Frenchmen and friends Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier took first and third, respectively, at the 2019 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In this joint interview, Seb talks about how he set the pace for the men’s race early, ran into trouble with cramps and pain late race, and was able to overcome them to finish strong, while Thibaut speaks about San Francisco’s unique terrain and how he surprised himself by running so well on it. Finally, the pair together agrees they had a great time and that they’d both like to race in an American trail ultramarathon again.
Read our results article to find out what else happened at the front of the race.
Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier Post-2019 TNF 50 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Seb Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier. You’re the first and third place finishers at 2019 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. Félicitation, congratulations to the both of you.
Seb Spehler: Thank you.
Thibaut Garrivier: Thank you.
iRunFar: I don’t even know where to start. It’s two French men on the podium of a 50-mile race in California, USA. What are the two of you thinking right now?
Garrivier: [translating for Spehler throughout]
Spehler: San Francisco and California, it’s my dream. It’s very happy.
iRunFar: And you?
Garrivier: Yeah, I’m happy to finish on the podium. It was very tough, tough race. I need more speed to progress and beat Seb.
Garrivier: In the last, in the next year’s, maybe.
iRunFar: Now, I want to ask this question to Seb. You were here in California in April to take second at Lake Sonoma [50 mile]. Did you come back to this race with the intention of winning?
Spehler: [through translator] No. I am very happy but thinking of winning should be pretentious, so I’m happy to win today.
iRunFar: So let’s start by talking about the early miles of the race. In the dark, in the fog when you were with your lamps. What was it like? It was a men’s group together?
Garrivier: Yeah. We run, actually Seb spent like two kilometers in front of group of eight runners.
Garrivier: I was part of. And yeah, you [Seb] run, we see little headlamps just a few meters in front of us. And then we catch him around maybe 10 kilometers and he pushed again and then the group, [laughs]. Yeah, he explode.
iRunFar: And then the group explodes?
Garrivier: It was, yeah the group was dispatching.
iRunFar: Dispatching. That’s perfect. Seb, how did you choose your pace for this race? Because it seemed like you were the one who was pace setting for men’s race for most of the time.
Spehler: I started quite fast and keep the pace to, I know the distance and like this kind of runnable race.
iRunFar: A question for you, Thibaut. You, in the middle part of the race, our reporters out on the course thought that you looked strong, but also like you were working hard like, to move hard, to move well.
iRunFar: Did it feel like it was a challenge for most of the day for you?
Garrivier: Yeah. Real challenge for me because when I start, the legs were not so good. At the start I feel very, very good in the downhill, but in the uphill I was very bad and that’s where I lost many, many places. I had to push hard to catch every, every place until the last one and I was second on the last uphill and then this young guy was too. It was very, very good.
iRunFar: Darren Thomas, the second place man, he finished very, like he finished pretty strong.
Garrivier: Yeah, yeah. He was very strong. In the last uphill I tried to follow him, and the pace was very hard so at the start of the downhill I, [laughs] it was an explosion from me.
iRunFar: Okay. And a question for Seb. You had some pain in your leg in the last part of the race. A leg injury? What happened?
Spehler: I got hurt while shooting the rocks, like you know in the stairs, the downhill to Stinson Beach. And then in the flowing uphill I couldn’t run so just working until the top. And then in the downhill the legs get back.
iRunFar: Wow. Towards the end of the race, like say at mile 40 Seb, you had a more than 10-minute lead. But in the end it was very close. The men were coming up behind you. Did you know how close they were?
Spehler: I was thinking about walking the uphill and a little injury came at the right moment because, at the right time, just before the last downhill where I was able to run again.
iRunFar: Neither of you knew your position at the finish line. You didn’t know that you had finished third. You didn’t know that you had won the race. What was it like racing the entire time not knowing your positions?
Garrivier: Actually, I thought I was third but at the finish line Seb told me he was second, and I knew there was a guy between us so I thought oh okay, fourth. But he’s the only guy who didn’t know that he won.
iRunFar: Okay so what happened there?
Garrivier: I think a guy won the 50k.
iRunFar: Ah, told him.
Garrivier: Yeah, just pass him in the finish and he thought it was a guy from 50 miles.
iRunFar: Okay. One last question for the two of you. One of the things you said, Thibaut, in our interview before the race, was that you were interested to see what American trail running was. What will the two of you go home and tell other runners in France and Europe what American trail running is all about?
Spehler: I love these American runnable races. I love the fast races. I love the density of the race too, which we don’t have in this type of race in France, so it’s good for confrontation.
Garrivier: Same for me. I think I’m not as good as Seb in this kind of race and I have to learn and it’s good for, I get more experience running against some good runners and yeah, I have to learn about that.
iRunFar: And maybe try it again.
Garrivier: Yeah, for sure.
iRunFar: Because Seb tried first and he took second. And then won. And for you third, and then maybe next year.
Garrivier: And then second? Yeah. I will come back for sure.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations to both of you on your third and first places finishes. Congratulations.
Spehler: Thank you.
Garrivier: Thank you, Meghan.