Florian Reichert is a fast roadrunner! With a track and field background and a specialty at middle distance, his first marathon was an impressive sub 2:30. However, he has only run one road marathon and that was just last year. In 2013 with sponsorship from Arc’teryx and inov-8, Florian has progressed to trail and mountain running. Always seeking a new challenge, he didn’t start the easy way and ease himself in, no; anything but… he threw himself in at the deep end with possibly one of the most iconic and competitive mountain marathons on the calendar, the ISF Skyrunning Zegama-Aizkorri. I catch up with Florian in a wonderful chalet in the shadow of Mont Blanc. We are on an inov-8 athlete retreat and just a couple of days previous; Florian placed top 10 in his second Skyrunning event, the Mont Blanc Marathon
IC: Welcome Florian it’s great to find some quiet time and have this chat.
FR: Thanks Ian, it’s great to be here and having this opportunity to talk.
IC: Florian you come from a very quack road running background. You started in 1996/97. You have some very impressive and fast times. What is it that got you into running?
FR: I have always enjoyed pushing myself to the limit. I used to play soccer as many Germans boys do, but I was looking for a sport that would allow me some independence. I wanted the success to come from myself and it was natural that I found running. From early on I enjoyed being alone and running long distances. It was actually my Physical Education teacher that spotted my potential and I was introduced to track and field.
IC: You specialized in middle distance running?
FR: Yes I was a middle distance guy running the 800m and 1500m. I barely broke the 4min barrier but I noticed that I didn’t have the ability to go faster, so I transitioned to 5k and then 10k. My PR is 14:50 for 5k and 30:50 for 10k. Gradually the distances I ran became longer, it seemed to suit my abilities better. I eventually ended up running my first marathon in 2012.
IC: You have made the transition from middle distances to half and marathon distance but as you say, you actually only ran your first marathon last year and you went sub 2:30. Impressive by any standards what was your actual time?
FR: I ran 2:26 and placed 8th at the German championships. It was lots of work, three to four months of solid preparation. I enjoyed training for the marathon but I felt at the end I was getting very stressed and almost bored. I was fed up of checking time, kilometers, laps etc. I was obsessed by time. This year I wanted a different challenge. I needed some freedom.
IC: You mentioned that you were getting bored and that stress was building. Irrespective of the distance you race, if you are competitive that stress level can come with any distance. If you looked at your marathon, a 2:26 debut is impressive but did you think to yourself even if I train even harder my potential maybe 2:20, maybe a 2:15 and therefore, no disrespect, but in marathon terms that is quite pedestrian. We have seen with Sage Canaday and Max King, both who run around 2:15 that they have made the choice to move from marathon to trail and ultra. Therefore, did you think; I will move to a smaller pond and become a faster person?
FR: Yes, partly correct. With a great deal of effort I may have run a 2:20 marathon but realistically it may have been a 2:22, so, even as you say, if I had run a 2:15 that would still get me nowhere. Particularly with the quality of African runners in marathon fields. I have always loved being in the mountains and nature so the bigger aspect of my transition is that I wanted to get away from the track, the road, the clock and hit the trails and mountains.
IC: So this year you have moved to trails and to mountain running. You have been fortunate to get sponsorship with Arc’teryx and inov-8. You have clothing and shoes covered. Of course both are involved in Skyrunning. However you are racing at all Skyrunning events for Arc’teryx. You have been thrown in at the deep end particularly with Zegama-Aizkorri. It’s all very well being quick but that doesn’t mean a good performance in a Skyrunning race. So many different aspects are required, yes you will need strong legs, yes you will need big lungs… but Skyrunning is about technique, skills, descending and ability to adapt to terrain. Zegama was a great outing for you. You had a great performance. You were at the front on the climbs early on but the big thing for you was the descents and the technical attributes that are needed to descend. What was it like?
FR: Zegama was such a special experience for me. I was very nervous before the race because I had no idea what was coming up. I knew that the distance was a marathon but the time would be long. As I said, I ran my first marathon last year in just under 2:30; this race took Kilian nearly four hours in 2012. I had never run for that long before, not even in training. I was anxious of what would lie ahead. In the end I was 33rd but in the early stages and particularly the halfway point I was in the top ten. I felt really good but the descending was my nemesis. You are right; I had a big learning curve when going downhill. I really need to work on that. Technical sections in races will require big improvements and commitment from myself. I have a long way to go. For example, the Mont Blanc Marathon was less technical and therefore I had a far more comfortable race. It suited my abilities better, but hey, Zegama was a great start.
IC: Coming from a middle distance road background what was your training like pre Zegama and from what you learnt at Zegama, what changes have you made between races?
FR: I come from a region in Germany that is flat. I have some mountains close by but it only has a peak of 1000m, so, my longest ascent maybe is 600-700m, no more. That makes it difficult to train for Skyrunning. But one of my favorite all time workouts are repetitions like hills, intervals and fartlek. I have beautiful woods all around me where I live. It’s great for speed work. I do repetitions of 1k with ascents of 250-300m and if I do that five or six times then it works well. I can get a 1000m of ascent. I have definitely changed my regime. I don’t go on the track much anymore, maybe once a week. Prior to 2013 I would have been on the track three or four times a week. I run long, I run up to thirty six to thirty eight kilometers now but before it was low twenties. So, yes, I have made some big changes.
IC: In terms of the terrain that you now train on, are you doing fewer roads?
FR: For sure, for the road marathon I always trained on the road. Now I hardly go on the road. I only go on trail. I go on forest paths, fire trail but I try to do single track whenever possible.
IC: Many will read this who are coming from a road background or maybe they are trail runners who have no experience of Skyrunning. They may think, I would really like to try a Skyrunning race but think it is beyond them. What advice would you give to make the transition?
FR: Most importantly they need to find a rhythm. You must find it in training but you must also find it in racing. When preparing for a Skyrunning race of course you need to run hills, you need to work on technique, if possible you need to be in the mountains. Get as much vertical as possible but also work on descents. It is important not to be stressed. Don’t worry about time. It means nothing in these tough and technical races. Rhythm is so important, keep to a pace that you can maintain.
IC: Yes, you mentioned that your home has no mountains. We are currently in Chamonix surrounded by trails and wonderful peaks everywhere, however, for most of us; mountains like this are just possible in training. If your home does not have these options, as you say, it is important to be creative. You mentioned a climb and doing repeats. It is such an important element, you can go up for a few hundred meters ascent, come down and repeat.
FR: Yes, it is all about working with what you have. Be creative as possible. Running offers so many possibilities. We mentioned fartlek; it is a great training method. You don’t need to be high if you have a hilly or undulating course that you can do repeats on. Of course you have to take into account speed, I need to train at a higher speed at home than say here in Chamonix. This morning I climbed six or 700 meters but I was going pretty slowly because of the gradient. At home I can go so much quicker. It has worked out okay for me.
IC: Distance means nothing in the mountains, you can be on a trail for two hours but you may only cover five or six miles. The transition you have made post Zegama has been impressive. Admittedly I think the Mont Blanc course suited you much more than Zegama. However, it still had some serious climbs and descents and in the latter half it just went up, up and up with a summit finish. Mont Blanc Marathon was a proper Skyrunning race, you placed in the top ten and that is significant. Not only do you have ability but also you have learnt so much in a short space of time. What goes through your mind when you stand on a start line with Kilian Jornet, Marco De Gasperi and Luis Alberto Hernando?
FR: Actually I was in the second row just behind Kilian and Marco on the start line. I admire these guys so much, fantastic runners but more importantly fantastic people. Friendly, generous and a pleasure to know, the opportunity I have been given is incredible, I must thank Arc’teryx. Without them I would not be racing. They took a risk, they had a fast roadrunner that had some reasonable times and they accepted my proposal to race on the Skyrunning calendar. Although I suffered in both races, I don’t think I have ever been so exhausted before but I enjoyed every step.
IC: You also had two teammates in the top ten at Mont Blanc, Nicola Golinelli who placed fourth and Didier Zago who placed sixth. You placed ninth which is an excellent result for Arc’teryx… three men in the top ten!
FR: Yes, correct. I only met Nicola and Didier here in Chamonix for the first time. They are great guys; they have already passed on so much knowledge to me. It was Nicola that instilled the ‘rhythm’ thought process in me. He told me not to be stressed and to run my own race. We have a great team and it’s great to be part of it. Of course I must mention inov-8 too as they provide my shoes. The inov-8 team had great results also at Mont Blanc Marathon.
IC: The Mont Blanc weekend has been incredible; so many races too choose from. An 80km and a 10km but importantly you ran the VK (Vertical Kilometer). The VK is such an incredible event, 1000m vertical gain in 3.8km. VK’s are simple; you go up as quickly as you can. According to Skyrunning rules the gradient will always be around 30-35%. VK’s are a great way to start in mountain running. Anyone in theory can take part providing you show some basic experience. VK’s are about walking and running. It requires a technique, I am sure if I did a VK everyday I would get fit very quickly. You did your first VK here in Chamonix, once again thrown in at the deep end, what was it like?
FR: First of all the VK is a great addition to the Skyrunning format. I ran about 38 minutes, if I compare that to my 10k PR which is 30:50 then I ran 8min longer for less than half the distance… so you can appreciate the severity. However, if you look at that objectively, many people can run a 10k so I think a VK is a great starting point if you want to make the transition from road to mountain. I was actually surprised after the VK that I didn’t feel as tired or as battered as if I had run a road10k. Going up creates less impact, it’s tough on the lungs and heart but the muscles don’t get too beaten up. That would not happen if I had run road race.
IC: Yes, great point. Relatively no impact in a VK, you start at the bottom and go up. Even when running you are going slow, it’s controlled, the moment you get that control wrong you blow up and you are forced to walk. If you are not adapted though it does work the achilles, hamstrings and lower back so that can cause some knock on effects. Funny you equated it to a 10k, to put it in perspective it took you 8 mins longer to run 6k less than your 10k PB. Doesn’t take much working out does it, tough race! What is next for you, I know you are concentrating on the ‘Sky’ distance, which is usually around a marathon; do you have any plans to move to the ultra distance?
FR: Yes, ultra distance will tempt me; Transvulcania seriously tempts me, I love the look of that race and the incredible field that it attracts. It seems like such an incredible race, I have to say that for at least the next twelve months I am going to stick with the Sky distance, it works to my abilities and it will suit my speed. But a natural progression will take place, I am sure ultra will make its way on my calendar.
IC: It has been great to catch up with you Florian. I am looking forward to following your progress over the rest of 2013, I wish you the very best of luck.
FR: Many thanks Ian and many thanks to the sponsors and Skyrunning.
Florian on Facebook – HERE
Skyrunning – HERE
Arc’teryx – HERE
inov-8 – HERE