François d’Haene (Salomon) made a name for himself in the international ultrarunning community this past weekend with his victory at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In the following interview, find out when d’Haene decided to run the revised version of UTMB, why he went out hard, how he held off the competition, and what he does when he’s not running.
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François d’Haene, 2012 TNF UTMB Champion Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Francois d’Haene after his victory at the 2012 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Congratulations!
Francois d’Haene: Thank you. I’m very happy.
iRF: You should be. You had a great run this weekend. Although a few of your teammates didn’t start the race, there were still an amazing number of talented runners out there this weekend. When did you take the lead?
d’Haene: Very near the beginning. I like to go at speed at the start. There were a lot of people. This race had modifications, so I decided to make it a race without reflection and without strategy. I like to take pleasure and to give to the people and to my family and my support like a present. I tried to be at the top of the race all the race. If it wasn’t possible to go at the end at this top, it’s no thing. I say I have performed before and that’s why I was at the start at the top of the race. There were 5 people until…
iRF: Jonas Buud, Miguel Heras, some others?
d’Haene: Emmanual Gault, Pascal Giguet —two French people that I know well.
iRF: So you were with your friends.
d’Haene: Yes, we do the first ascent to Delevret together and at the end of the descent, we were just three. I arrived in St. Gervais. I don’t know if you were there, but it’s a big fest in St. Gervais. There are a lot of people.
iRF: It’s an amazing atmosphere.
d’Haene: Yes. Very good. I was at the top of the race, so I say, “Now I try to stay here.” After Contamines, I was just with Miguel. When I go out from Les Contamines, I was alone. I say, “Maybe I take my own rate.” I tried to look where others were when I arrived at the most high point of the race. I don’t know where the others are.
iRF: You can’t see anyone else.
d’Haene: I can’t see anyone. My [lead] was more and more big. I say, “Now you must try to do anything you can dream.” I was fast, so that was very, very good.
iRF: Were you scared? Were you ever scared of the other runners catching you? Right behind you was Jonas Buud who has so much speed.
d’Haene: Yes. He’s a very fast runner, an impressive runner. He has very good times in marathon and 100k. I say, “Oh, if he has speed at the end, there’s not a lot of ascent or descent. Maybe he’s aiming for then. Maybe that’s his strategy to go slowly until then and then speed.” I was afraid. But when I arrive at Les Houches, I take [more lead] in the ascent and descent and in the flat. Now, if my legs are good and I go at the end with 20 minutes before him, I think it’s possible for me to win.
iRF: So you enjoyed the final miles.
iRF: During the day on Friday, once you learned of the modified course, you weren’t sure if you were going to run this race, correct?
d’Haene: Friday morning was very, very difficult. I was with my wife and all my support and my family on the phone and one say, “No, the race is not the same race.” At the beginning, I believed they could save the race; then no, not possible. Two years ago, it’s the same thing. No, I’ve been training all my summer and I have very good feelings. After they say it’s 100k, just 20 people out of 2400 people, just 20 people don’t take the start. Everybody is here. All my support is here—my organization. Now I must take motivation. So that afternoon, I try to take sleep. At 5pm, I make my bags and give them to my assistant and say, “Now, I must go.”
iRF: Excellent. You had a great race. Tomorrow you go home and harvest grapes. You own a winery.
d’Haene: Yes. It’s the first time for us. Since January we have taken our own winery exploitation. It’s the first time for us. We learned to do some white wine in Domaine du Germain.
iRF: It just seems amazing to produce your own wine. How did you decide to make wine because your education is in exercise science or sports medicine?
d’Haene: Physiotherapy and kinesiology. With my wife we wanted to be together and to work outdoors. Our family has done exploitation before, and no one wanted to continue the exploitation. We can forget this exploitation, or maybe we can taste it and learn it and we can work together. We know that it’s difficult to produce wine and to have some options for everybody and we want to try it. I think this year was a very good experience because we were outdoors and always together. We discovered a lot of things about wine and nature.
iRF: Excellent. Might you be coming to run in the United States? What races do you have left this year?
d’Haene: United States is for me a country that I’ve never gone. It’s a dream for me and for everybody to go discover all the countries and the United States in particular. There are a lot of big races there and friends doing those races—Kilian [Jornet], Thomas [Lorblanchet], Julien [Chorier] have won some of the biggest races in the United States. For me, when you have a victory like here in Chamonix at UTMB, you can dream and you can imagine that you can go anywhere in the world and do the most prestigious races. For me maybe next year I’ll try to go to the United States. For me, the Hardrock 100 is the race that is the most inspiring for me because there is a lot of ascent and descent and I prefer when there’s a lot of vertical than when there’s a lot of flat. I know that the possibility to participate in Hardrock is very, very hard.
iRF: Well, we hope to see you over at Hardrock or another race in the United States soon. Congratulations.
d’Haene: Thank you very much.