Mike Foote may have the best resume of any American man at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. He has finished 11th, third, and fifth over the past three years. In the following interview, Mike talks about how he prepared differently for this year’s race, whether and how he thinks he can improve upon his previous finishes, and what he’s enjoyed about training in the Alps this summer.
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Mike Foote Pre-2014 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Mike Foote before the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. How are you doing, Mike?
Mike Foote: I’m doing really well, Bryon.
iRunFar: Back in Chamonix.
Foote: Back in Chamonix, yes.
iRunFar: You’ve had some darn good runs here.
iRunFar: The last two years you were third and fourth (fifth)?
Foote: Oh, I was just thinking of this last month actually.
iRunFar: We’ll get to that.
Foote: Yes, this is my, believe it or not, my fourth UTMB.
iRunFar: That’s right because you ran in 2011 and were way back with me early on and pulled a Mike Foote and moved on up.
Foote: Yeah, exactly. I’m excited to be here again obviously.
iRunFar: After two such amazing performances, how do you look to improve? In your head, can you win this? Is that what you go out and try to do?
Foote: Yeah, you know, that’s the big question. I try… I think mentally I approach it… I definitely, I mean, being competitive, obviously I approach it in how I can improve. I don’t think there’s anybody out there who finishes a race who doesn’t think of multiple ways they can go faster or improve upon their time or their performance. For me, one of my big approaches has just been to be here this last month and train on the terrain. I showed up in late July and have just been training on the course a little bit but also just on the terrain around the Chamonix Valley exploring and getting in amazing adventurous runs that have prepared my body well for it. But also, in all honesty, it’s just been really, really fun. I think mentally I’m in a lot of ways much less… I’m just much more relaxed this year just being here, not being jetlagged, just mentally having been thinking about it a little bit more but at the same time not in a stressful way, more just in an excitement sort of way.
iRunFar: It’s not like you’re coming over at the last minute and trying to figure out how to make it all come together.
Foote: Yes, it’s always on my mind in July and August moving into this race, but being here, it’s just been in a different place in my mind in a good way. I think I’m more well-prepared for the race because of that. I hope that transfers into a better performance. I don’t know specifically how. I definitely feel more of an excitement for the race than I normally do which is great.
iRunFar: How do you… you’re a very consistent, methodical, and almost conservative runner in the past especially at this race. To improve whether it’s time or place or in your own mind, do you have to be a little more on edge early in the race or do you still stick to the plan that works?
Foote: Yeah, I know. We’ll see. I think it’s a fine balance. I think you can be a little bit closer to the action up front and be pulled along to a stronger performance because of that, but it’s a fine line as well. I know where my limits are—well, I never know exactly where my limits are—but I want to be smart still, but I also definitely want to be competitive in this race. Obviously it’s UTMB. It’s an incredibly competitive race. The best runners in the world are here. It is what it is. I definitely want to perform to my potential, so that definitely means not being too, too far back at 30k which I tend to be. But I also know that it’s a 166k race, and I want to be able to be strong in the latter half when other people are fading. Yeah, I think having some better course knowledge this year helps. I’ve known the course before, but I’ve definitely done the full loop this last month. I’ve seen it all in the daylight. I’ve slowly but surely wrapped my head around sections of the course so that I know what I’m getting into in a better way. I think that will help with strategy during race day. But that doesn’t control what other people do. So yeah, I’d like to be in the mix, but my form of being in the mix probably still isn’t taking charge up front at the beginning obviously.
iRunFar: It’s interesting. Like you said, there’s something about knowing what your limits are. You can approach that two ways. You keep shaving closer and closer to it, but can you ever find that limit without almost going over it or overshooting it. Oh, my mark is 5% above what I thought was 100%.
Foote: Exactly. That’s what races are about. That’s what’s exciting about races is they tend to make you find that and potentially push past that. Sometimes that’s what it takes.
iRunFar: You have been here for awhile, and you’ve been training. You’ve had some, I’d assume, really good training this year. You ran really strong at Fuji despite not having what you would consider a good race. How has your training gone since then, both here and back Stateside?
Foote: I think well. I recovered from Fuji and then did Lavaredo back in the Dolomites in late June. That went really well for the most part. I think I’ve done a decent job of being smart about my training. We’re always talking about being overcooked or undercooked. I think it’s been a good balance of going big and having fun and having big adventures, but also focusing on good recovery in between. As far as injuries or just having really low points in training, I haven’t had any of those in the last couple months. I think I’ve definitely prioritized recovery when I’ve needed to, but also just not held back when I’ve been having enough fun and just gone big in the mountains around here in a good way.
iRunFar: That’s got to be hard. You have that back in Missoula anyway. You have some really strong runners around that if you want to go out and have a fun day, it ends up being long and fast. So you come over here and you’re with Jez [Bragg] or you’re with François [D’Haene], or Dakota [Jones] or whoever you’re with—I don’t know who you’ve been running with.
Foote: Rory [Bosio] as well. Rory’s been keeping me.
iRunFar: I did hear about the magical crepe Nutella run.
Foote: Yeah, the training here has been very different than the training in Missoula. In Missoula, I still get a lot of miles and vertical gain and loss in, but I’m running almost every step of my day. Here, I’m power hiking 30 or 40% of my run. It’s so different. I’m spending hours more on my feet each week but still covering a similar amount of distance. I’ve definitely felt as if being able to move… it’s been a fun process of bit by bit trying to get more flow and efficiency through more technical, steep terrain without beating yourself up. I definitely feel as if being here for the last six weeks has… I’ve improved in that process for sure. I’ve been on much more technical trails than the UTMB course actually offers up.
iRunFar: It’s going to feel buttery smooth?
Foote: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways, it sounds funny, but the UTMB course is quite runnable in a lot of sections versus some of the trails that are in this area that are just incredible and extremely technical and third class moving into fourth class at times—lots of using your hands on your trail run. It’s been great. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with the fact that I haven’t run every step. Sometimes I get a little burnt out with that, and the terrain here has definitely been more what I enjoy. That’s definitely been good.
iRunFar: One thing that maybe has happened in the past with some of the American athletes that have come over here for three weeks or six weeks, they get super excited and super stoked and go overboard and stop training about the is afternoon. When did you shut things down?
Foote: Yeah, I don’t think I shut them down as soon as I normally would have, but at the same time, my body feels good with it. We’ll see. Yeah, I think it’s been a matter of not pushing on every run. I’ve been more relaxed on runs. We stop and eat crepes in the middle of an eight-hour run and we relax and get to the top of a pass and have lunch or just lay out in the sun for awhile. I’ve never taken so many breaks on my runs. I think there’s something to be said about that. I think it’s less about, “Oh, I’ve got to push through this. I’ve got to push through this. I’ve got to get back to work.” Just that mentality has been very different this year, or this last six weeks. Even though I feel like I’ve probably done more, it’s been in a more relaxed manner. I’d like to think I’ve found a good balance with that.
iRunFar: One thing I’ve kind of seen talking to people over here this year is maybe the elites taking, even for a focus 100-mile race, less and less of a real taper. Not overtraining with two weeks to go, but it used to be three weeks was the talk and then two weeks was the talk. Now I’m talking to lots of people and it’s like, “Yeah, last Friday was my last long run.”
Foote: There’s some truth to that. I think everybody has their own… they know how their body… it all depends on the context of your training, your history, and where you are physically. I’ve definitely backed off a lot in the past couple weeks, but I’ve definitely still been out and about a lot, too, just less intensity.
iRunFar: Probably throughout the history of the race, you’ve had the best set of American men’s performances here as a body of work. How do you think the Americans can do here this year?
Foote: I think a lot of people are ready to roll. Dakota [Jones], I think, is probably hungry after Hardrock. I got a good run up Mont Blanc with him last week or almost two weeks ago now. Whatever he may say in an interview, I think he’s ready to roll. Jason Schlarb has been over here training for a couple months. Timothy [Olson], Hal [Koerner], everybody—I’d like to see a few Americans doing really well and pushing hard and working together up front or near the front.
iRunFar: Does that happen in a race?
Foote: It can. It’s never planned. I think it just happens.
iRunFar: If you were to find yourself with Tony [Krupicka] or Timothy or Dakota, you could put in some miles together and make it easier a little bit?
Foote: I think so. I definitely think so. I think we all want to do our best and if it takes working together at certain points and then just pushing hard towards the end and seeing who gets there first…
iRunFar: I don’t mean just the Americans. I was just talking to François and he’s looking forward to running with you.
Foote: Yeah, I hope I can keep up with François. We don’t usually run together too much, but…
iRunFar: Everybody holds back.
Foote: Exactly. No, we had a great run together at Mont Blanc. It was great spending time with him. He gave me a bottle of wine afterwards. It was great. If we can spend some miles on the trail together that would be awesome. Tony, I didn’t mention him earlier, but he has some unfinished business here, too. He’s really hungry, obviously. We’ll see. I definitely think there will be times where we’re working together and times where people are feeling better and will go and move up.
iRunFar: Awesome. Best of luck out there, Mike, and have fun.
Foote: Thank you, Bryon.
iRunFar: A bonus question for you. Mike, how long is it going to take me or Meghan [Hicks] to write “Mike Wolfe” instead of “Mike Foote” during the race?
Foote: This is a sore subject for Mike Wolfe and I. We have lost our individual brand identity as “Montana Mikes who run for The North Face and who are putting on The Rut and who are great friends,” but we are very different.
Foote: We would love to have our identities back. I don’t think it’s going to take you too long.
iRunFar: Maybe at 4 a.m. somewhere up by Champex-Lac.
Foote: Yeah, Wolfe will be cursing you from the U.S. watching the UTMB coverage, I’m sure.
iRunFar: We’ll try our best, Wolfe and Foote.
Foote: Thank you. That was a good bonus question.