Mike Wolfe 2011 TNF 50 Mile Champion Interview
Mike Wolfe won the 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships after tremendous duel with Dakota Jones (and a losing battle with an overhanging branch). We caught up with him for his take on the race, his head wound, and his plans for 2012.
[Since this among our first video interviews with transcription, we thought we’d point out that some sweet pics are inserted into the text portion of this post.]
Mike Wolfe 2011 TNF 50 Mile Men’s Champion Interview Transcript
iRunFar: I’m with the winner of The North Face 50 Mile Championship, Mike Wolfe. How’s that feel, Mike?
Mike Wolfe: Oh, it’s great! It probably hasn’t totally sunk in yet. Certainly I didn’t really think about the… it’s a nice perk to get the cash purse but yeah, it’s great! It’s good to get to run against that field and feel good.
iRF: Would you say this is the biggest career win? I mean, you got second at the UTMB shortened version last year…
Wolfe: This and Western States 100 were good races for me this year. Yeah, I don’t know, I feel like I had a good season overall, but this was a nice cherry on top.
iRF: We talked just yesterday about how your training went, so tell me how today went.
Wolfe: Today was great overall. I never had the low points that slow you down or anything. I mean, you just know going into this race that if you’re going to be up there, you really just have to go for it from the start and hang on and hope you can. And I was able to. There were so many fast guys running this race today. The first 20-30 miles there was like a peloton of guys. It broke up a little bit but all the way to the turn around there was a pack of six to nine of us up there running together.
iRF: Who was up there?
Wolfe: Goeff Roes, Dakota [Jones], I think Rickey Gates was in there with us, Michael Wardian. There were a couple of the faster marathon guys that I don’t know who they are.
iRF: I was looking up numbers myself.
Wolfe: They were running with us. Oh, there was some guy named Alex from Colorado.
iRF: Alex Nichols who’s paced [Anton Krupicka] at a couple races. Chris Kollar, I have no idea who he is.
Wolfe: He’s from Missoula, Montana. He lives there; he’s not from there. I haven’t even met the guy. So there was all these fast guys, a lot of the marathoner guys. There was kind of like a peloton of guys and then the two Salomon guys from France just went out insanely fast. We lost them in the dark. I didn’t even know who was up there. I just knew someone was three-to-four minutes ahead of us early. But none of us, I certainly wasn’t worried. I didn’t think they would hold onto that pace. Sure enough about the turn-around we caught them and passed them. I think they both dropped. [iRF: They didn’t finish in the top 25 anyway, so that’s a safe assumption.] They just looked like they were having a rough go at that point.
And, so, at that point, Dakota took the lead. It was Dakota and Geoff and myself and Alex, the guy from Colorado. [We] took off and Alex was actually in front of Dakota and I. Then on the descent down into Stinson [Beach], I heard someone yell, and it turned out on one of those switchbacks [Alex] rolled his ankle real bad and so Dakota and I stopped and, actually, we got on either side of him and he put his arms over our shoulders and we helped him hobble down. Then he ended up being able to walk and run, so we took off. So anyway, it looked like he’d rolled his ankle pretty bad though.
iRF: I think he dropped at the next aid station. He said he was done. He was pretty frustrated.
Wolfe: It’s too bad because he was running strong. But then at that point, from there out, it was just Dakota and I, alone. [iRF: Alone together.] It was really exciting. It was tough. Dakota and I are friends, so it was awesome to run together and we were having a good time.
iRF: Did you actually even say anything ever?
Wolfe: Yeah, little bits here and there, but we were pushing hard enough that both of us were right on that edge where we weren’t doing much talking. Neither of us were going to back off. It was just so cat and mouse. One of us would take the lead for awhile and step up the pace and somehow flop. It was intense. It was anybody’s game. On the climb out of Muir Beach, I believe, on that steep climb, Dakota said, “Man it’s been great running with you all day, no matter what happens.” And I was like, “Yeah, definitely.” And you know, we’re just good friends.
iRF: And you mean that, it was sincere!
Wolfe: Yeah, definitely. And at that point, on those steeper climbs, I was climbing faster than him and then he would catch me on the downhills. So after Tennessee Valley, that last major aid station, on that long gradual climb, I knew that if I was going to make a move…
iRF: Someone called that the $10,000 Hill.
Wolfe: So I just hammered that as hard as I could and was able to put a gap on him and then as soon as I crested I knew I just had to let my legs go. But I didn’t know. I couldn’t see how much I’d put on him. That whole last downhill I was looking over my shoulder thinking he might have been coming. But I had the adrenaline going at that point. I know I was running really fast. So I was able to hold on.
iRF: Prior to pulling away at Tennessee Valley, were you trying to make any moves? Was he? Were you ever trying to break each other or were you just running hard?
Wolfe: I think we were trying to break each other. It was one of those things where we knew one of us was going to break at some point. You just know it. Something has to happen because it was just too neck and neck. It was just like “OHHHH, this is painful!” But Dakota ran an awesome race. It’s his 21st birthday Monday; this is the coolest 21st birthday ever!
iRF: I might have to save a six-pack for him.
Wolfe: I’ll buy him a beer tonight. [iRF: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Monday night!] Right, Monday night.
iRF: Turn your head the other way. You took the shirt off. You cleaned up yourself well, but what’s with the blood?
Wolfe: So, on the out and back section when you’re passing runners, because it’s been so windy, there are a bunch of downed trees over the trail. At one point I was crossing paths with someone and I wasn’t paying attention to the tree and I just cracked the top of my skull on a tree. It didn’t really hurt that bad but as I was running it just started spraying blood. My shirt was just drenched with blood but it wasn’t that bad, it just looked bad. I was kind of worried for a minute that if it was going to keep bleeding that I might get dizzy or something because I was working so hard, but it stopped. I think I just scraped the top of my head but you know your head just bleeds so much when you get a cut on it.
iRF: So you had that scrape up but your energy was good all day, any other physical problems or did you just hold up well all day?
Wolfe: Yeah, I held up well, I ate well, I drank a lot. The only thing that was really tough was that I was borderline crampy the second half. [iRF: You have a nice salt raccoon eyes.] Yeah, I don’t know whether it’s coming from the colder climate already. I mean, it’s not even, it’s 60-65 degrees maybe. It’s not hot, but I was just sweating like a pig. Both Dakota and I were eating handfuls of salt at aid stations because it was the only way to get salt.
iRF: You see a lot of things at ultras, but that’s pretty disgusting.
Wolfe: It was. Dakota threw up at one point, but we knew we had to get salt. The last 1/4 mile both of my legs were fully cramping. I was doing the hobble in. So that was the only thing that was edgy for me, the cramping.
iRF: So when did you know had him?
Wolfe: You know, honestly, I didn’t, I was still worried until the last one to one-and-a-half miles where I got down on the flats and could look way back up and I couldn’t see him. So I knew at that point, I had him.
iRF: So, I know it’s the end of the season and you’ve wrapped that up. I’m not going to ask you your full schedule, but is there anything you’re leaning towards next year? You finished second at Western States. Do you want to go back? UTMB? Any big draws?
Wolfe: I don’t have my full season planned out but I got my spot at Western States again, so at this point I’ll probably go back to Western. I also put in for Hardrock 100. So if I get into Hardrock, I probably won’t do both. I’d like to focus on Hardrock if I get in, I think. I don’t know about UTMB. I’ve been over there three years, not three years in a row, but three years now. I’d like to go back and have a good race there. If I got into Hardrock I don’t know that I’d go over, but I haven’t decided. We’ll see. There are so many new races to try out.
iRF: Well you tried this one out and you crushed it so congratulations! Good luck in the 9th circuit this week!
Wolfe: Yeah, thanks!