We interviewed five top American men’s ultrarunners before the day before the 2012 Transvulcania La Palma. Hear what Anton Krupicka, Mike Wolfe, Joe Grant, Geoff Roes, and Dakota Jones think about the state of ultrarunning and where it’s going.
Bonus Interview with the Americans
American Men Pre-2012 Transvulcania Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell with iRunFar behind the camera here in La Palma, Canary Islands, with five of the American runners who will be running the Transvulcania Ultra this weekend. How are you guys? (from L-R: Tony Krupicka, Mike Wolfe, Joe Grant, Geoff Roes, Dakota Jones)
Everyone: Good. Awesome.
iRF: For years the American community raced mostly in the United States. Now there’s a whole lot of racing over here in Europe. What’s it like coming over here to race? Dakota and Geoff, you’ve been here before.
Dakota Jones: We’ve never been here before.
iRF: Well, not to the island but you’ve been to Europe before. What’s it like to race?
Jones: It’s very cool. This is very different from anywhere though. It’s just a volcanic island rising straight up out of the ocean. It’s incredible. It’s intimidating actually.
Geoff Roes: It takes a long time to get here. That’s one thing I’m thinking about right now. It takes a long time to get here.
iRF: How does that play into racing? Do you think that’s a factor?
Roes: Yeah, but I just slept 12 hours. I think we all just slept 12 hours.
iRF: You guys did have the ultramarathon sleep session going on. And Mike, you’ve raced here for UTMB a couple of times. Have you learned anything from that experience of coming over? Does it make the transition easier?
Mike Wolfe: Well, I think you definitely know a little bit more of what to expect coming over in terms of what the scene is like over here. Not that we knew what to expect here, but you show up and there’s a lot more media over here. It’s kind of an entourage at the airport when you show up first thing and they’re taking photos and giving us a bag with some crazy toucan bird stuff in them. I’ve learned that from UTMB that there can be a lot more hubbub around a race. I’m maybe more prepared for that just to take it as it comes…. just to be ready to race and not worry about it.
iRF: It is interesting the difference in the amount of media and the attention placed. Do you think that’s where the sport is going to have to go in the United States if there’s going to be more corporate support and flying Europeans over here to race in America as people have flown you over here to race? Is that just a natural progression of the sport? Tony, you’ve flown around a lot.
Tony Krupicka: I have. I find it hard to believe at this point anyone would be willing to fly Europeans over to race in the US because the culture is so different in the States around mountain racing. I think that’s sort of a shame because it would be fun to race Europeans in North America, too, but I don’t know that it has to go that way. I suppose in order to raise money you have to have media, which is fine, as long as you can keep your mind focused on the race.
iRF: Do any of you find that distracting to chat with, not just one person, but there are a bunch of international media here today. Does that take away from the racing experience and get you out of the mindset at all?
Jones: I don’t think so. I just slept 12 hours, rolled out of bed, will just rest today and hang out in this resort hotel and talk about ourselves all day…
iRF: You all look pretty chill today.
Roes: I think it’s distracting a little but at the same time, there are hundreds and hundreds of the masses of participants kind of milling around that sort of know who we are and come up to us… which is great. I love being at races and making friends and all that, but over here there’s all this media focus and we’re just chatting with media folks instead of chatting with other participants. It’s sort of the same feel in just talking to people about who I am and I don’t particularly know who they are.
iRF: Dakota, tell us about the hype machine, your provocative post the other week. How much do you think that plays into where the sport is and is going?
Jones: I think that if we want to keep racing like this and flying around the world to do races like this, which are incredible opportunities, I think we need to be like this. I mean, there’s six cameras trained on us, and I think that it can be handled well and smartly and be a very good thing for the sport. I think my only reservations are that people get too focused on the parts of the sport that don’t have anything to do with running. I just don’t want that to happen. I just want to run. My favorite part is going on a run like yesterday and just enjoying it. Yesterday we went out for a run and sort of stopped running and jumped in the ocean for awhile and…
iRF: You guys stopped to enjoy some volcanic tubes, right?
Jones: Yeah, yeah.
Joe Grant: He jumped off of a 45-foot cliff is what he means by jumping into the ocean.
iRF: Isn’t that against your contract somehow?
Jones: It was actually really cool and that’s a good example of how laid back it is. We just like to go out and run. I think right now we have a good balance between doing it for the right reasons and building up the hype so that we can make money off the sport, too.
iRF: Speaking of running, most of you are over here to run an 83-kilometer (51.1-mile) race. Before you ever run Western States or Hardrock, you know dozens of people who have run it before that you can ask questions to and gain experience. Here, you really don’t have anybody to talk to about what kind of food and water are on the course, and you don’t know what the standard is over here. How do you prepare for that unknown mentally?
Grant: I think you prepare more in a self-supporting manner. We were just talking about the fact that I don’t think there are any drop bags on the course, and they don’t provide gels at the aid stations. You just kind of have to know that in advance and decide if you’ll bring more gels at the start or just try and wing it with what they have at the aid stations. So there is a little more unknown on that front. You have required gear here that you have to carry, so by default you have to have a pack or something to carry the gear in, so you’re probably going to carry more gels.
iRF: How about footing and the layout of the course. In the States you can have a really good idea about what shoes and how to approach different segments of the course. Have you guys had a good briefing or gained a sense of what the race course is like?
Grant: That’s happening in a half an hour.
Roes: I think it’s exciting. I mean, certainly, by tomorrow morning I’d like to know a little more than what I know now, but it’s kind of fun. It feels more like just going out for a run in a totally new place, which it is. If I knew every little detail of the course it wouldn’t have as much of that novel feel.
Krupicka: It really is just running. You just go run in the mountains. We all know how to run and we know it’s going to take between 7 and 8 hours.
iRF: I guess at this point you guys have raced a bunch of the top Europeans before. Some people try to make a big thing about the US versus Europe but within the US you guys are all casual and friendly and, having seen you guys interact with the Europeans, it seems the same way. You guys may not all speak the same languages as well, but what do you guys feel like about interacting with the top European racers?
Krupicka: Well, there’s a language barrier there, obviously, and I think that’s the main thing. But not for this guy (pointing to Joe Grant).
Grant: Everyone’s very friendly. Of course, everyone races hard on race day, but we all eat together and we all have brews afterwards together. It ‘s not competition in the sense that it’s cutthroat. It’s more that everyone goes out and races hard and then afterwards everyone’s friendly. It’s not, “Oh, I’m not talking to that person because they’re wearing a speed suit.”
iRF: Just awhile ago at breakfast I was accosted because all the Americans have long hair and checkered shirts.
Roes: I just wanted to echo what Tony said earlier. It’s running. Everyone here likes to run. It’s a common bond. I’m really good friends with all these guys, but I’ve also gotten to know some of the Europeans. I’m every bit as open to and aware of that I’d be just as good of friends with them if I hung out with them as much. I don’t see them that often, so it’s a little different.
iRF: So when you guys aren’t drinking brews together and going out for easy runs, who’s going to be up there at the front this weekend? Anyone want to chime in for the favorites? Anton (Tony), you’re not racing, so you can give me the…
Krupicka: I’m not racing. Well, I don’t know, I haven’t run with Mike recently. I guess I’ve run with everyone else. Geoff just did the 350 miles in Alaska, so he’s coming back from that still. I don’t know, Dakota and Mike are both pretty fit right now, I think.
iRF: Any thoughts on who might be in it from the European side of things?
Krupicka: Kilian and Iker are going to be the top men for sure. Kilian hasn’t been running much or at all really, but he’s going to be fine. I think it will be interesting to see how Seb does. I think 50 miles is a little short for… I think he’s a little better at 100-mile stuff but he’s always fit. He won Transgrandcanaria a couple of months ago. Who else is up there… Andy Symonds. I think he’s probably going to surprise some people up there because he won (La Course des) Templiers last year. He’s coming back from an injury and I think he’s gotten a lot stronger this past winter. So on the men’s side, that would be the crowd.
iRF: Any thoughts on the ladies side this year?
Everyone: Anna Frost.
Krupicka: I think Nuria, she hasn’t done this longer stuff yet, but she’s pretty strong, too. I don’t think she’ll win, though.
iRF: Cool, guys, thank you so much and good luck out there this weekend.
Everyone: Thanks, Bryon.
Bonus Pre-Transvulcania US Men’s Interview Transcript
Marcus Warner: Marcus Warner from Australia. Welcome guys. Good to see you all here. A couple of questions going on what Bryon’s been talking about. What do you think you can learn from the Europeans in the way they approach their running?
Tony Krupicka: I think the way they approach their running over here is almost the ideal way in terms of the types of courses they create and the excitement the culture has for endurance sport. The more difficult courses we could have in the States the better, I think. Higher, steeper, more technical, that seems to be the way it happens in Europe. I wish there was more of that in the States. I think probably every one of us does.
Warner: Is that because a lot of your trails aren’t open to races? In France, there are 50-60 races like this you could do every year. Do you think there are more races needed in the US?
Dakota Jones: I think in the US a lot of the steepest, gnarliest mountains are protected by wilderness areas and national parks and so we can’t have races there. I also think the Europeans come with a different sort of mindset to racing. They really focus on times and splits and what they’re going to carry where and all these things that the Americans… Goeff’s a good example. He’s just going to sort of go out there and run, whereas the Europeans seem to focus more on the exact splits and the technical details of the race.
Warner: Talking of running, Geoff you kind of put the cat amongst the pigeons earlier this week in terms of what is an ultra–is it running, different formats? Do you just want to expand your views on that? We’ve gotten a lot of comments. Have you taken those on board?
Geoff Roes: I haven’t looked at any comments but I can imagine… I wrote that post on iRunFar very aware that it would be controversial in terms of the road versus trail dynamic. More my thoughts in a nutshell were that I think there’s just more and more people running longer than marathon distance who are just primarily trail runners. They’re doing them because it makes a lot of sense to just run really far on the trails because the reasons why you run on trails go hand-in-hand with running really far. I feel virtually everyone that I train with and run with who runs ultras pretty exclusively races on trails. You get the occasional road stretches in races or the occasional training on road, but I think I speak for all of us here that you won’t see any of us racing a 100 miles on a flat road race any time soon.
Joe Grant: It’s kind of just what you seek out in training, too. We talk about the mountains or the line or what we’re going to go run rather than the actual running piece. So it’s more, “Oh let’s go to this place and run this peak and do that.” On road it’s more about running, so it’s more about saying we could run these times and it’s more regimented. In trail running, it becomes more about the elements and the places you’re going to go run rather than the actual times. It’s often a question that comes up, “How fast did you run a 50 miler or a 100 miler and it’s just so dependent on the course, obviously. So there it really becomes more about where you’re running rather than about just running itself.
Warner: Do you think there will be as much interest in the US this weekend on you guys performing here back home compared to the interest in Europe alone?
Grant: Well, thanks to Bryon (iRunFar)…
iRunFar: I just want to jump in on that. It’s going to be a little difficult in that the race starts at 11pm on Friday night (MDT). I’m going to be out there with some of you guys trying our best to cover some of this live, but it’s through the middle of the night (in the US), so it’s a little rough.
Krupicka: It will be interesting to see how many Twitter followers you have and to see if people actually stay up and follow along.
Warner: I think there’s an expectation that you guys are going to have to start falling on this side of the pond for you to continue to be seen as competitive. It might be an overriding statement but say, for example, you don’t get top-5 or top-10 here and there might be the usual post-UTMB backlash at the Americans.
Roes: I’m sure there will be if that happens.
Mike Wolfe: It’s inevitable.
Krupicka: Yeah. But I think we’ll have someone in the top 5 though.
Roes: We definitely, at the top level, the American men, not every single one, but many of us have had absolutely horrible runs at UTMB. There’s no denying that. Whether or not that’s something to do with a larger dynamic or if it’s sort of an unusual bad day for a lot of us it’s hard to say. But certainly if a similar thing happens here, if we collectively do significantly worse than they expect or significantly better there’s going to be a pretty large response or backlash to either one.
Warner: As the globe gets smaller and the Skyrunning Federation is looking to expand its brand globally across the 5 continents, there’s the expectation that one would turn up in any continent and race well. Does that give the Europeans an advantage over the Americans?
Jones: Not any more. Look how many Americans are out racing here today or tomorrow. I think, like you said, to compete on the world scale you’re going to have to compete internationally. That’s definitely true. The classic races aren’t just in America. They’re in Europe, Japan, Australia, they’re all over the place now. I think that’s great.
Warner: Do you guys have any plans to get to Australia? Anton, I know you got as far as New Zealand but didn’t quite get over to Australia.
Krupicka: I got over to Melbourne.
Warner: Oh that’s right, briefly, you got over to Melbourne.
Krupicka: I don’t know that I have any plans to race over in Australia anytime soon. Seems like the Blue Mountains 100k, is that tomorrow? [Marcus Warner: Next weekend.]. Ah, next weekend. That seems pretty interesting. I’ll probably make it back down to New Zealand next year for the Tarawara Ultramarathon. [Marcus Warner: Beautiful, isn’t it.] I had so much fun there this year.
Warner: Any others?
Roes: Nothing specific but I could see myself running anywhere anytime soon.
Warner: Thanks, gents. I appreciate your time.
Ian Corless: I’d just like to follow up with a few questions if that’s okay. Going on with what was said with races in America and Europe. If we think about most of the classics–Western States, Hardrock–they’re firmly fixed in the ultra calendar. So from an American perspective, what is the attraction to come over to Europe? Is there an attraction?
Jones: What’s the attraction to do any different race, right? You do a race and you feel like you did it well and then you want to try something new. Maybe that next race is in America, maybe it’s in Europe…. or it’s in La Palma.
Krupicka: It’s to experience a new place in the world. There’s a whole globe other than the United States to explore.
Grant: There are also some pretty iconic races like coming over to UTMB, you’re running around Mt. Blanc, so it’s pretty special. I guess you could look at Hardrock and Western States as having that same sort of or similar kind of appeal. They’re really cool courses. And coming here for instance, you’re going to be running across the whole island, so there’s this special piece about doing that.
Corless: At the Transvulcania, it’s been built up by the media, particularly by the Skyrunning crowd, as being the race of the decade. Do you think it is? Does such a thing exist?
Jones: We can’t know that now.
Corless: If you look at the start list, it is an impressive start list. And as you said, from the perspective of the amount of camera recorders pointed at you, there is the expectation that this is a race that a lot of people have wanted to see. It’s now happening.
Roes: I would agree with that. It’s a big part of the reason why I’m here, too. Getting the chance to run with so many top runners not just from home but from around the world is just… I think it’s going to be huge in terms of the competition.
Wolfe: We keep talking about where the sport is going and where it’s headed internationally, it’s just a sign with these bigger races–the more iconic races–the fields are going to be more and more like this. I think if it continues to develop and grow, every single year you’re going to be able to say that this is the start list of the decade. Maybe at this point it’s the start list of the decade now, but there are two or three other races… there’s Western States, Hardrock, UTMB, again, every single race is going to be a race to watch in terms of the depth of the field. It’s certainly exciting to be a part of and fun but I think it’s going to become the norm probably.
Corless: Skyrunning arranged a conference to discuss the future of the sport this week. What do you think your involvement as runners will be?
Krupicka: I have no idea.
Corless: Do you have an agenda? Do you have a thought process that you’d like to pass over?
Krupicka: What was that, Joe, a fixed ropes 100 miler?
Grant: I think we all kind of like the general approach that Skyrunning has to designing courses: steep, hard, certain requirements of vertical. Everyone is pretty in line with that. I think we’d all be in agreement.
Roes: That is sort of the future of ultrarunning anyway, at least trail ultrarunning, that coming together of the Skyrunning ethic of really steep, gnarly courses. There are a lot of ultras that have that now, but not nearly as many as… there’s a much larger demand for that than what there actually is in line right now.
Krupicka: All of us in training, like they were saying earlier, we go out, see a mountain range, you pick a line and you do whatever it takes to get through that course. It’s just what you do. Not just necessarily logging a certain number of miles, staying on a trail, all that. So it would be nice to have races that more closely mimic what we do in training.
Corless: The Speedgoat 50k is going to be part of the new Skyrunning series. Are any of you planning on being at that race?
Krupicka: I hope to.
Roes: Not this year, but I hope to.
Grant: It’s an interesting course because it’s all pretty much around one mountain, but somehow Karl manages to make it flow really well. So you think it’s going to be pretty contrived, repeats on this one hill, and you actually get kind of a different perspective as you approach the mountain from all the different angles. It’s really spectator friendly, which is kind of unique in the US. There aren’t that many courses where you can actually take a chairlift to the top and see the whole race unfold right underneath you. That’s pretty unique and it will be interesting to see how it turns out in terms of spectators and people getting involved with the race.
Corless: It will be nice to see the European contingent going over to the Speedgoat and you getting to race in front of the home crowd.
Grant: They’ll like the course, I think.
Corless: Okay, you guys, thanks very much!