An Interview with Francois D’ Haene, a friend of the “little Prince”!

Photo copyright: Kelvin Trauman | TAA Photo copyright: Kelvin Trauman | TAA

On my way back from the United States, I had to land my airplane on Sahara Desert. Don’t ask me how I got there, I was heading back to Greece after my Western States Endurance Run. Normally, I shouldn’t be flying over the desert but a few days ago my compass went crazy and I ended up flying South! Thank God, I had an “A+” in the geography course, back at the university, so, when I saw the Cape of Good Hope, from above, I realized that I should turn my plane North, if I wanted to get back to Greece one day. Flying an airplane is not very easy, not to mention fixing it when it’s broken… And now, I was stuck in the desert trying to fix my plane’s engine by myself.


- Please, draw me a little lamb!

- What…?

- Draw me a lamb…!


There was this little guy, staring at me, asking me to draw him a little lamb and I couldn’t stop wondering what he was doing there in the middle of the desert. Later on, I found out that this blonde boy was a little Prince from a different planet than ours, an asteroid called B612.


One day, as I was still trying to fix my plane he asked me how I got there. I told him my story in detail that I was in the United States of America for a 100 mile trail race called the Western States Endurance Run. Apparently, he knew about the race because he explained later that he, also, met someone else who raced there.


- What’s his name little prince?

- I think it’s Francois… Something… He’s from France! I remember that because France is a very beautiful country!

- Perhaps it was Francois D’ Haene?

- Yes, indeed! Do you know him?

- Well, he is a pretty good trail runner! In fact, he’s an elite runner and a great guy! Tell me, please, little Prince, what were you two talking about?

- OK… If you must know, here’s what I asked him…


[Advendure]: I’m going to start this conversation by asking you about Western States Endurance Run, since it was only about two months ago. How did everything go for you? We all witnessed an outstanding course record by Jim Walmsley, so what do you think about that? Did you have any problems during the race? I’ve heard that a lot of runners had stomach issues and diarrhea.

[Francois D’Haene]: The WS100 was a good experience for me. It was my third time there and the last two times I faced some big problems. So, now, I was really expecting to finish the race in a good shape. In order to do that, I was really careful the whole time. I didn’t try to follow Jim because I was worried about the warm weather and, also, the pace of this fast race. I concentrated on myself and I focused on my feelings because I wanted to be sure that I’ll reach the finish line. After the race it’s easy to say that I could do better but I’m happy with the outcome. There’s no doubt that it was possible to risk more, “play” a little bit more with Jim and maybe finish around 15 hours but I think that at that time I wasn’t able to follow him. He was really impressive on this typical terrain and it was impossible for me to win and finish with such an incredible time of 14 hours and 30 minutes!


[Advendure]: How do you compare this year’s Western States Endurance Run to last year’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a race that you set a new course record despite the very cold weather conditions? These are both 100 mile races but the UTMB has, almost, twice the total elevation gain of the Western States Endurance Run. So, which one of these two you would say that it has been easier for you and why is that?

[Francois D’Haene]: The UTMB and WS100 were both 100 miles but really different. As you are saying about the temperatures, maybe around 40° different! Not to mention the difference in the elevation and the type of technical terrain. The UTMB is more of where I was training all my life! On the other hand, the WS100 is where some runners like very much training there. So this is really different. The way to do it is really different, too. In the UTMB I can walk a lot and change my pace every time between ascents and descents. In WS100 you have to run a lot and then run and run again for so many hours!


[Advendure]: It’s very common for participants in 100 mile races, held in the United States, to use pacers. Instead, I’m not aware of a race in Europe where you are allowed to do so. Do you think that it’s a lot easier running together with a pacer? Did you have someone pacing you in the WSER? If yes, who was/were  that/these  person/s? What was the main criterion for your choice of either using a pacer or not?

[Francois D’Haene]: I’m not sure if it’s easier to run with a pacer. In Europe, we are used to run without pacers so we didn’t grow any habits doing that. If you use a pacer, he can support you mentally, he can show you the right pace, he is able to guide you so that you won’t get lost and he can help you to push yourself even further. Of course, if you forget to focus on the way you feel, you might be running in a wrong pace and, eventually, destroy yourself. Some runners like to run alone, they like feeling free to adapt their pace and not being stressed. So, if you are going to choose a pacer, you have to choose the right one! I was really lucky this year because my pacer was Ryan Sandes. He won the race last year and he is a very close friend of mine. He can, easily, adapt his pace to mine and help me during any bad moments. He has this gift of knowing when to support me, so he knew the right moment to start a conversation! I was really happy to share this adventure with him!


[Advendure]: Where did you focus your training the last two months before the Western States race? How did you manage to cope with the high temperatures of California during the race? Did you do any kind of heat simulation?

[Francois D’Haene]: The last two months my training program was a bit complicated. I was feeling pain so I had to adapt my runs every day. Mentally, it’s always hard to prepare for an ultra with this kind of problem troubling you. Finally, the last month I felt better and I tried to focus my training mostly on long, flat runs. I really don’t like workouts without elevation gain so I continued to go onto the mountains to keep myself motivated. Unfortunately, this spring was really cold in Europe and I didn’t have the chance to adapt to high temperatures. Despite that, I was able to use the sauna, almost ten times, the last two weeks before the race so I think that helped me a lot.


[Advendure]: Now, let’s talk about your past! We would like to know how you started trail running. Were you an athlete before? If yes, what was your sport and how was it related to trail running?

[Francois D’Haene]: I started running a long time ago, maybe, before 25 years! At the age of 8 I started with athletics and when I was 10 years old I was practicing cross-country, 3000m steeple chase and some road running. Then, when I was 17 years old, I figured out that I felt happier wearing my skis during the winter and into my trail shoes on the summer time. I was dreaming about big adventures on the trails so that was the moment when I decided to deal more with trail running. I began with only one ultra-race each year to protect myself from injuries and get used to this sport and I added more races as the years went by. The last 9 years I’m a member of the Salomon running team so I try doing it in a more professional way in order to get better every year.


[Advendure]: You mentioned that you are a member of the Salomon International team, so when did this sponsorship begin and how? I can only imagine some of the benefits Salomon has to offer to you but I don’t think that anyone understands what kind of commitment is made that way. First of all, have you signed a contract with Salomon? Are there any specific terms written on that contract? Could you tell us more?

[Francois D’Haene]: I have a contract with the Salomon brand since 2009. Like any other sponsoring contract, there are specific terms which I signed but since the beginning, we try to work together, respect one another and understand our options in order to have a win/win strategy.


[Advendure]: Correct me if I’m wrong but besides an elite trail runner you are also a husband, as well as a father of two kids. Now, this is a topic that I could, personally, discuss with you all day long but for now I‘ll just have to keep it to the basics. I happen to know that being an ultra-runner is very demanding for someone’s family so how are things going on in your family? Do you have the support you need? How often do you have to be away from home considering that you are an international, elite runner? And most important, what does your wife and kids tell you about ultra-trail running, are they fans of it?

[Francois D’Haene]: Yes, I have a normal life besides the ultra-trail life. I have a wife, two kids and a job. This is my choice and I want to keep it that way. It’s really hard for us, sometimes, to organize everything but it’s really important for my life to balanced and this keeps me motivated! I could be a professional athlete like Kilian Jornet or like many others but I’m sure that it wouldn’t work for me and my way of living. I practice ultra-trail running because it’s a special sport that requires a very large amount of mental and physical strength! To be competitive you, really, have to be fresh and motivated and not only be strong physically. This is the reason why I don’t choose to race a lot each year (3 to 4 races maximum) and maybe that’s why I’m still motivated after 12 years! Yes, I am away from home for many days during each year but we organize everything together with my wife and we talk a lot about it so I hope my family understands what I’m doing and supports me.


[Advendure]: Last year we found out that you set another great record! You ran the John Muir Trail in 2 days, 19 hours and 26 minutes! Well, this is a lot different than participating in a 100 mile race! It’s, surely, a solitude challenge that needs very careful planning! Were you, indeed, all alone during this adventure? What’s the most vivid memory you can recall from this trip?

[Francois D’Haene]: Yes, that was an incredible adventure. It was so nice and wild. I was there with some very close friends of mine and we all shared the same experience on the trail. They, really, did their best to support me during day and night and we had some very unforgettable memories together. You can watch a small video of it, on my YouTube channel, and get a small taste.


[Advendure]: Which is going to be your next race after Western States 100? A 100 mile race again or, maybe, you intend to step up a bit and register for the next Tor Des Geants? After all, running the John Muir Trail is very similar to that!

[Francois D’Haene]: The Tor Des Geants attracts me a lot but it’s not possible for me with my job. In September, it’s harvest time for winery so for now the TDG out of the question though I hope in the future to be able to participate. My next big goal will be the Diagonale des fous in Reunion Island, for this year. It’s an amazing 100 mile race.


[Advendure]: Do you plan to race in Greece, sometime in the near future? There are some very interesting ultra-trail races, you know, and the Greek trail running community would like very much to have you here!

[Francois D’Haene]: I didn’t have the chance to visit Greece a lot. Once, I was in Santorini for a couple of days but I would really like to come and visit your country again. Maybe to race or to have an adventure or just for training. I really need to plan this and I was fortunate to meet some really nice Greek trail runner that can help me with my plans!


- Then, what did you ask him little Prince? Tell me please.

- Francois reminded me a lot of my friend, the fox! He was wise and calm. Yet, he seemed that he enjoyed running free in the wilderness just like an animal never been tamed… He, also, told me to use my heart and not my eyes if I want to see clearer!

- And then? I asked again the little Prince but, now, he was looking to the stars without saying anything.


Just as I was about to leave, he looked at me and said…


- I must go back to my home, my rose needs care! You have, probably, missed your home too… You should fix your engine, he told me and fell asleep in the blink of an eye.


Theoharis Lezpouridis    

Edited by Dimitrios Troupis    


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