Tim Tollefson prepares to run UTMB for the fifth time with a pair of third-place finishes and a pair of DNFs on his URMB resume. In the following interview, Tim talks about which of those prior performances he thinks about as he heads into UTMB, where his fifth-place finish at this year’s Western States 100 left him, and why he returned to training too soon afterward.
Check out our men’s and women’s previews before following our UTMB live coverage starting on Friday.
Tim Tollefson Pre-2021 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Tim Tollefson before the 2021 UTMB. How are you, Tim?
Tim Tollefson: I’m doing pretty good. Yeah.
iRunFar: Yeah. Does this feel pretty like old hat, coming back to Chamonix now?
Tollefson: A bit, yeah. Lindsay [Tollefson, Tim’s wife] was just asking me, is this our sixth trip over? So I’m feeling pretty familiar with everything and it’s nice to be back after the pandemic.
iRunFar: Nice little return to normalcy, maybe.
Tollefson: A bit. I mean it is strange and, you know everyone being masked up in there, in the town plaza, and there, you can tell there are less people.
iRunFar: There really are. I just was noting that in the press room like, it was only Tuesday, or what day is it?
iRunFar: Tuesday. But it’s pretty quiet. But you’re back. Sixth time. You had three really good runs in a row at the UTMB races. One at the CCC, two at UTMB. And then two not so good days out there.
iRunFar: Which weigh larger in your mind going into another race here?
Tollefson: Like memories of those?
Tollefson: I guess I don’t think too much of any of them. You know, the successes were great and if I reflect on it, you know, it brings a smile to my face, but I don’t think it serves me well to dwell on it. And then the other ones, like one was just bad luck. In the 2019, the second bad one in a row was kind of like, I came in and I shouldn’t have really been here. Like just, I wasn’t in a good physical or mental space and so. But yeah, I guess I haven’t thought too much of those.
iRunFar: Yeah. Well more recently, on your mind should be Western States.
iRunFar: Which I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. [laughs] You had a good run, but it was, didn’t seem like an easy one for you. Tell me a little bit about your day out there.
Tollefson: [laughs] Yeah. It was, that was a tough one. And I’m very like, when I reflect on that race, taking fifth at States is something I’m proud of. Especially finishing the day on when everything kind of went south. I’m really, I’ll be forever thankful and proud of that mode. But I ran so far short of what I know I’m capable of, that I was really disappointed. And I think objectively it’s probably one of my worst finishes in my career. So that was hard to sit with. But, again, you know, I finished it. And I think that I learned a lot, and I wasn’t not going to finish. Never know if you’ll get back to States, and I think the race deserves that. But it was, I definitely, I left Auburn feeling pretty down just because I knew I was so physically ready, that I missed an opportunity to kind of strike. But it happens.
iRunFar: Now I guess there’s two options, two things I want to touch on there. First is the mental. Have you been able to, you know, that’s fine having that emotion at that time. It’s normal. Like you were disappointed.
iRunFar: How have you bounced back from that, or have you specifically thought about that and get yourself ready mentally?
Tollefson: Yeah. The, I’d say mentally at States I actually lost it mentally there and I think that’s where I kind of derailed my own race, but so I was able to just kind of work through that and kind of troubleshoot things that I know I did, did poorly and where I want to work on the next time around. And then I think the downside is because I came out of it physically actually doing really well, because I didn’t scrape the bottom of the well like I had hoped, it put me in a dangerous situation where I was rearing to like redeem myself, you know, through UTMB.
Tollefson: But I had to respect, and I didn’t really, that my body still went through a 17-hour day on tough terrain. And even though my energy levels were fine and I got back in training, seemingly no problem, it wasn’t long after that I started developing little niggles. And like, so I, I’ve kind of been plagued in the last six weeks with, with some lower leg stuff. And I think it was because I didn’t check my ego the way I should have after States and just like enjoyed some time off and be like hey, you know, sure you didn’t hit it the way you wanted but you should be proud. And, and so I think I, I learned a big lesson in this build also where two 100s within eight or nine weeks isn’t advised I would say, like, really, at your own personal high level. But I think I’m, I’m learning that I’m capable of it if I had approached a little better, so we’ll see.
iRunFar: So you kind of touched on the second point I wanted to talk about like, did you go to the bottom of that well as deeply as you would in a perfect day? It doesn’t sound like you did.
Tollefson: At States?
Tollefson: No, I’d say I was setting myself up to do that, then I basically just had a really horrible Cal Street. Like I was ready to drop out of the race. Sat in that aid station for almost 40 minutes on Cal Two. And then I’d say basically like I had given up mentally. But when I did finally rally and came back my final 15 miles, I got back into like oh no, like, I scraped the bottom of the well for the final 15 miles, but there was like hours stretch in the middle.
iRunFar: It’s not the same.
Tollefson: No. It was almost like two runs in one.
iRunFar: 60 and then a 15 mile.
Tollefson: Being sitting for so long I was so tight. It was just, it was terrible. [laughs] But yeah I, I’d say I gave everything I had for the final like two hours of the race.
Tollefson: And then I just, I came up short.
iRunFar: And then as you touched on, maybe a lesson to take out of this is like, no matter what, take those two weeks of downtime.
iRunFar: When, how quickly did you get back into it?
Tollefson: I took three days off and then I started just easy running. So it wasn’t like jumping to train. And I was smart about it, but I think I’m also learning. I’m, you know, 36. If I’d done this when I was in my 20s, I probably could have gotten away with that. But, you know, little things pop up quicker. And so, yeah. I found that, again, my energy was great and I was able to even put in some like big days about two to three weeks later, but some of the soft tissue just wasn’t happy.
iRunFar: So do you think you can, you know you were trying to go through that redemption phase preparing for UTMB, do you think you can get out of that mindset on race day, because it doesn’t seem like it would necessarily be helpful.
Tollefson: No, that’s it, like Lindsay, Lindsay has been very encouraging and supportive and she’s like, “You know, you don’t have to race.” You know, she reminds me that I don’t have to race. And I think that’s a hard thing as an athlete to kind of come to terms with, but knowing that I want to race. The only way I feel like I have a chance to have a successful day on Friday and Saturday is if I don’t race the field basically. Because I know I’m not coming in prepared like I was in my 2017, 2018, or even 2019 years. So I think it’s going to be more of appreciation and respect for the event and be like hey I need to make it around the full loop and then knowing that UTMB is a race where if you have that mindset and you’re not trying to podium, you can end up on the podium. But, like, if I go in, in the lead pack which I know I’m capable of doing, I think I am gambling unnecessarily and really in store for a poor outcome.
iRunFar: So you can have a much, not really a much more fun day but a much better day if you’re, you’re in 30th at Saint-Gervais or Les Contamines or 50th. I mean, what does it matter?
Tollefson: Yeah. Yeah.
iRunFar: It’s only a couple minutes.
Tollefson: Yeah. And I think just given my physical state, like, I’m carrying a lot of fitness from States but I, I haven’t run longer than 24 miles since States. You know, which maybe is not a huge deal but I’ve never come into a 100 miler without having like a proper long run. So there’s kind of that like oh, well, this is going to be a test of unknowns. Like, I’m not confident. I’m not prepared the way I normally would. But who knows, maybe that sets me up for a good day.
iRunFar: So how do you check your, your confidence or your ego?
Tollefson: That’s, maybe show up to the start line 30 minutes late so I can’t even like…
iRunFar: [laughs] or even 10 minutes late.
Tollefson: Yeah, just roll out after everyone’s left. I don’t have a good answer for that yet because I could say something but then I’m going to be on the line with the music blaring and I look around and I’m going to get sucked out. But I hope I get sucked out for half a mile, and once we pop out at like the downtown, then I just like settle into.
iRunFar: You just have like Lindsay, be like a kilometer down the course and be like,
Tollefson: Hard stop. She just,
iRunFar: Like you’re just like, I need a hug now.
Tollefson: [laughs] Maybe, maybe. So, I mean I guess I’m pretty good about not getting too caught up in other people’s races, but I, I’m not above getting sucked out so.
iRunFar: Getting caught up in your like, you know what you’ve done in the past.
Tollefson: And I mean that’s also something that’s difficult. Where knowing what I’m capable out here, if I come out and give a really honest effort and I’m proud of it, I’m going to have to just be okay with that was my best version of me on that day, and that’s fine. Like, and not compared to, you know my 2017 or 2018 self, which I can say that. Whether or not I might actually live it will be something else but I think it’s, it’s something to remind myself or others to remind themselves of is like, you can be, you know, your best on that day, you don’t have to be, you know, your…
iRunFar: Best day ever.
Tollefson: The best day ever like, and, and to give your best doesn’t have to be that best day ever.
iRunFar: I hope you enjoy it out there.
Tollefson: Thanks, Bryon.