After a very strong 2014, Lithuania’s Gediminas Grinius had a huge breakout with his win at the 2015 Transgrancanaria. In the following interview, Gediminas talks about how he turned to running as a way to cope with his military service, his history in racing, and how the race unfolded from his perspective. Get to know Gediminas and Lithuanian trail running!
For more on the race, read our 2015 Transgrancanaria results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Gediminas Grinius, 2015 TNF Transgrancanaria Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Gediminas Grinius after his great performance at the 2015 The North Face Transgrancanaria. Congratulations on your win!
Gediminas Grinius: Thank you, Bryon.
iRunFar: You surprised yourself yesterday.
Grinius: Yes, it was a huge surprise. I expected to be top 10 but not to win or to break Ryan Sandes’s record.
iRunFar: Last year you really made an impression on the world ultrarunning scene. You were in the top five at Lavaredo and UTMB and Diagonale des Fous. Did you think last year you could run that strong?
Grinius: Last year I was in Transgrancanaria and if I would have run stronger in Transgrancanaria I would do so, but I didn’t. I feel I couldn’t do it last year, but this year I trained more for this race. I was here in January doing my training, experiencing the course, doing some reconnaissance on some parts. This year I expected to do better. My aim was to break my own time and to move up.
iRunFar: What was your time last year?
iRunFar: So that’s quite a big improvement.
Grinius: Yeah, it is.
iRunFar: So how did the race go for you? Early on you were not at the very front.
Grinius: No, but usually my technique is a very classic one. I am trying to stay at the back and move through positions during the race. It seems to place well for me in the long races. It seems it was the case yesterday for me as well.
iRunFar: Every time I saw you, you looked very strong and never pushing too hard, just even. Was that the plan?
Grinius: Yes, it was the plan. I usually am trying to stay in the middle of the race or even longer very calm and very relaxed. After that, if I have the power, I’m pushing forward, and if not then I’m keeping flowing, my cruise speed.
iRunFar: The race was very dynamic yesterday in the top 10—lots of changes and people withdrawing from the race. When did you start thinking you could win it?
Grinius: Actually probably just before El Garañón, my wife told me that I am moving fast and am in top five. I thought that I feel still great and it’s already the middle of the race, so even more. From that point I thought that I could top the podium.
iRunFar: When you took the lead, was it exciting or were you scared? What went through your head?
Grinius: I was surprised. I don’t remember the guy’s name from China [Yan Long-Fei], but I knew he was the first guy. In El Garañón I met him while the organizers were checking my equipment. I just lost him from my sight, and I was running to the highest point of the race. I didn’t know if I was in front or if the Chinese guy was in front of me. Then the organizers on the checkpoint, they said I was running in first place. Wow! I was surprised. Yeah, it was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t afraid. I just kept doing my stuff.
iRunFar: The competition was very close to you for most of the race—five minutes behind you at 15 or 20k to go. You had race the entire way to the finish.
Grinius: Yes, I had to. You remember I asked you how far was the guy. I thought that it was Iker [Karrera], but it was the Norwegian guy [Didrik Hermansen] with whom I was here to train with in January as well.
iRunFar: You win. What is your history with endurance sports?
Grinius: Actually I started to run very late. In 2007, I did my first road marathon. Lithuania is not a big country. We have an ultrarunning association and there are not many runners who are willing to do these races. In 2009, I received an invitation to participate in a trail championship. It was funny because I’m just a national runner and they’re offering me to go to a world championship whereas other countries have a huge selection of runners? They just say, “Do you want to go?” “Why not?”
iRunFar: You’d only been running for two years.
Grinius: I said, “Yes, I’ll go there, but I have no experience at all.” I was on one beautiful trip to Germany where there are mountains. I was thinking of how to prepare for this race. I was running just basic routes, not going to the mountains. Then I went to the world championships. It was the Merrell Skyrace in Chevalier. I was totally surprised because I was running with road shoes on slippery terrain going from mountains on the snow with elevation probably about 3,000 [meters]. It was terrible for me. My legs were damaged. I said, “I’ll never do this again.” But after awhile, like all difficult things, you are starting to think, and I started to think it was my thing to do. This is how I started to do trail running.
iRunFar: What draws you to ultrarunning? Why do you want to do ultramarathons and trail runs?
Grinius: It’s actually a result of my mission in Iraq because in 2007 when I served there and I went back home, I had some disorders. I figured out that it helps me relax and to be more whole and to reduce the stress which I have. This is how I started to run. The longer distance is better for me.
iRunFar: So you’re part of the Lithuanian Special Forces in the military?
Grinius: No, not the special forces, just the regular military.
iRunFar: This is your coping mechanism?
Grinius: Yes, it’s a coping mechanism and it’s helping with my job because I’m doing some analogies. Usually if I need to solve some problems, during a run I can find solutions.
iRunFar: Would you recommend to other veterans of combat to maybe try running?
Grinius: Yes, for sure. If it helped me, I believe maybe not all of them because all of the people are different, but I’m going to think 80% or 70% of them can treat their disorder with that.
iRunFar: Last year, you made a very big jump in terms of your performance. What made you decide to run more internationally and to such run important races and how did you do so well? What changes did you make?
Grinius: Three years ago, I moved to Poland and I found more time for running. Poland has bigger trail community that Lithuania and they have mountains in the south. I was all the time passionate about trails, so I just decided to give it a try to do more running. I was quite successful in Poland. Last year, Ultra-Trail World Tour was established. I just read about it and thought, Why not? I just need to try it. And I did.
iRunFar: You have found great success. What other races do you plan to run this year? Now that you’ve won this race, a [UTWT] Series race, that’s a lot of points. It’s a good start.
Grinius: Yes, it is. This year it will be a crazy year because this year I decided to race but not just for position. I have in my life four 100 milers, so I’ll do in May the IAU Trail World Championships in Annecy, the Maxi Race. It will be my preparation for Western States, my first 100 miler. Then in August, I will do UTMB; it will be my second one. In September, UTMF. In October, Réunion.
iRunFar: I wonder if anyone has ever done UTMB, UTMF—well, before that wasn’t in September, so no one has done that triple in two months. It will be quite tough.
Grinius: Yes, it will be tough. François [D’Haene] did it last year, and it was my plan to do it this year while UTMF stayed in April. Then they suddenly changed the dates, but anyway I’m going to do that. By doing that, I receive good training because maybe I might try for Grand Slam in the States because it is as well four races with one each month. It will be a good opportunity to check how my body reacts. Maybe I’ll try that next year or another year.
iRunFar: Are you excited for Western States?
Grinius: Yes, I’m excited.
iRunFar: Last year you had an offer to run the IAU 100k World Championships. Did that mean you have some speed on the roads? Do you train on them?
Grinius: I used to have speed on the roads. Then, like I said, I found this community of ultrarunners was not so big, so I still hold the Lithuanian national 100k record which is not very huge, like 7:07. So, I used to have speed, but now I’m running more in the mountains, so my speed is less. But before Western States, I’m planning to do a lot of speed workouts because it’s very fast.
iRunFar: You’re very strong in the mountains, and you’ve run strong on the roads as well, so that might be a very good combination for Western States.
Grinius: I hope so.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your great run here, and best of luck there.
Grinius: Thank you.
iRunFar: A bonus question for you: Lithuania is known to have a lot of very good basketball players. Now you are a Lithuanian who has run very well. Do you think there’s the potential for other great Lithuanian runners?
Grinius: I believe there is. We have quite a few young guys who are doing trail running. They’re not experienced, but they’re climbing that way. I believe in the future you will see more Lithuanian runners who will do great in trail and ultra runs.
iRunFar: Uz Lietuva.
Grinius: Uz Lietuva, yeah. Thank you.