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The Trail Running Paradise: Madeira Island Ultra Trail

runner madeira ultra trail
Image: Joao M. Faria

The island of Madeira has been elevated as a trail running destination in the past years. A mecca in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Outdoor lovers and runners have it on their bucket lists for its scenery and nature. One of the most popular hiking routes is the traverse of the island from West to East. Part of its popularity is due to Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) which takes place on the route and attracts runners from all over the world every year.

We decided to know more about the event, its inception, and its impact on the local community. We interviewed Sidónio Freitas, MIUT race director, to discover everything about it.

MIUT started as a challenge to cross the island in less than 24 hours. How did that first edition come together? Did you expect the race to become so popular?

Yes, it all started in 2004 with a bunch of guys from Clube de Montanha do Funchal, who wanted to cross Madeira Island from West to East in less than 24 hours in a non-stop format. In 2006 we got the company of a local friend who was training for UTMB 2006 - it was the first time we heard about trail running and that race. The following year, I registered at CCC to experience the event and see how this type of race was organized. After returning, I pushed the rest of the team to organize MIUT in 2008. Honestly, we did not expect that it would become so popular, especially in the first 4 editions, with such a small number of participants, we doubted whether or not to continue organizing the event. Fortunately, the team stayed motivated to continue organizing the event.

How were you able to create a global event in such a remote area of the world? Was there a moment when you thought the event made a big step forward? 

Let's say that Madeira Island is not located in a remote area of the world, it is quite close to Europe. For a long time, it has been known as a natural destination in some European countries, like the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. From the first edition, we wanted the event to be international and so we did. After becoming an Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) "Future Event" in 2015 and an official event in 2016, the event became more and more known worldwide, because of the circuit, and elite runners started to come to the event. First of all, was Zach Miller in 2016, with an incredible performance that year, and the images with his way of running full speed made it epic. Since then, many great top-ranked runners have come to MIUT.

sidonio freitas running
Sidónio running on trails

Last year we talked with the organizers from Ultra Blue Island Trail in Faial in the Azores and they explained to us how the event is rooted and a key moment for the island. How does MIUT fit into Madeira and how is its community involved?

It's pretty much the same here in Madeira. After the Madeira Wine Rally, MIUT is now one of the most popular sports events on the island, attracting many local people to follow the race on-site, not only those with family or friends participating in the race. MIUT is becoming more and more popular here and we have a huge chance of having many volunteers that have done an incredible job across all these years. Most of them love to collaborate with the event, it's a festive time of the year for them! The event also makes a big contribution to the local economy, especially in accommodation and restaurants.

The race attracts a large number of foreign runners. Do you think the race acts as a vehicle to make Madeira more known in the world and attract tourists?

Yes, we have no doubts that MIUT acts as a great vehicle to promote the island, attracting above all tourists who are enthusiastic to practice activities in nature. Madeira's amazing landscapes are our biggest natural resource and its orography is perfect for trail-running. Every year we have more people from abroad. It has been a few years in a row that we have had more foreign runners than Portuguese, two-thirds of the runners are foreigners.

runner madeira ultra trail
Image: Paulo Abreu

How will this year be different with the race being part of the World Trail Majors? Which benefits the World Trail Majors will bring to MIUT?

Besides being back on an international circuit like WTM with many other excellent races, which is always great from our point of view, the race itself won't be much different from what it has been until the present. In terms of benefits, there are a few, but we want to highlight one in particular: we believe MIUT will gain more exposure worldwide, especially in Asia and America.

Some of the best runners raced at MIUT and past winners include Jim Wamsley, Courtney Dauwalter, and Francois D’Haene. Do you have anyone left on your list?

We are so proud that all these amazing runners alongside some other great runners did experience MIUT at least once. It would be a pleasure to welcome them back if they will. Honestly, there is one person left on our dream list. We would love to have Kilian Jornet one day at our event!


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