling when you don't have to push it is really great.
How did your approach to training change when you switched from ultra runs and skyrunning to marathons?
If you're asking about the structure of the training, it hasn't really changed much. During the week it's more or less the same as when I went to work. In preparation for the ultra, we went for half a day to fool around in the hills - Beskydy, Krkonoše. A maximum of 2.5 hours on the bike path was enough for the marathon.
And how does the fact that you have two small children, which are probably a priority for you, affect him now?
That's right, my life is pretty much run by the kids now, so the change was trying to balance family life with training. We naively thought that we would do everything the same as before. But twins, that's a different discipline and we'd rather trade a peaceful sleep instead of a trip to the mountains. Honza (husband) and I take turns, so when one runs, the other watches. We use the surroundings of the home for this and we don't go to big events very often. We try to do all this as early as possible in the morning so that we have the whole day to ourselves.
How was the comeback after the pregnancy break anyway? What was the hardest?
I suffered a lot during pregnancy, I couldn't run much, so I was logically looking forward to getting those pounds off. I think I pretty much kept myself in check and didn't rush back. I started walking very slowly, sometimes after six months, rather faster and then I slowly increased the speed and volume. Running helped a lot with my c-section scar, I felt that it healed faster and hurt less. You don't get much rest during tandem breastfeeding, so I took it as an ultra race - every 3 hours, from snack to snack. Instead of resting by sleeping, 99% of the time I always chose running. It worked like a drug, so I always felt better after a run.
And the hardest part was probably the moment when I gave in to the impression that I was ready to compete. I signed up for a not-so-easy race (30km in the hills) and it trained me terribly, I completely passed out from exhaustion, lack of sleep, and in the final I had to admit that I was absolutely not up to it. After this collapse, I calmed down and in the winter (a year after giving birth) I was in really good shape from a subjective point of view.
Sport can absolutely absorb a person not only at the elite level, do you also include some personal psychohygiene in your preparation?
Not even consciously, like sitting on a yoga mat and meditating. It's a cliché, but children can throw a person into moments of absolute here and now, in moments when they are about to be eaten or when they are about to be killed, I quite often practice the inhale-exhale method. Well, then I'm back to running, I enjoy being with myself and focusing on how much the next step will still hurt and if I'll finish the interval.
We also ask because injuries, fatigue, mental exhaustion, loss of motivation are coming. The first time you didn't finish the race, what happened and how do you deal with it?
This year is a strange year for everyone and the racing is not looking forward. I was in shape in the winter, at the beginning of the lockdown I got sick (more and more I think it was covid, because I've never been this bad before), but as soon as I got out of it and started running, my calf hurt. For these situations, it's good to have a backup plan, an activity that will make up for the lack of training. Thanks to that, I started swimming and riding on the road again, exercising mainly the middle of the body. The race that I did not succeed in was the marathon in Jeseníky. When I look back, I put a big bag of expectations on myself and I wasn't prepared for something to fail. Well, several things went wrong that day, my groin started to hurt, it was hot and I probably got heat stroke, I decided that it was not worth hanging around in that state and I had better pack it up early. Of course, it makes you sad when you see your friends running to the finish line full of endorphins, but I was glad for it in the end, I needed a mental break. Now I've started running again and I'm enjoying it again, it's such an amplitude that I'm still learning to work with.
Diet is an important part of playing sports. How do you solve it in detail? Does your diet have any specifics, do you forbid anything?
Yes, this is a big topic, as runners we are all constantly trying to lose weight. I'm not good at it, I can't give up sweets. During my pregnancy, I developed an addiction to lentils, it's my guilty pleasure and one big ugly feature so far. So yes, I forbid myself that I really won't take the third box a day anymore. Otherwise, I try to maintain at least a little regularity, which is quite a challenge with two small children. Otherwise, I eat practically everything, I eat a lot of broths and beetroot. I'm not the youngest anymore, so I'm not against various food supplements, I'm currently on Gutright from ATP Science , then I take fish oil, Chinese mushrooms and complex vitamins.
And refreshments directly at the race? What do you eat, or which products do you use?
I'm lucky enough to be looked after by Tested on Humans and supplied with SkratchLabs products. I've tasted a lot of different sports drinks and I have to say that Skratch is on a completely different level, you could drink it all the time. So before the race I have a Skratch drink . Then some gel during the race. If it's a longer race or lower intensity run, I take Skratch Chews .
What makes you go to work out even if you don't really feel like it that day? So if such a moment comes. :)
I'm so used to it that I take it for granted, like brushing my teeth, I rarely really want to. On the contrary, I'm looking forward to having some time just for myself. And when it's lousy outside, I think that the others have messed up, I haven't, so I have a head start.
You are an architect by profession, why did you choose this field and can we see your work somewhere? If possible, can you recommend us some interesting architectural places to see?
While studying at a construction company, I worked for a French company, we designed shopping centers, then I needed to do my karma, so I went to study another school - architecture. I definitely don't regret it, the extra 3 years were quite demanding, but it was worth it. And sometime around that time I started running because I didn't have time for anything else. Before kindergarten, I worked for A69 architects and now I am freelance. Some of my work can be seen at zuzanabartasova.com .
City races are an ideal opportunity to explore, it's great when the streets are cleared of cars and you have the opportunity to perceive the space without obstacles from the natural horizon. I hope that things will go back to at least a little bit normal and I will run a half marathon or a marathon. I like the Prague one, because I know the places where people run.
From the surroundings of Prague, I would recommend the village of Dolní Břežany, which, in addition to modern and high-quality architecture (sports hall, ZUŠ, elementary school), also offers high-quality public space (town hall square, Celtic park, cemetery).
And a final question, skyrunning races usually take place in a beautiful landscape, can the competitor even perceive it?
Yes, definitely, or at least it works for me in such a way that I don't notice it so much immediately during the performance, but in retrospect I can remember some moments very strongly.