Cameron Clayton likes to talk the talk about racing hard and performing well, and at last weekend’s 2013 Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) 100k, he walked the walk with his third-place finish in a stacked field. In this interview, Cameron talks about his early-race woes and how he got over them, the crazy paces the boys were putting down on the paved bike path mid-race, and how he hallucinated while pushing himself during the last 10 miles.
[Editor’s Note: We also interviewed Cameron Clayton before the race.]
Cameron Clayton Post-2013 UROC 100k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Cameron Clayton after his third-place finish at the 2013 UROC. How did it feel out there yesterday?
Cameron Clayton: It was good. It actually worked out really well. It’s the first time I’ve ever been told I ran a smart race.
iRF: Which you did.
Clayton: I felt like crap in the beginning of the race so it held me back a little bit. It ended up working out tremendously well.
iRF: What felt off early on?
Clayton: I had a knot in my diaphragm. I couldn’t breathe. So literally on the first climb there was a group of four that went off. I would have gone with them if I could but I was physically unable. I was like stay calm; it’s a long race; it’s all in snow, you’ll be fine.
iRF: When did that come around? Did it resolve itself?
Clayton: It truly came around at 13 miles. It started getting better at 10k. It started to resolve itself as I was getting warmed up. I found a little bit of a rhythm. It was a little crazy finding a rhythm because the first 25 miles or so were on snow, so everything was a little chaotic.
iRF: You were in fifth or sixth then. How deep was it?
Clayton: Right when I got to the deep stuff I’d actually just gotten into fifth. I started getting into my no-man’s land zone for 20 miles. There were drifts probably 18 inches deep and then a lot of it was probably six to eight inches—just enough that made running a little bit tedious. It was on the side of a ridge and you’re just like, ahhhhh. It was a little frustrating.
iRF: Were you sliding around or was it just slow?
Clayton: It was a little slow. At moments you were sliding. If you took a wrong step you totally could have taken 20 feet down the mountain easily. It was a little tedious in how it was slow going.
iRF: Might that have been a benefit to you?
Clayton: Totally because I didn’t walk it and it helped bring the guys back. Then I maintained pretty well. I didn’t come out with any really big imbalances. I had a little quad going on. It paid off really well.
iRF: So you were sort of in no-man’s land for a long time? Did you make a conscious effort to catch back up to the pack or to start throwing down?
Clayton: I made a conscious effort on the downhill of Vail Pass. I got moving well. I was like, Alright. I knew the guys’ lead pack was about six minutes ahead of me at that time. I was like, Alright, this is great. I’m probably going to be catching some guys because not too many guys…” I was clipping off sixes (six minute/miles). I found out that Rob [Krar] had put six minutes on me when I was clipping off sixes. So he had to be clipping off five minute/miles or something very close. I was like… what? Luckily I had a little incentive. Sage [Canaday] was now only 3 minutes ahead of me. Kilian [Jornet] was right there. Dakota [Jones] and Rob were doing their thing battling at the front.
iRF: When did you catch Sage Canaday?
Clayton: Right at the beginning of the Two Elks climb. Sage, you could totally tell that’s when his stomach must have hit him. When I passed him he was cheerful, he was clear and to the point, but had no go. I just went right by him. I caught Kilian at the top of Two Elks, and whenever there was a road I’d pull away a little bit from Kilian.
iRF: What did it feel like to catch Kilian?
Clayton: Um, it was a little inspiring; it was a little fun; it was a little exciting. But at the same time, he looked so good. He’s had such a busy season. He was probably taking it easier. I can’t honestly say I beat Kilian on his best day or on his good day or on an all-out effort. He’s jumping around and hopscotching up stairs, and I’m limping around all tender in my feet and everything. It still feels great. It was amazing. And to hold it off—I definitely wanted to. I wanted to hold it no matter what.
iRF: He’s the benchmark.
Clayton: Not too many people get to beat Kilian in their lives, and I did. It’s really cool. My heart was into it, for sure, way more than his which was my biggest advantage yesterday. Come 40 miles in, I was like, I really want to be up here. I know I have to be top eight to get well in the Skyrunning and to do well. Top eight would be a great race, but once I was in third, I was like, I want to hold onto this for my dear life.
iRF: Probably at that point you knew… were you even thinking about what if you blow up or were you just giving it everything you had?
Clayton: I didn’t feel like I was going to blow up. Honestly, I kept my jacket on too long and I think my biggest disruption in my race was I almost had a little heatstroke at one point coming down into Minturn. I got way hot and I stopped sweating. I wasn’t dehydrated or anything. Going up the final climb I actually started to hallucinate a little bit. I saw a log—it was a wet log on the right—and I thought it was a guy just sitting around waving. Then I got closer and I was like, That’s a log. Just slow down and make your way to the top.
iRF: Were you looking over your shoulder on your way down? Kilian is a pretty good descender.
Clayton: No. I was moving well, and it was a road. I knew he wasn’t going to push it. He has Limone in two weeks and that’s something he’s really excited about. At that point, I still… when you get to the top you can see pretty far back. You can see probably six minutes behind you and no one saw Kilian. So I had six minutes on him and a five-mile downhill. That was done. I was like, Alright, just clip it off and you’ll be home.
iRF: It has to feel like your best ultra performance.
iRF: You’ve been racing a long time in terms of your lifetime…
Clayton: It might be the best performance of my lifetime as a whole, put together. My endurance has improved a lot over the last year. I ran 7:09 at Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile last year. And we came through 50 this year in 7:29, I think my watch had, and with 1,000 extra feet of elevation gain, and it was higher the entire time in the middle of 100k.
iRF: So you’re feeling a lot stronger.
Clayton: Oh yeah, it feels amazing to do that.
iRF: You have been racing a ton as we talked about before the race. Is it time for a break?
Clayton: I’m going to go to Hasetsune Cup in Japan in two weeks. It’s not over yet—then The North Face 50.
iRF: Hasetsune —you get Dakota again.
Clayton: Yeah, I’m excited about that. We actually travel out on the same day. Hopefully we can link up a little bit and go see parts of Japan and have a great battle hopefully. We’ll see. As I said yesterday, I’m kind of a high-octane runner as in I take a lot of fuel with me when I go into these races. This is a bring-your-own. So I’ll be traveling a little heavier than Dakota.
iRF: You’ll have five pounds of gel on you.
Clayton: Probably. I don’t know. At least 2.5 liters of water probably. It’s going to be a cool race.
iRF: A race of attrition pretty much.
Clayton: Dakota describes it as a race that goes (hand signs?). It’s supposed to have 6,000 meters of elevation change, so almost 20,000 feet. Solid.
iRF: And The North Face 50—do you know if Francois [D’Haene] is coming back?
Clayton: Oh yeah. That’s my biggest focus of the year. I’m excited to race Francois again. I get so excited to race Francois. There’s just this little almost bubbly-like kid, almost type of kid energy that bubbles up when I see him. Alright, let’s do this thing.
iRF: You kind of did remotely yesterday.
Clayton: Yeah, definitely. Yesterday was a huge mix of… I was thinking about what Timmy [Olson] would do at mile 45 because I was hurting. My quads were really starting to go a bit. I was like, Alright, this is the last third of a race where Timmy Olson (who I just got to hang out with last week when he was in Boulder for a little while)—what would he do? He’d like just grind. He wouldn’t even complain. He’d be happy and go talk to a goat or something and push on. That’s what he wrote in his blog at one point in his UTMB. So having Francois… Alright if I keep doing well, I’ll do something good and I’ll displace Francois. Not that I want to displace Francois. I wish there were more spaces up there for all of us to tie, but…
iRF: You’ll take third place in the Skyrunning Ultra Series.
Clayton: Yeah, I’ll take it. For a brief moment, you never know with Sage’s stomach problems, if he dropped I could have been in second. But I knew he was a determined tough guy that was just going to pull it out. So in my heart of hearts I knew that both Kilian and Sage were going to finish. But right when I finished there was this brief little glimmer—I have 215 points now and they only have 200.
iRF: Anything can happen out there. Congratulations on making the most of your day.
Clayton: Yeah, it was terrific.
iRF: Great performance out there.
Clayton: Thank you.