The pressure to run the 171km route in under 20 hours was immense. But in the weeks before the event, Pau was taking everything in his stride. He focused on his race plan, his nutrition, his fitness. But three hours before the start on Thursday, 27th of August, things fell apart.
“The biggest challenge for me was not running alone. It was to control the pressure before the project from the media, the running community and even from myself. At first, I was able to manage this. But a few hours before the race I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. I was really, really nervous and I started to cry. It was a critical moment for me. I totally exploded. It was tough to know all the eyes of the trail running world were on me.”
Thankfully these nerves evaporated when Pau started to run. And wow, what a start. He arrived in Courmayeur, around the 90km-mark, a full five minutes ahead of schedule. But shortly after things started to change.
“I used my timings from last year as a reference. I planned to run one minute faster every hour to Break 20. I was on time up to about 100kms, but around La Fouly I began to feel tired. By Champex-Lac I started to think maybe it’s not possible to run the full course under 20 hours. I think I ran too fast in the start. The last 40km were the worst I could imagine – I knew I couldn’t break 20 hours. I was just fighting to break my time of last year.”
Pau didn’t complete the full UTMB course in under 20 hours. He didn’t Break 20. But, in the long run this project ended up being so much more than just breaking a time barrier.
“Of course I wanted to run the course in less than 20 hours and I didn’t, so if we only talk about performance then I’m not satisfied. But when I finished, I was really happy because there were all these people following what I was doing. I was really motivated because I was motivating them.”
Pau has always been a person that feeds off a crowd. Running into Chamonix in 2019 to take the UTMB title, he paused to dance with the spectators lining the streets, noting that he didn’t give anything to the people, but they gave their all to him. “I think that’s magic,” he said at the time. And during his Breaking 20 attempt it was, once again, the spectators that made it so special.
“The best moment was at the start when I saw how many people were there to encourage me. I was alone. There were no other runners. They were only there to say: ‘come on Pau, you can do it’. It felt good when I was running, too, because I was sharing it with other people and had a lot of support on the trail. It was amazing.”