The Montana Mikes, Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe, each have a long history with The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Mike Foote returns as the highest-placing American man from the 2012 UTMB, where he finished third, and Mike Wolfe’s best finish was second in 2010. In this interview, Mike Wolfe talks about his recovery from his FKT of the John Muir Trail with Hal Koerner less than four weeks ago and his expectations for himself at this race. And, Mike Foote talks about the energy and history of the trail over which the race passes and why he keeps coming back to the UTMB.
[Editor’s Note: Here’s our full 2013 TNF UTMB men’s race preview.]
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote Pre-2013 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Montana Mikes—Mike Wolfe [left] and Mike Foote [right]. How are you guys doing?
Mike Wolfe: Doing well.
Mike Foote: Very well, thank you.
iRF: You guys are not new to the UTMB. What brings you back?
Wolfe: Definitely not new—fourth time over here. What brings me back? I’m not really sure what brought me back this year. I was signed up early on and had plane tickets. I’m excited to race.
iRF: You probably had the harder decision in terms of wanting to come back. You just did the John Muir Trail, 200-plus miles, a month ago… less than a month ago.
Wolfe: Yeah, less than a month—25 days, 27 days. Yeah, it was a hard decision. I actually was waffling up until last week really. Just a little lingering injury—some tendonitis in my shin and then overall whether or not I’m really recovered or not. But I figured, what the heck. Might as well come over.
iRF: Throw it against the wall and see what sticks?
Wolfe: Yes, see what’s inside and if I have anything left.
iRF: What do you think will be harder, finding the physical ability or the mental energy? Obviously the JMT has to be fatiguing in both regards.
Wolfe: Yeah very fatiguing mentally and physically. I don’t know. Right now I feel like I have the mental energy. I’m questioning the physical energy, but who knows? Who knows? I don’t know. I’m just going to play it by ear and see how I feel. Throw caution to the wind.
iRF: You, Foote? What do you think about that attitude?
Foote: It’s inspiring. I love it. I’m back here because this will be my third go at running the full course. Fingers crossed, the weather is looking favorable.
iRF: It will be your first run of the full course.
Foote: Yeah, it’s an inspiring dream. Every time I come to Chamonix and the Alps, it’s incredible. You get here and the mountains are bigger and there are trails everywhere. It’s really hard not to go run as much as you can the few days before the race. I’m excited to be here. After the last two years of rain and course changes, I’d say my inspiration is to come back and run the full course against a good field as always.
iRF: Were you both able to control yourselves and not spend too much time in the beautiful mountains this past week.
Foote: Absolutely. I’ve been laying low.
Wolfe: Yeah, I haven’t done hardly anything.
iRF: So you’ve finished second here [Wolfe]. You’ve got a third [Foote]. Do you get drawn back by the lure of trying to win or do you just try to have your best day here? On the competitive or performance side, what drives you?
Foote: I always feel like this is one of those races where it’s, and of course it’s so competitive and you’re pulled along by the field and you can achieve your best potential by having very strong runners pull you along running right next to you, but this is you versus the course. If you’re not smart and you don’t stick to your strategy, it can just spit you out the back end if you’re not careful. For me, achieving my best potential is running my own race and letting the course come to me and see what I have on that day. Absolutely.
iRF: Last year that really did play out with you. You were never hugely far back, but you definitely made a huge move late at 100k, so do you hope to do that again?
Foote: I do, yeah. I’d be pretty comfortable not being anywhere near the front at Courmayeur.
iRF: Even at Courmayeur, okay.
Foote: Yeah, we’ll see how it shakes out, but my strategy and my best races tend to be moving through the latter half of the race. I’ll try and stick to that. We’ll see what happens.
Wolfe: I came back over because I feel like every year I’ve come here I still haven’t had the full original course experience where I feel like I’ve really run the race I’m capable of. I’m not really sure I’m going to be able to run the race I’m capable of this year, but I wanted to come and I’d planned on coming. I’m excited. I do want to have the true original UTMB course experience and run well. But this year I’m honestly, I just feel like I want to have a good time out there. Typically I’ve maybe gone out too hard in this race to start or… this year, anyway, my plan is to take it way more easy and just see how I feel the first half for sure. I’m not going to be going out of the gates hard.
iRF: It’s interesting how interviewing you guys and Anton [Krupicka] and Timothy [Olson] and Gary Robbins as well and everybody kind of is kind of talking about going out slowly and maybe being in 50th or further back at Les Houches. How can you do that when you have 100 Euros… and you’re going to know some of them and yeah, they’re going to go off the front… but there are going to be guys that you have no clue who they are.
Wolfe: I feel like it’s always easier said than done. Everybody says that, but once you get in the energy of this race, especially if you’ve never done this before, it’s hard to hold yourself back.
Foote: I feel it’s harder to hold yourself back than it is to go.
Wolfe: That energy is just so strong especially through Saint-Gervais and Les Contamines. I’ll be interested to see whether some of those Americans or North Americans really do hold themselves back as much as they say they are. I don’t know. It’s really hard.
iRF: It’s super hard. Not just getting in the aid stations and in those towns, but not even in the towns. I forget the name of it—the first big climb before Saint-Gervais.
iRF: There are going to be hundreds of people on this random climb before the big towns.
iRF: They’re all screaming and cow-belling. The runners who haven’t been here don’t think of that. Is there a major piece of advice you have for the Americans coming over here for the first time?
Foote: I don’t think I have any advice. Everybody handles it differently. I do feel like it’s important to soak up that energy along the course because that’s what’s so unique about UTMB. A lot of people who have done it love it and that’s why they come back—the history of the course, the history of the trail, and the amount of people you see along the trail, the different cultures that you pass through along all of that. With that said, hopefully you can soak up that energy more in the second half and not let it get to you too much in the first half.
iRF: It is really an interesting cultural experience both for the runners on the course, you’re going through France and people are hiking or walking the trail and you’re saying, “Bonjour!” Then you’re in Italy and alright you’ve got to switch languages. Then you’re back in Switzerland. It’s just such a, for me, a cool foreign experience. Is it the same for you guys?
Wolfe: Definitely. Coming over here, we’ve both been here year after year, it doesn’t really change at least for me. It’s always exciting and whenever I talk to Americans at home about it, it’s a bucket-list race. Every runner should come over here and do this race just for the experience at some point in their lives just because it is so unique and special for sure, I think.
Foote: The international feel of not only going through three countries, but you’re always running next to somebody from another country, and not a few countries, but dozens and dozens of countries. That’s a pretty unique, again, feeling of any race I’ve been to.
iRF: It’s not noon yet and I’ve already met people from four different countries. That’s just amazing. It’s amazing you’ll be running next to Greeks and Spaniards and Japanese and Frenchmen and you might not speak another’s language, but you can have a meaningful exchange. Trails are an international language.
Foote: The camaraderie is good.
iRF: Have you guys had that during your races? I remember hearing about 2011 with Kilian [Jornet], Iker [Karrera], Seb [Chaigneau], and Miguel [Heras] all running together for the vast majority of the race. Have you guys spent any stretches where you were running together with other folks here at UTMB?
Foote: I historically always end up somewhere in between everybody. I run by myself in most of these races.
iRF: No-man’s land?
Foote: Yeah, and if I end up towards the front it’s because I caught up finally and passed somebody. I never feel like I’m with people for long which is actually something I’d like to experience this time. I’d be pretty excited especially through the night to have a group of similarly paced runners to work with through the night so I’m not just out in no-man’s land. That would be something I’d like to experience this year—sharing a good chunk of time together.
Wolfe: Yeah, I feel like I’ve had little fits and spurts of that the years I’ve been over here—stretches where I’ve run with people. The year, 2010, Jez [Bragg] and I ran together and pulled each other along a lot of that race. We were catching people, but we had a very cool experience where we were running together and pushing each other. In other years, I’ve had little stretches, but never like Kilian/Iker/Miguel where they literally ran the whole race tougether. I’ve never experienced that.
iRF: I remember, as a spectator, watching you and Jez having all that time together.
Wolfe: Yeah, that was cool.
iRF: Were you together when you passed Julien [Chorier]?
Wolfe: Yes, then Jez pulled away that last climb…
iRF: There are a lot of climbs on this course, guys. In training for this race, there are some runnable stretches, obviously in the beginning there’s a downhill fast stretch. Going down to the Notre Dame de la Gorge there’s another flat section. Do you just focus on the mountain training or do you have to get flat?
Foote: I personally don’t run flat much. If I’m doing an easier recovery run, I’ll hit some flatter trails. But I’m inspired by the steeper trails and I’m inspired by big climbs and big descents. Not only am I inspired by doing that if I’m left to my own devices, it seems to play well into UTMB. Longer, slower days seem to have been my focus—things where I am hiking more. Whereas some other races I might not be in hiking mode as much. In UTMB it’s okay to be out for a few extra hours that day and doing them a little slower and still find that steep terrain with lots of vertical gain and loss. That seems to be my general focus in the summer for sure.
Wolfe: Yeah, I’m pretty similar. When I’m focused on UTMB training, it’s just lots of vert and not worrying as much about runnable terrain. I guess I feel like by that point in the season I usually have my running legs underneath me enough to be able to run what needs to be run on this course.
iRF: Not long after you guys get back to the States from UTMB, you have the first Rut 50k. You guys are putting that on together in big-sky country. Can you tell us a little about that?
Foote: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the first ultramarathon that we’re involved with putting on. I work for the Runner’s Edge in Missoula. It’s a running store and I race direct for them. It’s a 50k and 12k on Big Sky and Moonlight Basin Resorts. We’ve worked really hard to find a course that has some really, really challenging terrain including going up to the summit of Long Peak at 11,000 feet and lots of off-trail ridgeline running and slowly hiking through some talus fields—challenging Montana terrain that we’re excited about. Everything’s been running smooth this year. We are completely full in both of the events which met our expectations. People seem to be pretty excited. Lots of Montana runners are excited to take on that section of Montana. It’s just a beautiful area.
Wolfe: It was Mike’s [Foote] idea originally, but we’d both been talking about, for a couple years leading up to it, just wanting to put on a cool Montana race just to showcase some of the terrain that we have in Montana that we love to run. It’s very technical mountain terrain, so we wanted to offer a race in that kind of terrain and then kind of give it the Montana flare hence the name and some of the stuff we’ll have going on at the race.
Foote: We may or may not have an elk bugle to start the event.
iRF: You may or may not have Big Dipper Ice Cream truck?
Foote: Yes, we may or may not have a Big Dipper Ice Cream truck as well.
Wolfe: Something that everyone should mark their calendars for next year.
iRF: Well, thanks guys. Good luck at UTMB and the Rut!
Wolfe: Thanks, Bryon.
Foote: Appreciate it.
iRF: Quick bonus question for you guys. We’re over in Chamonix and were you both over in Courmayeur at some point?
Foote: Yeah, I was over there a couple days ago.
iRF: Best gelato flavor you’ve had on this trip?
Foote: I’ve held out so far believe it or not. I’d be going for the Nutella for sure… or the coconut.
Wolfe: Darn. That’s what I was going to say—the Nutella. Coconut’s good, too. What was the flavor you were talking about?
iRF: Dark chocolate over in Courmayeur.
Wolfe: See, I haven’t tried that yet.
iRF: With the berries as well.
Foote: Yeah, yeah.
Wolfe: I usually like raspberry… with Nutella.
iRF: Alright, this is making me hungry. I’m going to have to go get some now. Gelato for lunch—can’t beat it.
Wolfe: And espresso.