Tim Tollefson was third at UTMB in both 2016 and 2017 before dropping out due to an injury last year. In the following interview, Tim talks about what went wrong at last year’s UTMB, how his training and racing have gone this season, and what it would take for him to be satisfied with his run at this year’s UTMB.
Be sure to check out our in-depth men’s and women’s previews to see who else is racing and follow our live coverage starting Friday.
Tim Tollefson Pre-2019 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Tim Tollefson before the 2019 UTMB. How are you doing, Tim?
Tim Tollefson: Pretty good.
iRunFar: How’s the gum?
Tollefson: It’s fantastic. But I think it’s going to ruin the interview, so I’ll take it out.
iRunFar: Okay well you’ve had some really good success over here in Chamonix at CCC, two great finishes at UTMB, two years in a row, and then there was last year. What happened last year?
Tollefson: I think anyone who wants to know what happened last year watch that Salomon recap video. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen. But it was a fluke year. I pulled the short straw. I feel like, people talk about last year’s weather being horrible, but it was actually better than 2017.
Tollefson: And I think there was just a lot of very strange occurrences that took people out, that dismantled the entire men’s field. And, look at that thing. [Something goes by in the sky.] Squirrel!
Tollefson: So I really feel like I had visualized and accounted for every situation except for falling and cutting my leg open.
Tollefson: In training, I’ve never fallen really in a race. I don’t fall in training runs, and yeah it was the nature of how it hit, where if I’d fallen and scraped myself up it would have been fine, but I fell on these vertically anchored pieces of glass that just dug straight into the muscle so it’s like okay, that sucks.
Tollefson: I mean I managed to make it 60 more miles before dropping out, but basically that was the right, it was foreshadowing what was yet to come.
iRunFar: And that is healed.
Tollefson: Yeah thankfully it was a flesh wound and it required some stitching, but no long-term damage.
iRunFar: No limitation, no range of motion…
Tollefson: No. All healed.
iRunFar: Awesome. Well, you have bounced back from that. You’ve had a really good 2019 so far.
Tollefson: I’m pleased with it so far.
iRunFar: Good run at, win at FOURmidable 50k.
Tollefson: Mm hmm.
iRunFar: And then third at Madeira [Island Ultra Trail] and a win at Lavaredo [Ultra Trail].
Tollefson: Madeira feels like it’s sort of a blip on my radar, because I went there and because of the big winter we had had I wasn’t able to train the way I had hoped. So I’m very proud of that effort, but I feel like I’d love to go back and give it a proper kind of attack. It’s a beautiful course, very challenging, and I just got wrecked the second half.
Tollefson: Hanging on for dear life, just my legs weren’t there, and in hindsight it makes sense why I wasn’t. I just didn’t have the necessary training.
iRunFar: It’s not a hundred miler, but it kind of runs like it.
Tollefson: It felt like it, yeah. I mean it took me like 14 and a half hours or something.
iRunFar: You were third, but it was to François [D’haene] and Diego Pazos.
Tollefson: So it was pretty legit.
iRunFar: And you won Lavaredo.
Tollefson: Mm hmm.
iRunFar: But beyond that you ran a faster time than the year before. Did it feel like you kind of nailed that?
Tollefson: Yeah, I was very pleased. And my training going up, if I compared 2018 and 2019 were very different, and so I felt confident going into 2019’s race that I could win that, and so I kind of ran that way. Took the lead at maybe mile 20 or so, 25, and then just kind of went from there. But it was good confidence builder, just that hey I’m on the right path. Like every year I’m trying to build a little bit and trying to stay healthy through the process, so I feel like it was just confirmation that we are heading down where we need to be, and hopefully my best years are still ahead. Yeah, I was pleased, especially with Lavaredo. It was ridiculously hot. I think the heat was on par with or hotter than [Western] States, which was pretty ridiculous. And I am not one that loves that, so the fact that I kind of ran the way that I did shows that maybe I do better in the heat than I think, and so it was nice.
iRunFar: So you said you were confident, thought you could win going to Lavaredo. Do you feel that way going into UTMB?
Tollefson: I mean yeah, I guess I’m confident that I’ve done the preparation necessary for a winning performance, but that’s what I love about hundreds is, or any ultra, you never really know what’s going to happen once you roll the dice out there. I think with this year what’s interesting is it’s the first time I have felt external pressure from people going into this, and it’s all good intention but a lot of oh, this is your year, you know, you’ve got this, just go bring back the title, and so there’s a lot of this external stimuli telling me you’re going to go win, and it’s been important for me to remember to dissociate from that and realize why I’m doing it, and it’s all external pressure. Because I have no pressure on myself, and that’s when I think I run the best is when I go enjoy the route, and I think that’s kind of what I’m doing on this one again. I’m just excited to get out there and I think that in the field that is assembled this year, there’s 7 or 8 guys who could take the title depending on how things shake down.
iRunFar: But you consider yourself among those 7 or 8.
Tollefson: I do, yeah. But with the healthy respect that we’ll see what happens Friday night.
iRunFar: Of course.
Tollefson: Because last year I didn’t think I would drop out and I did.
iRunFar: You earlier up offered up your training going into Lavaredo in 2018, 2019.
Tollefson: Mm hmm.
iRunFar: How does this training going up to this compare to the last three years?
Tollefson: At least as good, which is really what I would hope for. If I could replicate what I’ve done in the past then I feel like I’m really in store for a good performance. But I did this year overall tolerate more volume of vertical gain, so that’s where I’m finally starting to feel strong on climbs, which has been my Achilles heel for years, especially here. You know I can run downhill with anyone, or on the flats, but on the climbs I get dropped.
iRunFar: And why do you think that is?
Tollefson: I think because I’ve taken a, I guess this is the end of my fifth year of ultrarunning, a five-year approach of getting up to where I can do 22,000 – 26,000 feet of vert in a week. And before that, the first few years I was only doing maybe like 12,000 – 16,000 ft. And I think having that volume in my legs allows me to handle it late in the race where I look at other peoples’ training and it seems like they are routinely putting in big weeks, and I just couldn’t handle it.
iRunFar: And when you say 22, 26,000 feet of vert, that’s not on a single peak week, that’s,
Tollefson: That’s like in a block of three to four weeks, yeah. Trying to do that.
iRunFar: And by having increased that volume, does that also mean you’re increasing the steepness? Like you’re not just doubling your volume over the mileage.
Tollefson: It, yeah. Steepness. Because I’m actually probably in comparison to 2017, where I would say that was my best race I ever put together here at UTMB, I was averaging maybe 100 – 105 miles per week with only 19,000 feet of climbing, and now I’m averaging 90 – 95 miles a week with 25,000 – 26,000 feet of climbing. So.
iRunFar: So does that mean, I don’t know where exactly that puts you, but does that mean you’re doing some hiking in training?
Tollefson: Oh yeah, I practice that for sure. Yeah, especially I look at the demands of the course I’m going to tackle and try to mimic it. So like I did one of my favorite long runs two weeks ago. It’s in Mammoth, I do multiple repeats up Mammoth Mountain, and it basically simulates Champex-Lac to the finish, where that has three climbs where it’s up down up down up down, and then in my training I did it five times up Mammoth Mountain, so to me it’s like you get in that zone where you’re four or five hours and you’re forced to hiking but it simulates so well the Champex-Lac climb.
iRunFar: Which you could run up fresh.
Tollefson: Oh yeah.
iRunFar: But you’re not going to be.
Tollefson: So I try to simulate it. It’s kind of like you know, just like in, until Courmeyeur. I can run up a lot of those climbs. I choose not to. Like.
iRunFar: Yeah. Now let me see your wrist there. You’ve got two bands on there.
Tollefson: I do.
iRunFar: Which two years are those?
Tollefson: This is 2016, or 2017, 2018. I cut off the 2016 one and then Lindsay told me just recently that I’d better perform well so I can cut these grimy things off my wrist.
iRunFar: I was going to ask why you keep them on there.
Tollefson: It’s kind of been a reminder, just daily looking at it, that I have something that I’d like to still complete out here. There’s some unfinished business.
iRunFar: A rough day there, and a great day there. So hopefully next time I talk to you you won’t have any bands on your wrist.
Tollefson: I know. I hope so. I just feel like, there’s so much I love about this race and event and the mountain culture in general through these three countries that I relate with that it’s neat to be here and part of it. I’d love to do the course, the fans, the volunteers, do them justice by putting together a performance I’m pleased with.
iRunFar: Now could you cut those off if you were third again but ran an even better race now?
Tollefson: I think Lindsay would cut them off in my sleep. I wouldn’t have a choice. I’d just wake up and they’d be gone.
iRunFar: Gotcha. Well best of luck out there, Tim, and enjoy it.
Tollefson: Thank you. Thank you.