In case anyone previously doubted that François D’haene was the best 100-mile runner of the past half-decade, François firmly laid those doubts to rest with his third UTMB title against what was the best trail-ultramarathon field ever. In the following interview, François talks about why the weather wasn’t so bad for the top runners, how the lead group whittled down from four to François, what he focused on once he took the lead, why he had to push the climbs late in the race, and why he’s headed to run the John Muir Trail in California next.
Check out our in-depth results article to find out what happened at UTMB 2017!
François D’haene, 2017 UTMB Champion, Interview
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here with the 2017 UTMB champion, François D’haene. Congratulations!
Francois D’haene: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: You’re doing a lot of interviews right now, so we just have a couple minutes to chat with each other. You’re a three-time UTMB champion. How does it feel?
D’haene: It’s just crazy. I’m a very lucky man.
iRunFar: Do you actually think it’s sort of crazy, or was there a logical progression to what happened yesterday?
D’haene: No, I will never say it’s just logical and that it’s normal that I win. It’s a combination of a lot of factors and a lot of things that make me very happy today. Yeah, for sure, I have a lot of experience now. Since 10 years, I try to progress and improve myself in ultra-trail running, and maybe it helped me a lot yesterday. But the surprise was incredible, the scenery of the race and everything, but I’m so, so happy of this victory.
iRunFar: You have run a lot of big mountain races around the world in all kinds of conditions. Do you think the fact it was bad weather and cold, difficult conditions helped you?
D’haene: I think for the front runners we don’t suffer a lot of cold conditions, because it was just the last 200 to 300 meters elevation, and for the elite runners, we run and I never put my jacket. I just had my beanie and my gloves. Because we were running and know it’s just the last 200, 300 meters, we take it okay. We are a bit cold, and then we descend. I think for the elite runners it was not a big problem. For sure, it’s a bit of stress. The ambiance at the night, it was nice. There was snow in the headlamp. This is why we are here. We like the mountain conditions. It was nice.
iRunFar: Can you talk a little bit about how the race played out between you and the other front men? In the beginning it was Jim Walmsley, you, Kilian Jornet, Xavier Thévenard sort of setting the pace of the race.
D’haene: Yeah, it was funny because there was a lot of very strong runners here. It was amazing because after 10k we were five runners in front. On the first ascent, I stopped a little bit to pee and I see Xavier just behind. I waited for him so we go together. Then we catch the two others in the distance. It was incredible because at 25k, we were already four—Xavier, Jim, Kilian, and me. Wow, it’s a nice group. It’s a good group to spend the night. It’s okay for me! We continued like that, but, then, I think Xavier, it was hard for him at Col du Bonhomme. Then, we were three, but it was nice because we were not so fast, not so slow. We could discuss until Courmayeur. It was perfect speed. Perfect. We just loved this night because it was perfect.
iRunFar: You became the sole leader in the front of the race somewhere around 110k? Was it quite strange to be in the front of such a pack of men?
D’haene: It’s always funny when people say, “You are in front of Kilian!” “Eh? Good.”
iRunFar: He can make that up in two minutes.
D’haene: Yeah, I was not focused about time with Kilian, because I was thinking he was not very far behind me. I didn’t know why it wasn’t the three of us, but after a while it was not very good. Yeah, after, I was not focused on Kilian’s time. I was just focused on my race. I knew we were 40 minutes ahead of the other runners. I say, Don’t focus on Kilian. Just stay focused on the 40 minutes. You have to manage to keep this at least 20 minutes. That’s why I don’t make my race about Kilian but about the others. Yeah, we wanted to finish one-two altogether. It was nice.
iRunFar: You didn’t lose strength at the end. You were still climbing really hard the last climb to La Flégère.
D’haene: Yeah, mentally I was just perfect. My head, too, was just perfect. My quads were very sore. The descent was hard. I say, Okay, you have to be good and clean because in the descent you’ll lose a bit of time. That’s why I really concentrated on the descent and was really focused on my race all the day.
iRunFar: What does it feel like to cross the finish line as the 2017 UTMB champion? This was the best match-up of men in a long ultra-trail race.
D’haene: Yeah, in ultra-trails, I think it was the first time we have such a deep competition, but yeah, the finish line here is always incredible. Now, one day after, when I remember all those runners at the start line, and I’m the first to cross the line? It’s just incredible.
iRunFar: There’s a line of press who wants to talk to you, but I have to ask you one question. You’re coming next to my country to have a go at the John Muir Trail.
D’haene: Yeah, I hope. We’ll try to organize it. I have to improve again my English to be perfect for that. Yeah, it’s… I don’t race anymore this year because I had a long season, and I don’t want to race too much. But I have an adventure on the John Muir Trail in October. I think I will start on October 14. I’m really, really happy about that because I think this terrain will be so nice and amazing. It will be a totally different adventure. It will be three days with my friends. It will be so nice, I hope.
iRunFar: Thank you for your time. Congratulations on your win.
D’haene: You’re welcome. Thanks a lot.