After surviving a rough go at Trangrancanaria earlier this year, Aliza Lapierre took fourth at the Western States 100 a couple months ago. This weekend, she’s hoping to round out her year with the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. In this interview, hear how Aliza is strategically approaching UTMF, how she’s going to deal with the impending bad weather for the race, and if she’s been training specifically for UTMF’s unique characteristics.
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Aliza Lapierre Pre-2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Kawaguchiko, Japan, the day before the 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. I’m with American Aliza Lapierre. Hi, Aliza!
Aliza Lapierre: Good morning, Meghan.
iRunFar: How are you?
Lapierre: I’m okay. How are you?
iRunFar: Good. This is my first time interviewing you.
Lapierre: I know. It’s kind of exciting.
iRunFar: I’m excited. You’re about to run around Mount Fuji tomorrow. How excited are you?
Lapierre: I’m pretty excited… pretty terrified, but definitely intrigued.
iRunFar: You’ve been here for a couple of days. You had a nice long weekend in the city. Tell us about what you’ve been doing.
Lapierre: I definitely played tourist for the first few days and went and saw the sights in Tokyo and got to ride the subway and do all that kind of fun stuff.
iRunFar: Which is a cultural experience in itself.
Lapierre: Yes, coming from Vermont, it’s quite different.
iRunFar: You saw the entire population of your town at one subway stop.
Lapierre: Yes, at one point, we saw 3,000 people cross the road at once which is more people than I ever see in a day.
iRunFar: Was that the famous Shibuya intersection? Pretty amazing?
Lapierre: Yes, it was. It is.
iRunFar: The humanity. What else have you been doing? You don’t eat fish. You don’t even like fish, so what have you been eating in Tokyo or Japan?
Lapierre: That’s a good question. I’m not really sure to be honest. Luckily, I did bring some basics like oatmeal and peanut butter and some Bonk Breaker bars. So I’ve been kind of doing some rice and peanut butter and some protein powder and kind of piecemealing some interesting meals.
iRunFar: You haven’t raced too much internationally. We saw you race earlier this year at Transgrancanaria in the Canary Islands where it was a bit of a sufferfest for you. You just weren’t feeling good most of the day.
Lapierre: Yeah, I definitely had stomach problems from mile eight on.
iRunFar: Mile eight [laughs]. It was a good first eight miles.
Lapierre: I couldn’t eat or drink, so it definitely turned into a long day. In retrospect, I probably should have dropped, but I was really determined to see the island from one end to the other on foot.
iRunFar: Despite not being able to eat or drink. So did you walk away from that experience and walk toward this one with some new knowledge or a plan for how to counter that or not have that happen again? How do you do another big international race knowing that’s what happened before?
Lapierre: I’m really hoping that it was a fluke—my stomach thing. Usually in 100’s, I do have stomach problems around mile 80k, but I’m able to kind of rebound after an hour or so. So I’m going to be a little more aware of how many calories I take in in the nighttime when I’m moving more slowly and kind of cut things back a little bit and not overload my system. When the sun comes up and I’m increasing my pace, then I’ll go back to my normal calorie allotment.
iRunFar: The course here is unique in that there’s a lot of roads, but then there’s a lot of technical mountains. You had some course recon yesterday. What are some things you learned or saw out there?
Lapierre: It was definitely interesting. I didn’t realize there was a trail in one section.
iRunFar: “This is the course.”
Lapierre: “This is the course,” I’m told by Tadashi, and the only way I could realize it was because there was some flagging in there—definitely some steep mountainside with a rope and lots of roots and loose footing. It’s going to be very interesting if it rains. I imagine the rain is just going to rush down the trail and really cause some problems.
iRunFar: Was it the kind of climbing you were actually putting your hands down onto the roots or not quite that steep?
Lapierre: It was pretty steep. We just walked up it, and I actually just naturally grabbed the rope instead of doing the hands-on. So we’ll see what happens on race day if I’m hands in front of me or climbing rope or just standing there wondering what to do.
iRunFar: You’re known as a runner that has a fair bit of leg speed. Leg speed is something that favors you. Given that this course has some really technical sections but then some runnable stuff in between, how are you approaching strategically, or how are you going to break it up?
Lapierre: That’s funny because I don’t consider myself to have leg speed. In preparing for this, I did on the weekends one long mountain run and one long day on the roads running 20 miles to 50k just to get prepared for both aspects of the race. I definitely want to make sure I don’t burn my legs out on the flats. I want to run comfortably and smoothly. Then again, I don’t want to lose time. It’s definitely a balance. Just knowing when I can push and when I should step back and let my body recover and work through a low, I think that’s really important.
iRunFar: The road runs that you were doing, the second long run of your weekend, were you trying to run them at what you’d imagine race pace is going to be here or a little bit faster?
Lapierre: Most of them were actually progression runs, so starting off fairly easy and then moderate and then finishing strong. Usually, my body kind of knows that comfortable pace, and it will find it. Usually, in a long run, it’s a 7:20 [minute-mile], but with the mandatory gear and the conditions, I’m not sure what it’s going to be. My pack will be heavier than I have ever raced with, so who knows.
iRunFar: I want to ask you about the mandatory kit. It’s a pretty ornate gear list. It adds a couple pounds to your pack?
Lapierre: It is. I think I read in the rules that at times they may weigh your back and it’s supposed to be five pounds after you’re leaving an aid station accounting in water and gear.
iRunFar: Did you or have you been training with a pack or are you just winging that aspect?
Lapierre: I always train with a pack, but I have not trained with a pack this heavy.
iRunFar: So you’ll be winging the weight.
Lapierre: Yes, I’ll be winging the weight.
iRunFar: The weather forecast as the days have gotten closer and closer to the race, the weather forecast has sort of degraded. There’s that mentality of, Do I pack all of the hyperlight stuff and get my kit as light as possible, or Okay, now that the weather forecast is turning to crap, do I pack useful things? What are you going to do?
Lapierre: Luckily I have a crew, so it might actually come down to what it looks like when we’re starting. My super-lightweight gear, as long as I’m moving, will be fine. But if it turns into something goes wrong and I need to really slow things down, then I’ll be risking getting cold. We’ll see how bad the rain is at the start and what the temperature turns out to be. As you know, today is significantly cooler than yesterday. I never thought I’d be standing here in a jacket. So we’ll kind of wait and see, but I think for the start it will be the super-light stuff. When night comes, I’ll go to the heavier stuff.
iRunFar: If your race turns sour, or plan B, then all the warm stuff. “Get me the warm things!”
Lapierre: Down jacket.
iRunFar: There are some interesting animals in the forest here—monkeys, Asiatic black bears.
Lapierre: I’ve heard some poisonous snakes. I saw some deer yesterday which were beautiful.
iRunFar: What did they look like?
Lapierre: They looked like regular white-tailed deer.
iRunFar: I did some Googling of the bears because I wanted to see what they look like. They had some white strips across their chests—very different from what our black bears look like.
Lapierre: I’m hoping I don’t see one, but it’s always nice to see nature, but I also don’t want to disturb it.
iRunFar: Last question for you. We were just talking Gary Robbins a few minutes ago, and he was talking about how when it does rain, it can be quite muddy here. So, you want a shoe that’s going to provide some traction, but then there are these road sections where if you’re wearing huge lugs, they may not roll well. What are you going to do shoe-wise?
Lapierre: I actually brought a couple pairs of shoes. Ideally I’ll race in the S-Lab Wings which doesn’t have a ton of traction. I don’t have the Softground with me. It’s more of a road outsole. Typically I’m pretty comfortable on technical stuff with that. If it does get slippery, I’ll switch over to the Speedcross which has the more aggressive outsole.
iRunFar: You’ll deal with the roads as best you can?
Lapierre: I don’t mind them on the roads. The lugs are actually soft enough they provide some cushion. Either way, I should be fine. Talking to Gary, I’m a little more concerned about the consistency of the mud in that it cakes onto shoes, and it doesn’t always shed off. It’s going to be interesting.
iRunFar: Add a pound or two to each foot.
iRunFar: “I’m carrying the forest with me.” Best of luck to you out there.
Lapierre: Thanks. You be safe, too.
iRunFar: Have a good trip around Mount Fuji.
Lapierre: I hope to.