In commanding fashion, François D’haene won the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, his second victory at this event. In the following interview, François talks about sharing much of the race with other runners including Tim Tollefson and Germain Grangier, how his legs felt during this early season test right off of his skis, and how be plans to juggle the upcoming birth of his third child and running the Hardrock 100 this summer.
For more on how the race played out, read our MIUT results article.
François D’haene, 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m here with François D’haene. He’s the champion of the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. Congratulations, François.
François D’haene: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: We just had the awards ceremony. We’re here on a beach. Your kids are over there playing [gestures off camera]. Things are feeling relaxed?
D’haene: Yes, better than before the race. No, even before the race it was nice. Everything here is relaxing, there’s not too many people. Even during the race it’s less stress than other big races. For my family, it was perfect. They could make the aid station for me. The kids were not too stressed. Even for you, I think it was easier, too, to work here.
iRunFar: [Nods] Compared to a lot of races, this was pretty easy to get around.
D’haene: It was a very nice experience of getting here.
iRunFar: This was your second time coming to Madeira Island and your second win in the 115k race. Do you feel like you’ve come and done what you need to do on Madeira?
D’haene: I like the island, and maybe the trail likes me. It was hard like last time, because this trail is not easy. Even if it’s ‘only’ 110 or 115k, it’s still a long, long road. It’s very steep for the first part. You have like 6,700 meters of elevation gain in 70k, so it’s incredible.
iRunFar: Almost all of the climb is packed into the first part of the race.
D’haene: Yeah, after 80k it’s only descent. At 80k, it’s like 7,200 meters. It’s crazy. You can see nowhere.
iRunFar: Super crazy. Let’s dive into the men’s race. What did you think of the first part of the race? For me, it was interesting that there were so many guys running together, through 30k almost. It was like, bam, bam, bam, bam, 30 men running by.
D’haene: Yeah, I don’t know about 30, but it was 10 or 20 guys and we mixed.
iRunFar: Yes, lots of switching of places among you, too.
D’haene: After 45k we were just three at the front but [the others] were not very far behind us. It was very nice to see this kind of high level of competition. Yes, it’s very cool.
iRunFar: Now, in the middle part of the race, it seemed like it was this trio of you, Germain Grangier, and Tim Tollefson working together during some of the nighttime hours until about dawn.
D’haene: Yeah, we were all together and discussing and having a nice tempo. For me it was perfect because we don’t go too fast and it was cool because you know that you did a good job because behind us you know that the time is more and more long [extending our lead]. It was good for us because when you are alone, it’s more long, it’s more stressful. It was really nice to spend the night as three.
iRunFar: From your perspective, was there any game playing going on between the three of you? Or were you just trying to work together and be on each other’s side?
D’haene: I don’t know. I think for Tim, he was really happy to stay with us. I think he knew that he played too hard on, I think, the ascents. I think he knew he would pay a debt after. Because when we passed that 60k mark, middle of the race, he discussed with me, saying, “We have to go up there?” [Points up high] I said, “Yes, and then going down, and then going up.” “Oh, it will be complicated for me.” [Chuckles] So, I know that he was maybe a little too happy to stay with us, but he said, “Okay, let’s go and play together, and we will see later.” So yeah, I think he pushed a bit on flats and when you’re at the top and directly [add a burst of speed] you go fast, maybe too much.
I think Germain progressed a lot this past year and he had a very good race until 80k. From the start until 80k, he made a very good, fast race. It was interesting to discover him, because I didn’t know him before. I think he has a lot of quality on this kind of trail.
iRunFar: When I was out recce-ing the trail a couple of days before the race, I actually saw you out on the trail. You were recce-ing the course, too, because there were some changes. Because of that, you knew how the course finishes. You knew some of the difficult descents. You’ve been here before and you know what you have to run.
D’haene: Yeah, I know I always try to come two or three days before the race to look and I study a lot the map. I say, “Okay, maybe I just need to go have a look at this part and this part and this aid station… or something.” I know that maybe I need to look at that part and that part. Yeah, for me it’s important to also have some parts that you don’t know so it’s a challenge. But it’s important to have some parts that you know, so you know what can happen here.
iRunFar: Before the race, you didn’t do much running. It was mostly ski season for you.
iRunFar: How did your legs feel during the race? Did you feel strong? Did you feel like you hadn’t done that many running miles yet?
D’haene: I think I was fresh, but maybe a little too fresh [laughs]. After 80k, on the descents I felt like I didn’t have a lot of descent kilometers on my legs, but it was a little bit muddy so it was not too much of a shock. I think that made it easier. For me, it would be too much shock if it was hard. Because it was soft, I think it was okay for me.
iRunFar: Got it. Last question for you, you have a couple of projects or reasons to come to America this year.
D’haene: Yeah, at least one, for the Hardrock 100.
iRunFar: You got into Hardrock!
D’haene: I’m very, very happy and excited about that. I have to look at the map and work a lot on this. Now it’s my next project, so I have two or three months to think about it. It will be a very interesting experience for me.
iRunFar: Hardrock has some very interesting parts to it. The elevation change is not that different from what you find in your mountains, but the high altitude is a bit higher than what you can access unless you go to the tops of the glaciers in the places in the Alps. How are you going to prepare for altitude?
D’haene: I will be in maternity to wait my baby.
iRunFar: You’ll prepare by welcoming a new baby into the world.
D’haene: Yeah, I would like to be there [in Colorado] for like one month and prepare specifically, but I have a family and we will have a baby for 25 June, less than a month before Hardrock. So, I will stay at home until like 9 or 10 July. So, I won’t have a very good altitude progression, but I will try to do a little bit in the Alps. If I can do it and it’s effective, or if I can’t do it… it’s an experience, it’s part of the game. I’m not really stressful about that. It’s just a game for me, and I try to say, “Okay, yes, I would like to be very well prepared, but it is very important to be there when the baby will arrive.” I will try to adapt as good as possible. It’s a challenge for me to discover that race. Normally I don’t feel sick at altitude, so maybe it will be okay. If it’s not enough, maybe I will try to improve it for my next chance, maybe.
iRunFar: Cool. Well, congratulations on your win of the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. I look forward to seeing you on the Hardrock course in a couple months.
D’haene: Yes, see you in two months. Thank you.