After placing second last year, Switzerland’s Marc Lauenstein is the top runner returning to this year’s Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon. In the following interview, Marc talks about what parts of the Zegama course suit him the best, how trail running compares to orienteering, and how play is an important part of his running.
Marc Lauenstein Pre-2017 Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Marc Lauenstein before the 2017 Zegama Marathon. How are you, Marc?
Marc Lauenstein: Thank you, very well.
iRunFar: You were at Zegama last year and finished second, so you’re the top returning runner. Do you feel any pressure this year?
Lauenstein: Not more than other races because the field is absolutely amazing again this year with different runners, that’s true, but there are a lot of new runners which didn’t race last year. They will be very hard to beat.
iRunFar: At a race like this, is there a certain portion of the race you think you’re best at?
Lauenstein: I think I have the advantage that I’m a quite universal runner. Overall, I think the good thing is that we see everything in this race. There are no super long uphills where the selection is made or on the downhills. This suits me really well. If I had to pick one of my attributes as the best, it’s probably the technical downhills. At Zegama there are a few ones in the forest that I really enjoy. I like running through the forest in the downhills. I’m looking forward to it.
iRunFar: If you’re near the front at mid-race, you think you have a good chance to do well on the last section?
Lauenstein: It depends on the shape. It’s so difficult to predict because once your legs are dead, they’re dead. There’s nothing you can do about it. Yeah, I think all the downhills will be very good for me. On the other hand, the last 10k are very rolling with some technical. Ironically, I like the downhills when it’s technical but not when it’s just road running. This will be tough for me.
iRunFar: It’s a very quick section.
Lauenstein: Absolutely. You really have to run fast at the end.
iRunFar: Faster than 4 minutes per kilometer.
Lauenstein: Yes, and that’s not my type of running, but tomorrow I’ll have to do it.
iRunFar: Why are you so strong at technical descents? Is it part of your background?
Lauenstein: Yes, I think as an orienteer, I did hundreds of hours not on trails running through the forest. It really doesn’t scare me to run where it’s technical where I don’t see where my feet go. It’s actually what I enjoy. I just let the animal instinct guide me on those downhills.
iRunFar: Does it feel like you’re a kid playing in the woods?
Lauenstein: Absolutely. It’s what I always tell myself. It puts a smile on my face, and I just drop down those hills.
iRunFar: I think people could have different approaches to that. Some people could be super focused, and it’s like solving an equation or a problem, or it could just be play going through a technical section. What is it for you?
Lauenstein: Actually, sports in general for me, it needs to be play. I notice for myself through my experience, I’m the strongest if I let my instinct guide me or perform. Of course, I need to train, and it needs to be thought through, but on the D-Day, I need to be a playful animal.
iRunFar: So if we saw you going up Sancti Spiritu climb and you have a big smile on your face, that’s a good sign?
Lauenstein: It’s a good sign that I’m expecting of myself that I will enjoy the section.
iRunFar: You’ve done Zegama before. Are the fans a very important part of this race?
Lauenstein: Yes, of course. Zegama is unique for that. It’s the only race with such a fan community. I must say, the course is also very interesting because it’s, again, so playful. It always goes up or down, and it’s never boring. That’s why I am back this year because I looked forward to running this course again.
iRunFar: All in all, it’s a great experience for you.
Lauenstein: Absolutely. Zegama is a unique race for everything. It’s something as a trail runner we have to experience.
iRunFar: I’ve heard that Sierre-Zinal has a good atmosphere, but does this have another level?
Lauenstein: Sierre-Zinal is a bit different in the way that I grew up there… well, for me it’s a different because I grew up there, so a lot of people are cheering on my name on the side of the course. So, my heart beats more when I run Sierre-Zinal, and yet, here, I can’t hear my own breathing on certain sections. Both races have this special feeling that you notice. It’s not an economical reason why this race is set up. It’s really because people love this race. The volunteers are crazy about it. There are a lot of fans coming just for that.
iRunFar: You’ve only been focused on trail running for a few years, but before that you were an orienteer for a long time. When did you start orienteering?
Lauenstein: I orienteered since maybe 10 years old. I’m still in my heart an orienteer still most. I’m not as competitive as I used to. My trail running and mountain races are more of a diversion.
iRunFar: You’re still an orienteer.
iRunFar: You were on a very competitive level with that?
Lauenstein: No, in orienteering, I do it just for fun, but most weekends with my family we go to orienteering races. It’s always a family trip for us. I might miss a warm up before the start race, but it doesn’t matter. It’s really just fun for me. It’s who I am.
iRunFar: Despite being an orienteer, you’ve still won Pikes Peak, Sierre-Zinal, Giir di Mont, Three Peaks, a bunch of other races—that’s a pretty good resume for your side sport.
Lauenstein: Yeah, that’s true, but I’m turning 37, and I know I want to look back that I had fun with the sport. I think even if I would focus totally on trail running, I would not be better at it. Certainly my family wouldn’t support it if I invested more in it, and then I would probably not be able to do it for a long time.
iRunFar: So it works out in the end for you, orienteering and a little trail running on the side.
Lauenstein: Absolutely. I think this way I’ll still be trail running in 20 years because it’s in balance, and it’s not a huge investment for me. It’s just enjoying life besides family and work.
iRunFar: You’re a dentist, a father, a husband—you have a busy schedule outside of sport.
Lauenstein: Absolutely, but I think it’s in my nature to be busy. I would not feel fulfilled if my days weren’t super busy. That’s who I am, I guess. There were times where I was almost a professional sportsman, but in all truths, I’d rather have it how I live now.
iRunFar: You’ve now done trail running long enough to know what the sport is about. What are the biggest differences between orienteering as a sport and trail running, aside from the navigation, but the spirit of the sport?
Lauenstein: I think it’s quite similar to be honest. You meet the same people—very humble simple people who love nature and running through the forest and running int he mountains. The spirit, I think, is similar. The sport is not that far either. I would say—most people don’t realize it—but orienteering is more dynamic. It’s shorter races between 40 minutes and 1 hour 30. We run at full speed through the forest. It’s unbelievable the feelings you get when you navigate through the forest. If you’re experienced enough, you don’t think anymore about it. You feel like an animal finding a way, and you’re always full speed. In my good races in trail running, I feel a little bit this sensation, too, but all in all it’s a little bit the same, but sorry, trail running might be a little bit more boring.
iRunFar: I hope you have a somewhat exciting day on the trails tomorrow. Best of luck to you.
Lauenstein: Thank you.