David Laney took third at the 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, and he did so by outpacing all but two guys in the top 10 over the race’s final marathon. In the following interview, David talks about how he’s recovered from his other big races in the summer of 2015, how conservative he started the race, and how his final-descent run with fourth-place Seth Swanson went down.
For more on how the race went down, read our 2015 UTMB results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
David Laney Post-2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks here, and I’m here in Chamonix, France, the day after the 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. I’m with podium finisher, third place, David Laney. Wow! Are you feeling about as good as your race looked?
David Laney: Yeah, I feel good.
iRunFar: You probably feel like crap, but…
Laney: I don’t feel great. Legs don’t feel good, but everything else feels good.
iRunFar: Your race was, I mean, it was just pure entertainment. People would pay money to watch a race like that.
Laney: Yeah, I think I made a big point to take the first 50 miles conservatively. Then once I started getting after it, it was really motivating because I was catching people really quickly. It kind of fed on itself.
iRunFar: I want to back up a little bit because, yeah, we’ve seen you race a couple times this year—Western States, the IAU Trail World Championships. You’ve put in some big efforts on big courses this year. How is your body tolerating all of this?
Laney: Good so far. Yeah, I’m taking a break now. Yeah, I’ve recovered really well from both of those races and hopefully from this. I spent a week after those races really focusing on recovery. It definitely made a big difference especially after States.
iRunFar: From my perspective looking in, your experience with ultras, you are kind of going big. You’re picking the big events. You’re picking the really hard efforts, but you’re not going through that learning curve that a lot of new ultrarunners go through where they have these pretty amazing blow-ups before they figure things out. Are you just smarter than the rest of us or what?
Laney: I think my first year at States in 2014, it was such a big blow-up, I spent a month looking at every mistake and making a point of not making those mistakes again. So I feel like that one race was such a learning experience I didn’t have to do it again.
iRunFar: Do you think about that day or how you felt during that day in these races now?
Laney: It was complete misery. No, not any more. I’ve also been really fortunate to be around and spend time with a lot of veteran ultrarunners who have given me really valuable advice.
iRunFar: It’s still one thing to sit at your desk and look at your splits before the race and say, “I’m going to be smart. I’m going to run x pace in the beginning of the race;” then it’s another to get on the starting line of, for instance, UTMB, and to see 30 people rocket off the line in front of you. How do you actually put that into action? How do you let them run away for a bit?
Laney: It’s not easy. It makes your stomach sick for like 10 miles. I’m just angry. But it’s 100 miles. You have 22 hours. You’ve got plenty of time. If you can get after it with 10 hours to go and not walk—you just can’t walk.
iRunFar: Let’s go through the details of your race. You rolled through the first checkpoint at 8k somewhere in the mid-20’s place-wise. Then you got to the top of the first climb in about the same. Then on the next descent, I think you let the world blow by you basically. Did you just chill on that first descent?
Laney: Yes. I ran part of it backwards. It was smooth, but it was steep. I was like, I don’t want to blow my quads on it. So maybe for a half of a mile on the really steep section, I just kind of jogged backwards.
iRunFar: For real? You were the guy going backwards down the first hill?
Laney: Yeah, I think just being conscious of keeping everything under control on the first downhills made a big difference.
iRunFar: When I saw you at Saint-Gervais which is about the half-marathon point in the race, the bottom of that first descent, I was kind of expecting to see you 2oth or 3oth place, but I saw you a bit further back. I thought to myself, Is he not feeling great straight on? Is this just not his day? But it was just you taking the first descent super conservatively?
Laney: Yeah, probably 15 people passed me in 3k.
iRunFar: The next section of the course where you kind of roll through that valley with Les Contamines, but then the next section of the course is remote and has some of the highest, most extreme passes. That’s also the point where we don’t get to see you a ton out there. We only saw you a couple times. Walk us through the section between Les Contamines and Courmayeur.
Laney: I got really sleepy. I was like, I need to wake up. This is the middle of the race. I think my body was just used to going to bed—It’s dark, and I need to go to sleep. All I wanted to do was get into a sleeping bag and go to sleep. That was my biggest battle for an hour. My legs were fine. My stomach was fine. I just wanted to go to sleep so bad. Once I got through that, there were a few technical sections, and I think that woke me up.
iRunFar: Having to concentrate?
Laney: Yeah, exactly.
iRunFar: Did you have some coffee or soda or any caffeine?
Laney: Yeah, just a lot of Coca-Cola. A lot of Coke.
iRunFar: Enough sugar and caffeine finally did it.
Laney: Yeah, it made the difference, that’s for sure.
iRunFar: It’s Col du Bonhomme. It’s Col de la Seigne. Then this year they added another little blip. Then there’s the Col Chécrouit. There’s a bunch of big passes up there. How did those climbs and descents feel?
Laney: Pretty good. Every single climb I just hiked in the first 50 miles to keep it really, really under control. The descents, I felt, were fairly technical, but for some reason it was just really smooth. I’ve been making it a point of running really technical trails somewhere. Yesterday or whenever it was, it just clicked.
iRunFar: What’s my name?
Laney: It was just… I was able to just focus on it and navigate the technical sections really smooth.
iRunFar: When you came through Courmayeur, you were like, I didn’t see you, but Bryon saw you, he said you looked like “typical Laney self”—super chill, just rolling. Headspace-wise, that’s still pretty early in the race, but if you’re not feeling good, you’re going to not be feeling good by there. How were you feeling at Courmayeur?
Laney: Good. Again, I took the first half just like this is a training run and don’t expend myself at any point. That was not quite the halfway point, but still in that… I felt really smooth there.
iRunFar: Where did the sun come up for you?
Laney: I was with Ryan Smith going up… there was that rolling section after, what was the name of that aid station…?
iRunFar: Was it before La Fouly it got light for you?
Laney: I think. I’m getting all the aid stations mixed up in my head. It was right before the long downhill.
iRunFar: Like up on Grand Col Ferret maybe?
Laney: Yeah, I think so.
iRunFar: Was that… it had been such a clear night. The stars were gigantic. The moon had been like this… I don’t know… like this dish plate of lightness in the sky. What was sunrise like?
Laney: It was unbelievable. I think on the Italian side… these mountains (here) are amazing, but over there it’s just like straight vertical. That rock with the orange sun on it was just unbelievable.
iRunFar: Some people when the sun comes up and you get hit by that warmth, you start to feel sleepy. Other people, you wake up. Did it wake you up?
Laney: Oh, absolutely. It felt so good. I knew I was hopefully going to finish that day, so that was like, Well, the night’s over, so that was big. Yeah, being warm was nice. It was kind of cold all night.
iRunFar: When we saw you come through La Fouly and through Champex-Lac—Champex-Lac is a marathon to go basically—I mean, it just looked like you were transitioning into a different experience. You went from “chill David Laney” to “hyper-focused David Laney.” Is that what was actually going on?
Laney: Yes. I knew at that point maybe I would blow up, but I was just starting to feed off of the energy of getting pulled into the finish. I was starting to catch people at that point. I was like, at some point you have to take a big risk especially when you have a conservative strategy and chill the first 50 miles, when you go in with that conservative strategy, you have to take a big risk at some point.
iRunFar: So when did you decide to start pushing, to start really putting in an effort, just to give it?
Laney: Like 50k to go.
iRunFar: You’re able to hold that all the way through clearly.
Laney: Pretty much.
iRunFar: Were there any sections where you were like, Um, I might be hitting it a little too hard here?
Laney: The last climb. The last climb I was like, I could get caught. I heard someone behind me when I was half way up. I heard horns honking and people cheering. I was like, This could all fall apart right now. I could sit on a rock for an hour. But I got some water at the top of the climb, or the top of the climb and then you rolled for a little bit and then there was an aid station. That brought me back.
iRunFar: You came in with a half marathon to go and you were still outside the top 10. When did you… were you passing people on the climbs? Were you passing people on the descents? Where were you passing people?
Laney: On the climbs mostly. On one of the climbs, I saw three guys ahead of me. I went really hard at that point—all the climbs, none on the descents.
iRunFar: That must have been on the climb after Champex-Lac?
iRunFar: You went into Champex-Lac outside the top ten, and then you came out of that pass multiple places ahead.
Laney: There were also a few long road sections, like a couple miles, of dirt or paved road. That just brings me back to what I’m used to, so it felt great.
iRunFar: You go into the last climb and you’re in fourth place. You probably have reports on the guys ahead of you. What was in your head going into the last climb?
Laney: Yeah, I as just pretty focused on the trail and trying to just be efficient and smooth and not mess it up. Don’t roll an ankle. The climb went pretty well I felt like but then the descent felt great.
iRunFar: Where did your final pass come up there, where you passed Seth Swanson and moved into third?
Laney: After we got on… coming out of La Flégère, you come out on a dirt road and then you get on singletrack, I caught up to them and he was like, ”Laney, good job!” We were talking because we were excited to have two Americans in the top four. We were just chatting for while. I was asking how far up second was. He said, “It’s either two minutes or five minutes. I’ve heard both.” I was like, “If it’s two minutes, let’s go for it. Let’s see what we can do. If it’s five minutes, it’s not worth twisting an ankle.” He’s like, “Let’s go for it.” So we started just ripping down the mountain.
iRunFar: This is that really rocky singletrack coming down there?
Laney: Yeah, we were absolutely flying. Then he took a big fall. I felt really bad. We stopped and regrouped. He was just like, “Get out of here.” So I hammered that section.
iRunFar: He told you go to on?
Laney: Yeah, but then he almost caught back up. We were racing once we got to the road. We were racing.
iRunFar: We were at La Floria, and it was you and then him 28 seconds behind. Did you actually see each other again? La Floria is just, there’s one steep downhill left, and then it’s a couple k’s of running.
Laney: I could hear him right behind me, but we didn’t pass or anything like that.
iRunFar: Then you hit the pavement. For a lot people, coming through Chamonix is kind of like a joyride, but you’ve got this guy hammering behind you.
Laney: Right, and then I see Zach [Miller] and Zach has fire in his eyes, “You have to sprint! It’s actually a big deal right now!”
iRunFar: “It’s close!”
Laney: I was like, “Geesh, okay.” So then we went for it.
iRunFar: You came across the line and you were a little bit bug-eyed, extended.
Laney: Yeah, I was toast. I felt bad I didn’t interview because I was in the tent, like, “I’m going to pass out. I’m going to sit here.” Having to hammer the last… over the course of the race it just got harder and harder and harder and I was all-out in the end. Having to do that in a 100, is pretty rough.
iRunFar: At the end of any ultra, it’s a big deal. At the end of 100 miles, it’s like, yeah, putting it really out there. So you crossed the line, you’re kind of bug-eyed, a little hyper-extended, does it hit you there that you just podiumed at UTMB, or when did it hit you?
Laney: Yeah, I was happy. That night we went out with some of our friends and some of the folks from Nike who were in town. That was fun. Everyone was pretty excited. Everyone, for Tim [Tollefson] and Zach, everyone was happy for the day.
iRunFar: You could call it a decent weekend for Nike.
Laney: Yeah, it was fun. I think we are all going to come back. I think this suits a lot of our running styles really well. Yeah, I’m excited to come back.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you. Way to represent the U.S.
Laney: Thank you. Thanks.
iRunFar: Way to represent smart racing—seriously smart racing.
Laney: Thank you, very much.
iRunFar: Congratulations again.