Jason Schlarb ran a strong, smart, steady race to take fourth place at the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In the following (very bright) interview, Jason talks about how he felt going into the race, how exactly his race played out, and how his experience at the race compares with his win at the Run Rabbit Run 100 last year (post-race interview).
Read our results article for the full story on how the 2014 TNF UTMB unfolded.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Jason Schlarb Post-2014 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jason Schlarb after his fourth-place finish at the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Congratulations, Jason.
Jason Schlarb: Thank you very much, Bryon.
iRunFar: That was one heck of a run.
Schlarb: Yeah, it was an adventure and the result certainly is great for me.
iRunFar: Does that feel really good? You had some great results last year. You ran really well at Speedgoat and then at Run Rabbit Run. You’ve kind of been quieter since then.
Schlarb: Yeah, I’ve had kind of a little bit of an off year. I went to Transgrancanaria and had a DNF there; I was sick. Then I came back to the Canary Islands and had a 13th place at Transvulcania which was pretty good considering the field, but it wasn’t a home run for me. Then Skyrunning Championships right here in Chamonix—whooo, laying in the snow trying to take a nap. So, I had some races that are some small ones in Switzerland in July that did go well, but they were pretty small races. So my season focus all year has been to come here and train and be ready for UTMB. A lot of pressure and stress in there, but it’s excitement and it ended up turning out alright and I had a good day which makes me very happy.
iRunFar: Coming into the race, the week of, you’re always nervous, but there are races where you’re like, I’m going to nail this. I’m going to have a really good day. Did you feel that way before this?
Schlarb: I had great confidence in my fitness. I didn’t have any nagging injuries. Last year at Run Rabbit Run, I didn’t run for almost two weeks before the race because I had something that was bothering my hip. This race, I didn’t have any injuries this summer. My fitness was good. I did exactly what I wanted to do with my training. My taper was there. It was just… the only thing that made me nervous was me actually getting there and actually doing it and getting some good sleep that week before the race which is always a big issue for me.
iRunFar: Did you?
Schlarb: No, my sleep was pretty poor. I wake up three, four, five times per night, but I got enough sleep and felt pretty good. I wasn’t completely out of it at the end of the day, so it turned out alright.
iRunFar: So the gun goes off. A mob of people go off. What are you thinking at Les Houches? Where are you in the field? What’s going through your mind?
Schlarb: Of course I’m 100% relieved to just be moving. Coming from a university running experience back in the day, I’m pretty comfortable running six- or seven-minute miles. I’m okay with that. I wasn’t too worried that that was going to kill me. So, I didn’t go out super conservatively, but as soon as we hit that first hill at Les Houches, I really pulled the throttle back and slipped into 20th place or something like that, 20 to 25th place. I’m not sure exactly where I was. Back there was where I needed to be at that point in the race. I was feeling good. My body was checking in alright.
iRunFar: Did you stick around that position for any length of time?
Schlarb: Yeah. There were some people that we passed that were going out there that definitely shouldn’t be in the front that we passed. Gradually those people went away and I was somewhere in the teens, somewhere around there and at the perfect place. I was just sticking to the plan and staying comfortable the whole race. That’s really always my—always, this is my third 100, but that is my mantra—comfortable.
iRunFar: Was there some point where you were starting to either pass big-enough names or you started to feel great or was there some point where you were like, Oh, this is here today; I’m going to go?
Schlarb: Yeah, I was running—I’ll joke around with it—I was running with The North Face cross-country team. Literally, we had Jez Bragg, Yeray Duran, Mike Foote, and Tim Olson, and then also Andrew Tuckey from Australia, and me. So it was this big pack of those North Face guys. There was some fluctuation, but I knew then that I was in a good place. I’ve never run here. Again, this was my third 100 miler. I’ve never run something with this much vert. So it’s a little scary to know where is the right place.
iRunFar: It’s interesting because that’s a group of people that have had great success. Jez has won it. Mike Foote has had a third and a fifth here. Timothy was fourth last year. And they’ve all run smart, measured races.
Schlarb: Tim looked over at me and said, “Great start.” I think it was kind of a little mutual, but it was basically, We’re where we are supposed to be. I had that confidence right there. Fortunately right after that, somewhere around 30 or 40k, I dropped off and had my one kind of terrible dark hour or two where those guys left and, of course, the contemplation, Oh, I’m not going to do it. Oh, should I drop? That was there. I had to do it. For me with 100 milers for some reason it’s the first half that I get that terrible place. Then I caught up with those guys and from there I was feeling better.
iRunFar: How did you work through that dark place?
Schlarb: You know, just one foot in front of the other. The brain can tell you some stuff and you can feel really terrible, but if you can just try to say in the back of your mind, “Just gotta’ keep moving. Just keep moving. Keep moving. No matter how slow it feels, how bad or impossible to think… Okay, I’ve got 18 more hours, 15 more hours, 120k… Don’t let… Step, step, step.” That’s what I did at least.
iRunFar: So you come into Courmayeur just slightly before half way and you’re probably in the start of the teens—11th, 12th, 13th or somewhere in there. How do you assess your race there?
Schlarb: It’s a good feeling. I’m thinking my big goal was to be in the top 10 before I knew who all was into the top five. Top 10 was the goal. I was a bit out of that. I was like, I’m going to have a good day. I’m going to complete this course. Things are going to be good. I was in a good mental place. Maggie was out there, my wife, and Felix, crewing me. I got a hug and a kiss, so it was really a mentally healthy place there at Courmayeur and a lot of the aid stations. Shortly after Courmayeur, again The North Face Spanish guy, I saw him on the side of the road I think just sitting there talking on his cell phone. Oh, well there’s another person. Then right out of the climb, there are two people I passed on that climb. So shortly after Courmayeur I was like…
iRunFar: So the first climb, the Bertone climb, the really steep focused climb.
Schlarb: Yes, up to the refugio, switchbacks, super steep, just like the entrance into Courmayeur. Super steep. At that point I was like, Oh wow, top 10 is real. I can do this.
iRunFar: Then coming off the Col Ferret, you must have moved it into another gear because when I saw you, you were in sixth and right behind a couple more guys—Tony [Krupicka] and someone else.
Schlarb: Yeah, after the Col, but before the Col, I ran into Mike Foote. I was like, Oh wow, we’re going to be able to work together, but he told me his knee was hurting and that he was going to try to run with me but he dropped off from there. Yeah, after that pass, the beautiful sun… Not sunrise, but the beautiful glow of the morning, oh, it was magnificent. At that point I knew, I was by myself like I kind of like to be in 100s, and I can just work, just work, work, work. From there I went down, saw you, and got some good news.
iRunFar: Yeah, totally, I think you were just a couple minutes off Tony and I’m totally blanking on who else… somebody else was right there… oh, it was the Lithuanian man.
Schlarb: Yes, the Lithuanian guy. Your excitement at that aid station was like, “Oh, my gosh. Right there. Three minutes out.” That was a big turning point, too, getting past two more people just kept the wheels going.
iRunFar: I don’t even know if you stopped in that aid station. It was sort of a circuitous little chute. You just bounced on through.
Schlarb: I almost don’t do anything at aid stations. This isn’t a plug for my nutrition, Vitargo, but I literally stick to my powder and sugar. I had some oranges. I had broth soup twice. I’m lucky that my body and my nutrition works out the way that I don’t even pay attention to the aid station except for picking up some more stuff if it’s a crew aid station.
iRunFar: So you’re not spending time there. You’re just in and out. You weren’t in Courmayeur very long. You didn’t stop at La Fouly. Maybe you filled your bottle up at most.
Schlarb: No, I don’t think I ever stop longer than two minutes at aid stations.
iRunFar: That adds up to a lot of time… or not very much time.
Schlarb: Yeah, I want to get home. I want to get home.
iRunFar: Then probably shortly thereafter, I’m guessing, you tell me, when did you run into fourth position? Did you know or did you hear about Luis Alberto [Hernando] that he was out?
Schlarb: Yeah, that was confusing. So I didn’t know if people were misinformed or if something happened up front, but I always, and sometimes I almost plug an extra person in there because I don’t trust people. I don’t want to get too excited. So I was always like, Oh, fifth. Fifth. But when I heard “fourth” a bunch of times then I knew that something probably happened up there. I had heard that third place was looking terrible, looking horrible, so on and so forth. People kept telling me that. But I think he must have turned it around because I wasn’t crawling on those last two climbs and descents and didn’t catch too much and I didn’t catch too much on him. He must have come back.
iRunFar: Tòfol Castanyer had some stomach problems but they resolved and he was able to keep rolling. So at some point in the late miles, you always have the split and you can find out how far you are back, so is there some point 20k out where you’re like, I’m 45 minutes down, I’m dialing it in and go.
Schlarb: Mr. Lithuania was knocking on my door the whole time making my life miserable, miserable. I could see him. I could hear him sometimes. He was always about four minutes back all the way until Flégère. He hurt his knee. Something happened with his knee and he finally stopped pushing, but I didn’t know. I took, I never do this, but I have in my bag two emergency caffeine powders. They are for that situation of, Oh my gosh, I’m not going to lose a place in the last 10k of a 105-mile race. So I popped that in the water, took some Coke—again, I don’t usually take Coke—and I started yelling at myself, shouting, just hauling down there. I just didn’t want to lose that fourth place. So, no, I didn’t get a really relaxed four or five miles. I wish I would have known.
iRunFar: Sorry. So even though you couldn’t go forwards, you knew you weren’t going to catch them…
Schlarb: I wanted fourth, not fifth.
iRunFar: So coming in, coming through Chamonix to the finish, what did that feel like?
Schlarb: It’s… Boston. I think the common road runner or American would, if you watch Boston and see the crowd there, it’s obviously not that much volume, but for the ultra, I mean, it is so amazing. Out on the course, too, there are tons of people out there taking pictures through the villages. All kinds of fun. But to finish that kind of race in that kind of atmosphere and to have that kind of support—I mean there are still people out there lined on the course 24 hours later after the finish. It’s a special thing, special feel, special race, and I enjoyed it. I was doing the high fives all the way in.
iRunFar: Oh yeah, you were, that’s right.
Schlarb: It was good. It was wonderful.
iRunFar: Soaking it up.
Schlarb: Yeah, yeah, it makes… it’s a special experience.
iRunFar: Coming across the line and your wife and child are there.
Schlarb: Yeah, of course, to have them and hold them, it was a magic, end-of-a-movie moment. It was great.
iRunFar: So, last year you won the Run Rabbit Run 100 and you were fourth here. How do you compare those or how do you put those together?
Schlarb: Run Rabbit Run was… I didn’t feel bad or have to push really hard. I’m not trying to be cocky, but literally, that was a great fun, special, magical moment. UTMB, I had to work. I had some moments of despair. I had a lot of pain. I ran scared. It was different. So, it’s nice to finally have… I’ve been here three months preparing for this. It’s been my season-year focus. I’ve never had that before. To finish and to have a good result and be in that top five was huge. It felt as wonderful, but it was a different experience totally.
iRunFar: Awesome. Is that the end of your season more or less?
Schlarb: You know, I might go out to Diagonale des Fous, Réunion Island, but it’s not good to think about that now. I’m going to go to Hawaii to do a project, run across, with Julien Chorier.
iRunFar: The Julbo thing?
Schlarb: Yeah, 250 miles across the island. It will be fun.
iRunFar: That will be a fun project.
Schlarb: That’s at the end of November. Then we’ll go back to the Southern Hemisphere to do a video in the end of January or February.
iRunFar: Where at?
Schlarb: I don’t know. Peru? Maybe Martinique? I’m not sure. We’ve got to pick.
iRunFar: Awesome. Well, congratulations on your run here and good luck if you do go to Diagonale des Fous.
Schlarb: Thanks, Bryon. Thanks for your coverage.
iRunFar: So you’ve been here three months in Europe and mostly in the Alps. You’ve had probably some time to try some different beers. What’s the best you’ve had here in Europe this trip?
Schlarb: Hands down, Leffe, as we call it or Leffe as the French call it. The Belgian people make the best beer. It’s just wonderful and smooth. All four or five different varieties that they have here are just fantastic. Hands down.
iRunFar: Any particular style that you like the most out of the Leffe’s?
Schlarb: I like the Royale. I like the Royale a lot. That’s my favorite. It’s got flavor but it’s not too overpowering.
iRunFar: That was some good fortune that that’s what I had in my backpack at the finish line.
Schlarb: Exactly. It was my favorite kind of beer, favorite flavor. Yeah, that was a nice treat. I appreciate that for sure.
iRunFar: No problem. Go enjoy some more.
Schlarb: Alright, will do.