American Aliza Lapierre tied for second place with Brazil’s Fernanda Maciel at the 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. In this interview, hear why Aliza describes her race as a bit of a roller coaster, what she found to be most challenging about her experience, and how she and Fernanda decided to finish together.
Be sure to read our results article for the full race story.
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Aliza Lapierre Post-2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Kawaguchiko, Japan. It’s the day after the 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. I’m with Aliza Lapierre who tied for second place. This is what she has to say about the race—meh.
Aliza Lapierre: Meh.
iRunFar: How are you? Are you feeling a little hungover?
Lapierre: That would be a good way to put it—a little caffeine/gu hangover.
iRunFar: 100 miles hangover.
Lapierre: 105 miles—those last five I definitely want to account for.
iRunFar: The GPS running watches of a bunch of people are coming up with between 108 and 109 miles. Ouch.
Lapierre: Yes, one of the course change sections registered as four miles long, so that makes sense. We found it!
iRunFar: That’s where it was. Okay. Let’s break down your race. At the beginning, you were kind of tucked in with the lead girls. Talk about those early kilometers. Fernanda [Maciel] said you and she spent a lot of time running and chatting. Did you just tuck in and run with her?
Lapierre: Early on I ran with her on the flat section to the first climb, and then we were definitely in close proximity on the first climb. There were several women around us. We were all chatting a little bit but also just trying to find our rhythm. It was pretty crowded at that point, so everybody was just kind of in a train and trying to keep moving and not to overdo it.
iRunFar: And not get overrun by the other people behind you?
Lapierre: Yes. It was pretty amazing looking back down and seeing the stream of people behind us, definitely daunting, too. It was like, Oh, my gosh.
iRunFar: “This is a big race!” This race is unique in that you’ll run several miles on pavement, then you’ll have a super steep, technical climb, a super steep, technical descent, and then you’ll run a bunch of miles on pavement again. How did that go mentally?
Lapierre: Actually, I think some of my strongest miles were definitely on the pavement. I felt like my hiking was good. I wasn’t struggling, and I made sure to keep my exertion level at a comfortable level. The downhills definitely gave me a hard time due to traction. It was very, very slippery mud where you basically just skate down it hoping not to hit a rock or a root or a tree.
iRunFar: That would cause you to go flying.
Lapierre: I remember coming down the Tenshis and we’re all still pretty lined up, and one person would fall and everybody would try to slam on their brakes and then four or five of us are tangled up all covered in mud. It was comical. I was like, Is somebody filming this? Is this a reality TV show? So as you can probably tell from my outfit, I fell quite a few times.
iRunFar: Did you? Yeah, you rolled in and your gray skirt was brown.
Lapierre: Yes, it was caked with the Tenshis.
iRunFar: The Tenshis came pretty early in the race. You come out of there and you still have two-thirds of the race to go. Did you come out in good shape, or did you come out a little rattled?
Lapierre: I was definitely glad they were behind us rather than having them later in the race. They were really impressive, just the length of the climb. It just felt like a really spiritual place. I know how important they are to the Japanese people, so I really tried to soak it in and enjoy it. I think it also helped that they came at nighttime even though I would have liked to see the scenery, but that kind of slowed everybody’s pace down even more which helped me because I don’t ever see anything that steep back in New England.
iRunFar: Even though New England is the home of rocks and roots and steep ups and steep downs, this is another category?
Lapierre: In terms of how technical it was, I was very comfortable on that. It was just the constant jamming of the toes on the steepness of the downhill, or there could have been a switchback but you’re just going straight down. Also, the mud, just not knowing when your foot was going to slip and if you were then going to fall down this massive ravine…
iRunFar: Talk about the middle part of the race. You spent a long time in second place and a long time alone. There were no other… Uxue Fraile was quite a distance in front of you; Fernanda and the other ladies were quite a distance behind you. Was it a lonely night?
Lapierre: I kind of got to run with a few people on and off but not many English speakers, so that was difficult for me just not being able to communicate and hear funny stories, tell funny stories.
iRunFar: “Does anybody want to listen?”
Lapierre: I actually did say that going up the Tenshis, “Does anybody got a good story?” Crickets. “Come on, somebody!”
iRunFar: You needed a lot of books on tape for this one.
Lapierre: I had my iPod and it was like I just wasn’t into it. I just wanted to go back and forth with people. Constantly throughout the race, “Do you speak English?” “Do you speak English? Please?” Not being able to say, “How far to the aid station? Do you know when we’re going to top out on this climb? It’s been an hour. Are we almost there?” That part was hard.
iRunFar: From 100 to the 135k aid stations, before that, Uxue had put a fair bit of time on you. Through each of those aid stations, you were cracking away at her lead—increments of three minutes, six minutes, three minutes. By 135k, you’d dug into one third of her lead. Did you know what was going on?
Lapierre: I really didn’t, and honestly I wasn’t concerned with where she was or what she was doing. I made a lot of little mistakes early on in the race that eventually added up and put me in a pretty big hole. I ran out of water a few times just miscalculating. I’d have a full pack, but a full pack for five hours on the Tenshis doesn’t cut for five hours. So then I couldn’t eat and stuff because I had no liquid to wash it down—so calorie deficit and dehydration. Unfortunately my crew missed me at one spot. Then there’s no gu or blocks or anything to pick up. I kind of had these undulations, and I tried to rebound and be smart. Ultimately, I think it helped lead to some stomach issues, so mentally I definitely started to go downhill.
iRunFar: Accidental or intentional or whatever, those types of challenges are part and parcel to many 100 milers. It’s a good lesson for everybody, how you do manage to climb out of those holes? How did you do it? In the end, you ended up having a very strong finish. You finished second. Obviously you didn’t stay in the hole. What did you do?
Lapierre: I think I did actually stay in the hole. I don’t remember when I started throwing up, but I couldn’t eat or drink anything.
iRunFar: You and your stomach.
Lapierre: I know. Eventually I came to an aid station and they had these little sugar sucker candies. I took four of them. They were probably 20 calories each. I rationed those. That kind of helped calm my stomach. A little bit later I was able to drink some. I still couldn’t do gu’s or anything. My legs felt great. It was mainly just my feet that were sensitive.
iRunFar: Your feet are wrecked. Was it the constant wetness?
Lapierre: They are wrecked. There was a lot of wetness and mud and just the debris that would end up in your shoes constantly. I stopped a few times and emptied them out. Within five minutes it was like, Seriously? There’s 50 rocks in there again. Just the constant… most people were complaining about their feet. We were all just whimpering and crying as we shuffled along.
iRunFar: The aid stations here are unique in that each one offers a different Japanese specialty—different noodles and soups and the like. Did you sample anything?
Lapierre: No, absolutely not. They were amazing aid stations, but with my finicky stomach and being gluten-free and vegetarian, there weren’t a lot of options for me. I was very impressed with how accommodating they were and welcoming. They wanted you to stay and rest and eat.
iRunFar: “Stay awhile. Move in.”
Lapierre: It was very unique, and it definitely brings their culture to the race which is special.
iRunFar: I want to talk about the end of the race a little bit. You ended up pairing up with Fernanda at the end. I think she came from behind and also Japan’s Kaori Niwa, she showed up, too, in the last 20k. Talk about how all that played out.
Lapierre: Between aid stations we did a really big climb and I was alone and didn’t think there was anybody close. We hit this forest road and I thought I was moving along okay, and then those two went blowing by me.
iRunFar: Were they together?
Lapierre: They were together, and they totally did a sneak attack. I saw them behind me, “Shh, Shh!” and they just went flying by me all chipper as can be. I was like, Oh, my gosh, I just went from second to fourth like that.
iRunFar: In one second.
Lapierre: So I definitely checked myself and I was like, Okay, my pace needs to be stronger. If they’re running that strong, I can run that strong.
iRunFar: The competitor in you went, BAM.
Lapierre: I just want to keep them in sight and be able to have a visual. They were just having a great time. I was just like, “Arrgh!” I worked really hard. They probably had a couple minutes on me by the time we hit the pavement road. I was able to catch the Japanese woman first on the pavement. Fernanda actually probably had a quarter of a mile on her at that point. I just slowly reeled Fernanda in, and right at the aid station I caught her.
iRunFar: Was that the last aid station?
Lapierre: It was, no, not the last, the second to last.
iRunFar: So you guys left that aid station together?
Lapierre: Fernanda left first. I was about 20 seconds behind her. Again, we kind of weaved through a village on pavement, and I was able to catch her again.
iRunFar: Then did you spend some time together? How did it come to be that you decided to finish together?
Lapierre: We started up a big climb together. We were chatting. We knew the Japanese woman wasn’t far behind. Fernanda proposed that we try to work together to hold her off. She said, “We can work together and finish together like we started together.” I said, “That’s great. That sounds awesome to me.” So we definitely took turns setting the pace. She did a great job. We just encouraged each other. It was an honor to run with her. She’s very, very strong.
iRunFar: It’s unique to… at the end of a race, at the end of 100 miles, your highs are high and your lows are lows. It’s unique that you could spend some time climbing, descending, running some flats together and still be able to make it. Was it that somebody would feel strong on one stretch and, “Come on, come on, come on?” Then the other one would help in another stretch? How did it work?
Lapierre: Yeah, I think our highs and lows actually were at different times. I would just tell her she’s doing a really good job and has a good pace. I was keeping tabs on what was going on behind us and told her, “We’re all clear. We’re good. Let’s stay safe until we get to the more runnable stuff.” They actually threw in a fairly large climb at the end. I think it took us about one hour, 10 minutes to do the climb which was new to the course. We were thinking a little climb and kind of a cakewalk. It was just over two hours for seven-and-a-half miles. We had to work for it.
iRunFar: The last couple miles are running and pavement.
Lapierre: And you can see the bridge and the finish. It’s so close, but it’s so far away.
iRunFar: Kaori was just a minute behind you when you came onto the bridge, and the bridge is probably just over a mile to the finish or something like that. Then at the end, she’s six or seven minutes back. Did you guys just hammer across the bridge?
Lapierre: We were not hammering across the bridge at all.
iRunFar: She must have realized she wouldn’t be able to compete and took it a little more leisurely?
Lapierre: Yeah, I think we may have even walked a little bit of the incline on the bridge. We were looking around. I don’t think we were hammering at all. I think we were just trying to survive the last little bit. I feel like we were confident that we had our spots secure.
iRunFar: I’m sure some people are wondering. You crossed the finish with a dude, too.
Lapierre: Thomas [Adams] was great. He and I ran together off and on. He spoke English which was awesome. His wife was also running the race, so that was pretty neat. Fernanda and I had caught him on the maybe two miles from the finish and he was walking and not moving fast. I said, “Come on. Let’s go. Hop on and we’re going to do this together.” So he joined us. It was just perfect.
iRunFar: The last couple miles, he just basically tucked in behind the two of you. “I’m going to hold on.”
Lapierre: Yeah, I was like, “Come on, let’s go! It was pretty neat.” He and I had shared some miles. I thought he was long gone. I was surprised to see him.
iRunFar: The look on your face at the finish line was just replete relief. Is that how you felt?
Lapierre: Yeah, I honestly didn’t think I was going to finish that race. It was the hardest race I’ve ever done. Mentally I was not in a good spot for probably 90% of the race. I kept thinking about dropping.
iRunFar: Was it the terrain? The language barrier of the people you were with? The lack of views? The weather? What was it that all added up?
Lapierre: The weather, I thought, was actually great for me. It was just this nice, light rain, and this breeze. It was like fall in New England. I didn’t mind that at all. We were in the dark for 12 hours, so no views. Plus, everything was socked in, so it’s just really hard. There was nothing to distract you. It was just your headlamp beam and the thoughts in your head. It was tough.
iRunFar: You persevered through. You didn’t let the demons get you. You finished second. Heck yeah!
Lapierre: I did. It was the longest I’ve ever run by four or five hours.
iRunFar: So now do you wrap up your season?
Lapierre: That would be the end of my season, and I’m quite happy.
iRunFar: Time to put your feet up?
Lapierre: Time to put my feet up and eat some good food and enjoy some time with my husband.
iRunFar: George, she’s coming for ya.
Lapierre: I’m coming home!
iRunFar: Congratulations to you on your second-place finish at the 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji.
Lapierre: Thank you. Thank you for your coverage.
iRunFar: You’re welcome. Thanks for the flower at the finish line.
Lapierre: Good luck, Bryon, in China!
iRunFar: Yeah, good luck, Bryon. It’s going to hurt, buddy.