Humble Emerson Trujillo Flores (34) just likes to run and keeps on winning

Two months ago we saw a smiling Peruvian lad standing alongside the hottest prospect of the Formula 1 circus, the 18-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen. This Peruvian was Emerson Trujillo Flores, and he had just won the Wings for Life World Run in Breda in the Netherlands. A great and interesting achievement for a Peruvian in general, but it became even more interesting when we found out that this young man was actually from Huari, not far from Huaraz. Why had never heard of him before? We met up with Emerson and asked him about his passion and his meeting with Max Verstappen.

How did your interest in running start Emerson?

Well, a mere eight years ago while still at university, some people organised a couple of running events that were between eight and ten kilometres. I was 25 years old at the time, which is relatively late to start but that’s what happened. I participated in a couple of local runs and seemed to have talent as I won most of them. When I finished university I went to Lima and participated in other runs as well to practise and to just see how it would go. I was training a lot and started to impress, which made the organisers of an event send me to Caracas in Venezuela. Normally they invite the winners of an event on a paid trip to another event for promotional reasons. The run in Venezuela was no ordinary run but a trail run (in the United Kingdom and Ireland it is called mountain or fell running). The runs take place on hiking trails, often in mountainous terrain, where the ascents and descents are much longer, it is not to be compared with road running. Because I won the event in Venezuela´s capital I got sent to Chile for a trail run. I was basically part the first prize; the winner would have the opportunity to compete in another international event. The trail run in Santiago de Chile was a half marathon, which was very tough. However, the next year I got invited again but this time I was due to participate in a 50 km trail. This is called ultra-marathon because it´s more than the regular 42 kilometres. Surprisingly, I won the event ahead of another Peruvian and the third spot was won by a Chilean. This is how people started to get to know me, and I was invited more and more to participate in national events.

In 2014 I participated in a trail running event in Costa Rica, which was hard because of the heat.  I didn’t win the event but came second. An American won the trail by more than 10 minutes. I did a couple more national events, some just to do training but I was sent to Chile again to participate in an 80 kilometre run. I did, however, try an 80-kilometre trail in Lima called the Endurance Challenge of North Face. I was runner-up again. Last year was my breakthrough when I won Red Bull´s event Wings for Life World Run. Wings for Life is an international not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation, and the entry fee goes to research projects aimed at healing the injured spinal cord. I reached 72 kilometres before I was caught by the catcher car that is chasing all runners from behind. As I won the event, they let me chose one of 34 participating cities around the world for the next year. I selected the Netherlands as I have family living there and that would make it a bit easier.

Guess what? I won again; however, I ran fewer kilometres than in Lima. I won with 64 kilometres before the catcher car, driven by Max Verstappen, overtook me. It was a tough battle with my Canadian opponent. How come I ran fewer miles in Holland? I was surprised seeing my end result but came to the conclusion that this is because the roads are all flat. The trick is to find a rhythm and don’t lose it, keep the same pace all the time. Lima is different because it has its parts that are uphill and downhill. The downhill parts are where you can gain extra mileage because they are easier. Holland is so flat (laughing), but I had a great time there with my family.

So tell me about your meeting with Max Verstappen, I have always been a huge fan of his father when he was racing F1.

Honestly, I had no idea who he was but he was driving the catcher car for Red Bull. Obviously because Red Bull is the F1 team he is driving for. Sadly, we didn’t communicate very well because we needed an interpreter as I didn’t speak English very well and not a single word of Dutch, and I guess Max didn’t speak Spanish. But Max is a very friendly young man. He was listening very carefully to what I had to say, and I believe as a sportsman he showed a lot of respect. We were talking about different events that we had won although it was frustrating that we needed someone to translate all the time. I am 34 years old and Max is only 18, but we´re both winners I believe. But comparing the Netherlands with Peru, we´re a hundred years behind. I have been told that there is corruption in Holland as well but it´s little. Money is better spent and that has generated a better life for the habitants.

So tell me, what your secret is! You win almost all the runs that you´re participate in, how do you do that?

Hmmm, what I think that is the case is that there are not that many people participating in those events. Another thing is that many athletes are scared of running in the mountains. Athletes that are track runners won’t participate in trail running events. I am lucky because I live in the mountains so there are almost no flat parts, which makes it easier to train and gives me a big advantage. Clearly you need to train a lot to win! When I am running I can also enjoy the landscape and nature. The trick is to be ahead of all the others because that´s when you can surprise the wild animals, for example, as they don’t expect you. I get to see snakes and many birds sometimes but the runner-up and all the others behind the trail leader won´t see a single animal because they have hidden themselves. In Costa Rica and Venezuela I have seen all sorts of animals including monkeys and exotic birds. I love nature to be honest.

What is it you like about running in the mountains so much and are there many people you can train with?

There is no one I know from Huari that likes running, I believe I am the only one. Maybe they prefer to get drunk, play football or something. No seriously, I have a brother who is a runner too, his name is Humberto Obregón Flores but he normally is a road runner. And he has won many national and international events as well. Maybe he has been my inspiration. I have seen him run and that he had a different lifestyle. I guess I liked it and we started to run and train together. My brother won most, if not all, national running events in 2007 and likewise in 2008. He is still winning events actually, and last year he won a trail running competition in Argentina. We have also competed together at the same events and he normally beats me on the shorter tracks. In 2007 my brother completed a half marathon (21 km) in one hour and three minutes, a spectacular time. For me he is still a winner but his age is taking its toll. Another curious thing that happens when I participate in local running events is that the other competitors don’t like it that I am participating. They believe that it´s not fair because I am training more than they do. So this is the reason I rather not participate in those local events, although we are fellow citizens, they have the support of the authorities because they participate the whole year. I have hardly any communication with then, nor with my former fellow classmates. Most got married, although sometimes we have a chat on Facebook but that´s it.

How do you train and do you have a personal trainer?

I have a training plan, that´s how I prepare for big events. This is prepared by a professional trainer and gives me an indication of how much I should run, what should I eat and how much rest I have to take to recover. Discipline is the key word here. I never drink alcohol, well sometimes, but not more than a glass of beer after an event to celebrate, but that’s it. It´s very hard to recover after drinking alcohol. If I get drunk, it will cost me one month to recover, and that´s why I have no problems saying no to alcohol. The human body is like an engine, if you treat it well, it reacts well. Most of my family are vegetarians so that makes it easy to eat healthy food. My wife knows a lot about this topic and has shown me that I should not drink sodas, for example, and a lot of fruit and vegetables, which helps to hydrate. And drink lots of water. I eat fish twice a week as well.

Can you make a little bit of money thanks to your talent?

That´s very hard to be honest. Last year I signed a deal with the brand North Face but they only provide me with cloths, no cash money. Well, that´s something less to worry about at least. Luckily I get a little help from my family. I work a lot in return as well. My parents have a piece of land with honeybees for honey. Last year we started to plant aguaymanto (Golden Berries), which have been a decent source of income. I have little time to visit the authorities and ask for their help and prefer to help my family. When I am off for an event they sometimes show interest but normally it ends up in nothing at all. I get my travel paid most of the time by other companies, luckily. In Lima there is an organisation that is helping me out. Very few times there is an award in cash for the winners of an event in trail running, but mostly you get the medal and a trophy. But running is what I like so I can’t complain.

It seems that trail running is getting more known every year, do you agree?

I do, especially in Spain. Spain has some tough trails and some excellent trail runners. I hope to go to Spain in September to participate in an event. In the Ultra Pirineu in Barcelona the best trail runners of the world are participating. The Italian Marco Gasperi will probably participate as well as many other champions. Around the world there are more events every year and also more athletes, which is a good thing. The sport is really growing a lot. I remember that back in 2008 there were maybe 25 to 30 participants in a trail running event, nowadays there are sometimes over 400 athletes. Every time more and more races are being held and this is a good thing. In the past, there was no trail running in Huaraz, but now there are two events throughout the year. So in Cusco and Lima businesses are contributing to the development as well. Hauraz has a great future because of the scenery and the Huascarán will attract professionals eventually. And if the events are organised more professionally, it will also attract more tourists. Huaraz has really good routes and a great future within trail running. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day they will organise a big ultra-marathon in Huaraz with all the international athletes present. Hopefully many children will become enthusiastic when they see us running because it´s a great sport and it´s relatively easy to do. I hope to set up a high performance school for trail runners one day, maybe in Huaraz or maybe in Cusco.

As the interview was recorded before the Festival del Andinismo Cordillera Blanca was held, we could not ask Emerson about his participation in the event. Maybe it is not a surprise after reading our interview that the chap from Huari went on to win the running part of the Aerothlon and also the Ultra Trail Cordillera Blanca 2016. Emerson won the 75 km event in 11h:18m:24s, before Ron Gutierrez (11:43:34) and Yengle Serafin León Vilcarino (12:26:28). Belgian Denis van Immerseel ended up fourth (13:20:14) and the owner of the Llanganuco Lodge, Englishman Charly Good came sixth (15:04:30). In other categories, owner of Alpa-K Hotel, Betrand Würsch came 14th in the 21 km event, which was won by Cristian Junior Ramirez Ortiz (01:32:20). The Huaraz Telegraph´s number one fan Alan Moreno Minaya came last and 38th in a little over three and a half hours (03:36:49). Finally, Canadian Diana Morris came eighth in the 21 km female category (03:14:05) and winner Paola Kung Velasquez completed the half marathon in less than two hours (01:58:45). The female 10 km event was won by Yovana Sotacuro Huira (01:39:32) and the male category by Heiner Jhosep Chuquihuaccha Montoro (01:15:53). Congrats to all the participants and to the organisers of the event.

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