Take a close look at photographs of Manuela Portas Vilaseca. They’re enough to make you wonder if anything you’re doing to pursue a healthy lifestyle compares! This vibrant woman never met an athletic endeavour she couldn’t conquer, which is why those pictures depict her mountain biking, running and joyously plundering every type of topography that passes beneath her feet. Many of Manu’s photos show a dirt- and mud-covered face above a huge grin, pony tail eschew. But it’s the feminine little earrings she wears on rugged challenges that drew our attention. Beneath Manu’s exterior lies a girly-girl who’s as quick to don a pair of earrings as she is to lace up her running shoes and conquer the world. We are glad to speak to her.
RS: When did you fall in love with endurance sports? Why?
Manu: I can’t give you an exact date, but I do recall how it good it felt the first time I tried endurance sports and realised that it suited me. Even when I get tired, I still feel great. I’m not fast, but my stamina is awesome; I can handle hours of activity and keep going. My first adventure race was on my birthday, but learning that I was an adventurer at heart came about one night in the middle of nowhere. I realised that I felt totally exhilarated all by myself out there!
RS: Do you participate in sports other than running and cycling?
Manu: I used to do triathlons, but because I’m not a good swimmer, triathlons aren’t a good fit for me. Nowadays, I run, mountain bike (and Enduro) and I also do Yoga.
RS: Is it true that trail running is your passion?
Manu: I love trail running—even more than just running. There’s something about the wilderness, the mountains and nature that inspires, moves and motivates me. If all of this beauty didn’t surround me as I ran, I don’t know if I could handle all of those kilometres.
RS: Your accomplishments are numerous. Which is your most memorable and what is your proudest achievement?
Manu: This is a hard question to answer because I’ve been in so many races, had so many great experiences and each has a special memory or achievement attached to it. But, you want specifics, so these are my biggest accomplishments: My 1st place in the STY 2013, 8th place in UTMB 2013, 5th place in the UTMF 2014, 1st place Endurance in Chile in 2014, 1st place Ultra Fiord 2015, 5th place in the Transgrancanaria 2015 and 5th place at Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2015.
RS: Impressive! Do you have a favourite running location, given so many international experiences?
Manu: That’s easier to answer! One of my favourite places to run is in Japan. I’ll never forget being there to run both the STY and UTMF. I felt so happy running in such a peaceful place where the ground was soft under my feet and the landscape was stunning. What great memories I have of this race!
RS: You say that you like to run alone. Isn’t that dangerous for a woman?
Manu: It could be if I think about it. But if I let that thought or fear creep into my mind, I might not run. Of course, I take precautions to stay as safe as possible, but I try not to imagine what could happen.
RS: What motivates and inspires you the most?
Manu: I hope you don’t mind me repeating myself, but the scenery surrounding me when I run is my biggest motivator and inspiration. Between the landscapes and all of the good energy that surrounds me as I run, I can’t be anything but happy and calm. I’m also reassured that I’m in the place that I want to be, doing what I love.
RS: Have you ever raced in Singapore or Asia?
Manu: No, but I visited Singapore a long time ago—before I was into running, biking or triathlons. I stopped in Singapore on my way to the Maldives and I remember being impressed by how organised things were. I took so many photos during my stay! Everything was so different from Brazil—I felt surrounded by technology.
RS: So does this mean you hope to come back?
Manu: Very much so! I loved it and want to return. And I want to see more of Asia. I dream of going to Nepal, to see the Himalayas, visit Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. My list of places to visit is a long one!
RS: We’d like to know about your race day trail running gear. What do you pack?
Manu: The gear I take depends on the race I will run. Weather plays a factor and in some cases, I must bring required equipment. I prefer to take as little as possible. If a race requires me to cover my legs or arms, I wear Capri tights and a long-sleeve shirt if it’s not too hot. I pack long socks and choose shoes based on the terrain, race distance and especially the number and type of aid stations along the route. Every race is unique; some aid stations have support and others don’t, so the more support I can count on, the less I carry with me.
RS: What does your training schedule look like?
Manu: I train six days a week, mixing running, biking and Yoga. I save longer runs for the weekend because I have more time. Did I mention that I work during the week? I have a degree in industrial design and own a store that sells frames and pictures. Since I don’t work on weekends, I can prioritise long runs. Having no kids allows me to arrange my busy schedule accordingly, and since I also run for The North Face brand, my schedule is a tight one!
RS: Have you set goals and targets for the remainder of 2015?
Manu: The next race on my calendar is the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. I chose three races from the world tour list for 2015 in order to be able to rank. So far, I’ve placed 5th in both the Transgrancanaria and Lavaredo and since the UTMB is the last tour race for 2015, I would love to break that 5th-place streak!
RS: Can we throw a quirky question your way? If the world ended tomorrow, what would you do today?
Manu: Exactly what I’m doing at the moment! I’m spending two months in Europe with my family enjoying the mountains, training and having fun. Those mountains are amazing.
Inspiration can mean the difference between running a so-so race and glorying in the world in which that race takes place. Manu Vilaseca can’t help but be inspired by mountains and other aspects of nature. Some runners do better with crowds cheering them on. If you were to choose only one environment in which to run because it motivates you to keep going, what would it be?
We are privileged to have Manu Vilaseca drop by and thank her for her time. We wish her all the best in her next race! You can follow Manu on Instagram @manuvilaseca, Facebook or visit her site to find out more about her.