After dropping out of last year’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, Luis Alberto Hernando made it his mission to finish UTMB this year. He did… and finished second. In the following interview, Luis Alberto talks about how his battle for second went, where he used poles during the race, how it felt to cross the finish, and how finishing UTMB became a personal challenge for him.
For more on how the race went down, read our 2015 UTMB results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Luis Alberto Hernando Post-2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Luis Alberto Hernando after his second-place finish at the 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). Congratulations.
Luis Alberto Hernando: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your second place and your first 100 miler finish.
Hernando: Thank you. I was coming here after the last year only thinking about to finish the race and try to enjoy because last year was a hard experience.
iRunFar: So was running 100 miles a good idea?
Hernando: I didn’t know if any race of 100 miles is worth it, but this actually, UTMB here in Chamonix, entering the town with all the people cheering and these mountains and these landscapes, this race is worth it.
iRunFar: It’s worth it.
Hernando: Last night I wasn’t thinking it was a good idea.
iRunFar: Every race can be hard no matter the distance—5k, 100 miles—but now that you’ve run 100 miles, was there anything different that made this more difficult?
Hernando: I only have one experience, this experience, but the most important thing is to not think of anything. You only have to move and continue and move forward and not to think about anything because when you think like five minutes, you will find 10 excuses to drop the race. So you can’t think about anything, only focus on the finish and to get through to the finish line.
iRunFar: You did. Early in the race, as with last year, you went out in the lead or with the lead group. For how long did you feel in control of your race this year?
Hernando: I think up to Courmayeur, I was feeling very comfortable. I was thinking the pace was fine. I didn’t want to go further. After that point, in every step up or climb, I was feeling not so good or not so strong. Up to Courmayeur I was feeling fine.
iRunFar: On the climbs, I did not see this year, did you have your trekking poles?
Hernando: Yes, but not only in the uphills but in the flat parts because I couldn’t do it anymore, so I also used them in the flat parts.
iRunFar: Until Courmayeur, the lead group was all together. When after Courmayeur did Xavier [Thevenard] and Tòfol [Castanyer] get ahead of you?
Hernando: The idea of the group was to go together after Courmayeur, but they lost minute on the way out. I lost my way with Miguel [Heras]. I lost there two or three minutes, and then I couldn’t catch back up. But I’m happy with those two or three minutes because it finally helped to arrive. If not, with the pace of the leaders, maybe I couldn’t do it.
iRunFar: Maybe having the break allowed you to stay tranquil and not just pfffff?
Hernando: Better. Better.
iRunFar: But on the descent from Grand Col de Ferret, Xavier and Tòfol kept pulling away. Were you feeling okay?
Hernando: In that downhill, I had a problem. The course was perfectly marked, but I was a little bit tired. So on the downhill I missed a mark and lost a couple of minutes trying to get back to the last mark. I was strong, but got lost.
iRunFar: The whole last 80k of the race were very dynamic. Did you pass Tòfol on the course or was he in a checkpoint when you passed him?
Hernando: No, I was fourth. I never saw it. I never saw Tòfol. At some place in some point, I passed him.
iRunFar: Then Miguel?
Hernando: The story with Miguel is after Courmayeur where I was lost with him, he pushed a little bit and then I never saw him.
iRunFar: Late in the race, you and Seth Swanson had a great battle. What happened?
Hernando: It was a fight on three uphills and three downhills. I wasn’t pushing very well in the uphills, but Seth was very right in the uphills. In the downhills, I didn’t talk with Seth, but I think Seth may have had some problems, so I pushed very hard in the downhills. After, I was thinking about the fourth because I wasn’t feeling very good. So I also was thinking about that. It was very hard because I could only push in the downhills.
iRunFar: Did you think, was there any point late in the race where you thought you would abandon the race? When? Why?
Hernando: Yes, Champex because I was having problems with my ankle and also with some cramps. After that point, I had some salt and a bandage in the ankle, I took it off and I could move it. It was perfect. As I said before, after 17 or 18 hours of racing, anything is a good excuse to drop.
iRunFar: The heat, rocks, a beer…
iRunFar: What was it like coming into the finish line to finish your first 100-mile race? Were you thinking more about second place or just that you were finishing?
Hernando: There are a lot of feelings. First, I started running ultras because Adidas said, “Do you want to come to Chamonix to run UTMB?” So I started running ultras only for UTMB. After last year’s experience, I only wanted to finish. Also, I spent a lot of time preparing for this race. I had a lot of people in Spain and here helping me. It was very, very emotional to arrive here and to arrive having a great result. But I was only thinking to get to the line and then the result.
iRunFar: You’ve been at the finish of the Olympic Games. You’ve won Transvulcania. How do the emotions and the crowds at the finish of UTMB compare?
Hernando: It’s incredible how the people are in the street. You can compare this with Transvulcania because there are a lot of people all over the town and in the street. I think maybe yesterday was like half of the people were from Spain. I was feeling very comfortable. Yes, it’s amazing.
iRunFar: You finished UTMB. You’ve finished your first 100 miles. Never again?
Hernando: I don’t know. I don’t know. I started as a regular runner. I was seeing these mountain marathons doing four hours running up and down. This is crazy. Then I started doing the vertical kilometers and then the marathon mountain running. Now I’m here. So I will not say anything because maybe I’ll do the Tor des Géants. No, no, no. I don’t want to say anything.
iRunFar: So Tor des Géants (TDG), and Petite Trotte à Léon, and then TDG and PTL in the same year…? More and more and more.
Hernando: For sure, today and tomorrow, I won’t do anything.
iRunFar: Good. But your season is not done. You will run at Ultra Pirineu?
Hernando: Ultra Pirineu is the last race of the Skyrunning, so I have to go. Probably I will see the other runners and the points I need and maybe I will go but not do a hard effort and go through only to arrive in a good position to have some points. That’s all.
iRunFar: You said that you first considered UTMB because Adidas asked. Did it become a personal journey, something that you personally cared about?
Hernando: Probably if Adidas had never asked, I’d still have done Skyraces and marathons. After, I never talked about personal challenges talking about competitions. A race and competition is not a personal challenge. I’ve never talked about it that way. This particular race and after this last year’s experience, it’s the first time I’ve thought of it as a personal challenge. Yes, I have that feeling.
iRunFar: Congratulations on finishing your first 100-mile race.
Hernando: Thank you.
iRunFar: One more question. We’ve now done a few interviews together and we’ve had Spanish translators and Argentinian translators. Who do you like more?
Hernando: I don’t know… [laughing]
Translator: I will not translate. [laughing]
iRunFar: It’s better that way. [laughing]