Twelve years after his first attempt at UTMB, Ludovic Pommeret had a breakout performance in winning the 2016 edition of the race. In the following interview, Ludovic talks about how poorly his 2016 race started, what his running history is, what it’s been like running for Hoka One One from the brand’s founding, and where he’ll race next.
For more on the race, read our 2016 UTMB results article.
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Ludovic Pommeret, 2016 UTMB Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ludovic Pommeret after his win at the 2016 UTMB. Congratulations, Ludovic.
Ludovic Pommeret: Thank you, Bryon.
iRunFar: Did it feel like you were having a magic day out there?
Pommeret: Yeah, of course, because it’s a lot of emotion and joy when you are back and when you are leaving as well at the first, but you are more happy when you are back.
iRunFar: People from the outside might think you ran the perfectly paced race, but the reality is that things were just bad at the start, yet?
Pommeret: Not the start—the very, very start of the race it was okay. After three hours, I got some stomach pain and I spent three hours walking and seeing everybody pass me. Sometimes they would say, “Ok, go! It will be better!”
iRunFar: You probably did not believe them.
Pommeret: No, no. Inside me I didn’t believe. Then I saw that I would not finish the race, or I would finish the race but maybe I would sleep for one night for four hours and then continue later. After a moment, it was better. I took some medicine and felt better. I could drink and eat again. I tried to go faster. For me it was a danger as well because when you go slow for a long time and then you go faster, it could happen that after you pay for that.
iRunFar: You go slower again. You went from the front back to maybe 50th position at 50k and started catching people again which feels good, yes?
Pommeret: Yes, it’s better to win some in the rank.
iRunFar: Even for some time, you’re in 40th, you’re in 30th. When did you start feeling you could be in the top 10 even?
Pommeret: In the top 10? Before Courmayeur. They told that I was 14th. It’s before the middle of the race, so I know that in an ultra race at the end of the race there’s a lot of change and people who stop, so I thought I could reach the top 10. Then, I continue my way, and say Maybe I can reach the top five. After, I was not so far from the head of the race. When I was 50th, I was one hour from the head. Then I was 35 minutes and then 14 minutes. I never stopped my effort. It was good for me.
iRunFar: As you were passing people once you were in the top 10 and top five, you’re passing everyone and you can see how they are running. You can see if they have energy or not. Was there anybody in the top five when you passed them that you thought they might be a challenge?
Pommeret: No, except Gediminas [Grinius], the guys were really tired. Andy Symonds, the English, said he would stop the race. Then the French, Fabien Antolinos told me the same. I tried to say that, “You are not finished! It’s a long race!”
iRunFar: Look at me!
Pommeret: For them it’s more difficult. For me, it happened at the beginning of the race. When you are at the end of the race and you see some runners that are passing you, for the head it’s not very easy.
iRunFar: But Gediminas, he looked okay?
Pommeret: Yes, we just run a little bit together before La Fouly, and then into Champex he was very fast. It took me six minutes. He was fast. Then I think in the Bovine, the climb after Champex, I see he was second before. Then I get into the descent, and we do the descent together and we reach Zach Miller. He’s a really, really fast runner for climbing. Maybe for descent he’s not so good. He put forth a lot of effort in the beginning of the race.
iRunFar: Even Zach, I don’t think it was any fatigue because he was trying to hold off runners on the descent into Courmayeur. He’s just not as fast.
Pommeret: I don’t know if he’s used to descending slow and is faster on the flat. On the flat he’s faster than me. Descent, I think it’s one part that should work. I think it’s very important on the trail, the descent because the time you’re winning on the climbs, if you lose it on the descent, it’s not good.
iRunFar: You and Gediminas caught Zach together, or you were alone when you caught Zach?
Pommeret: I was with Gediminas.
iRunFar: You two were in the front together?
Pommeret: No, we just arrived in Trient, the second to the last major checkpoint. We arrived altogether. After Trient, there is a small climb; Gediminas was a few meters behind. Zach did a very fast change, like one bottle and go.
iRunFar: What is it like to be racing so late in an event? I can’t imagine battling after 130 or 140k.
Pommeret: Just to keep in mind that it’s possible. Zach started a little bit before me. On the flat, the space stayed the same, but when it became steeper, with the poles, I think I was more performing than him without. He’s very fast in the climb when you can run. When you have to run, he’s not so fast. It’s different. In the US, I think there are more races where you can run.
iRunFar: Zach lives on a huge mountain, but it’s terrain you can run up. When did you take the lead? When were you alone?
Pommeret: Just after Trient on the climb I was first. I tried to keep it.
iRunFar: Were you afraid at all that either Zach or Gediminas would catch you?
Pommeret: I saw that Zach was really… it was difficult for him this climb. The heat, he was really warm. I don’t have any advice to give him, but he wasn’t so well protected. You have very warm races in the US, and you are used to protection. He has no cover on the neck and only a [little] water. I saw that Gediminas would be difficult, but for me, if he caught me, I think I could finish with Gediminas because he’s a great guy. I’ve met him at other times—one time at La Reunion and the other at the Trail World Championships.
iRunFar: So if you were together coming into Chamonix, you might just run in with him as opposed to a sprint to the finish?
Pommeret: Yes, it’s different if you spend a long time with the runner, I don’t finish with a sprint. It’s not important. On such a long race when everybody is suffering a lot, just to finish in a sprint, it’s not what I would like to do.
iRunFar: Even though you are pushing yourself very hard, the camaraderie or being part of a community is still very important?
iRunFar: You live in this area maybe one hour away. Do you train here all the time?
Pommeret: Yes, one hour. It’s close to Geneva. Not in this part. In the Jura, in the small mountains. There are some climbs of 1,000 meters. That’s where I train.
iRunFar: You’ve been running the trails for 15 years? How did you become a runner? Why?
Pommeret: Yes. How do you become a runner?
iRunFar: Why did you become a runner? What made you want to run?
Pommeret: It’s a challenge to do a long race in my village. This race disappeared when I thought I was ready. I tried this UTMB race because it was similar in distance, but it was not successful. I tried in 2004 and 2005 but not too successful. I tried again 2010 and the race stopped because of the weather. I did it in 2012, and it was not around Mont Blanc. It was just in the valley. I finished it. Finally this one was good.
iRunFar: So this was your first time all the way around?
Pommeret: Yes, on the real race.
iRunFar: Your first tour of Mont Blanc.
Pommeret: On the real one.
iRunFar: After five times.
iRunFar: Were you athletic before? Did you participate in other athletics or sports before you became a runner?
Pommeret: No, I was snowboarding and surfing. No, when I was young between 20-25, I didn’t like to do some effort. I can’t imagine when you’re young around 19 that you want to run so difficult and not so fun. You find some kind of fun when you are in such a race.
iRunFar: The thing that inspired you to first start running was an ultramarathon of 100k+? That’s what started it? The first race you wanted to do was an ultramarathon?
Pommeret: The first race I subscribed for was more than 100k, but it was a category of walker.
iRunFar: Take your time?
Pommeret: It was too long, and after 60k, it was over.
iRunFar: Anybody watching this can see you tried and failed, tried and failed, tried and failed, but…
Pommeret: Then I tried and won. It seems strange. Before winning, you have to train yourself to learn how to train your mind as well.
iRunFar: Does this feel like the culmination or the end of a 15 year journey to reach this point?
Pommeret: I don’t know if it’s the end. I could not say what would be the next, but it’s a good point in my career. I’m not professional.
iRunFar: What do you do?
Pommeret: I’m a computer science engineer.
iRunFar: This is your hobby?
iRunFar: You’re not a professional, but you’re a sponsored runner. You are the second Hoka runner. Nico Mermoud, the founder of the company…
Pommeret: Yeah, I was at the beginning of the brand. It’s good because at the beginning it was very small. They were working very hard on the concept and new things. It’s good. It’s still a reactive brand. It’s good. Thanks to them to support me during this.
iRunFar: For a very long time.
Pommeret: Yes, for a very long time.
iRunFar: The first time you ran here was maybe in the Mafate?
Pommeret: The first time I wore it, it was at Diagonale des Fous on La Reunion Island in 2009. I wore these shoes in the first part of the race.
iRunFar: Seven years later, which model did you wear yesterday? Which type of Hoka?
Pommeret: It’s a prototype that has not been commercialized. It’s the base of the Speed Instinct.
iRunFar: And a new upper?
iRunFar: Cool. Do you have any more plans for this year running?
Pommeret: No, except for the Trail World Championships in Portugal.
iRunFar: You’ll represent France in Portugal?
Pommeret: Yes, and I hope the French team will do a good race and will do the best for the course.
iRunFar: Is it a little intimidating that now you have to go from training for the big mountains and so many kilometers to something faster?
Pommeret: Yes, it’s not the same race because it will be faster and there are lots of fast runners. I think the American team will be great as well as the Spanish and several other teams that could be…
iRunFar: Well, the French are the current champions.
Pommeret: Yes. More pressure.
iRunFar: Congratulations, and good luck.
Pommeret: Thank you.