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Runnin’ with Rani: Q & A with The Queen of Trail Running

May 26, 2017 - 10:18am

Nearly all sports are championed by dominating athletes who consistently maintain control with a seemingly effortless ease, often referenced as the King or Queen of their sport.

Here on the Big Island we have several queens. Bree Wee has been the dominant force in the sport of triathlon for over a decade. And in swimming, it’s always been Karlyn Pipes who owns countless world records.

But in the sphere of ultra-endurance trail running, there is absolutely no doubt that Waimea’s Sylvia Ravaglia has achieved “Queen” status.

On Saturday, the 39-year-old Waimea resident crushed the women’s field to become the first female champion of the inaugural Mauna to Mauna Ultra. The 155.9-mile self-supported footrace spanned over seven days, and multi-stages, starting at Coconut Island in Hilo and finished on the beautiful grounds of the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

Touted as one of the most remote self-supported stage footraces in the world, the inaugural Mauna To Mauna Ultra did not disappoint as competitors ascended and descended two massive volcanic mountains — Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa — for a total elevation gain of 22,238 feet.

While this was much higher than the original 16,742 feet anticipated, it only added to the mystical challenges of a course that featured extreme altitudes and weather conditions while navigating over various terrains of ancient rugged lava fields, expansive grasslands, river crossings, trails through lush rainforests and coastal beach pathways.

If this wasn’t daunting enough, competitors also had the added burden of carrying everything they needed for a week survival, on their back.

However, despite the arduous challenges encountered along the way, Ravaglia made the grueling cross-island adventure look easy. She finished an impressive 8th place overall out of 63 competitors to win in an astounding time of 34 hours, 32 minutes and 28 seconds.

Not only did she beat most of the men in the field, but she also eclipsed her nearest female rival by whopping 3 hours and 20 minutes. In addition, Ravaglia was the first female to cross the finish line in all six stages.

Yes, Ravaglia has certainly earned the title of champion and the reputation of being queen of her sport, and will forever be known as the first female winner of the M2M Ultra.

A day after crossing the finish line, Ravaglia took some time to discuss her thoughts and preparation for the race, some surprises she encountered, her inspiration for the sport, and how it feels to be the champion.

Q: What intrigued you to compete in the M2M Ultra race?

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of doing a stage race for some time, so when I heard that one was going to be happening where I live, I was immediately very interested. I do a lot of back-to-back long runs in training and the idea of moving across the land for a week sounded very cool. Knowing that one was going to be happening here made trying to get in a no brainer for me.

Q: Was it difficult to train and prepare for a seven day event without knowing the course beforehand?

To be honest, I didn’t really do much to specifically prepare for M2M other than wear a weighted pack on some of my runs and while doing other activities to get used to the weight. I was already training for my summer hundred (Big Horn) and just added the pack to some of my long runs for the M2M prep.

Living here I suppose I had more knowledge of what to expect then most participants but I am rather used to going to events on the mainland clueless and enjoying the surprise. Due to my Big Horn training, I was already exposing myself to altitude and long steep climbs and descents, and living in Waimea means all sorts of weather, so I was ready for a lot.

Q: What were some surprises that challenged you during the race? Was there ever any thought to drop out?

I never had any thought of dropping. The biggest surprise was how smoothly everything went for me. I went in a bit nervous of all the things that could go wrong and was completely stunned that nothing really did. This was my first stage race and my first self-supported race so the number of potential problems was even higher then a normal ultra (which already have enormous potential for problems due to time spent racing — often over 24 hours, and the mix of terrain covered).

Not only were we racing six races in a row on a huge variety of terrain, we also had to carry packs with all our gear and calories for the week. They provided only tents, cold and hot water. In training I was stunned how hard it was to run with a fully loaded pack (my pack at check-in weighed 15 pounds, one of the lightest. I brought only the essentials).

I fully expected pretty much everything to go wrong. I had never tried to run and live for a week while only eating powdered cheese and dehydrated potatoes with the occasional dehydrated meal thrown in and mac nuts for an on the run snack. Shockingly, this worked just fine and I don’t even think I lost much weight over the week.

Even more surprisingly (maybe), along with my stomach holding up, my legs also held up beautifully and I felt energized and happy every single day. The hardest thing was sleeping as I had brought a truly minimal pad (about the size and thickness of a place mat), which didn’t do much for me against any rocks. But that was hardly a surprise and good incentive to me to make it back to camp first in order to claim the best tent spot with the least rocks.

Q: This is not your first rodeo at an ultra-distance event. Where does your inspiration come from?

I love running and I love hanging out with runners from all over the world. It is just plain ridiculously fun! Except when it’s not. Running in ultra events is so much joy.

Q: How does it feel to be the women’s champion at the inaugural Mauna to Mauna Ultra?

Winning the women’s race at M2M was a shock I am still processing. This was completely unexpected, as I really didn’t know what to expect never doing a self-supported stage race before. It is certainly very special to me that a Big Island resident could win this event covering so many miles of the Big Island. I think I’m still a bit confused that the Big Island resident happens to be me.

Note: Fellow Big Islander, Laupahoehoe’s Alan Ryan, finished 39th place overall with a total time of 50 hours, 11 minutes and 9 seconds.

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