While Andy Symonds has been running seemingly forever, he’s made a big push into longer ultramarathons this year and will give the 100-mile distance a go for the first time this weekend at UTMB. In the following interview, Andy talks about why he’s moved up in distance this year, what he’s wary of heading into his first 100 miler, and what his running background is.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Andy Symonds Pre-2016 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Andy Symonds before the 2016 UTMB. How are you, Andy?
Andy Symonds: I’m good, thanks. Yeah, how are you?
iRunFar: Alright. I’ve known you for more than eight years, and this is our first interview.
Symonds: Is that right? Yeah, probably.
iRunFar: I think so.
Symonds: Does that mean I’m doing silly races?
iRunFar: Well, you’re doing silly races. What made you decide to move up in distance the last couple years?
Symonds: It’s kind of fashionable at the moment, eh?
iRunFar: You just follow the fashion?
Symonds: I have to keep in fashion. I thought I’d give it ago. Traditionally, as you say, I’ve been a 40k, 50k, 60k… I did Transvulcania a couple of times and always thought that was pretty long. But as I said, the train was going, “Long is cool,” so I thought I can’t slug it off. I can’t slight it unless I give it ago. I say that with most things; so it’s like with food, you can’t say it’s bad unless you taste it. I try that with the kids. I can’t say UTMB is silly unless you do it, so it’s time to do it. It’s this weekend.
iRunFar: So far this year you’ve run a bunch of longer races—Transvulcania, Buff Epic Trail. You won Lavaredo [Ultra Trail]. That’s a pretty good season so far.
Symonds: Yeah, it’s going well. I thought the whole year was “have a go at ultrarunning,” kind of test ultrarunning. There’s three or four long ones, and this is the really long one. Before this year, I’d hardly done any over 100k. So I’ve only done a few. I’ve done a few up to 14 hours. This is kind of the next step. I’ve got a pretty good feel for what it’s like to run 14 hours. I’ve never tried 20, 21, 22. That’s tomorrow.
iRunFar: So what are you thinking going into your first 100 miler? Is there anything in particular you’re worried about?
Symonds: It’s a long way, and it’s pretty slow. So it’s just about me being sensible and trying to enjoy it. I know essentially it’s… Transvulcania is quite racy and quite competitive. This for me is more a survival exercise. The guy who wins isn’t the guy who goes flat out from the gun. It’s the person who runs the most sensibly and has the fortune to have good legs on the right day.
iRunFar: I’m sure you’ve heard that this thing goes out 10k quick.
Symonds: I don’t think I will.
iRunFar: You don’t think? You’ll try not to?
Symonds: I don’t think. If Zach [Miller] and a few others decide to go 100 miles an hour, I will not follow them. Actually, I ran around the course a month ago with Tom Owens and Johan and Martin joined us for a bit. We ran around in three days, and we ran it pretty much at 21-hour pace but over three days, so three days and seven hours. I know what the pace is like. I’ve just have got to remember at the start, “No faster, no faster,” and enjoy it in the night. I think it’s going to be cool in the night. In the daytime, those last five or six hours could be pretty hot, so it’s making the most of the night to stay cool and fresh.
iRunFar: It could be a payoff to have something left.
Symonds: It will be, but it’s pretty hard to have anything left full stop. Yeah, you want to finish at the line finished, but no matter what you do in this thing, you’re gonna be finished at the end, aren’t you?
iRunFar: Is there anything you’re particularly excited about either about UTMB or the 100-mile experience?
Symonds: Yeah, UTMB is obviously a famous race for what it is. It’s built up a bit of an image. It goes around a pretty iconic mountain, so it’s a race that’s on most people’s checklist. It’s not one I’d necessarily want to do five or ten times in my life, but I wanted to do it once. I need to do that. I’d also like to finish it so I can tick it off. The 100 miler, it’s my first one, it’s a mountainous one, and I don’t know if I’ll do any more. We’ll see. I probably will, but I’ll see how it goes tomorrow. I have no idea whether next year, for example, I’ll want to do more 100 milers or if I’ll stick down to the 50-60k versions or 100k. I’ll kind of decide in a few months’ time.
iRunFar: You’re doing pretty well at the long stuff.
Symonds: I think it does suit me. I do. I think I’m quite happy to jog along at a steady, slow pace all day long. It seems to work for me. I quite like it. There’s less stress as well, I think, because competitive races like 10-20k races are quite or can be quite stressful because you’ve got to go flat out on the limit for a long time. Whereas this is a management exercise managing your form and trying to feel as good as you can for a long time. I just like spending the day in the mountains. That’s all it is, isn’t it.
iRunFar: During your longer races this year, have you had any rough stretches that you’ve had to bounce back from?
Symonds: Yeah, I find in the long runs you go up and down. Even in the first hour of Lavaredo, which was probably one of my best races this year certainly in terms of results, I felt pretty rubbish. I pulled through. Then at 40k I felt bad again, and then I felt good again. You’ve got to always remember that.
iRunFar: So you’ve got that in your file cabinet.
Symonds: Yeah, I know if you have a bad patch you’ll pull through it. You might not.
iRunFar: You might not. Since this is our first chat on camera together, tell me a little bit about your running history.
Symonds: Originally I was a fell runner because I was born up in Cumbria in the northwest of England. I got into fell running with my dad who was quite a well-known fell runner in the UK. That kind of dragged me to it a little bit.
iRunFar: Like as a teenager?
Symonds: Yeah, as a teenager I started running like at 12 or 13. I started running for England in fell running at 15 and 16 and over the years. I even went to the World Champs in Alaska. It was my first senior race. Then I got into cross country. Then, I suppose about ten years ago I started Skyrunning. Me and Tom would go and do a Skyrace over the weekend. Then I went travelling for a bit. I lived in Scotland for awhile and then moved to France five years ago. Moving to France kind of introduced me to the more “classic trail running,” because the French are into that as we know. It’s quite different from the UK. There’s a lot more publicity around it. It’s really big—magazines and things.
iRunFar: How does that change from growing up in the fell running culture which is totally, from my understanding, totally grassroots “end at the pub, here’s your number?”
Symonds: It’s a shock. I guess there are good things and bad things about both. I do love still going back to the UK. It’s pretty rare now that I do a fell race where it’s 5 quid to enter and you get a pint and a pie at the end. That’s absolutely perfect. In France, you will not get a race for less than 20, 30, 40 Euros. I’m lucky enough to not very often pay my entry fee, but I know it’s expensive. Yeah, in the UK, you can do it with pocket money and get a free pint.
iRunFar: It’s a pretty good deal. Hopefully if you have a good race here someone will want to treat you to a pint at the finish line.
Symonds: I have a feeling I might want one or two.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there.
Symonds: I’ll be dreaming about that tomorrow.
iRunFar: Don’t stop at any refugios for one.
Symonds: No, no. Cheers.