David Laney returns to UTMB as the most consistent American men’s performer this side of Mike Foote. In the following interview, David talks about what are his high and low memories from UTMBs past, what he’s been up to the past year, how he sees the men’s competition playing out at this year’s UTMB, and where he derives his ultrarunning motivation from.
David Laney Pre-UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and we’re here in Chamonix, France, with David Laney. It’s the day before the 2017 UTMB. David Laney, back in Chamonix.
David Laney: Good to be back as always.
iRunFar: What does bring you back to a race like this? You’ve podiumed once, you’ve finished fourth once. You’ve had what looks like from the outside looking in darn-fine races. What brings you back?
Laney: There was some question in my mind this spring what I wanted to do—if I wanted to do something like a really long FKT or come back here or do something kind of different. In the end after seeing the field that was assembled and kind of how historic this race is going to be, it was something I didn’t want to miss out on and wanted to be a part of. Then it’s just… it’s Chamonix. These mountains are incredible, and it’s just a really fun place to be. There’s not many races, even 100 miles, where you get that experience and energy from the crowd like you do here which lets you do things that you normally couldn’t do.
iRunFar: Looking back on your two performances here, what sort of good memories do you bring to this race, and what things have you learned the hard way?
Laney: That’s a good question. The hardest thing learning was just getting used to the relentless descents and then straight back into a climb. It’s not like it’s a descent and then you get some flat to get your legs back to normal. It’s just straight down and then shoots straight back up. That’s a lot what I focused on training this year. I’d say that’s the biggest thing.
iRunFar: Those really long climbs and long descents and at the right grade can be difficult to find in North America. Where did you train?
Laney: I was in the North Cascades a lot—Leavenworth and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I was in Bellingham a little bit which has really steep trails that are technical which is really fun. I think that’s a great spot. I was in the Steens Mountains briefly again working a running camp there.
iRunFar: The UTMB course is really unique in that it has moments of technicality but generally it’s very steep and…
Laney: There are definitely sections that are technical, but overall it’s steep runnable. It beats up the quads a different way for sure.
iRunFar: Walk us through what you’ve been doing since your race last year? I think that was the definitive end of season for you?
Laney: Yeah, for sure. Focusing on my mustache growth was the primary goal.
iRunFar: Super critical. It’s looking good by the way.
Laney: Thank you. I appreciate that. That was my primary… that’s what I wanted to hear. What else have I done?
iRunFar: Do you still live out of your car?
Laney: I do. Yes, that is correct. Maybe not anymore after this. We’ll see. Rent is really expensive, so my hopes may not meet my needs. Yeah, I’m still living out of the car. It’s been good. It’s okay.
iRunFar: Maybe you had an injury or a niggle of an injury over the winter?
Laney: Yeah, I had a weird thing in my shin. I took a good amount of time off. It did get better, but I have to kind of keep on it definitely. It hasn’t totally gone away, but luckily it doesn’t affect my training right now. I just feel it. I did take time off, and I definitely benefitted. I felt great. It’s amazing what a couple weeks of no running will do.
iRunFar: Rest? Downright rest?
Laney: Yeah, for the first time in years.
iRunFar: Was it like a bone bruise?
Laney: I’m still trying to figure it out. I’ve had multiple doctors say multiple things. I had a bone scan and one guy said there’s a definitive fracture line, one guy said there’s no definitive fracture and there’s just this massive bruise. I don’t know. There’s this weird lump thing. I don’t know, but it’s under control. If I do a few things on it especially ankle mobility, it will be totally fine.
iRunFar: A few questions about this race—you’ve been here now three times, and each year the competition has grown a little bit more, but I would say the competition took a big step up from last year to this year. As a result of that, how do you see… this race is known for going out fast and hard, and you’ve made a name for yourself for not being the guy who goes out fast and hard. How do you foresee things playing out in the men’s group tomorrow?
Laney: That’s a great question. I think there’s going to be the typical things that go wrong for people and rough patches and dropouts and all that. The fact is, instead of 10 really good guys, there are 20 really good guys. That will leave 10 really good guys feeling good at Champex-Lac instead of five or six. So it’s going to be colder. I love the cold. I’m sure most of these guys do, too.
iRunFar: Who loves hot and humid weather? Well, I guess somebody does.
Laney: Yeah, probably. There’s going to be more guys—it’s the nature of the field being bigger. I think it’s going to be pretty similar to what you see overall, the carnage over the race.
iRunFar: When you see a guy like Jim Walmsley or Zach Miller, who is known for taking it out hot, does that make you happy when you see that because there’s more potential for somebody with a strategy like yours?
Laney: I don’t really care. Not really. I don’t think they’re going out, like…
iRunFar: Zach took it out, led out the field last year, but his pace was not that far off the standard deviation for this race.
Laney: If it was stupid or unsustainably fast—in some level it was because he wasn’t able to sustain it, but it wasn’t insane; it wasn’t unintelligibly fast. It was a level he thought he could maintain, and he almost did. If people are going out that fast, great. I think everyone pretty much knows that risk they’re willing to take. I’ll probably run from the back again. Hopefully. We’ll see.
iRunFar: Stalk people across Tête aux Vents…
Laney: That’s a fun section. I love that. That last climb is so brutal. But this year, it might not be that… it will be brutal either way, but without that intense sun…
iRunFar: Heat factor?
Laney: It could be fine.
iRunFar: You’ve been at this thing—this trail-ultra thing—for awhile now. You’re about to get tossed a French Ritz cracker or something. I’ve got to ask you what keeps you motivated, what keeps you going at this point?
Laney: It’s really interesting. I was thinking about that word ‘motivation’ this morning. I just like going running. It would be something I did even if… I would do it if no one else went running. I like spending time in the mountains. I think that’s how a lot of these guys are. Sometimes all this commotion and stuff around it is more challenging…
iRunFar: Dealing with the fray of the press conference and…
Laney: …Makes it a little stressful. I’m like, Okay, can I just go put my hood on and go up the VK?I like being alone in the mountains. I like doing something that’s really hard. There’s not many opportunities you get in life, especially now…
iRunFar: …To literally do hard things.
Laney: To do something that you don’t totally know if you can… I think I can get around the mountain tomorrow, but I don’t totally know. To have that real discomfort for a long time… most of the time I’m fairly… it’s not that uncomfortable. I think there’s a lot of benefit in doing something you don’t know if you can do and doing something that’s really, really painful. The more of that the better for me.
iRunFar: Fair enough. May the carnage be with you tomorrow.
Laney: I appreciate it. I’ll need it.
iRunFar: We’ll see you out there. Good luck, David.