For the second-straight year, American Tim Tollefson took third at UTMB. In the following interview, Tim talks about how there were tough conditions early, how Dylan Bowman drew him along for a time, why he smiles through a race, how he prepared for contingencies and reacted to adversity, how the thought of catching François D’haene and Kilian Jornet late did pop into his mind, and how he’d like for an American man to win UTMB.
Check out our in-depth UTMB results article to find out what happened at UTMB 2017!
Tim Tollefson Post-UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Tim Tollefson after his third place finish at the 2017 UTMB. How are you, Tim?
Tim Tollefson: I’m pretty good.
iRunFar: You had another great run out there this weekend. How did it feel to have run a really strong race last year and come back and just photocopy it?
Tollefson: You can’t be that unhappy about it. On paper it feels like two third place finishes are pretty comparable, but I’m more satisfied with this one given the depth of the field and having François [D’haene] and Kilian [Jornet] finish in front, the kings of the trail world, being in such royalty on the podium is pretty special.
iRunFar: You beat Xavier [Thévenard] and Gediminas [Grinius], who were both ahead of you last year.
Tollefson: I was sandwiched between three guys with eight titles at this race. That was pretty good.
iRunFar: Did you absorb any…?
Tollefson: When I passed Xavier, I gave him a little rub, so I’m hoping maybe it will pay off next year.
iRunFar: You run Ludovic [Pommeret] style, so did he give you any advice for presumably next year?
Tollefson: He hasn’t, but I’ll debrief with him.
iRunFar: You started off conservatively. Where did you find yourself through that first 50k?
Tollefson: This year I took the same approach as last year where I was running within my comfort level, but it was a little quicker than last year. I went through Les Contamines 15 minutes faster than last year.
iRunFar: Which is only 20 miles into the race.
Tollefson: Yeah, so it was already quite a bit faster, but I was comfortable. I think that was a testament to the training I’d done leading into it. Then I was closer to the leaders through halfway, which was kind of the goal. I didn’t need to be with the leaders, but I wanted to at least kind of feel like I had contact with them so that I knew what was going on with them where I could let it rip if I felt good toward the end of the second half.
iRunFar: Then you come into Courmayeur and you’re in the top 10 this year.
Tollefson: Yeah, last year I wasn’t in the top 10, so I proved your point where if you’re in the top 10 at Courmayeur then there’s a good chance… or you’re one of the few that might podium.
iRunFar: That was actually kind of tough to get into Courmayeur. I had a low point going up Col de la Seigne. Luckily I was running with Dylan Bowman at the time. He was hiking really strongly. I just told myself, Don’t lose contact with him, which was tough because I was yo-yoing off the back of him. He probably felt me ready to break. He got me through those dark, cold hours of the night, and then once we got into Courmayeur, I got a second wind a bit and got some coffee.
iRunFar: That didn’t feel like you guys were racing each other?
Tollefson: No, he wasn’t trying to push the pace. He was keeping a steady effort running his race and executing it the way he hoped. I was just having a low point and trying to stick with him. It was nice with him. We pretty much just switched the lead and helped each other out a lot. He had some problems with his poles at one point, and we stopped and I tried to knock his button loose so he could extend the pole all the way. Just having a friend out there was huge.
iRunFar: You both were seventh place in Courmayeur?
Tollefson: I think we were either sixth and seventh or seventh and eighth there.
iRunFar: So you had to do your move-up between Courmayeur and La Fouly again? What is it about… you just can’t wait to get to Switzerland? You’ve got some chocolate stashed over?
Tollefson: In the bushes… I think for me, I’m much better on the descents, and my weakness is the climbs. What I like about this race is all the main points of the race are descents. It finishes on a descent. You go into most of your big aid stations off of descents. I kind of get my second wind going into those. Just like last year going into La Fouly, I saw you and I hit pavement, and once I hit pavement, my legs remember what they are used to doing, and I just start to run. That was nice. I was in much better spirits this year.
iRunFar: Seeing you coming into La Fouly, you were doing the same dance as last year—paraphrasing, but…
Tollefson: We had tough early conditions. Going over Col du Bonhomme, it was spitting ice-cold rain. Myself, DBo, and three Spaniards were together kind of like in this group where it felt like a Donner Party-esque voyage. If someone got kicked out the back, it was like, I hope they survive. It was low visibility, spitting rain, everyone’s cold. I had my waterproof jacket and waterproof gloves on. I’d never used that stuff before. I honestly think that if you didn’t stay technically sound, you’d pay the price from getting cold, getting wet, and not being able to maintain functional capabilities of your hands and your stomach.
iRunFar: Have you talked to Dylan after the race?
Tollefson: Yeah, I think he suffered one of those consequences.
iRunFar: Not putting the gloves and gear on, his hands got cold and you don’t eat.
Tollefson: I was with him, and I honestly thought that he was going to be on the podium of this race. It made me excited. I wasn’t at all envious. I was like, Dude, this guy is going to have the best race ever. He suddenly had this flip of a switch where his body kind of shut down. I think it was because of that maybe missing out on the gear.
iRunFar: You execute. You are two for two. You’ve only run two 100 milers, but they’ve been on this huge stage and both times you’ve run a smart race and haven’t made mistakes.
Tollefson: I think everyone has that capability if you objectively look at what lies ahead. Don’t go in guns a’blazing. I think a lot of us have the potential to execute well-planned-out races and enjoy the process. I think that’s part of why, people are like, “How are you smiling?” Part of it is, I kind of smile to kind of shield my pain that I’m feeling.
iRunFar: Because it reflects back at you, right?
Tollefson: Then people smile at you and you’re like, Hey, this is awesome. It’s not at all like any part of that race was easy necessarily. I also think when you’re building momentum throughout a giant journey like that, it’s more enjoyable than when you’re just holding on and grasping for straws and just on the verge of an epic bonk. I’ve been there, and that sucks.
Tollefson: Yeah, quatro puntos. What’s kind of disappointing is I’ve run two 100 milers. I’ve finished two 100 milers, and I still don’t have a belt buckle. [To Bryon Powell: Show off.] I have some really cool statues.
iRunFar: You do. You have a nice backpack and a nice little…
Tollefson: I guess I could still buy a belt buckle. They’re probably not that expensive.
iRunFar: You probably could… but probably not in Chamonix.
Tollefson: Is Jared Hazen still selling his?
iRunFar: I don’t know. Is it as much planning as a race as being flexible? How much is it rigid, and how much is it being prepared to deal with an adaptive situation?
Tollefson: I think it’s important to at least pencil in some ideas but then definitely be willing to adapt in the moment. I adapted a lot last night and the night before where things that I thought were going to be how I’d planned didn’t necessarily play out that way. Then in the thick of things, you just kind of have to roll with it and not let it throw you off of your composure because once that happens, you get a mental lapse, and you may go for an hour without drinking or eating, and then it really snowballs.
iRunFar: Do you have an example of that? Where did you have to adapt on the fly?
Tollefson: One thing was that all my training and Speedgoat, I stayed with one flavor of Gu Roctane and this Summit Tea was working or me. I knew this was the one. It had some caffeine in it, and I love it. Then 10 hours in, and maybe it was the cold, I just wasn’t stomaching it the way I thought. Thankfully my crew had some back-up flavors. Just even something like that, flavor changes, was huge. I thought, Okay, now I can consume this again.
iRunFar: You prepared yourself ahead where even though you had that favorite flavor, you had a fallback.
Tollefson: Yeah, there were some contingency plans, so also in the moment, I wasn’t able to get the calories in, so then at the aid stations, Okay, what can I take in here to supplement until I see my crew in four more hours? That’s a long time where I can’t implement my contingency plan. I started consuming a lot of soup. I was eating cookies off the table. I was trying to mitigate this potential bonk I could definitely see on the horizon had I not been able to get enough in. Also with gear, I hadn’t planned on using as much gear as I had. Then making the conscious decision where, I’m the type of runner that I don’t like to stop for anything. If I’m running with you and you stop to take a photo, it kind of bothers me. I’m just kind of that anal—I’m running, so I run.
iRunFar: You’re stopping your watch at the crosswalk?
Tollefson: And standing there upset waiting. I’m not running in circles…
iRunFar: You draw the line somewhere.
Tollefson: There were points where I took off my pack and I was still hiking, but I was fumbling with my jacket and putting it on while I was still walking. I probably should have just stopped and taken the 30 seconds and been more comfortable, but putting on my jacket at key moments that I hadn’t planned on knowing, Hey, it’s starting to rain. I don’t know how bad it’s going to be, but I don’t want to risk getting wet because that’s going to turn to cold. It’s dark, and it’s in the teens out here. I was trying to avoid those pitfalls and trying to mentally stay engaged when I was starting to get sleepy. It’s a work in progress. I only have two attempts at it. Hopefully, if I can stay healthy, there’s room for improvement. Or, maybe I just need to sign up after everyone else has signed up and know who’s on the list, and if François comes back then just don’t sign up.
iRunFar: He’s pretty good.
Tollefson: Those two guys, it’s incredible. That’s where, obviously, the results… I’m third. But in a sense, it’s kind of like I felt like I was up against titans. How do you beat those guys?
iRunFar: You won the ‘normal-human division?’
Tollefson: The human division, I was first place. They’re such cool, down-to-earth guys.
iRunFar: When you move into third, and you know you have François and Kilian ahead of you…
Tollefson: You know, at that point I was like, Oh, third place is awesome for the day, and we still had six hours of racing. But I honestly wasn’t saying, “Oh, let’s go reel in Kilian.” No one says that. You don’t leave an aid station saying, “I’m going to gobble that guy up.” It wasn’t until I left Trient and I was going up the climb—I was actually running pretty hard because I was terrified that Xavier was right behind me. There was this thick fog, and I turned around and saw a shadow or someone’s silhouette. I couldn’t tell if it had a race number on, so I was like, That’s him! Maybe it wasn’t him, but it was two or three minutes behind, so I was booking it. Then I was running out of Trient and someone said, “How are you running? You look way better than Kilian and François.” That was the first moment where I was like, How cool would that be if you did make contact with them? But they kept distancing themselves by the end, so I didn’t stand a chance. I don’t know. It was a fun experience. Who knows if they’ll ever race again against each other? They may not. So to be a part of that, I’ve said it before, but it really felt like trail royalty out there. I’m definitely humbled to be amongst them, and I feel grateful to be able to run the race I wanted on a day like that.
iRunFar: Do you have anything else lined up on your schedule?
Tollefson: No ultras at the moment. I’m sticking to my ‘one 100 per year.’ Actually, I have some cross-country races coming up. I’m going to go back to the 5k, 8k, 10k cross-country races this fall. Ultras, I haven’t penciled anything in, but I’m not opposed if something really excites me. But honestly at the moment, nothing really interests me in the fall. We’ll see.
iRunFar: This is a good season in a weekend.
Tollefson: I feel like that’s kind of how last year went, too. It was the pinnacle event at the end of August and first of September, and then just don’t get too greedy. I think it’s easy to bite off too much and then pay the price of…
iRunFar: There’s next year.
Tollefson: There is, and hopefully a year after that and after that, and maybe someday myself or one of the other Americans will stand here and it will be the first male victory at UTMB. That elusive title is still out there.
iRunFar: Thank you for qualifying that.
Tollefson: Just to be clear, I’ve always clarified that. I got thrown under the bus with all these UTMB updates and I was like, “No, I never said that!”
iRunFar: No, no, no.
Tollefson: I think people understand.
iRunFar: Yeah. So that is a motivator. I was talking to Jim [Walmsley] and a lot of times there are these artificial outside constructs like U.S. versus Europe or whatever, but it would be something no American man has ever done.
Tollefson: I know. In a sense, that will cement you as a pioneer… in a sense… in that category.
iRunFar: And I know Zach Miller was going for that last year. Sage Canaday was probably thinking of that.
Tollefson: And there have been greats before us in the mid to late 2000s that were going after that. It’s been elusive, and no one has been able to do it. It’s definitely in the back of my mind, and Chamonix holds a special place. CCC was my first ever 100k; UTMB was my first ever 100 miler. It’s just a pretty cool place.
iRunFar: Nice. Congratulations on building some great memories here.
Tollefson: Thanks so much.