François D’Haene returns to the Hardrock 100 in 2022 as the defending men’s champion. In the following interview, François talks about his preparation for this year’s race, why he chose a more runnable mountain ultra as his only tuneup race, what it’s like running at the front of a race with friends, and why he keeps pushing himself.
To see who else is racing, read our in-depth 2022 Hardrock 100 preview.
François D’Haene Pre-2022 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar, here with François D’Haene before the 2022 Hardrock 100, how are you François?
François D’Haene: Fine, and you?
iRunFar: I’m well. Are you happy to be back here in the San Juan Mountains?
D’Haene: Exactly same place as last year, and yeah, very quiet and nice, and so happy to see this mountain again so, yeah.
iRunFar: Just like last year you arrived early enough to run a lot in the mountains here. Have you covered more or less the whole course?
D’Haene: Yeah, this year I think it was nearly the same, except we spent two days in Boulder, Colorado, to meet a bit more like, American runners and the community and then we arrived just two days later. But, we start directly our training so I had a big week last week and now I have to rest until the day.
iRunFar: How did your training go here?
D’Haene: It was very nice. Feeling was, feeling was okay. I was a bit tired when I arrived but now I feel more confident and ready. And it was even more green and the way is different so I tried to train a bit on the other way.
D’Haene: Yeah, the ascent is a bit different, bit more steep and the descent are a bit more runnable, so I think it will change a bit the race.
iRunFar: Do you think that plays to your strength or is that maybe more of a challenge for you? Which do you like?
D’Haene: I think everybody says, faster on that way, because there are some long forest roads to head down. And yeah, I think for me I think it could be maybe more in my advantage because yeah, I think if I have to come back to the other competitor, I think yes, it’s more easier for me to keep the pace on a steep uphill and long downhill is more easier for me so I think it’s okay for me.
iRunFar: So good direction. So far this season you’ve run, won Volvic [VVX], 115 more or less kilometers?
D’Haene: Yes, something like that.
iRunFar: And how has your training gone the season? Do you feel, the whole … After ski season, how’s it going?
D’Haene: Yeah, I have a big winter, like last year, then yes, I tried to travel for a test race.
Last year it was in Cabo Verde [110k], which was just directly after winter and with the virus, it was not a good test.
iRunFar: Also very hot.
D’Haene: Also very hot. But I think it’s more, my immunity was not very well. And this year it was in Volvic, it was okay. I choose that race because of its values and because too, because it’s a very runnable one. I need that because where I train is always mountaineering and slow pace. That’s why I choose that race. Yes, it was a good test for me, I was able to, it was a good pace doing nearly 10 hours.
iRunFar: So it’s interesting to hear you say that, I mean I think for a lot of people that are drawn to a race like Hardrock, no problem to get enough climbing and descending in your training because that’s what you love to do. Do you find you have to, very strategically choose runnable races or runnable training runs to prepare?
D’Haene: Yeah, it’s true that it’s more about hiking and everything, you have to be able to run and even more in that way. So that’s why I chose that race and then I know that I just have to go back on my mountain terrain is what I like and what I know how to do. And even here I know I can have a lot of time being, so it’s good.
iRunFar: So speaking of training around home, have you had a new training partner this year?
D’Haene: Yeah, exactly. I have one of the best partners I think, yes. I’m so happy and I think Jim [Walmsley] too, that we can train a bit together. But he arrive in June and for me June was a bit complicated. I have many things with our event and everything to plan so I think when we come back, I hope I can train a bit with him before his next attempt at UTMB.
iRunFar: For you that don’t know, Jim Walmsley has moved over to France for the summer to train for UTMB and he’s in your town.
D’Haene: Yeah he’s, my house 400 meters to his house, so it’s not so far.
iRunFar: And you, I mean, he paced you here last year, that’s going to be a disadvantage, your primary…
D’Haene: Yeah, it’s a bit sad that he’s not able to be there, but when I was here in 2019 I met some friends with him, they will pace me this year and Ricky Gates will be there too. I think all the community is so nice and even if we are like competitors with Dakota [Jones] and Kilian [Jornet]. I think even if we are competitors, we are more than competitors, we are happy to run together.
iRunFar: Yeah, I was going to say, you’ve known both of them very long, you own the course record in the counterclockwise direction, Kilian still has it in the clockwise direction. Obviously, the two strongest probably performances in the race’s history. How do you see that…?
D’Haene: I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure that Kilian don’t really care about his time and me too, because last year was a magical year, we never know what’s going to happen on the trail. But yeah, we are so happy I think to meet again and Dakota is I think very, very well-trained. So I think yes, I hope we can have a good time together, and run a long time together because we enjoy it and the first part is very nice and wide. So I think it would be very interesting to, I hope with him…
iRunFar: So how do you balance that, because you are here to perform to some degree but also they are your friends and you enjoy being in the mountains with them, how do you decide?
D’Haene: So performance would be even better if we can run together. If we are alone the performance will not be as good, I think. And I think if we can have fun because in trail your pace is not so high so you can discuss, you can joke and everything. And at the final it’s always the more fresh and also more well prepared who wins. It’s not Tour de France or Golden Trails World Series, it’s, you don’t beat each other like that, it’s a long ways, 24 hours, so you have time to reach the final destination.
iRunFar: And you both, you and Kilian have raced before, 100 miles, you raced UTMB together, if I remember correctly, you were together for a good, long time in 2017.
iRunFar: How in a race like that does one person, in this case you, go ahead? When do you say, goodbye?
D’Haene: Yeah, well like with Jim last year, I say, okay I don’t feel so good, maybe I have to reduce a bit my pace or you can go, or something like that. It’s always about discussion. It’s always nice.
iRunFar: Really? It’s not like you just sprint away.
D’Haene: Sprint away, no, it’s not. We’re reasonable like this.
iRunFar: Just interesting for people I think to hear how that…
D’Haene: Because everybody, and all the French media and many media say, “Okay, this will be the best competition and the big match” and I say, yes, if you want. But it’s not really like a match like you mean.
iRunFar: Yeah, if you and Kilian or Dakota, any of the two or three of you run together for a long time, whoever has the best day, you’re happy if Kilian runs 21 hours and beats you.
D’Haene: For sure, and I’m really happy if I finish, even if I finish fifth, I just want to have a good day, at least the same pleasure as last year. I think it’s always the same for Dakota and Kilian, and if they are well prepared that day and they can win or if I can win, I think we will be so happy for the winner and we will be so happy if we can all finish in a good place.
iRunFar: Now that brings another sort of big question. You won Hardrock, you won UTMB, you won Diagonale des Fous many times. What do you have left to prove to yourself and others? Like why are you out here? You could be out here just enjoying the mountains but why are you out here to go fast in the mountains?
D’Haene: That week, I enjoyed to be in the mountain, take time for that, take time to train for that, take time to take care of myself, to listen to my feelings. And, this past week was very nice for that because at home you have a ton of things to do, and the family and the kids and job and everything. Yeah, last week, I really enjoy that and I feel really like, rest now and good. Yeah, that’s why I choose ultras, I don’t feel like it’s competition and there’s too much pace, it’s just about adapt yourself and yes you push, but for me it’s just a good way to be in the mountain and the pace is okay for me to enjoy and to see the landscape and to discuss and that’s why I choose that discipline and that’s why don’t compete in shorter distances.
iRunFar: Then why do you push yourself I guess is the question? Why try to have the top level when you could run like this and still enjoy the mountains?
D’Haene: Yeah, I think it’s important to feel your body, breaths as you can, and even in the descents, and if you can play a bit with the mountain and on the flat and yes, you are really happy to say okay, that mountain is such far, I will go there in one hour and a half, it’s just amazing. And yes, it’s a good way for me, when I did the GR20, I can do it in 12 days but finally I did it in 41 hour, and it’s not the same feeling. And yes, I think in trails, it’s a good pace for me, and yeah, for sure I won’t do 10 Hardrock, I won’t do 10 UTMB, or 20 Diagonale des Fous, but I was really happy to come back this year. I hope I really have a good year, I’m just hopeful. So many next challenge, there’s a lot of place in the world, I’d like to travel and discover some other mountains. I think I have some other goals for the next few years.
iRunFar: But it sounds then like you do enjoy being in the mountains, you also have, either some amazement of yourself or some pride. When you do have a good day, whatever that is, you feel that, and it’s wonderful.
D’Haene: Yeah, but even last year I had a really good day, finally if I look at Hardrock. But during that day I was registering some different feelings, why I cannot run, I am just walking there and so maybe in one hour it will be better. So just think why, about altitude, if it’s dry or if it’s humid, your ice or the jet lag or the nutrition, there’s always something. I think this is what’s interesting for me in the discipline, it’s not two or three hours, you have 24 hours to change something, to adapt to it.
iRunFar: You’re not only exploring the landscape, you’re exploring yourself, really. In your head, your body. So you did run Hardrock last year and you trained for it, is there anything that you have learned, that you can improve upon?
D’Haene: I think about the nutrition, yes I had some surprise last year and yes I have to convince myself that you cannot run like in the alps, sorry. Because it’s so high. So yes, I think you start even more humble than I did last year, yeah.
iRunFar: Yeah, cool, well I hope you enjoy your exploration out there and good luck.
D’Haene: Thank you very much.