As the winner of the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships, France’s Sylvain Court’s performance proves the power of race-specific preparation and race-day execution. In the following interview, Sylvain talks about his extended preparation for this race, how his battle for the win with Luis Alberto Hernando played out, and where else he plans to race in 2015.
Read our results article for the full story on the men’s and women’s races.
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Sylvain Court, 2015 IAU Trail World Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here at the finish line of the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships with men’s champion, Sylvain Court. Congratulations!
Sylvain Court: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: How are you doing? How are you feeling right now?
Court: I’m doing well, but my legs are really hurting, but I’m really happy.
iRunFar: Now what does that mean when a world champion’s legs are hurting? Is it hard to go down stairs?
Court: Yes, it’s pretty much that.
iRunFar: Talk about your day. You ran at the front of the field from pretty much the start line to the finish line. What was it like mentally and physically pushing all day?
Court: Well, it’s true, I’m used to starting off and trying to keep in contact with the front of the race. I find it hard to be more in the middle of the pack.
iRunFar: Not only did it seem you were trying to stay in contact with the front, but it looked like you were trying to be the front.
Court: Yes, I know the race route a little bit. For me, it was important to stay in the group for about 50 or 60 kilometers. It was important not to take the lead too early. Because of the level of the racers that were here, it would have been very difficult to take the lead straight away from my point of view.
iRunFar: The pace of the men’s lead group was super fast all day. Did it feel comfortable mentally and physically?
Court: Yes, we started off pretty quickly. During the first ascent, I had to hang on. I’m not too used to warming up before a race. To take a fast start like that, it was kind of rock-and-roll. It was hard.
iRunFar: Talk about where in the race was your turning point where you thought in your head, Maybe I could win this today.
Court: Perhaps on the descent towards the last feed station. They told me I was catching little by little, two minutes, and then one minute thirty, and one minute. Then all of a sudden, I saw Luis Alberto [Hernando] who was entering the feed station. At that point, I thought if he was losing that much time, perhaps something was happening with him and maybe he was in difficulty. For me, I’ve very rarely been at a race at this level, so Luis Alberto is a racer I admire a lot, and it was a great pleasure to run with him. It’s not every day in a runner’s life that you can be on top of your form and aim for a world-championship title. I was starting to catch up to him in the middle, and I thought, Why not tempt something? Why not tempt something?
iRunFar: Yeah, let’s talk about that for a minute. You left the feed station basically together. You started climbing together. How did you break away? At the top of the last climb, you were two-and-a-half minutes ahead. What did you do there?
Court: Luis left very quickly from the feed station, and he really kind of sprinted out of there. It took me a minute to kind of digest that. It took me about two kilometers to catch up with him again. Then we attacked the last major difficult section of the race route, the Mont Baron. During about five kilometers, it was pretty much a battle. Neither one of us wanted to let go; neither one of us wanted to give an inch. So we pressed so hard on our sticks that I completely twisted one of mine. I had to straighten it with my knee and that was one of the moments when I started to get in front of him a little bit. Then he caught up again, and then for four or five kilometers of ascending we were about 10 to 20 meters apart, probably not any more than that. It was really a battle to see who would give in first. So for me, it really was a good sporting and fair battle. About two kilometers from the summit, it was meter by meter and I started to see he was letting ago a little bit. I started to think, Hey, I can do this. I was persistent knowing that what was coming up was a really technical descent, and I really like descending. I enjoy it. I also know Luis’s qualities which are very remarkable as well. Maybe two or three meters from the arrival, I kept turning around maybe 50 times really realizing that maybe I’d win. There you have it.
iRunFar: This is a race that course-wise is never over until it’s over. There’s a really technical descent at the end.
Court: Yes, even though it’s about an eight- or nine-hour race, the density of excellent racers makes it really difficult to get a good lead at any point. So just at the very end, there is almost a sprint for the last 30 kilometers. It’s very difficult because it’s really long and your body starts to hurt and you really feel it.
iRunFar: My last question for you is, you’ve performed very well in France at national-level races. This is certainly your international breakout. What do you do now that this has happened? Where will you race? What will you do?
Court: I’d like to run the the Lavaredo Ultra-Trail, but I have to go to Sweden and run a relay race for an association or charity that fights against skin cancer. So maybe I’ll catch a little bit of rest first. Then I’m going to directing my season towards the French championships I won last year and Les Templiers also and maybe San Francisco The North Face race [The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships].
iRunFar: Will you try to improve upon your [previous] seventh-place finish at The North Face?
Court: Yes, of course. The American runners are really fast and really strong. I’ve run with Sage [Canaday] before, last year at Les Templiers. Maybe it wasn’t the kind of race he particularly cares for, but when he’s on race routes like The North Face San Francisco, he’s really impressive. He’s a super fast runner and really nice as well.
iRunFar: I hope to see you in San Francisco later this year.
Court: I’d like that. Yes, especially because usually after the race I do two or three weeks of road-tripping in California. I really, really like the mentality. They’re super welcoming and I keep making really good memories of my time in California.
iRunFar: Congratulations, again, on your win of the IAU Trail World Championships.
Court: Thank you very much.
[Editor’s Note: Thank you to Anne-Marie Dunhill for the translation assistance!]