François D’Haene won the The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in 2012 when foul weather resulted in a shortened course (post-race interview). In the following interview, François talks about his fantastic two years of running, how his training has gone this summer, how he will approach this year’s UTMB as the favorite, and what he is looking forward to during the race.
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François D’Haene Pre-2014 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with François D’Haene before the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. How are you, François?
Francois D’Haene: Very good, thank you.
iRunFar: The last two years you’ve had an amazing series of races. You won the shortened UTMB, Diagonale des Fous, UTMF, Ice Trail Tarantaise, Mont Blanc 80k—you must be very happy with how things have been going.
D’Haene: Yes, I’m really happy. Each race is a new surprise for me. When I start the race, I never believe that I can win. Each victory is for me a big pleasure, not really a big surprise, but it’s a race like an amazing present. I’m like a novice at each start. In those two years, I’ve had a lot of presents.
iRunFar: You have a lot of wins, but you don’t race all the time. Some people run a race every weekend, every weekend. You? You are very selective. How do you choose your races?
D’Haene: Yes, I choose my races, and I am selective because I have a lot of other things to do with my life. I have a family, and I want to spend a lot of time with my family. This year I traveled less than the year before. I think also that my body needs a lot of recovery, and I have a vineyard and it takes me a lot of time. I’m really tired after harvest each day. In June, especially, when I started the [Mont Blanc] 80k I was really tired. Finally at the end, I come back, I come back, I come back, and I think after 80k. Two weeks later, I don’t work in my vineyard because I need a little rest and time and I feel really better at Ice Trail. I think I need to program all my races and be careful with some moments which is really hard because the season is different and the weather changes. For example, this year we can pick the wine one month before last year and even if I try to program, it’s always some uncertainty.
iRunFar: Uncertainty—variables that you cannot control. You’re waiting for your grapes to be ripe. You can’t choose that.
D’Haene: That’s why in June I was a bit tired for the 80k. Finally I finished second. I think for July that it was better. It’s really good training for me. Now, UTMB for me to be close this year, it’s a long race and you never know what can happen during the race.
iRunFar: Have you had good training over the summer?
D’Haene: Yes, after Ice Trail and 80k I take a rest. I go with my family. I don’t do some sports during maybe 10 days. After, I do a bit of cycling. Since the beginning of August, I spent some long days in the mountains. I came to Chamonix and did some training with Kilian [Jornet]. I go to the Swiss Alps. Yes, I think I’m good. You never know two days before how the race will be, but I hope it will be good. I have no problems or anything like that. Yeah, I’m really happy to be in the race and spend some time with the other guys like the American guys. It’s possible to run with them in some races but not a lot. It’s a new challenge each time. At UTMF I ran a little bit with them. Now at UTMB, I hope more. It’s the first time maybe I can run with Anton [Krupicka] and people like that. I’m so happy to run with Dakota [Jones], too. I trained a little bit with him, and to meet some of the other guys. Yes, it’s pretty nice.
iRunFar: So you look forward to that camaraderie during the race?
D’Haene: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: Do you feel as strong as you did before UTMF or do you feel stronger now?
D’Haene: I think my legs are stronger now than Fuji. I think I’m not so tired. I’m a little bit fresh. I have more training than for Mount Fuji. As always, it’s a different race and a different day. Yes, I know that Mike Foote was at Mount Fuji, too. I’m happy to meet him again here. I think he’s like me. He programs his season. He trains specifically for this race. I think everybody has gone up a level since the beginning of the season. It will be a really nice competition during the race. The biggest competition will be about the trail and the weather than the others. It’s hard to beat the mountains and the 100 miles than others. For me, it’s my first goal.
iRunFar: It’s Mont Blanc.
D’Haene: Yes, it’s Mont Blanc. Isn’t it nice? We approach the race the same I think.
iRunFar: Yes. Two years ago when you won UTMB it was short, but it was a surprise for the world for you to be the winner. This year you’re the favorite. How does that feel?
D’Haene: Like I said, the beginning for me, at each beginning of the race, I feel like a novice. Two years ago I was really surprised to win. Now, I can’t imagine in my head that it’s possible to win. Everybody says, ‘You’re the best,’ Everybody believes in you. I say, Yes, okay, but before the others are the mountains and it can happen a lot of things. That’s why we are here. If we know I will win or somebody else will win, nobody will want to do the race. We don’t know. It’s 100 miles. Anything can happen. This is why you interview a lot of people. This is why we love train running. I hope it will be a big battle between the winners—not a battle like a fight, but…
iRunFar: To see who has the best day.
D’Haene: Yes, a big challenge and a big day.
iRunFar: I was talking with Anton a few days ago and he said that having you and Iker [Karrera] and Luis Alberto [Hernando], all these strong runners together, will help bring his best performance out. If he finishes third place and has his best day, he can be happy and proud. Do you feel the same way?
D’Haene: Yes. What I want is to finish, take pleasure during the race, and give what I can give. If you have some injuries, some cramps, some problem in your head or in your back, or in something, you arrive, but arrive with something to improve and I think you are not happy. If you arrive and you say, Okay, I did what I could. My training for the race was my training, and I’m okay with that. If you do what you can and even if you finish five or four or three or two, it’s a victory for you because you give your possibility to the race and you finish. On this race, you need to be honest with you, with the mountain, with the others, and you need to be modest. You need to be modest at the start. You can’t say, It’s easy to win. It’s easy to finish. No. I really need to be modest and say, Okay, let’s go to the race. We will take pleasure and have a challenge and see what happens.
iRunFar: Why are you back here at UTMB?
D’Haene: Because when I program my season, this race is an evidence for me. In France, it’s a big race. For me, I would like to try to do TNF UTMB and Diagonale des Fous in the same season. It’s a really big goal for me to try to do the two in one month-and-a-half. For me, it’s my biggest challenge of the year to try to do these two races. So I do a lot of races before and all the races were really good. I win two times and got second. Now, this is my big goal of the season. It doesn’t matter if I come first. The most important for me is to arrive to do the challenge and not have an injury and take pleasure doing the two races.
iRunFar: So during UTMB, do you turn that off in your mind though? Can you be thinking about Grand Raid Réunion while you’re…?
D’Haene: Yeah, I will think of that and maybe I don’t push enough because I think of the challenge. But I win UTMB in 2012 and I win Diagonale des Fous last year. This year, okay maybe I can try to win again, but really my challenge is to try to do the two races and to do it well and without injury.
iRunFar: Good luck and have fun. Enjoy.
D’Haene: Thank you very much. Good luck to all the runners.
D’Haene: It’s a mix of three bottles. We have one bottle with Diagonale des Fous Grand Raid de la Réunion with the atmosphere of the island. You have this bottle from where I live between the vineyard and the mountains and the directions between the two. This bottle for finish is the bottle about this valley, the Chamonix valley. You can see Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc. Here is the Church of Chamonix. Here, when I won here and this is the bottle of here and of now.
iRunFar: So this is Domaine du Germain and it’s your wine. Thank you for these bottles of wine. Which is your favorite?
D’Haene: We have two kinds of red wine. This is the more light and more fruity which is for… it’s not just but it’s for more sportif people because I think you need more light, more fresh, more fruit. I have another one but not in these bottles.
iRunFar: So these are the light ones. Of these three, do you have one particular favorite?
D’Haene: It’s the same wine, just the stickers are different. For the moment, I think this one is my favorite.
iRunFar: The famous artist from France, the comic, did all of your labels?
iRunFar: Awesome! Thank you!
D’Haene: You’re welcome.