If you’re looking for a lesson on how to run the perfect ultramarathon, you might want to talk to Mike Foote (The North Face). That’s what we did after the Montanan finished third at the 2012 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc after also being the top American finisher at the 2011 running of UTMB.
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Mike Foote Post-2012 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell here of iRunFar with Mike Foote of… you can be of iRunFar if you want to, but of The North Face (and Big Dipper Ice Cream). You finished 3rd at UTMB, man. How does it feel?
Mike Foote: Great. It feels good. It was a little bit of a surprise, absolutely.
iRF: You did awesome last year—you were 11th. You were kind of shooting maybe for top-5 if you had an awesome day. You were 3rd. You were back in the pack early.
Foote: Yeah, I was 20th at Les Contamines at 30k. You know what? That was exactly where I wanted to be. I was pretty happy with the effort I was putting in at that point. It was my first 100k, so it was hard to remind myself of what kind of pace I should be running. You’d hit a hill and wonder, “Okay, is this a hill you should run or walk in 100k race?” So that was difficult, but I felt like I had good energy half way through the race, and it was time to start pushing.
iRF: In those early miles when you had a questionable hill—because some are not, some you are going to walk—did you err on the conservative side or did you say, “This is 100k, so I should run it.”
Foote: I don’t know, probably conservative. It was hard saying in the moment. I wanted to make sure I felt good on the second half, so I took it a little easier on the first, absolutely.
iRF: The start: people were through Les Houches in the blink of an eye. What did it feel like where you were? Did it feel like a road race?
Foote: Yes. It’s so interesting when you have a 3 minute countdown, and you feel literally 2,000 people behind you pushing. Sebastian Chaigneau went down right next to me and you want to help him but there’s so much energy… There was a guy on rollerblades with a 30 pound camera right next to us who almost went down and then almost ran into the crowd. It’s an anxious start. There’s this false sense of urgency for the first 5k just because you’re afraid of what’s behind you. Once you get out, it’s an ultramarathon mountain race just like anything else.
iRF: So it was sort of a figure-8 course on Friday and Saturday. You get down to the far point, you go past La Balme, you’re coming back, and Les Contamines is about 50k?
Foote: Yes, 54k, something like that.
iRF: So you’re coming back. How do you feel half way through the race?
Foote: Good. Time to move. I felt like I was just trying to stay… The first 25-30k of the race, with the way the course changed and the weather and the dark and the fact that I knew I was going to be running an entire race with a headlamp on and really no sunlight on either side, was pretty interesting. I feel like I woke up and was ready to race about 30k in. So at 50k, I was fully committed to giving my best effort. It was just a matter of giving that best effort over the right amount of time for that half and to have barely anything left when I got to the finish line.
iRF: At Les Contamines the second time, you were in about 15th place. There were a few drops after that—Seb, Miguel Heras, I think?
Foote: Miguel was earlier, but Seb, yes.
iRF: There weren’t a whole lot of people dropping in front of you. You were catching people. Were you kind of enjoying playing Pac Man?
Foote: It gives you energy. It gives you something to work towards. How many can I get? How many can I get? That’s something we tell our cross-country kids for the school I coach at all the time. How many can you get? We talk about that, and that’s something I think about in a race. How many folks can you catch up with in the next 10k? In the next 20k? In the next 30k? You want to always have that goal you set for yourself.
iRF: When did you know your position for sure? Like at Les Houches, you were 9th.
Foote: Depending on the race, sometimes I don’t ask and I don’t want to know. This race, I wanted to know. I wanted to know who was in front of me. I felt good, so I felt confident that I could move forward and catch people. I never really knew; in fact, I thought I was in 4th place when I crossed the finish line. My sister told me I got 3rd which was a great surprise. But I thought the guy that I had passed with 7k to go had put me in 4th, from 5th.
iRF: Even when you thought you finished 4th, you looked pretty psyched.
Foote: I was happy. There’s always an asterisk to these types of races, how they’re always changed and we’re all dealt the same couple cards. There were people such as Julien Chorier and Iker Karrera who weren’t at the start line. Those are two guys who I would be honored to be a few places behind them. So it’s always a matter of that. But it’s always nice to know that 98% of the people… I really didn’t know too many people who chose not to show up at the start line, which was great. Regardless, I felt like I had an effort that I could be proud of regardless of what place I was in. It was good to have the Montana flag to wave in the wind on the way to the finish line.
iRF: I think you may have been the first person to finish UTMB with a flag of a state in the United States.
Foote: Exactly. You know there were 73 countries represented, and I have a Montana flag.
iRF: You were charging hard late. What were you 5th at Argentiere?
Foote: Yeah, 5th or 4th, I was right there.
iRF: You’re still looking for headlamps ahead of you.
Foote: I asked how far ahead is 3rd place? And they said 8 minutes. I caught him within 3k, within 15-20 minutes, so I think he was a lot closer than that. We were mixed in with the CCCers at that point, so there were 100s of people in front of me at that point it felt like. So I was looking for people who were moving around the same speed I was. So I knew I had 10k of flat to go, and I wanted to run it as hard as I possibly could.
iRF: How fast do you think you were?
Foote: You always think you were running fast. I’d have to look at my splits.
iRF: You weren’t running a 42min or a 32 min 10k?
Foote: No, but it was a lot faster than I’ve ever finished the last 10k of an ultramarathon before for sure. But it was pretty muddy and dark and there were lots of people. I was trying to be as efficient as I could through that last section.
iRF: Did you get lost going out of Les Houches the second time because she saw multiple runners off course at that point?
Foote: No, I only had a little bit of route finding. For the most part it was okay—only a minute or two of route finding the entire race. I felt really fortunate to not spend a lot of time with that. I lucked out absolutely.
iRF: I don’t want to take away from this moment too much, but what’s next? Now that you’ve hit the podium at UTMB, where can we look for you next?
Foote: I’m not sure right now. It’s cross-country season in Montana, and I’ve got 6-8 weeks of hanging out with some high schoolers coaching and all that. I’m going to focus on all that. Obviously, I’ll be at The North Face 50 Mile in San Francisco, so that’s the next definite one. I might throw something in between now and then, but that’s the next main goal.
iRF: Well, we won’t get worried when we see you in 20th place at 20k in because you’re a closer. Great job.
Foote: Thanks. I appreciate it.
* * * * *
iRF: Okay, first person to fall asleep wins.
Foote: Settle yourself, Bryon, let’s do this. Do you want me to interview you?
iRF: Alright. How about you interview yourself?
Foote: Hello, this is Mike Foote with iRunFar, and I’m here with Mike Foote.
iRF: As if you couldn’t tell, we’re a little punch-drunk from being sleep-deprived.