After winning the race three times in 2012, 2014, and 2017, François D’Haene is back for his fourth run at UTMB in 2021. In the following interview, François talks about why he’s back at UTMB, whether he thinks he’s recovered from his course-record run at the Hardrock 100 six weeks ago, and what it’s like to race in Chamonix, France after his time in Colorado.
François D’Haene Pre-2021 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with François D’Haene. It’s a couple of days before the 2021 UTMB. We’re in Chamonix again, François.
François D’Haene: Yes, like four years ago. [laughs]
iRunFar: What keeps bringing you back to this race? You’re a three-time champion but you must love UTMB.
D’Haene: Yes, we must. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. I don’t want to make that race every year because I need to raise a kind of excitement before the start of “How can I do that big loop?” and “How can I do it well?” So it takes time for me. So it was like 2012, 2014, like two years later, and three years later, now four years later. So for me to stay sane, to really feel the energy and the motivation to come back, [I] was planning to coming back, to came back last year but it was cancelled. So yeah, I’m very happy to be here this year and I will try to do my best.
iRunFar: Yeah. So we just saw you sort of on iRunFar’s home territory in Silverton six weeks ago for the Hardrock. How has your recovery been in those six weeks?
D’Haene: I think it’s okay. For me, I don’t want to say I’m fully recovered because I want to, like my body is still in other work, in the landscape of the place, so if I say it’s finished, it’s done, everything is finished.
iRunFar: You don’t want to finish.
D’Haene: I don’t want to finish. For me it was a very, very nice three weeks over there. It was like, wonderful, and the race and I ran into people and everything there. So yes, it was a very, very amazing experience. So now, I think I have a very good positive attitude after all that. So I think I will bring it on the Chamonix trail, and I hope it will be okay. But physically I have no pain. I take, I take like two weeks with children and family and do nothing. And then I start training again. At the beginning it was a bit hard and I said, “Ah, it’s not from zero. What’s happened?” Then just one week later I said, “Okay, it’s coming back very, very fast.” So yeah. I hope it will be okay now. For my mind, I don’t know if I will be enough fresh and enough competitive but I can complain about my body.
iRunFar: [laughs] It’s, we’re negotiating some noise here with the train passing and a saw, so hopefully everybody hears that.
D’Haene: It’s not quiet in Chamonix. It’s not like in Colorado.
iRunFar: Okay that’s exactly what I wanted to ask you about. The last time we saw you we were at a race that was maybe exactly the opposite as UTMB and Chamonix. What’s it like to go from quiet remote Hardrock to busy, busy Chamonix?
D’Haene: I think it’s just that there’s a lot of people here. Many, many people. But I think there’s excitement and, you know, overall the race and everything may be the same. So maybe there’s more people here than in Colorado but I think they love, they love the race in Chamonix like in Colorado and I think the analogy is the same here. So for the athlete, it’s very exciting to be there like, like to be able to be at the start of the Hardrock, even if it means there’s less people. But yeah for sure, for me here because it’s my own country, it’s not far from my home. There’s a lot of pressure I can tell you of people and everything so I have to plan everything to work on that. Yeah, for sure it’s a lot of pressure.
iRunFar: A lot less quiet here as an athlete than at Hardrock.
D’Haene: Yeah, sure.
iRunFar: You talked about gathering the energy and like the excitement for coming back to UTMB after a four year break the last time you were here in 2017. How is the race the same, and how has it changed, like since, since four years ago?
D’Haene: I think there’s nearly the same athletes here. Kilian [Jornet] is not here so we won’t have to wait for him so maybe we can be more fast now.
iRunFar: [laughs] Kilian, did you hear that?
D’Haene: It’s a joke, I made it last week so I think it’s a good joke so I made it again. [laughs]
D’Haene: I think, yeah, I’m sad that he is not here but otherwise I think there’s a lot of top athletes here. So on that point it may be the same. Now the race is different every year. Maybe there’s some difference about the terrain because last time the weather was not very good so they made some shortcuts but not too much. So, but a very different emotional feeling about the forecast, the athletes so for sure it will be a different race.
iRunFar: At Hardrock, a couple of weeks ago, you spent 20-some miles with Jim Walmsley. You have trained with him in the mountains of America, and he’s also been here with you this week doing a little bit in the mountains. What will it be like to compete with him, instead of just run with him?
D’Haene: I don’t know if you’re competing. I would like to say that I never compete with another athlete. Because the intensity is not like a marathon or short distance. So for me I don’t see it like a competition because at the end, the best one of the day will win, so we don’t have to compete because it’s already done.
D’Haene: So we just have to enjoy and to play together. Generally we see who is the less tired, more fast.
iRunFar: [laughs] Who is less tired.
D’Haene: I think yeah, I think he’s happy to, to run with me and I’m happy to run with him and with the other athletes. So I just hope that we can win more than just a 50, 50 kilometer and work together.
iRunFar: Maybe 170 kilometers this time.
D’Haene: Could be interesting.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you in your fourth lap around Mont Blanc in your fourth UTMB. Good luck to you.
D’Haene: Thank you very much.