Mike Foote took second at the 2017 Hardrock 100, his third time finishing this race as the second man. In the following interview, Mike talks about meting out his effort all day and night, how the second half of the race with Kilian Jornet and Joe Grant played out, if the mental and physical pain of running Hardrock is worth it, and if he has near-future racing and adventure plans.
Mike Foote Post-2017 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here with Mike Foote. He finished second at the 2017 Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. Good afternoon, Mike. Congratulations.
Mike Foote: Thank you, Meghan.
iRunFar: I don’t get to interview you very often. Usually, I sit and have a chat with you over a beer at a bar after a race. This is a fairly formal environment for me and you right now.
Foote: This is true. We just had about 20 minutes of informal conversation.
iRunFar: We should have just recorded that and been done with it. Hey, you finished second at Hardrock.
Foote: [quiet wild cheering] Yeah, it was fun.
iRunFar: You had fun.
Foote: I did, yeah. I think I had a really good attitude this year. I’m always anxious and scared before a race like Hardrock. You and I were just talking about how it’s fun it is to do things where you never know how they’re going to end up—there’s a lot of mystery to it. Hardrock is more of an unknown than a lot of other races. You never know if you’ll finish or how you’ll finish and any of that, but it’s just a really positive experience regardless. The community here and the landscape—it’s an honor to be part of it.
iRunFar: You come back here by choice. You’ve been here a couple times. This is now your third second-place finish.
Foote: This is my third second-place finish.
iRunFar: This is something you coming back to with intention.
Foote: Yeah, for sure. I trend towards mountainous ultramarathons and steep, slow ones because I think they suit my strengths, but also they are what I enjoy the most and the type of training I do to build up to those is also more fun. Hardrock is kind of the apex of that as far as 100 mile races out there especially within the United States. It’s so fun to just drive down here and be a part of this. Yeah, it keeps me coming back every time. Just like everybody else in the ultra community, I put in every year and have been lucky enough to…
iRunFar: Be chosen a couple times.
Foote: Yeah, I’ve made it into the middle lottery, so I’ve got a better chance than a lot of other people.
iRunFar: You’re up into the 20-30% chance range as opposed to the 0.001% or whatever it is.
Foote: Exactly, which is pretty good.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about how your race went down. Things went out… I don’t know… things went out fast with the women and then with the men chasing behind the women?
Foote: Yeah, I felt like it was pretty casual on the men’s side. I always make it a point to be no where near the front at the beginning of an ultra. I’m a slow starter. It was pretty casual coming up and over into Cunningham the first nine miles. We crossed the first creek and Kilian [Jornet] is there putting his shoes back on, because he didn’t want to get his feet wet so early in the race.
iRunFar: Which is amazing, because it’s the wettest race ever.
Foote: He’s like, “I know it will be wet, but the first climb is dry, so I just wanted my feet dry for the first 10 miles.”
iRunFar: I just wanted to enjoy it.
Foote: Okay. It’s fun because you’re catching up with everybody—Joe Grant, Adam Campbell, Anna Frost, and so many folks. The beginning of this race is about catching up with friends and trying to be very conservative, because it’s such a long race. I felt like I was able to do that. I caught up with Caroline [Chaverot] who was just crushing it at about mile 20 or so. She seemed to be working so hard, but she wasn’t slowing down. It was so impressive to see her out there just working, laboring so hard but not blowing up. She seemed to have an incredible race. I’ve never been in the same race as her. I ended up catching Iker [Karrera] and Kilian somewhere around Ouray. Yeah, that makes sense. I feel like it’s always my goal, at least in this direction, to be in one piece to Ouray. I feel like I’ve been really conservative, because time-wise, it’s just getting going. Distance-wise, it’s [56 miles]. But the way this race goes especially in this direction, that’s a lot of time out there still to go.
iRunFar: We had people all over the course, and it seemed like every time somebody was reporting in for us from a remote location, it was like, “Mike Foote, five minutes back from the lead.” “Mike Foote, five minutes back from the lead.” “Mike Foote, five minutes back from the lead.”
Foote: Sometimes I make a point to not get in the mix. I like to race alone sometimes. If I’m going to make a move, I like to just do it and get by somebody. If I’m not ready to do it, I’ll just hang right behind them.
iRunFar: Is there some intention to that five minutes? Can you see people off in the distance—Okay, I’m in contact. This feels like a safe place? Or is it just totally random that you were always five minutes back from the lead in the first half of the race?
Foote: I think it’s intentional. I’ll be pushing pretty hard and then, Oh, I’m in contact. This is where I want to be. I don’t need to make a move so soon.
iRunFar: This is your safe space.
Foote: Yeah, I don’t want to be that guy who is suddenly in the lead way too soon in the race. I also don’t want to get into a pissing match early on in a race. I’ve been beat up and spit out the back by those kinds of… you’re racing way too early in the race. I wanted to be in a spot where I could make moves later. That’s how it ended up. Joe, Kilian, and I ended up just being together for such a significant part of the latter half of the race. I’m not sure if there was ever a moment where… Joe tried to put in a couple good surges. Coming out of Telluride he made a big move. We talked about it later, and he was like, “That was when I was going to go for it and see how it went.” I was feeling really, really bad coming out of Telluride, and I slowed down a lot. I forgot to eat in the aid station. I thought I ate, and by that I meant I had a half cup of Coca-Cola and some broth. Okay, I’m ready to go! I put down 80 calories.
iRunFar: Yay! It didn’t actually work, but it felt like a lot.
Foote: Turns out a half-an-hour later I felt like hell.
iRunFar: It got you a mile out of the aid station though.
Foote: Exactly, and then I just crashed and burned. Luke Nelson was pacing me, and he just made me eat a lot of food. I just started eating a ton of gels, and it brought me back. It was hard to do because it’s always hard to eat later in the race. I’m lucky in that I get nauseous, but I never throw up. I’ve never thrown up running. I’m able to digest food, and it definitely gives me energy. So I caught up with Joe and Kilian coming up into Wasatch Basin.
iRunFar: The cat and mouse game didn’t end there either. You guys were cat and mousing it pretty much all the way through.
Foote: Yeah, I was in contact all the way to KT. Coming down into Chapman, Joe had been descending really well. I’d been pretty tentative, because my quads were sore earlier on in the race than I preferred. Okay, I can’t be stupid and blow them out early, because I want to be able to go hard in the last couple descents. So coming into Chapman was the first time I really opened up on the descent and Joe didn’t catch me which was the first time in a couple descents. Okay, this is good, because I’d been climbing better than him all day. Kilian and I kind of opened up a gap on him from there and maintained it. Running with Kilian, I never know if I’m in the same race as he is. He’s this wounded guy this time with his arm. As always, he’s so impressive. We chatted a lot. It felt really casual at times. I feel like there were times when we were just taking it really easy on some of the climbs. Every time I’d kind of put in a move, he’d just stay with me. I’d suddenly be working really hard and he’d just kind of hang out. Okay, at some point he might just leave me and it is what it is. We had a fun time together though, and it was impressive to see him moving through that terrain with his arm underneath his backpack.
iRunFar: His wounded wing.
Foote: His wounded wing. I think there was a couple times where he asked for a little help zipping up his jacket and that was about it. I tried to offer him help the whole time, but he did everything on his own except a couple small things. It was really impressive. He never ceases to amaze me. We made it to KT and Luke [Nelson], my pacer, said something like, “Watch out, Kilian. We’re gunning for you.” Kilian said something like, “We’ll see. You’d better run fast.” He took off and put in 20 minutes on me in the last 11 miles, which that is what it is. I was happy to run really fast though. I feel like I was able to push and stay stable. The game of Hardrock is about maintaining your energy levels and not crashing and burning too hard. I definitely had a lot of low points, and I was never on a euphoric high pretty much the whole race, but I was able to maintain decent movement and progression, and with Hardrock, that will get you second place in under 25 hours. It’s just crazy. I was happy with it overall for sure.
iRunFar: I think sometimes when you have a guy like Kilian in a race, it’s hard to think about the rest of the mortal crew. Your splits post-Chapman were faster than all the other guys in the field. You were able to do what everybody but one other person wasn’t able to do—to maintain energy levels and maintain pace, be able to climb uphill and descend more rapidly than anybody else. To nail that, to get that, is really tough. To keep your uphill muscles and energy, to keep your downhill muscles and energy… do you have any explanation how you’re able to do that three times?
Foote: No. I assume everybody else is… I’m the kind of person who is constantly trying to divy out energy until there’s nothing left for the final step. That’s how it goes. I really, really try and do it really smoothly. I’ve always taken pride in that. Also, just like anybody else, I’ve had really, really bad races, because I’ve either gone out too hard or haven’t eaten well or maintained energy… it’s really simple. It’s just a matter of being conservative and holding it for the final bit and not mentally getting… being mentally resilient, too. There’s always adversity. We had a horrible storm, horrible storm coming out of Sherman. The hail was hurting my legs, which means it was coming in sideways. It was so windy. It was pelting my legs and my head. Everybody had to deal with it, but I remember being just like, Have a good attitude for this. Don’t let it wear you down. Don’t let it wear you down. There are so many stories for everybody in Hardrock. If you can maintain a decent positive attitude throughout I think that actually… I know that can sound cheesy, but there’s a lot of truth to it.
iRunFar: Times of truth. I think there’s a difference between telling yourself you’re going to be able to stay positive and in the heat of the moment, the duress of the moment, being able to actually get your mind there.
iRunFar: How do you do it?
Foote: I don’t know.
iRunFar: I can’t give away my secrets.
Foote: No way. It’s not a secret. I think tolerance to adversity is one of the more overlooked skillsets of an ultrarunner.
iRunFar: Or a human being in general?
Foote: Yes, that’s so true. I feel like a race like Hardrock—somebody was bringing this up—the people who do well most often at Hardrock are the people who also have a lot of experience in high mountain terrain and aren’t just runners, but really enjoy big alpine environments and, therefore, have spent a lot of time being stormed on, having to hunker down in really uncomfortable situations, being cold, being tired… I don’t know. If you just get more used to that, suddenly it normalizes it a little bit, and, therefore, you’re not as shaken up by it. I don’t think I’m any better than anybody else, but I really appreciate that. I think there’s something to be said for having that type of resilience. Kilian doesn’t even call himself a runner. He says, “Oh, I’m just used to being in the mountains.” He’s the kind of person who has that tolerance to adversity. When it hits the fan, there’s something about that that plays to your advantage in a race like Hardrock more than other races.
iRunFar: A slight parallel on a technically totally different level, when Alex Honnold said in his interview after free soloing El Capitan that he just did it enough times that it, became normal for him to free solo those big pitches and put them together.
Foote: Yes, his physical talent is high, but his mental talent due to all that is so high.
iRunFar: Is doing Hardrock—you devote months of training, you devote weeks at least to recovery before you can transition to the next thing. You’re standing here with throbbing feet as we’re talking really wishing you could be sitting.
Foote: They’re very swollen, I know.
iRunFar: You’re about to undergo a really tired drive home. Your whole year and several weeks are, to be objective, malaffected by doing something like Hardrock. Is it worth it?
Foote: Yeah, I think so. I always struggle with it. At the end of each running season, I’m kind of curious how I want to put it together. I did a really big ski mountaineering season this year, and I had a hard time running this spring. Six weeks ago—it’s crazy to think about six weeks ago—I struggled for a while. I was looking for an excuse almost not to do Hardrock, because I wasn’t enjoying running that much. It hurt a lot. I was really mentally in a tough spot not finding motivation and inspiration for it. Then, bit by bit by bit it came around. You come down here, and it’s this gathering of a tribe and it’s this really fulfilling experience, and it’s totally worth it. It’s important to put yourself out there even when you don’t feel like you’re ready. Because even though I had, for me, a really positive performance, even at the start line I had a lot of doubt. If I had not come here, I’d probably be home still having a lot of doubt. It’s nice to have tried. That was my whole goal—you’ve got to show up no matter what even if you’re not feeling super great or worried about altitude. I didn’t feel like I’d prepared as specifically this year as other years. Obviously, it turned out okay, but even if it hadn’t I’d have been happy that I came down and tried. There’s a lot of value in that you might not be able to put a price tag on.
iRunFar: The intangible stuff. What are you going to do next this year—after you put your feet up and have a beer or two or four?
Foote: I’ve had a lot of people ask me that just today, and I’m a really bad planner.
iRunFar: That’s what happens when you finish second at Hardrock and run a really fast time. People want to know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
Foote: I’m going to race direct The Rut in September, and I feel like there are a lot of things piling up for that right now. I’m really interested in the Sierra High Route. I’m really interested in some races.
iRunFar: Some races I don’t want to tell you.
Foote: I haven’t made any decisions yet, so I don’t know. I’m going to get back to Montana and play around in the mountains and figure it out this next week.
iRunFar: See what happens. So we don’t know where we’re going to see you next.
Foote: Yeah, hopefully somewhere soon,
iRunFar: Congratulations to you on your second-place finish. Anything with a number on it that you had for a finishing time, you need to be proud of.
Foote: Thank you. What’s that?
iRunFar: Any number—25-something—that’s something to be really proud of here.
Foote: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Finishing this race is always emotional. It’s emotional for me, and it’s emotional to see every single other person finish this race.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s beyond the bounds of this interview, but it’s amazing to be here, but there’s this weird emotional come-down afterwards after bearing witness to so many highs and so many lows for people. There’s this communal bearing witness thing that can be hard here.
Foote: At least we experience it together.
iRunFar: Ah, should we hug it out?
iRunFar: Congrats, Mike.
Foote: Thank you.