François D’haene, 2017 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail Champion, Interview

In dominating the race’s second half, François D’haene won the 2017 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. In the following interview, François talks about how his race played out, how he manages to prepare for lots of climbing and descending before early season races, and where he’ll be racing next.

François D’haene, 2017 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail Champion, Interview

iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with François D’haene after his win at the 2017 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. How are you, François?

François D’haene: Fine, thanks.

iRunFar: You looked to be in fine form again yesterday. Did you feel like your quite fit right now?

D’haene: Yes, it was a very good day for me. My feeling was very, very good yesterday. Yeah, I’m really happy to start the season like that. It’s always good to start on a good thing.

iRunFar: How long did you run with Pau Capell in the race?

D’haene: We ran until the sunrise at 7:00 a.m. We started at midnight. The two first hours, I was alone. Then I met him, and we ran five hours together.

iRunFar: So maybe around 70k?

D’haene: Yeah.

iRunFar: Did he fall off or did you improve your pace? How did you run alone?

D’haene: It was really interesting to run together. In ultra distance, you are never at one with another person. Yeah, we can discuss. We changed—sometimes I was in front, he was in front. Yeah, interesting for me to know him because I’d never met him before that and never had raced with him before that. He was a very interesting guy. We waited for each other at the aid stations. It was very friendly.

iRunFar: The camaraderie was strong.

D’haene: Yeah, it was a nice run with him.

iRunFar: How did you pull ahead? Did he just slow down, or were you feeling very good?

D’haene: Yeah, I was feeling good. Yeah, I was thinking… because at the aid station at 7:00 a.m., they were saying a runner was behind us, and they were coming back. I was thinking that Pau in the ascent was going a bit slower. I said, Yeah, I need to keep my own rhythm because when the sun rises I always feel sleepy a bit more. I had to keep my own rhythm or otherwise it would be lost. So in the long ascent, I took my own pace.

iRunFar: Now thinking of this race, and three years ago was Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji at the same time, how are you so fit on the climbing and descending when it’s only April? How do you get that training in during the winter?

D’haene: For this distance, it’s very hard. But for the ascent, I practice a lot of ski mountaineering—not a lot compared to the ‘elite’ athletes in ski mountaineering. Yeah, I think it helps a lot. When you skimo, your boots are heavy and you have a lot of climbing to do and it’s a little bit of altitude. For the ascent for sure it’s helped a lot. For the descent, it’s totally different. I did Pierra Menta, it’s a famous French skimo I did a month ago. Five days later I went for a small jog with 500 meters of descent… ehhh… the day after I was just hurt. I had cramps everywhere. In the ascent, it’s okay. In the descent, it’s not the same sport. For the past three weeks, I’ve tried to improve a little bit my descent, but it’s always a stress to arrive here because you don’t know. It’s about the muscle and the attitude in the descent. You have to be relaxed. You have to find your own rhythm to be fast and to be able to play and not put too much pressure on your muscles.

iRunFar: It’s not just being strong, it’s the technique as well.

D’haene: Yeah, you really have to… if you have confidence in your movements and in your descents, after everything is fluid, it’s better. But you have to find it, and it takes maybe three or two weeks to find it again. Yeah, I was surprised I had no cramps at all doing this race because it was a lot of elevation.

iRunFar: Today you’re walking around quite well.

D’haene: Quite well. It’s a big walk. No, it’s okay. I was thinking it could be quite worse. Yeah, I’m really happy about that.

iRunFar: You’ve run all over the world. You come to Madeira—what did you think of the running and the island?

D’haene: It’s my first time to Madeira. I don’t think it’s my last time here because it’s a small paradise for running, the people, the food and everything. It’s really cool. You already agree, yeah?

iRunFar: Yeah, I totally agree.

D’haene: I was very surprised about that. A lot of people said the middle of the race was really nice. Sure, it’s a race you should do one time in your life.

iRunFar: I think there’s a lot of variety in the terrain.

D’haene: Yes, a lot of variety. You start and it’s very humid, then it’s big and mountains, and then forest again and everything. Then you arrive on the beach. Yeah, it was very incredible and very intense.

iRunFar: What was your favorite part of the course?

D’haene: I think until the peak. The last part for me was maybe too much runnable, but it’s very nice.

iRunFar: So the very high country where you were going through tunnels and stairs…?

D’haene: Yeah, it was… you’re in the mountains in the middle of nowhere and you have some tunnels… yeah, it’s very incredible for a race.

iRunFar: What do you have next on your schedule?

D’haene: I have a race in China next week but just to come back in running. I will stop for 10 days. Then I will go back running at that race. I’m preparing for MaxiRace 110. It’s a new trail. Then I will see how my recovery is from MaxiRace. Lavaredo and Verbier. Then I will make a small stop at the end of July and try to prepare for UTMB at the end of August.

iRunFar: Is that your big focus for the season?

D’haene: It’s my last focus of the season of racing, but yes, for sure you try to improve during the season, but the most important thing is to arrive at UTMB not as your main goal. If you have a lot of goals before that, you have less pressure and you’re more happy to be there. That’s why I’m really, really happy with the race here in Madeira because it’s already a win for the season. It’s a big win for me and a very interesting race. Yeah, you know your season can keep going. It’s not like I’m only focusing on UTMB because otherwise UTMB could be crap.

iRunFar: There are going to be a lot of good runners at MaxiRace next month.

D’haene: Yes, I’m very happy I will see Max King and Dakota Jones, two nice American guys.

iRunFar: And they’re both very strong right now.

D’haene: Yeah, I like them, and I’m really happy to run with them. It will be a very long day at 110k. For sure we will have time to speak and run together.

iRunFar: Good, well congratulations on your win here, and good luck at MaxiRace.

D’haene: Thanks, and you to for your race here.

iRunFar: Thank you.

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