Luke Nelson (Patagonia/UltrAspire) of the United States is in the best ultrarunning shape of his life. That’s scary news coming from the reigning US Ski Mountaineering national champion. In the following interview, find out how well his season is going, why he bought more running clothes while in Chamonix, and what he thinks of Kilian Jornet’s and Andy Anderson’s recent runs on the Grand Teton.
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Luke Nelson Pre-2012 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell here of iRunFar with Luke Nelson of Patagonia. How are you doing?
Luke Nelson: Doing well, thanks, Bryon.
iRF: The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
Nelson: Here we are.
iRF: Here we are. It’s looking dicier and dicier out there for race day. What’s the latest you’ve heard?
Nelson: The latest weather reports I’ve heard were expecting 10 cm of snow on Friday night and the same during the day with temperatures between -5 and -10C. So that’s like 20F and with 30-50kph winds the whole time.
Nelson: It’s looking great.
iRF: I’m sure the passes will be pleasant.
Nelson: Oh yeah, it will be ideal running conditions up there. It maybe a little bit of “take your shirt off some” kind of weather.
iRF: If Tony [Krupicka] was racing.
Nelson: Tony would definitely have his shirt off, but I think I’m definitely going to have a GORE-TEX jacket on.
iRF: This might be the one time you might want to wear a …
Nelson: Yeah, I definitely had to rethink my entire kit because of the weather conditions. I watched last year’s race via your website and experienced secondhand what it could be. I came with what I thought was prepared, but after being here in the mountains for a week, I realized I came unprepared.
iRF: So you went down to the Patagonia store this afternoon.
Nelson: Yeah, I went down and got a few extra things to make sure I had some backup clothing so I didn’t have to worry about running wet and cold—that I could be dry and could change into dry clothes—so I could worry about just running.
iRF: So anyone that is going to be running UTMB from the States, bring a second long-sleeved shirt. You’re going to want it. I bought one in Chamonix last year.
Nelson: Yeah, you know I had a whole pile of stuff that I was maybe going to bring—bring it all. Just bring an extra bag of stuff.
iRF: It’s cheaper than having to buy it here.
Nelson: Yeah, just pay for the extra luggage and bring it.
iRF: Tell me about your season so far. What have you been up to this year running-wise?
Nelson: I’ve been up to a little bit less than I’ve raced in the past. Part of that is because I really wanted to focus on this race. I started off early with Chuckanut, and like a lot of other runners out there kinda got it handed to them because of what that race is—it’s not my strong suits. I had a great race, ton of fun. Krissy [Moehl] did a wonderful job with the race, but it was a lot harder than I expected it to be. Then after that, I helped race direct the Pocatello 50-miler which was more exhausting than running it. I went to the San Diego 100 the weekend after it, which was a bad choice to try to race after race directing, and I ended up not finishing. It was my first DNF in an ultra; it was kind of a hard thing to swallow, to be honest. Then the rest of the summer I spent in the Tetons, running, getting ready for this. I was trying to get an FKT on the Grand Teton before all the superstars came to town. Then I raced my favorite 50k race 2 weeks ago before coming here as kind of a tune up— El Vaquero Loco, Ty Draney’s race up in Wyoming.
iRF: You set the course record and became the first person under 5 hours.
Nelson: Yes, and it was my 5th time running it, so a lot of “fives.”
iRF: It was your first ultra 5 years ago, wasn’t it? So 5th anniversary and a course record.
Nelson: It was, it was my first ultra. Yes, and I got to break 5 hours. It was awesome. It helped me to gauge my fitness where I’m at even compared to last year. Last year I was as fit as I’ve ever been going into Wasatch. This year, I ran 18 minutes faster at the same race.
iRF: For 50k, so…
Nelson: For 50k.
iRF: Extrapolate that out and that could be 1.5 hours in a 100-miler.
Nelson: It could be, yeah, and I feel like I’m fitter than I was then. So we’ll see what happens.
iRF: So what is your plan here? You haven’t run…
Nelson: I haven’t run UTMB. I got here on Saturday and after spending a week on the course, I’m humbled by the mountains. They’re big—they’re really big. Because of that humble pie I was served early on, I’m going to try to keep it more contained at the beginning and not race until Champex Lac, which is about 75 miles. I just want to get there in one piece and feel okay to be able to finish strong.
iRF: The competition here?
Nelson: There’s a lot. The strange thing is maybe not the superstars of ultrarunning—Kilian [Jornet]’s not running this year, and from North America a lot of the real big names, the guys that I really look up to, a lot of them aren’t here for whatever reason. Mike Foote is here; he’s very strong. I trained with him a little bit in the Tetons. I know that he has the potential to have a really awesome day out there. In the international field, there’s a lot of everybody else. Seb [Chaigneau] is here, Jez Bragg is here, Iker [Karrera], Miguel Heras—there are a lot of people here who could be in contention. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to the field early on. I think that there is going to be a lot of carnage, and with the weather, I think that there is going to be a lot of carnage from the weather. In my mind, this race is a race of attrition to see who can take good care of themselves the best and run well but not out of their element.
iRF: Nice, well best of luck out there this weekend, Luke.
Nelson: Thanks, Bryon.
* * * * *
iRF: Now a bonus question. You talked about it a little bit. Put Kilian and Andy Anderson’s runs up the Grand Teton in perspective.
Nelson: Ah, gee. I’ve now climbed the Grand Teton 6 times in the last 2 summers. I was working really hard hoping to be the first to break Bryce [Thatcher]’s record. When I got wind of it that Rickey [Gates]—well Rickey was going for it first—I thought, “Oooh, man he’s strong.” I went up the day that Rickey went and ran 3:19. There was still a decent snowfield then, and it was impressive. He ran fast—faster than I had for sure. He took a little bit different line using the snow field differently. He and I both agreed at the bottom, “Oh yeah, those guys will come, but without the snow they won’t be able to do it. What Kilian did was just insane. I can’t think of another word for it because knowing how quickly he had to descend… The ascent I can understand Kilian because he’s so strong, but what he did on the descent had to be incredible to watch. Then Andy to go back a week later and take another minute off of that without short-cutting… the guy is incredible… a hero for sure. What he did is so fast and so strong—and in my mind, he did it in the cleanest way possible.
iRF: So are you still going to go back out there?
Nelson: I’m still going to try and work it, and if nothing else, I’m going to get a PR. I don’t know if I’m capable of running under 3 hours. I’m sure going to try.
iRF: Well have fun running around the biggest mountains in the world.
Nelson: Thank you, thanks Bryon.