François D’haene dominated mountain 100-mile races last year winning Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, and Diagonale des Fous. This weekend, he’ll take on the much speedier Western States 100. In the following interview, François talks about how his preparation went for Western States, how this race differs from the 100 milers he’s won in the past, what his race plan is, and who will be his first-ever pacers.
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François D’haene Pre-2015 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here François D’haene before the 2015 Western States 100. How are you, François?
François D’Haene: Nice.
iRunFar: When did you arrive here in the U.S.?
D’Haene: I arrived on Sunday night.
iRunFar: A little time to get over jetlag.
D’Haene: Yes, we stayed three days in Auburn and we arrived in Squaw Valley yesterday a few days before the race.
iRunFar: You were here a few weeks ago, correct?
D’Haene: Yes, I was here in May. I wanted to come here to Squaw Valley, but I was unlucky and there was too much snow. We start our training in Robinson Flat with less snow and then we go slowly to Auburn.
iRunFar: So you get to see the most beautiful parts of the course for the first time during the race?
D’Haene: Yes. From Robinson we went to Lyons Ridge and Red Star Ridge, and it was really nice.
iRunFar: Oh, you went backwards, okay.
D’Haene: It was really nice. It’s a lot of single trail. The trails are really nice and amazing. The atmosphere is pretty different than in Europe. I really like it up there.
iRunFar: The singletrack is beautiful, but the competition is going to be fierce. You were saying a little while ago that you really have to race the whole way, you think.
D’Haene: Yes, it’s really different than the terrain I do usually because it’s… for example, at UTMB you put 20 or 22 hours for an ultra race and you think you go fast. Here, if you put this time you are very far behind the first runner. You need to put seven hours less in the same distance. It’s a lot. The trail is really different. You will walk a little bit, but in comparison, you will never walk here. It’s not the same speed but the same movement with always running, running, and keep strong, keep strong. It’s different to change it in my move. That’s why I do some races in Australia and another French race on the road. I try to discover this new way to move.
iRunFar: Did you concentrate in training as well, just consistent running?
D’Haene: Yeah, a little bit because of Australia [The North Face 100k – Australia]. I don’t feel very confident in this way. Okay, I need to run a lot, but I need to make some long days. That’s why for three weeks I wasn’t concentrating on this way. I just spent a lot of time in the mountains because this is what I like. I walk a lot and I make some glacier travel and everything. I came back on my last bit to train because I was confident and was happy with that. I think I keep the fast from Australia, but for three weeks, I came back to my way to train just to be confident and to take some pleasure because it’s summer and I know I can run everywhere in the mountains.
iRunFar: You started your season very late this year. You were supposed to run Marathon des Sables and you delayed. You kind of had a rough race, a hard race, in Australia. Have you felt your confidence and your strength building since then?
D’Haene: Yes, I have a new baby in December. Yeah, I really wanted to take time with them. I was a little bit sick in January, and I was helping with my organization and everything. I really like to do some skiing during the winter. I really started running in the middle of April. Okay, my goal and focus is Western States. I have time. I don’t need to be rushed. That’s why I said, my priority is Western States. I want to concentrate with Australia, then recovery, and then Western States. That’s why I think it was better for me to be fresh and concentrate on something and that’s why I started later than before.
iRunFar: You weren’t very focused or concerned about Australia? Australia was part of the journey?
D’Haene: Yes, sure, because I really wanted to organize Western States with my family plan and the year plan. It’s hard to put Western States after Australia. That’s why I put this trip just because I arrived in Australia one day before the race and we were [noise obscured by truck]… I think it’s not the best way to prepare for Australia but not so bad, too. Yeah, I was good in Australia, just a small pain in my foot. I was really happy with the result. I met Dylan Bowman and I met some of the other runners. I think it was really good training.
iRunFar: Your foot is better now?
D’Haene: Yeah, just during the race. I started with a big pain on my foot, and after I finished I had no pain.
iRunFar: You haven’t run a 200k week this past week?
D’Haene: No, no. After U.S. and after Australia, there was a lot of trips and a lot of kilometers and it took me a lot of time to recover and to get motivation to be strong in training for Western States. That’s why I took two weeks really easy and I come back slowly with bicycling and mountain running and everything. Yeah, I made a big, big week five days ago. Since one week I rest a little bit. Then this week we do two hours each day to make the machine warm.
iRunFar: How was the heat?
D’Haene: It’s hot. We try to train at eleven or twelve each day just to feel what we can feel during the race. It’s hot, but I think it’s hot for everybody. We just need to be careful about the speed and to be fresh. I see a lot of things from the runners and they say the race starts when we cross the river. I think it’s really true. If you don’t arrive fresh at Foresthill, I think it’s pretty hard to finish fast. I will try to be fresh at Foresthill.
iRunFar: Yeah, so maybe not an aggressive start? A calm start?
D’Haene: It’s an ascent start, and a forest road. And I think American runners like to go fast on forest roads. I like forest roads, too. Yeah, I really need to make my own speed and to be slow until Foresthill to be fresh.
iRunFar: You’re most well-known for running very difficult 100 milers—winning UTMB, Diagonale des Fous, and those sorts of races. Can you tell us a little bit about some of your faster races, something about your leg speed? You’ve run some road marathons.
D’Haene: I won last year UTMB, Diagonale des Fous, and UTMF. For me, to come back on those races, it’s just for another win in a new time and for me it’s not my goal to win a second. My goal is to finish a race as fast as I can as good as I can, and I win? Okay, I win and I’m okay with that. But to come back just to win again is not my personal goal. It’s not a goal for me. If I [noise obscured by truck]…
iRunFar: You’re probably faster in raw speed than people think. What’s your marathon PR?
D’Haene: I’ve done one marathon. I did it two weeks after Diagonale des Fous. I did it in 2:34.
iRunFar: Two weeks after Diagonale des Fous?
D’Haene: Yes, it’s the Beaujolais Marathon with 400 meters of elevation gain.
iRunFar: It’s a slow race?
D’Haene: It’s not a slow race, but it’s not like Berlin Marathon or London Marathon. It’s a really hard effort. I’ve done this marathon. After Diagonale des Fous, I was happy, I jump at the finish line. I don’t feel my legs because I was so happy. After the marathon, I was happy, too, but it was impossible for me to put off my shoe… in just two hours-and-a-half. Diagonale des Fous was 22 hours-and-a-half. It’s just a very, very different type of effort. I think Western States and Diagonale des Fous is the same—it’s just a very different effort. It’s a rather long effort for sure, but it’s different.
iRunFar: Do you think you can run four-minute kilometers if you need to on some of those sections late in the race?
D’Haene: I hope. I will try. I will hope. I think, yeah, it’s not like the marathon because it’s maybe 14 or 15 kilometers per hour sometimes, but your heart is never… you have some ascents and descents sometimes and it’s the same level during long time. Yeah, the terrain is very nice, you have the landscape, you have a very different… you run with a pacer. I’ve never done that before.
D’Haene: It’s the first time for me.
iRunFar: Who’s your pacer?
D’Haene: My coach, Christophe Malardé, and Anna Frost. I’m really happy to run with them because they do a lot for me and I am happy for these people. Also, with this landscape and this new race, new experience, and new pacer, I think… I’m sure I won’t see… the time will pass fast.
iRunFar: Before you know it you’ll be at Placer High.
iRunFar: Enjoy the experience. Good luck out there.
D’Haene: Thanks. Good luck to all the runners. It’s a really nice place. I’m very happy to be here.