Seb has an extraordinary racing schedule each year, running some amazing and difficult ultra-trail races in different continents. He started his mountain running career with a 50K race in June 2001 and continued to run mountain races of 20-30K before switching to the world of ultra-trail in 2005, where he ran the famous and iconic Diagonal des Fous at the island of Reunion. His favourite race is The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® (UTMB®), where he finished at the 2nd position in 2009 and 3rd in 2011.
His innovative and restless mind drove him to support from the beginning the relationship between media and ultra-trail events, started with the very successful “Get Ready For …®” series of video documentaries and reaching his recently released movie, named “An Endurance Life”.
2013 was a very challenging and successful racing year for Sebastien. He managed to finish in the first position - with course record- in Hardrock 100 miler and TransGrandCanaria 121 K, third in the Japanese UTMF® 100 miler and he also elected “Ultra Trailer of 2013” from ULTRA 168. On the other hand, he abandoned UTMB® which is his favourite ultra-trail race.
Let's take a look at Sebastien’s thoughts, training and racing philosophy, motivation, his relation to the media, his schedule and other interesting stuff through his exclusive interview to Advendure, hoping to see him running again sometime on the Greek mountains:
[Advendure]: It seems that 2013 was a very successful and exciting year for you Seb. First position - with course record- in Hardrock 100 miler and TransGrandCanaria 121K, third in the Japanese UTMF® 100 miler. You were also elected “Ultra Trailer of 2013” from ULTRA 168, which is also a significant reward for your ultra-trail efforts. On the other hand you abandoned UTMB® which is one of your favourite races. Tell us about your feelings regarding 2013.
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: It was an amazing year for me because all these results have been built throughout the season and despite a big injury that I had early, in February. It was not a bad year taking into consideration my situation. As far as the UTMB®, I think I had enough time to recover after Hardrock 100, but that was not the case. I have learned and grown and I'm happy to explore my limits, so I continued. Then I was very lucky because there was something I didn’t know, and I mean that in February last year I had a double fracture in the foot, and despite that I continued to work up till September, having this problem but without knowing it ... So I am very happy with my season ...
[Advendure]: Almost every year you run races in several continents with very different cultures regarding ultra-trail and mountain running. Tell us a few things about racing in Europe, USA, Asia or Africa regarding the philosophy - in both athletes and races. What is the race-culture which is closer to your way of racing and running?
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: Indeed, for me it is one of the most important things to be able to discover new races, new cultures and people. It is very interesting to be able to live this kind of life, because it allows me to experience different cultures. I do what I find interesting and for that I don’t have a culture of race that suits me more than another, because in Europe the courses are very technical, in Japan the organization and the people is incredible and finally in the U.S. is the autonomy and management of material during the races that suit me best. Then, in all cases the landscapes and people are amazing ... and this is the most important thing.
[Advendure]: You have already run very demanding ultra-races, in several countries and with great degree of difficulty and competition. Which one you consider as your greatest success and which failure was the bitterest till now in your great career?
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: It's fun as a question because I think the race in which I was most beaten without hesitation was the Hardrock 100 miler, a race having so much height and technical terrain. I do not recollect of any major failure because I always collect a lot of new information about my preparation and the environment. We usually set some targets in our minds but if our body refuses to continue this is it! Thinking later of what I have done wrong is the best lesson. We are really progressing much more from our failures than from our successes...
[Advendure]: We learn a lot of things about your training philosophy from the “Get Ready For ..®” video series, but its interesting to learn if you incorporate in your training schedule conventional training methods like track intervals, asphalt tempo runs etc., or you follow a training philosophy where running up in the mountains in a daily basis is your everyday routine.
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: It is true that I talk a lot about my training in "Get Ready For..®", but be sure that I always keep a few in my quiver for future mention. To return to the question, I work primarily in two areas. The first is racing on foot, with my coach. In terms of pure foot race, I work on the track with splits, and on the bike path for work train. I also do track work with 30/30 or 400, 500, 800 or 1500. The second area is on the mountains and the capacity to run long in the mountains.
[Advendure]: The world of Ultra-Trail is growing very fast. We see race-series from International Organizations like the Skyrunner® Ultra World Series of ISF®, and new interesting projects like the Ultra-Trail World Tour 2014, as well as several new and exciting ultra-trail races around the world. Do you think that ultra races influence deeper the runners involved with? The increase of athletes running ultras is a matter of great emotions or is related to the amount of challenge associated with long and hard efforts? What do you think about the relatively new concept of ultra-trail world-series from different International organizations?
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: I am very much divided at this level because I find that it is interesting for development purposes, but on the other hand I feel that more people want a piece of the pie and to make money from this activity. This is where we risk losing the reality of the "spirit of the trail". With the challenges and the price of races exploding, I think we gradually move away from what people are looking for: the challenge with respect to nature and between them. The main goal was evolution, but in the process the most important thing is lost; what the athlete wants, the individual challenge, not the finisher jacket. The average athlete cares just for self gratification or social recognition in his own family. Money transforms and spoils this. Shame!
[Advendure]: Media and Ultra-Trail seem to have an interesting interrelationship, spurring each other. You are an athlete that supported this relationship from the beginning, with your very successful “Get Ready For …®” series of video documentaries and with a new movie named “An Endurance Life”, which is great by the way. Tell us about these projects and the philosophy behind them…
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: This is a project that started before a couple of years. It is part of the "Get Ready For …®" series and we actually wanted to do a longer documentary, having no sponsors and with time to film and edit the work. We had a year to film a lot of things around the world, and we are self funded with the "Get Ready For…®" Mouss Productions, the video company of my wife. I have this chance to have access to this type of service, but small films are totally financially independent. The beginning of this season is not always very simple regarding the budget, because we all must find interest for the project including me, because I do not want to make commercials ... What we want above all, is the image emotion and the messages that conveys. Unfortunately finance is necessary for all these things.
[Advendure]: Fastest Known Times (FKTs) efforts are growing very fast worldwide, with amazing performances and records. How much FKTs constitute a real sport, considering the lack of competition between athletes? Do you think that they remain an extreme effort of some “peculiar” elite athletes searching for primitive values or they are going to have a greater acceptance in the future, taking also into consideration their environmental friendly philosophy?
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: I think yes, it is something important because I believe that with such pure and original efforts there are more dreams for the other athletes in the world. With these efforts all realize how amazing is to see how much the capacity of the body is able to be and especially how much we can push our limits ... This is what must be preserved in order to pass to the new generation of trailers, young and old ...
[Advendure]: You’re an elite athlete of “The North Face” International team. What is the philosophy of the company regarding Mountain Running, Ultra-Trail and the races that “The North Face” organizes in different parts of the world?
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: In fact it is relatively free and we have little or no obligations. It's great to be a member of a big team like this, because we can see athletes from other sports, like climbers or mountaineers and free ski riders. It is a great advantage to be able to participate in all that races around the world, and see other cultures and people at their home. It is also a way to convey the images and practice in your own country.
[Advendure]: You ran twice the most popular mountain race in Greece, the “Olympus Marathon”, winning the race in 2010. Mountain Running is growing very fast in Greece with 85 mountain races in 2013 and 6 Ultra-Trail races, including a 50 miler supported by “The North Face” in Zagori National Park, two 100 milers, one 100K and one 50 miler in the forests of Rodopi National Forest Park and a spectacular but hard 100K in Olympus Mountain! What do you think about the increase of interest for the sport in our country? Are you considering of racing again in Greece? You’re very popular here and we hope to see you again racing in our mountains.
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: Greece is a country in full development for training and mountain running. This is a very nice playground and I think I would come back in the coming years, because I have very good memories and also because I consider Greece a very large home for me. Also, it is very important that mountain running is developing in Greece, because I think we should give the opportunity to people to hang in this type of activity and finally - with the worries of current international finance – to be able to practice of sports that can be very simple with just shoes, shorts and t-shirt. Also I think we arrived at a point where everyone should do an activity which is very important in terms of public health.
[Advendure]: According to your web-site TransGrandCanaria, Hardrock, UTMF® and Grand Raid de la Reunion are your main objectives for 2014. Challenging objectives but also very beautiful and exciting. Tell us a few things about your 2014 racing season plans.
[Sebastien Chaigneau]: It is a very ambitious plan, but what I really want above all is to run these races and try to enjoy them with the other runners. It will not be easy to do as well as last year because - as we discussed before - the level continuously increases and we all must have progress in training and push our limits to be always in a good shape. There is also the fact of continuous races in chain; with more or less time to recover, and being able is already very hard in addition to be more efficient. This is what I will address in the first issue of this year’s "Get Ready For…" with the motivation aspect.
I hope to have been clear enough in my explanations and philosophy for this incredible sport. I think this is one that falls between the marathon and trekking and I think the next few years will be the most important activity in the world!
Thank you for your interest and "take pleasure and remain humble"
Photo ©: The North Face, Manu Molle