American David Laney returns to UTMB as one of its highest-placing finishers from last year. In the following interview, David talks about what perspective brings to this race from his podium finish last year, what his goals are for this year’s lap around Mont Blanc, and if his approach to UTMB is different from his approach to Western States this past June.
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David Laney Pre-2016 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m here in Chamonix, France. It’s the week of the 2016 UTMB. I’m with the third-place finisher from last year, David Laney. Hi.
David Laney: How’s it going?
iRunFar: Good. How are you doing?
Laney: Meow, meow, meow.
iRunFar: So, you come back to this race having podiumed here last year. Podium of UTMB is sort of a dream finish for most people. Obviously you must be hungry for something more. Is that what brings you back?
Laney: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
iRunFar: I’m just going to ask you straight out. What do you want to do at this race this year?
Laney: Same as last year—just get around the mountain.
iRunFar: Do you want to be a few minutes faster?
Laney: Hopefully, yeah. I think there are definitely places or sections where I can improve on. I think I’m better on the downhills now. I’m much more comfortable with that kind of stuff just from practicing in the last year. Little areas I felt like I struggled… my bag weighs half as much as it did last year.
iRunFar: Honing in on the gear?
Laney: Yeah, just a lot of little things you learn over the course of the year and from doing the race… yeah, I feel better about it. I had no idea what I was doing last year. I kind of feel the same way at the same time. I haven’t looked at the course map. I haven’t stressed out about things like I usually do going into a race.
iRunFar: When you came to this race last year, it was your first time coming to the UTMB races. Tell me about how you felt emotionally going into last year’s race as opposed to this year’s race. Is there a certain level of comfort coming back and a little bit of familiarity here? What’s going through your head that’s different or the same?
Laney: Yeah. I think the biggest thing is most races you go into it with that race mentality like it’s going to be racing the whole way. This race, at least for myself, is much more like a battle. It’s going to be a really long day. If you do the things the right way, then you can race at the end. That’s kind of just something I thought of last year a lot and am trying to keep that same mentality for this race.
iRunFar: You’re going to share the course with some of the same guys as last year. You’re also going to see some new faces that are in the front of other European ultras. Are there people or certain styles of racing you’ve watched from afar or run with that you’d like to key off of or work with?
Laney: Not really. There are people I’m worried about like the guys in my house. I know how good they are. I’m blind to what the other guys have been doing. Sometimes that makes it a little easier. I think in a race like this, keying off someone else, you really have to run your own race.
iRunFar: Do you really?
Laney: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s what I did last year. Going into last year, my expectations were pretty much zero. If I was in the top 20, I’d have been really happy. I’ve run plenty of races that went poorly because I ran someone else’s race. Yeah, hopefully I can just do what’s comfortable for the first half and what’s really uncomfortable for the second half.
iRunFar: Make it hurt. Last year was a really big year for you with trail ultrarunning. You had some outstanding performances at all kinds of distances and on all kinds of surfaces. You touched briefly on ways that you think you’ve improved on what you’re going to find at UTMB. How are you a different runner this year?
Laney: Racing a lot last year was really fun, but I think in a lot of ways it didn’t allow me to train like I wanted to really consistently. I think this year, the first… Olympic [Marathon] Trials went pretty bad, and Western States went pretty bad. Hopefully I can turn things around for the third race. Hopefully I learned from the mistakes I made at those races. Hopefully… I think the training has been a lot better this year even though the racing has been not good, so hopefully that can turn around.
iRunFar: Talk about your Western States for a little bit. That’s the last big race we saw you at a couple months ago. You had bad, bad stomach basically…
Laney: Yeah, from… you know, I can deal with a bad stomach, but instead of eating on a bad stomach, I just didn’t eat. I thought it would go away if I didn’t eat. But then by mile 60, I’d had four jelly beans and a half a Gatorade at that point.
iRunFar: “That’s pretty much burned up.”
Laney: Yeah, I pretty much walked. Tim [Tollefson] got me from to the river, and after that, I just walked as much as I could.
iRunFar: Tim Tollefson paced you. You looked like a hurting puppy when you ran around the track. You’ve got a form and mechanics to your running that look like you belong on a track, but that night it looked like a really painful 300 meters. Did it take a long time to recover from that? What happened afterward?
Laney: Not really. I felt fine 10 days later. When you walk… you can recover from walking 40 miles pretty quickly.
iRunFar: Long walk through the woods.
Laney: It was a really rough day that didn’t tax my body as much as other races have.
iRunFar: How about your mind?
Laney: That’s still in recovery.
iRunFar: Okay. You put your eggs into your basket of racing less frequently this year but trying to really have these good couple races. Have you bounced back from that mentally?
Laney: There’s always… you always have doubts going into things. The biggest thing going into that race is that I moved to Tahoe. I lived on the course. I did every little thing to make it go perfectly. It went as bad as it could have. Every year I’ve done it, it was the worst by two hours. Nothing else… there’s a lot of other things that could have gone wrong, but it went as bad as I could have expected really. To some extent, you just have to step back from that and be like, Okay, this is a different race. I’m going into it with a totally different mentality. Yeah, I’m just kind of relaxed about it.
iRunFar: Really? Chill out and take it more casual?
Laney: Yeah. It doesn’t mean that at mile 80 when things are really bad that you’re going to be more casual. It still allows you to fight really hard at that point, but I think being a little more relaxed going into that, you’re not mentally drained at the starting line.
iRunFar: Training for Western States and training for UTMB are two different things. How have you converted things? What have you been doing the last two months? You just ran Transrockies last week.
Laney: Yeah, so my mileage is higher for this. Total hours are higher. Climbing is higher. Intensity is a lot lower. I worked a running camp for a couple weeks, so I was just running a lot but not really many workouts. Then I did Transrockies… just like a lot of long days in the mountains.
iRunFar: Like, bulk?
Laney: Yeah, stuff I enjoy.
iRunFar: The starting line is going to feel a little different for you this year because you’ve got some teammates there, too. Have you guys strategized or talked about working as a team?
Laney: Not at all.
iRunFar: Is it going to be guns out from the go?
Laney: Yeah, someone’s going to have to break the ice around the dinner table tonight and see what we’re going to do. We all have fairly different styles. I hope at some point in the race we… it would be a lot of power to have all of us together. Everyone has to do their own thing. We all are pretty individualistic, so we’re not going to run anyone else’s race.
iRunFar: And you’re all fiercely competitive. How’s the house going to be the day after the race?
Laney: Yeah, we are fairly competitive. The most competitive people are able to leave that competition in the arena. It’s not always easy, but it’s some of your best friends, too.
iRunFar: This is my last question for you. This part of the world is famous for its gelato and ice cream. You’ve been here for a couple days. Have you visited the ice-cream stand? How’s that going for you?
Laney: Yeah, oh, absolutely. Great. Yeah, they know me.
iRunFar: “There’s the skinny guy.”
Laney: Oh, six boules, okay. Zach [Miller] comes in and gets the 10 boules.
iRunFar: What has been your favorite flavors?
Laney: They have unbelievable flavors—and some of them I don’t even know, I just like the color.
iRunFar: “The chartreuse color, give me that one.”
Laney: They have some cookie one that’s really good. It’s not cookie chunks, but it tastes like cookie. There’s a lot. Too many to choose from.
iRunFar: If you come back a little heavier than when you arrived, you’ll have done gelato right.
iRunFar: Good luck to you. We’ll see you out there on Friday.
Laney: Thank you very much.