Much of the blogosphere has exploded in heated comments that appear to revolve around the rivalry between elite European ultra runners (or “real” mountain runners) and elite American ultra runners (or pseudo mountain runners). As far as Inside Trail is concerned, the paradigm shift we touched-on in a post over a week ago is not necessarily about the countries these runners represent. We were trying to point-out the role of the team in this sport and how that one particular team seems to be raising the stakes, out-thinking the rest of the field (American or otherwise). That was it.
The aforementioned post reflected on the previous weekend’s results (Pikes and Leadville) and tried to clarify a couple of points. One point concerns the questions raised by Matt Carpenter’s Pikes Peak Marathon win at the age of 47, and 41 year-old Dave Mackey’s CR win at Waldo 100k: how much longer can these legends dominate and who, I think it’s fair to ask, will fill their shoes (at least birth a little cousin to the consistency these stalwarts have shown through the years)? Again, I think it’s fair to ask, especially since the 41 year-old is now probably the favorite for UROY 2011.
Our second point reiterated the dominance of Salomon Running, which is fairly obvious and has continued to manifest since the running of last weekend’s UTMB. With Ryan Sandes’ Leadville win and the almost predictable Kilian Jornet win at UTMB, trail supremacy is unambiguous at the elite level. The only questions I think are the ones we should be sending telepathically and via snail and e-mail to other big merchandise brands in the ultra running/outdoor/adventure/lifestyle space: “When are you going to step-up and get involved? If you haven’t already heard, mountain and ultra running (and adventure racing, mountain climbing, etc.) are getting more and more popular because A) that’s just the way it is, perhaps due to people getting smarter and more health conscious (whatever you want to call it) and B) the world is getting smaller. How can you (large companies that already have some exposure to fitness/athletics merchandising) not want to invest in this lifestyle?” It goes without saying that our clearest and perhaps most persuasive message comes from our relentless pursuit of the trail.
To the bohemian types who wince at these ties to corporatization, it’s upon us already and actually, we might argue, helping, so long as the runner liaisons in charge effectively marshal funds to the benefit of races, athletes, fans and the health of the sport in general. In other words, we say embrace these corporate investments that can benefit the sport.
Salomon Running is helping lead the way with regards to product development and team organization, largely because of Salomon Sport’s committment. Since there has been so much talk of the team this past year (only intensifying the last few months), we thought sitting-down with one of the Salomon Running team captains would be perfect. What sort of insight might we extract from the brain of one partly responsible for designing the complete annihilation of American ultra running? Ha ha, just kidding! Keep in mind, too, that Salomon’s national team, though not getting much of the attention these days, is another bunch of kick ass trail runners.
To the point: Salomon Running and Adam Chase are anything but sinister. The team of Kilian, Karerra, Chorier, Wyatt, Sandes, Gates, Frost, Chase, et al., well, they’re just a bunch of killer athletes with big hearts (and VO2 Max) running for podiums all over the world, literally. Recently, we sat down with the Salomon Running Brand Ambassador and Team Captain (and co-author to The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running) and asked him a few questions. Here’s how it went. Enjoy!
Inside Trail: Adam, thanks so much for spending some time with Inside Trail. First of all, can you tell us a little about your running/athletic background and your role with Salomon Running?
Adam Chase: My athletic history of soccer to cross-country running to marathoning to triathlon to ultrarunning to adventure racing, and back to ultrarunning is probably not that unusual, but for the fact that I was just ahead of the curve and gave me some great opportunities. I’d have never won enough races to get in the position to have a team like Salomon sponsor me for what is now a decade, first through adventure racing and then trail running. My role has grown to be the US trail running brand ambassador and team captain/manager. I’m honored and grateful for the trust that Salomon has put in me and am most proud of our team members, who feel like siblings in one big happy family, on a global and national level (Check-out Salomon’s national team, which doesn’t get the same press as the Euro-dominant international squad).
IT: Is Salomon Running more of an individual company or very much integrated in with Salomon Sports?
AC: Salomon is an integrated company. Our different focuses on categories such as free-skiing, Nordic, and hiking, don’t always overlap with trail running and in those cases I think the company’s rich mountain heritage and passion for outdoor recreation is what becomes the common bond. We are also connected to related companies, as part of the Amer Group (Salomon, Wilson, Precor, Atomic, Suunto, Mavic, Arc’teryx) and there is a comfortable level of symbiosis that brings a real level of professionalism and international flavor to the table.
IT: Is your market primarily Europe, North America, truly global? Can you describe how you guys “see” your market?
AC: Truly global. While I’m the US Trail Running Brand Ambassador, when I meet with and correspond with my equivalent from, say, Spain, Germany, Austria, the UK, or Canada, we are equals and while we respect that different markets demand different types of products – the Fellcross, for example, was a product born in the UK – we sit at what you might call a round table, with no real head and have a conversation that is more supportive and collaborative than it is instructive. Granted, there is a King Arthur, Gregory Vollet, who I’ll talk about below, who has asked various knights to be seated, but the table remains round.
Our market is anyone who wants to play outside with the best of gear. We don’t discriminate and welcome anyone and everyone.
IT: Great to hear! Okay, Salomon Running results have been truly incredible this year. Help us out: is there a genuine marketing strategy going-on here (let’s send Miguel to the TNF50 San Fran, Kilian obviously to WS100, Julien would work best at HR100, Sandes LT100, etc.)? How do you decide which athlete to send to which race? In other words, are these results coincidence, or is it great athlete/race pairings (ala wine and cheese 🙂
AC: Salomon does not put pressure on its athletes. Rather, Salomon picks athletes who put pressure on themselves. And, by making arrangements for us to get together and support one another we, in turn, put a level of pride and momentum behind one another, the way Phil Villeneuve (my equivalent from Canada), Anna Frost, Josh Korn and I all jumped at the chance to pace Ryan Sandes during the Leadville 100. There was a group of almost 20 people down in Australia for the TNF 100km earlier this year. The men took all three podium spots and the women had two of the three positions; but everyone left the event feeling as though the “family” won, as a whole. There was just as much support for athletes who were injured and unable to start as there was for Kilian, who won the race.
When the brand ambassadors and global team members live and train together around events like “Advanced Week,” which is held each year – it was our fourth in a row last April – in the south of France, we talk about different events that are enticing because of the course, the competition, the weather, favorable courses, and the fun factor that may appeal to different athletes. There isn’t any unilateral “telling” going on but, rather, athletes can request certain races that suit their strengths and desires to travel to that location. We have athletes that excel at shorter races, those who are ultra-distance specialists, those who favor stage racing, and some who can do anything that is thrown at them.
I guess I’d have to say that the results aren’t coincidental but, rather, they are the orchestration of musicians who know how to harmonize by playing at their best with people they know and respect. Can you get a bad meal if you only pair delicious and nutritious courses?
IT: Well put. Can you describe how the current global team was formed?
AC: The race team was born out of Salomon’s adventure race heritage. We weren’t as combined on an international level, but different countries — France, Spain, the US, the UK, Sweden, etc. — had their own adventure race teams and when Salomon decided to throw itself fully behind the sport of trail running we already had the infrastructure in place.
IT: We saw a great picture of you pacing Ryan at LT100. Tell us about that whole race experience.
AC: I flew back to the States with Ryan on July 4 and within an hour of getting off the plane I had introduced him to some of the best athletes in the world – almost none of whom were Americans – at a party in Boulder. A few days later we were down in Silverton for the Hardrock 100 and he got to feel the thin air while he paced Julien (Julien Chorier, who went-on to win the race). From there, Ryan went directly to Leadville and spent six weeks training on the course and so his performance last weekend was merely the execution of his carefully-worked plans. I got to visit him about three weeks ago, when I first met his girlfriend Vanessa Haywood, to see that his effort was not a solo one. Vanessa was Ryan’s crew chief and she was totally dialed in to his every need, well ahead of the game. She had it all dialed and so did Ryan and running with him on the leg from Fish Hatchery to May Queen, over Hagerman Pass via Power Line, was a treat because he was essentially painting by numbers at that point in the game.
We had a good conversation while Ryan managed to keep a strong pace, even running some of Power Line, which is a real bear at mile 80! My nickname in the Salomon family is “Proton” because I’m said to be a ‘positively-charged Adam’ and I did my best to keep Ryan’s spirits high. He made it rather easy to do, and it became rather clear, when we looked back at the top of Hagerman’s and didn’t see anyone at the bottom, that Ryan had a victory coming to him barring any major mishap.
IT: What does Ryan’s future look like in terms of ultra/adventure racing?
AC: Ryan will go far.
IT: Any hints as to what the 2012 racing schedule looks like for some of your other athletes?
AC: I don’t know too much about next year’s agenda because I don’t think anyone does, beyond TNF 50 in December, when I am pretty sure Heras and Frost will return to defend their victories. There is talk of Kilian spending some of the summer in the Rockies but he’s got so much on his plate that it is hard to say and I don’t know if he can get into Hardrock, but I’d love to see him on that course because it really suits his personality and passion for beautiful and high mountains; much more than Western States, for sure.
IT: [I asked Adam about UTMB – this interview was pre-UTMB] Give us some behind the scenes insight about UTMB. Who do you like and why?
AC: Too hard to predict that one. I’m really sorry that Krupicka is injured and that my buddy Dave Mackey couldn’t make it over for it, especially after what he did at Waldo, because I was hoping that everyone would be there with their A-game, ready to play.
IT: Lastly, do you think what you guys are doing at Salomon with this team strategy will catch-on? What other brands/teams seem to be working along these same lines?
AC: What you see with the global team should be credited to Gregory Vollet, who is an outstanding athlete in his own right and raced mountain bikes professionally but then showed all the Salomon runners that he is just as quick on foot this season when he entered races and finished ahead of almost all the team members. Greg’s title is Global Outdoor Sports and Community Marketing Manager and he painted his vision to me when we met at the base of Mont Ventoux in early 2010 and has carried out that plan with impeccable precision and alacrity.
I’d say that Greg’s plans are the modern equivalent of those of Scott McCoubrey, who should be credited with putting the first successful trail running and ultra team together, Team Montrail (for which I raced several seasons), back in the mid and late 90s. Certainly many programs, including TNF, La Sportiva, Inov-8, Patagonia, and Pearl Izumi, are using the old Montrail model as a foundation and Greg’s version is maybe just the updated twist on that basic theme. Either way, I’m just thrilled to be a part of it!
IT: Thanks, Adam. Great stuff! Hopefully, we’ll see you at some races in the coming months. Either way, thanks for sharing and continued success out there on the trails!