France’s Thibaut Garrivier had a big breakout in winning the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. In this interview, Thibaut talks about what he does outside of trail running, how and why he took up trail running several years ago, his progression with the sport including his third place at Transvulcania last year, and how the race played out from his perspective.
Don’t miss our results article which describes the full race story.
Thibaut Garrivier, 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m with Thibaut Garrivier, the champion of the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. Good morning! It’s the morning after your win. Has it sunk in yet?
Thibaut Garrivier: Yeah, it’s quite good this morning. My shoulders hurt a little bit because I fell on them, but the legs are okay.
iRunFar: Well, you just walked over here like a champion. You didn’t even look sore.
Garrivier: Yeah, I think winning a race like that, tries to help recovery.
iRunFar: It’s easier on the brain, if you had a win at a race, to let your body relax and recover.
Garrivier: Yeah, of course, of course.
iRunFar: Well, this is our first interview with you. I’d love to be able to get to know you a little bit. I just learned that you’re a medical student.
Garrivier: Yeah, in the 11th year. I study radiology. Yes, I have one year remaining until the end.
iRunFar: Where do you go to school?
Garrivier: In Lyon.
iRunFar: Okay, so you have some hills to train in.
Garrivier: Yeah, a little bit. Actually, there are 400 meters of elevation to train in the hills. And, then, I run across the Rhône [River], and I like that.
iRunFar: So you do some flat running also.
Garrivier: Yeah, I need some speed.
iRunFar: What was your background before you got into trail running and ultrarunning? Did you do other sports.
Garrivier: Yeah, I actually started by doing cross-country skiing in my young years.
iRunFar: Where did you grow up?
Garrivier: In the south of the Alps, the town of Gap. Then, I go to med school in Marseilles and I stopped all sport activities. I was only studying during four to five years. Then, I started running just to work, to evade my brain. It was like only one-hour jog, maybe one or two runs per week. Then, I come to trail running. I try one race, and, then, two, and I liked it. I managed to train more and more and, yeah, I got here.
iRunFar: Now, here you are. You’re the champion of a major trail ultramarathon. Last year, you were on the podium for this race. You took third. All throughout the years your results have kind of been improving. But taking third here last year and, then, elevating to first place in a faster time, how do you feel about your own trail running progression?
Garrivier: Yeah, I last year I actually took six months to stop studying. I trained a lot in order to improve my physical level and get a gap. I think it worked well, but, last year, I didn’t get a good race to show that. I broke my foot before CCC, so I didn’t start. I was really disappointed.
iRunFar: You were signed up for CCC last year? Because you’re also signed up for it this year, right?
Garrivier: Yeah, of course.
iRunFar: You’re trying it again.
Garrivier: Yeah, trying again.
iRunFar: Can you tell me about yesterday’s race and how it went out? You had the experience of having been on this course and you saw how it ran last year. How did the race start out for you in the early kilometers yesterday?
Garrivier: Yesterday started out the same way [as last time]. I wanted to get the same time [as 2018] arriving at Las Deseadas, the top of the first uphill. Then, I really wanted to run with Dmitry Mityaev, because I know he’s very good on downhills. So, I think we got a good race together and I pushed him during the uphill. Then, we can go down.
iRunFar: So was he pushing you on the downhills?
Garrivier: Yeah. So I fell first, and, then, he fell.
iRunFar: Can you talk a little bit about how the men’s race dynamic went around the volcano rim up on top between Pico de la Nieve and Roque de los Muchachos? I think there was a lot of changing and leapfrogging happening, right?
Garrivier: Yeah, we pushed very hard with Dmitry from Pico de la Nieve because Petter Engdahl was maybe five or six minutes ahead. So, we had to make a huge effort to get him back.
iRunFar: Did you and Dmitry say that? Did you say, “Let’s work together to find Petter?”
Garrivier: Yeah, actually I take the time on my watch and we see him, and I said to Dmitry, “He has three minutes [lead on us… now it’s] one minute 30. Yeah, yeah, let’s go.”
iRunFar: Okay, so at that point you and Dmitry are kind of working together around the volcano rim there.
iRunFar: Then, at Roque de los Muchachos, all three of you were pretty close together at that point. The two of you had closed the gap with Petter.
Garrivier: Yeah, as we caught Petter, I tried to push again and again, but he was very strong so he didn’t let me go. At the start of the downhill, I was pretty confused due to the effort of maybe 10 minutes. I fell because I was very tired and it was a bad fall. I was behind him and just running.
iRunFar: It looked like you and Dmitry stayed together, or at least ran pretty close together, for that entire 2,400-meter descent.
Garrivier: Yeah, actually we went downhill together. As he is a very good downhill runner, I was just behind him trying to follow him. Then, he fell, too. I thought he was still coming, but when I looked back, he wasn’t there. So, I decided to continue. I thought he would come back, but after five to 10 minutes of going down, I didn’t see him. I decided to push downhill. At Puerto de Tazacorte, I think I had three minutes.
iRunFar: Yes, I think so. And that sort of the end of the race at that point. I mean, it’s 5k, approximately, to the finish and it’s sort of a mean 5k because you’re in a rough riverbed and then a very steep climb.
Garrivier: Yeah, in the canyon I pushed very, very hard to not get him back [let him catch me]. I knew he had sticks [trekking poles] for the last hard uphill. He’s very, very strong in those cases and he’s pretty fast on the flat. The last section was flat, the last kilometer. I think three minutes’ lead is enough [to hold him off], but I kept a very good pace to not see him back.
iRunFar: It was quite a battle with Dmitry because last year he got you to the line, and this year you managed to get him at the line.
Garrivier: Yeah, that’s a race. Last year, I think he had an injury to the knee. He couldn’t go downhill as really fast as usual, so I finished not so far [behind him] but I think he took me around maybe five minutes on the downhill. That’s a lot.
iRunFar: Last question for you, you have the CCC on your race calendar, but I was looking at your website last night and you’ve got a lot of other races on your schedule. Can you share a little bit about what the rest of your 2019 looks like? Aside from med school.
Garrivier: Last year, I wanted to run, like, ultras like CCC and in Trail de Bourbon in La Réunion, which are more than 15 hours of racing. But I gave up in Réunion after 11 hours. I was destroyed, really. I was very disappointed, because I trained a lot, but I couldn’t show that during the race. It was only two races, but I gave up and did not start for the first time. So, this year I’ve managed to do a lot of races because I love that. The first objective is the Skyrunner World Series. We will see, it should be Skyrace des Matheysins next week, but I will see. It is the only stop in France. It’s easy to get there and I’ve already raced it, so I think I will be a little tired, but it’s a game.
Then, maybe I’ll run Livigno Skymarathon and maybe Buff Epic Trail, then Matterhorn Ultraks, and Ultra Pirineu for the series and then, I hope, the final–Limone Extreme Skyrace. I will also run Zegama Marathon, Mont-Blanc Marathon, and CCC.
iRunFar: Wow, that’s a big season.
Garrivier: Yeah, I hope.
iRunFar: And, then, some short skyraces and then some longer trail ultramarathons mixed in.
Garrivier: Yeah, I would like to run a bigger race because that’s my dream, to run [a race] like UTMB, of course. I want to step-by-step tackle the longer distances. So, last year it was not so good. We’ll try this year.
iRunFar: Well, yesterday was a great step forward for you.
Garrivier: Yeah, but the distance is more [in the range of] what I like–about seven hours of racing, I think I can manage it. More than 10 hours, I think I’m pretty young to it.
iRunFar: A lot of living and a lot of running yet to do.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations on your win of the 2019 Transvulcania. We look forward to seeing you down the trails somewhere.
Garrivier: Thank you. I hope so.