Xavier Thevenard, 2013 TNF UTMB Champion, Interview

Xavier Thevenard won the 2013 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. The 25-year-old Frenchman started ultrarunning with a win at the CCC, a sister race to the UTMB, three years ago. In the following interview, Xavier discusses his Nordic skiing background, his extended preparations for the UTMB, and what race he’d like to try out in the United States.

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Xavier Thevenard, 2013 TNF UTMB Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Xavier Thevenard, or that’s how I’d say it in English. What is your name?

Xavier Thevenard: Xavier Thevenard.

iRF: Congratulations on your great run.

Thevenard: Thank you.

iRF: Very few runners around the world know you and even fewer in the United States but you have a long history of endurance sport. Can you tell us about your endurance sports background?

Thevenard via translator: We can say that he was born with skis on his feet because he began very early. He was living in a very little ski resort near the Jura. His father is a ski teacher and he began very, very early at 5 years old.

iRF: That seems very, very similar to the story of many of the top European mountain runners. It’s not just skiing, but they’re in the mountains. They’ve been doing it forever, yes?

Translator: Yes.

iRF: You are only 25 years old, but you won the CCC when you were 22. That is very young to be racing so long. How did you get involved in ultra trail?

Thevenard: Yes, Kilian [Jornet] won his first UTMB at 20. I won the CCC when I was 22 and the UTMB at 25.

Translator: It’s very good.

iRF: Still, what interested you about ultra trail? How did you become involved?

Thevenard: First of all, I’m a cross-country skier and I made long distances like La Transjurassienne in France or Vasaloppet in Sweden. I used to train on very long time and I like it. I like to stay in the nature and staying the nature by training. It’s my nature.

iRF: Rather than be on roller-skis during the summer, you want to run in the mountains?

Thevenard: Yes, yes, sometimes.

iRF: But you prefer to run in the mountains?

Thevenard: Yes, during summer.

iRF: You’ve won the CCC three years ago. Have you run many ultra trails before that or was that your debut?

Thevenard: The CCC was his first ultra trail. Before the CCC I ran 70k and in 2011 I won Les Templiers at 120k.

iRF: So you’ve run CCC and you’ve run UTMB. What is different about them?

Thevenard: The CCC is the little sister so it’s very important, but the UTMB is much, much, much more.

iRF: You did win the UTMB these past two days. Tell us some of your experience.

Thevenard: The last times there has been a lot of emotion. I’ve come to realize it’s very difficult for me to realize. I enjoyed it. I think the days after it will be different for me and I’ll realize really the victory.

iRF: It’s like good wine—it ages with time and gets better.

Translator: Yes.

Thevenard: Of course.

iRF: During the race, during the first part of the race, you were running with some of the best trail runners in the world. You were running with [Julien] Chorier, [Miguel] Heras, Anton Krupicka. Were you intimidated?

Thevenard: I didn’t pay attention to the other runners. Heras, Krupicka, Chorier—they are runners. I would like to stay in my race. It’s important to stay in my race and to enjoy running.

iRF: How are you able to stay in your race and run so consistently when you’ve not run for so many hours before? The longest race you’ve run is Templiers. This is much longer in terms of hours. How did you run so consistently and run your own race without experience?

Thevenard: For me, it’s difficult to appreciate the length of the race because I prepare for long time before in my head and I’m very well prepared for the length of the race.

iRF: So the mental is as important as the physical.

Thevenard: Yes.

iRF: Do you have any favorite memories or moments from the race?

Thevenard: The finish line.

iRF: What food and drink do you consume during the race?

Thevenard: Potatoes, bananas, and only drink water.

iRF: Real food.

Thevenard: Not only, but gel and energy bars, but not only as I need potatoes and bananas and real foods.

iRF: So a mix?

Thevenard: Yes, both.

iRF: Do you have any other race plans for the year?

Thevenard: No.

Translator: He doesn’t know and will discuss with the coach/trainer. Now the essential is the recovery and enjoy the victory.

iRF: Are there any races in the U.S. that interest you in the future? Any particular races?

Thevenard: Maybe the Leadville because Thomas Lorblanchet won this race.

iRF: Will you go run faster than him?

Thevenard: Maybe.

iRF: Not only did you win yesterday, but you ran the fastest time on the course. Did you imagine that was possible?

Thevenard: I never wondered if it was possible or not. I just prepared for the race and only prepared. Good preparations.

iRF: You made great preparations. Congratulations on your run.

Thevenard: Thank you.

Bonus Question

iRF: One bonus question. You are from the Jura Mountains. How are those different than Mont Blanc?

Thevenard: Of course, the Jura is less high than the Alps and less high than the Mont Blanc. There are more trees and forest and maybe more savage and less human exploitation than the Alps.

iRF: More wild?

Translator: More wild, yes.

iRF: Go and enjoy your wild and beautiful mountains.

There are 5 comments

  1. Dean G

    Oh, we can hear, so what if it isn't ideal…

    Another one of these ski mountaineers, and let's be honest, he ran a great race to win.

    And he seems like a nice 'kid'.

    Gotta take him seriously at any race he shows up. Especially 100k or longer.

  2. Steve

    As a French, a few things are unfortunately lost in translation there, that's unfortunate for the international followers to not get more details about him. It would be nicer if the translator was actually asking Xavier follow up questions when he replies something simplified rather than replying on her own. Xavier doesn't seem to be used to interviews either based on what he is replying.

    For example about nutrition and hydration, he replies "pomme de terre" (potatoes), "de la banane" (bananas), it's possible he assimilated the question "qu'est ce que tu as mange" to solid food normal food, as most people in France sees energy bars and gels as "supplements". The translator adds "he only drinks water" "not only, gels and energy bars".

    I think a good follow up question would have been to ask him what was his food intake and nutrition intake during the race, and direct him in particular to gels, energy drinks or any additional supplements.

    Xavier is sponsored by MX3 ( http://www.nutrition-sportive.fr/ ) which is also sponsoring the entire french team Asics Trails. You can see he is not used to interviews otherwise it would have been natural for him to talk about this. (Interestingly a picture about him preparing the food supply for the stages shows some Isostar ( http://www.isostar.fr/ ) jug), picture also shows some boxes of Kimas Massage Oil :-)

    In regard to Xavier, while he was actually absent from the possible winners in irunfar, he was actually listed as some serious one capable to create a big surprise by french endurance magazines.

    He briefly touched about it but he has a background in country skiing. His father is coaching at Valmorey Retord. Starting at 12-year old he was practicing biathlon and did compete in the French championship, his results were however not good enough for him to be selected on the French team (he was 5th) so he had to quit biathlon at age 18.

    He mentions during his time training that his coach was Andreas Hemman who used to be a biathlete in the East German team and he used to say before each training session "hard training, easy race".

    He started trail running when he did Transju’trail (70K) in 2009 and combined it with the cross-country ski race Transjurassienne ( http://www.transjurassienne.com/ )

    In 2010, he won the CCC. In 2011 he won the Endurance Trail des Templier (100K http://festivaldestempliers.blogspot.com/ ). In 2012, he was injured with a painful meniscus. In 2013 his goals were Transvulcania, 80K Mont Blanc and UTMB.

    He was part of a band as a teenager, he plays guitar and is a fan of Led Zeppelin, Eagles, Rolling Stones, etc…

    In an interview earlier this year he said yearly he's doing 650-700 hours of training and that includes both cross country skiing and running. He doesn't know about the distance.

    Hope it helps give a bit of background for non-french readers.

    1. Sam Winebaum

      Steve, interesting insights. Xavier's hours @ 650-700 per year are what one would expect for a near world class skier of his age. I read that because nordic skier work both upper and lower body, intense days are mixed with more long slow distance and less tempo than a pure road or track distance runner might do.

  3. Pierre

    I think i heard Kilian say he trains 1000 hours a year. Just for perspective.

    As a french speaking person, what i could say to english speaking crowd about Xavier through this interview, is his general kid's tone and voice, almost a naive attitude. Well, maybe you could pick that up too. Its certainly refreshing.

    What a duel that's going to be next year if Kilian, Xavier toe the line and lets throw Sage in the mix for his first 100. :)

  4. manu

    I will add I read that Xavier has a full time job and so trains either very early at 6am or late after job.

    Also, he actually ate potatoes and bananas during the race and drank only water, and took some gels/electrolytes in addition.

  5. IndyB

    I don't think that Kilian will be back next year. Maybe if Xavier had beaten his record by half an hour or more. Weather conditions this year were incredible, probably the best they will ever be, the course was slightly easier than when Kilian last did it (the technical ascent up Bovine was removed). Plus I think it is generally acknowledged that Kilian did not push himself last time, and actually waited for his team-mates to catch up with him at aid stations. So I do not think he can be compelled to come back just yet!

    1. Pierre

      You're right, Kilian seems to have jog his race in 2011 (and the course was longer). About a return next year, depends on his progress of his project and willingness to participate in this world tour event. How much is the purse going to be to win the UTMB ? That's also something to consider i guess for an elite.

  6. Sam Winebaum

    I spent part of my childhood in France, worked in Switzerland near the Jura for 3 years, and ran and especially did some long nordic ski races (70K) in the Jura. Xavier is clearly a guy super proud of his home mountains. They are isolated in the sense that they are very forested with few towns on either side of the border between Switzerland and France. Long meadows along the ridge top, lots of cows, and where there are villages quite a bit of super fancy watchmaking and making of other small mechanical things.

    So he is the product of not only one of the world's best places to nordic ski (and run), 100's of miles interconnected trails but it seems the French sports system. In France there is a Minister of Sport, many sport schools and a whole hierarchy of facilities, coaches, and it seems government jobs for athletes as I thought I heard in the interview that Xavier teaches sports. What is interesting is that "Trail" or ultra running is not yet one of those official sports so it seems Asics France has stepped in with a whole disciplined program. Xavier's progression of longer distances and not many races shows to me he is well coached and… he listens.

    Given the vast mileage on nordic skis he can do in his home area , without getting bored with the same loop, his participation in ski ultras, and the fact that other than fueling you can nordic ski dozens of miles every day without any impact or recovery he for sure had a base coming into UTMB that was amazing. And nordic skiers in there prime can really run. Liz Stephen best distance skier and climber on the US Ski Team just crushed Kasie Enman's record up Mt Mansfield VT by 2 minutes 37:18 for 4.3 miles and 2560 vertical feet, 8:18 per mile!

  7. thomas

    I guess Kilian and Timothy are beside Xavier the 3 people who can run this race under top conditions and having a 100% personal day under 20 h.


  8. Emmanuel

    Hello Steve, thanks for the details!

    Juste for information Isostar is the sport nutrition supplier for the Team Asics Trail, not Mx3.

    And Xavier is now integrated ti Isostar pro Team (but of course still running for Asics Team)

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