Xavier Thévenard, 2018 UTMB Champion, Interview

Three times a UTMB champion and six times a winner of races at the UTMB festival of events, Xavier Thévenard won the 2018 edition. In the following interview, Xavier talks about feeling happy to have run his own race despite a hyper-dynamic men’s competition and difficult weather conditions, how he thinks his fueling strategy allows him to strategize his own best race, and whether he’s finally content with his UTMB finish.

Check out our 2018 UTMB results article for the full story of the race, as well as links for all of our post-race interviews.

Xavier Thévenard, 2018 UTMB Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with the 2018 UTMB champion, France’s Xavier Thévenard. Congratulations, good morning.

Xavier Thévenard: Thank you.

iRunFar: Take me to the finish line. Yesterday on the finish line you had such a big smile and a look of relief. What were you feeling?

Thévenard: [Through a translator] I was very, very happy, because I know the value of a victory at the UTMB. I like the emotions I can share with the staff, with the public, and with all my family.

iRunFar: One of the things about the men’s race this weekend was how dynamic the lead was. The leader was always changing – one fell back, another one came to the front. That person fell back, another one came to the front. Yet you were always just behind whoever was leading.

Thévenard: This year, I really wanted to come back to UTMB, because I wanted to run as I know. It means to run only within myself, without taking into account the other runners. I did it and it’s a success. I knew before it would be a success if I run like this. Last year, I was in confrontation with the other runners – it’s not my way to run. Last year, I was trying to run like that, and it’s not a good thing for me.

iRunFar: You have now run and won all of the UTMB races multiple times. You’ve seen Mont Blanc in good weather and bad weather. Can you describe the conditions on Friday night in France and Italy on Col du Bonhomme [43 km/27 miles into the race] and Col de la Seigne [60 km/38 miles]. Were they very difficult? Can you describe the conditions?

Thévenard: The race this year was very cold. It was, in fact, mountain conditions. I prefer mountain conditions. In fact, I wouldn’t say I’m a runner, I would say I’m a mountaineer. When you want to run an ultramarathon, you have to be willing to run in any conditions and with any changes in weather conditions.

iRunFar: In the middle of the night, kind of after Grand Col Ferret and after Grand Col Ferret [102 km/63 miles], the battle came down to between you and Zach Miller. Can you describe that time? It seemed that at times, Zach was leading the charge, and, then, you would be leading on the descents. How was that dynamic with Zach, and how long did that last?

Thévenard: During the night, when I met Zach Miller, I was happy to meet someone, because I was running for a long time alone, and so I was happy to run with another runner. When I was running with him, I felt I was in better condition, I had energy under my feet, but I think the road will be very long after so I have to be patient. I thought the ranking would step-by-step itself, so I preferred to stay and not to provoke him yet.

iRunFar: What is your secret to Champex-Lac [126 km/78 miles]? Nobody looks good there except for you. How do you look good at sunrise after a long and difficult night in the mountains and that dynamic of racing with Zach for so long?

Thévenard: I prefer the morning, because I like the sunrise. Because of the management of the speed and the management of the nutrition – before Champex, I didn’t take any energy food with caffeine – I only started doing that at Champex.

iRunFar: Is that right? No caffeine during the night?

Thévenard: No. I didn’t want to give my body a habit of the effort depending on caffeine too early on in a long race.

iRunFar: Did you also say you ate foods with less sugar before Champex, and more sugar after?

Thévenard: No caffeine before. Sugar, of course, before Champex, but only a little. No real energy speed gels or anything before Champex.

iRunFar: So, this is a question I have to ask: just before you crossed the finish line yesterday, you took out your water bottle, took a sip and poured it out on you. Was that a nod to what happened in July in America? [Thévenard was disqualified from the Hardrock 100 for receiving aid, in the form of water, from his crew outside of an aid station – iRunFar published interviews with Thévenard and the race director on July 23]

Thévenard: Mais oui. Juste une gorgée de l’eau. Yes, just a sip of water. It’s not like this will make the difference in a race–just a little water.

iRunFar: I think you made a point. Now you are a three-time champion of UTMB. You came, you managed your own race surrounding a very dynamic men’s leadership race. Do you feel as if you accomplished what you came here to accomplish?

Thévenard: I really don’t run to have victories and victories and victories. I only want to run around the mountain. I like this place for sure; I like when I run around Mont Blanc. Next year – no, not next year, in the future [the translator corrects herself to adhere more closely to what Thévenard said]

iRunFar: Not next year?

Thévenard: No [laughs]. In the future, I will be back to race around Mont Blanc. I don’t run to win victories.

iRunFar: Well, congratulations on your win of the 2018 UTMB. Put your feet on the couch now!

Thévenard: Yes. Seven days.

iRunFar: Okay, just seven! [Laughs] Congratulations again.

Thévenard: Thank you.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 26 comments

  1. WeiDe

    very happy for his victory, must be super sweet after all the discussions. congrats on a well executed race! Any thoughts on why so many people fall
    and guys like him or kilian hardly ever do / are affected by it? maybe the others redline more and hence pay less attention than is required?

  2. Jay

    Love this kid. He destroyed everyone and ya the water on the head certainly proved his point. I love Bronco Billy and he took advantage of a situation that was given to him and I think its great that he got the win at HR. But I am happy that Xavier won after reading a lot comments about how he received an advantage by taking a sip of water. It’s just not true. Congrats to Xavier!

  3. Fausto

    Jay, great point. He really destroyed the competition by running a very smart race. Great victory and redemption after HR! His legs and brain did the talking!

  4. Fausto vinces

    Jay, great point. He really destroyed the competition by running a very smart race. Great victory and redemption after HR! His legs and brain did the talking!

  5. Max

    So happy that Xavier won! Such a stupid DQ at Hardrock, followed by zero American in the top 10 (especially after people were saying “it’s the year for a US winner at UTMB”)… You might start believing in karma.

  6. Steve patterson

    I only wish Xavier had finished Hardrock as he was so close. He says he “doesn’t run to win victories”, perhaps partially true as he loves just to run, so why not finish Hardrock with 10 miles to go? If I were second place, and handed the win, I wouldnt be easy with that.

    1. T

      @ Steve patterson: I believe he stated that he didn’t want to finish first (due to having such a large time gap between #1 and #2) and then taking away the feeling of victory/pride from the official #1.

  7. American Chris

    Talk about vindication. I somehow feel proud of this guy kickin’ Tail at UTMB. Hardrock should be embarrassed. They rejected a true champion, and a champion of the ethos they claim to love. Such a bizarre and uncalled-for DQ but X showed us all that he doesn’t need us.
    I think we might need more like him.
    Awesome victory Xavier!

    P.S. How sweet was that hug with his gf (I’m presuming here, sorry if incorrect) at the end

  8. John

    A true class act. He got the DQ at Hardrock and he took it well. Whatever happened there happened and each side moved on, we should too.
    The victory at UTMB cements him as one of the greats. Well feserved.

    His performance is undeniably dominant. He was so far ahead at Hardrock he could have taken a nap and still win. That reflects his talent, skill, and preparation. He’s a good person and an amazing trail runner, we should at least acknowledge that by applauding the victory.

  9. John

    A true class act. He got the DQ at Hardrock and he took it well. Whatever happened there happened and each side moved on, we should too.
    The victory at UTMB cements him as one of the greats. Well deserved.

    His performance is undeniably dominant. He was so far ahead at Hardrock he could have taken a nap and still win. That reflects his talent, skill, and preparation. He’s a good person and an amazing trail runner, we should at least acknowledge that by applauding the victory.

  10. G

    Does anyone know what changes Xavier has made to his diet? given that he dedicated the win to his nutritionist “Benoit” Im guessing hes altered something in a pretty big way since last years 4th. That and he really looked amazing for the whole race, watching him and Zach running together was like night and day.

  11. Ronin Sherpa

    Fantastic win. He is a class act. The DQ at Hardrock was justified, no matter the insignificance of the item he received outside the aid station, it is still receiving aid outside the aid station and the rules are clear about that. I did laugh at his pouring water on his head while approaching the finish line.

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