Cameron Clayton has made a splash in the ultrarunning world in less than eight months highlighted by a third place at the TNF EC 50 in December and second place at Lake Sonoma 50 last month. This weekend, he faces off against another top set of runners in his first Skyrunning race, the Transvulcania Ultramarathon. In the following interview, Cameron talks about how his training has gone in the month since Lake Sonoma, what he’s expecting in his first Skyrunning experience, his unusual ultramarathon fueling strategy, and much more.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Cameron Clayton Pre-2013 Transvulcania Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Cameron Clayton before this year’s Transvulcania Ultramarathon. How are you doing, Cameron?
Cameron Clayton: Good. I’m doing well. How are you?
iRF: It hasn’t been too long since we last chatted out at Lake Sonoma.
Clayton: About a month now. That’s a pretty quick turnaround.
iRF: It is for a hard 50 miler going to the next one. How did you recover from Lake Sonoma where you finished 2nd?
Clayton: I finished 2nd. Decent. It was average, I say. It wasn’t bad. I recovered better than I did from TNF 50 but not quite as well as I did after Run Rabbit Run. Tired for 2 weeks—just really tired. I was going into work just, “Ohhhhhhh…”
iRF: Did you try to pound through it? You said you were sore in your legs.
Clayton: Yes, I probably averaged between 75-95 mpw for the last 3 weeks leading up to here and then I just tapered off for this race. Nothing too quality, but enough to get the legs moving. I feel I have a 50 mile stimulus in the bag, so that should be enough training for this.
iRF: Lake Sonoma, TNF, Run Rabbit Run… none are huge…
Clayton: None like this.
iRF: Not in terms of elevation and competition. On the elevation front, have you tried to prepare yourself for the rigors of the descent?
Clayton: The rigors of the descent I’m not worried about. No not at all. The descent is going to be great. If I blow up in the descent I’ll eat my words and say, “Yeah, I should have worried about the descent.”
iRF: You’ve seen Kilian (Jornet) and his folk descend?
Clayton: Yes, I think he was dehydrated.
iRF: No, no, some of these skyrunners when they’re going for it.
Clayton: Oh, they’re phenomenal descenders. But for me, I’m just going to be able to descend as I descend. I can’t worry about them. I’m more worried about the ascent. Some of these guys are phenomenal climbers… just phenomenal. I have a lot of respect for them.
iRF: Not just the mountain dudes—Sage with the American Record on Mt. Washington. That dude can climb.
Clayton: Obviously can climb. We have guys like Luis (Alberto Hernando) who is a very strong skier and can climb and is a mountain talent himself. There are guys you’d never race in America. It’s a different breed. There’s 4400 meters or 14,000ft of elevation gain. That’s going to be the biggest run of my life and it happens on this beautiful island.
iRF: Yeah, you’re going to get some views on Saturday if you can take them in.
Clayton: Yeah, I think I’ll be able to take them in—2 or 3 when I need a breather.
iRF: Do it before you drop off the descent.
Clayton: The 14,000 feet, I don’t think it’s padded either, I think it’s really 14,000 feet of gain.
iRF: Ocean start to high point is 8,000 feet.
Clayton: And then you come down 8,000 feet in a row.
iRF: Then they send you up another 8,000 feet at the end.
Clayton: Ah now that’s going to be the scary part.
iRF: I mean think about it, Dakota pulled away walking up the road.
Clayton: I’ve heard stories about him walking away from Andy which is awesome thinking about the guys pushing away huffing as hard as they can… on a road.
iRF: On a road.
Clayton: So, I kind of hope the race is like that and it’s that intense that you have to walk away from somebody on the road because that image is hilarious and at the same time really intense. It’s cool.
iRF: The competition: this is the steepest post-collegiate competition you’ve seen?
Clayton: For this race and my level of Skyrunning experience, yes. At TNF there were 12-15 guys that could probably at 30 miles into it could still take top-5. That was intense, but that was more like a road race to be honest more than anything else. Some guys can just keep redlining it a long time. If you blow up there I guess you blew up and you were going to get caught. If you had a mini blow up you could maintain. Here, if you blow up at 2000 meters you still have another 500 meters to climb. You’re off the back.
iRF: Same on the descent if you have a good 5000 feet of descent and your quads are shot…
Clayton: Yeah, and if you can’t turnover, then… I’ve heard stories from Anna Frost who was telling me last year she caught so many guys going down because they were just blowing up huge and spectacularly.
iRF: Yeah, there were some slow-motion car wrecks out there.
Clayton: One of those times when you pass someone and it’s like this…
iRF: You’re new to the whole ultra thing and you’re trying some strategies that are not well-tested in the scene.
Clayton: That’s getting around I suppose.
iRF: What’s your fueling strategy on Saturday?
Clayton: I take a lot of gels in the first half of the race.
iRF: How many?
Clayton: 20 in the first 25-30 miles.
iRF: You’re popping a gel every 5-8 minutes?
Clayton: Yeah, or I’m popping 3-4 gels at a time.
Clayton: Yes. I’ll pop 3 gels and then wait 30 minutes, then pop 3-4.
iRF: Are you drinking a lot of water with these?
Clayton: Oh, gosh, I’ll drink 1.5 gallons of water tomorrow (Saturday) and then another 1.5 liters of coke.
iRF: Are you carrying the coke along with you or taking it at the aid stations?
Clayton: Probably just taking it at the aid stations and just down 16oz really quickly… like chug. I think I have a strong stomach because that doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.
iRF: No, it’s a blessing especially if you start doing longer stuff like Western States. You run on your stomach as much as your legs and if you can’t fuel you’re done.
Clayton: You’re done. Let’s hope I can keep being able to fuel especially on that long, long, long…
iRF: Yeah, we’re looking at a lot of vertical relief here.
Clayton: This island is a lot like Hawaii with a giant ridge thrown in the middle of it that just cuts the island in half. We’re at sea level here and you can see 7000 feet of climbing right over to your left.
iRF: You’ve already had one big race in Lake Sonoma and then this. Are you focused on this or at the same time looking past it at your first 100 miler?
Clayton: Looking past it a little bit. You always do. You try to do that as least as possible because you want to try to focus on what’s right in front of your eyes. This is going to be a big race. There’s a culture around it. How many people show up? 2000 or something?
iRF: You’ll be amazed… at the finish line… you’ll be up at Roque de Los Muchachos and there will be definitely people you can tell are not runners just hanging out there.
Clayton: So it’s too much of an opportunity to have fun and go play in the sport and be around people who love it. I’ll lay it out on the line. At Sonoma, I pushed as hard as I could from 35-50, but those first 35 I was as relaxed as I could. This one I’ll redline it. There’s a bit more intensity right up here.
iRF: Are you going to… is it the kind of race where you build a lead or see if you can build a lead and then hang on?
Clayton: I have two strategies in races. I’ll take out in the lead group and then if I feel great and it’s noticeable that I feel better than the other guys, I’ll look around and it’s, We’re going pretty easy; what are you guys doing? Then I’ll try to push it a bit and build a lead. If it’s like, Oh, this is a hard hill, then I’ll try and basically hang on and see if I start to feel different about it. One of those two.
iRF: Bide your time. Who do you think your biggest challenge out there for this competition?
Clayton: The biggest competition is a group of guys probably from the Spanish side: Luis, Kilian, Francois (D’Haene) is going to be coming around. He ran 7:20 last year in 4th place so he has experience here and is a great runner. Sage (Canaday) is very strong. Timothy Olson is probably more whole and more fit than he was at Lake Sonoma so he’ll be better. The list really goes on by 3-5 more spots deep. We’ll see how Felix does—he was 12th last year here? There are guys who have run the course and done well on the course and are trying to get better.
iRF: You’ve raced against some of the Europeans, but you were at Advance Week with Francois. Was there any gauging of fitness? Were there runs where people are pushing each other trying to feel each other out? Guys hanging out together just running hard?
Clayton: No, there’s no pushing each other. We were just having fun. You could tell who was a great climber. I could tell how Francois is probably a better really steep climber than I am, and I’m probably better on flats. That changes on race day, too. If you lock up, you lock up. He has a lot more experience at 100 milers, 50 milers… smart man. Smart women. I hope I’m not caught by any women. Not to be sexist… sorry.
iRF: Emelie (Forsberg), Nuria (Picas)… be watching!
Clayton: Anna was hawking guys all last year. It could be me out there easily.
iRF: Good luck out there and have fun.
Clayton: Thank you, I will.