David Kornmann 11
28 June 2024

The Road to UTMB: An Interview with David Kornmann

“Believe!… Nothing is too crazy!… With patience, preparation, and determination, everything is possible. So go for it!… Don’t be intimidated because you feel you don’t belong there, because you won’t finish, or because you’re surrounded by people way more fit than you are.”

Welcome to another inspiring story from the Arduua community! Today, we have the pleasure of sharing the journey of David Kornmann, a dedicated trail runner from the US, who has been training with Arduua Online Coaching under the guidance of Coach Fernando Armisén. David’s path to the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is a true testament to perseverance and passion.

David Kornmann at the start of UTMB CCC in 2023…

Who is David?

I was born in France where I grew up. I’m 55. I moved to the US in 2001 to start the company that invented Google Earth. Then I spent 9 years at Google where I worked on various projects and participated in the creation of Niantic, the game company that launched Pokémon Go in 2016. Today I work as a software security engineer for Aurora Innovation, a leader in self-driving trucks. I live in Tucson, Arizona with my girlfriend Alena and our beautiful 3-year-old daughter. I also have two adult sons who join me from time to time on my adventures. Outside work, my favourite activities include spending quality time outdoors (skiing, hiking, running, rock climbing, enjoying nature, etc…), and Arizona is an ideal playground for that!

During a training run, high above Tucson, AZ…

When and why did you start trail running?

This is kind of a long story…… that goes back to my time at Niantic… I was leading one of the platform teams, and one of my reports, Chihping Fu, told me in 2018 that he was running 100 milers and that he was preparing for UTMB. I didn’t know at the time that such races existed, especially given how insane running 100 miles sounded like. And indeed, he had finished Wasatch 100 that year, so I told him (since I am French), that if he won the UTMB lottery, I would come to Chamonix to support him. Sure enough, he won the lottery and got an entry for the 2019 edition of UTMB.

Fast forward to the end of August 2019, as promised, I came to Chamonix to support him. I drove all around the mountain range to meet him at aid stations—Les Contamines, Courmayeur, Arnouvaz, Champex Lac. Chihping worked very hard to get to the finish and arrived in Champex at 3am with 5 minutes to spare on the cutoff. Sadly, he was picked up by the sweepers on his way to Trient later and didn’t make it to the finish. But this experience gave me a taste of how awesome the mountains were, and I was in awe of the courage shown by the exhausted runners arriving in Champex. It was incredible. But what was also inspiring was to see the ultra trail running community celebrate back-of-the-pack runners at the finish almost more than the winners. People seemed to appreciate the insane difficulty of these races and what it took to finish them.

So I thought: Jeez, how nice must it be for someone to finish such a race downtown Chamonix, one of my favorite towns in France.

On the way back from UTMB, I shared my thoughts with Chihping, and that’s when it all started… Chihping noticed that this experience had piqued my curiosity and started to tell me that if I earned 4 points, I could sign up for the OCC lottery the next year. I thought this was totally out of my league given that the longest distance I had ever WALKED before was 45km during military service. So even contemplating finishing a 50k was borderline insanity at the time.

Yet, the following week, we’re back in the US, and Chihping tells me, hey, there is still time for you to get your 4 points for the OCC lottery! All you need to do is finish 2 qualifying races before the end of the year. There are a few races left on the calendar in Arizona, and “all you need” is to finish two 50k to get the points! He said, in a month, there’s the Sky Peaks 50k in Flagstaff (the highest foot race in Arizona). I remember saying, dude, I’ve never walked beyond 45km, how do you expect me to finish a 50k with 1000 meters of D+, let alone above 9000 feet?

But I was interested in the challenge, if anything, to see if I could do it, and in the worst case, it would be a fun day in the mountains. So I thought, “go big or go home, what could go wrong?” and signed up. That race is one of the most difficult 50k you can find in Arizona, and I got a taste of it. I almost finished the race and had to bail out at the last aid station, arriving completely dehydrated with bleeding toes, blisters, and all. I was like, “…and here goes my points for OCC.. oh well, I tried.”

From left to right, David Kornmann, Chihping Fu, Franco Soriano, Amit Piplani in Chamonix, France.

The following Monday, I tell my friend about what happened, let him know that I can barely walk and all, but he then tells me “oh, that was close, but there are still a few races for you to get the points!… There’s another one next weekend!!.. It’s called the Cave Creek Thriller that’s part of the Desert Runner Trail Series hosted by Aravaipa.” I was like, are you INSANE? I can’t walk, and you want me to run another 50k next weekend? He says, “Yeah!… Just pop the blisters, apply some iodine, your feet will be like new by Friday.” I couldn’t believe it. Plus, he says, the race is outside Phoenix, it’s mostly flat (and did I say hot?), so you won’t have to deal with the altitude. The window of opportunity to get these points had reopened, so I said, “hell, why not, I’ll give it another shot.”

Turns out he was right, the feet healed just fine, and I finished my first 50k. I went on to finish 3 more races in 2019, gathering enough points for the OCC lottery but didn’t get picked. But I had a lot of fun doing these races, I loved the format, I loved the experience, I loved the challenges. I was hooked.

Then I went on to do lots and lots of races, seeking ever more crazy challenges (the crazier, the better) such as Pikes Peak marathon, Speedgoat, Echappée Belle, CCC, Dirty 30 Silverton, Tushars marathon, etc.

These days, I run about a dozen ultras (mostly 50k) per year.

During a recent race (The VUE) in Sedona, AZ…

When and why did you start training with Arduua and Coach Fernando?

I managed to win the lottery to run the UTMB CCC last year, which was pure luck. Even though I felt I had zero chance of finishing the race, I wanted to give it my best shot.

To prepare for such a race, I felt that I needed coaching because I was pretty much at the limit of what I could do on my own. I needed someone who could guide me through training sessions, monitor my progression, offer advice, keep me engaged, and adjust plans accordingly.

Before using Arduua, I was counting on running races frequently and following training sessions on iFit and my NordicTrack x32i (I bought that treadmill during COVID for training and because it offers 40% inclines, which was perfect to build some D+).

So I started to look for a coaching solution that was affordable and stumbled on Arduua’s website while googling. It took me 5 minutes to determine that what Arduua was offering was exactly what I was looking for. So I decided to give it a shot.

Me after one of my training runs back in March at Sabino Canyon near Tucson, AZ (Not my Cybertruck)

You’re signed up for the CCC in UTMB this season. Congratulations on that! What aspect of this race are you most looking forward to?

Thank you! It’s a fantastic race.

Participating last year was sort of an accident. I DNF’ed at La Fouly and enjoyed being there a little too much…I had prepared quite well for the event but didn’t have what it took to get to the finish line. Participating was a win in itself, and finishing would just have been the cherry on top of the cake. So I just didn’t have enough motivation/determination to push through the cutoffs. Also, the course is absolutely gorgeous, and I ended up doing a lot of sightseeing in the process.

This year is different. I have unfinished business with that race, and I am determined to cross the finish line! The training so far this year has been fantastic, and I am looking forward to beating last year’s splits by a healthy margin. The scenery again is to die for, and I am looking forward to it as well, but I’ll be much more focused on covering the distance at a good pace.

What do your training preparations look like now leading up to the CCC and UTMB?

So far since January, I have run about 120 miles on average each month. My week consists of a mix of gym training, short runs, and long runs, and intervals. Typically, I train about 5-6 times a week, with one or two “short” 50+ min runs with intervals, a HIIT gym session, a strength gym session, and a long 120+ mins run, and a recovery activity (hiking, swimming, rock climbing, etc).

Then I typically try to participate in at least 1 long-distance race each month (40k or longer, 1500m D+ min) with sometimes a shorter race (half marathon or shorter) when available.

Elevation gain isn’t too significant at the moment, something like 4000-6000 meters per month. But this is going to increase as we get closer to UTMB. In particular, in July, I have a pretty packed schedule that will involve a lot of elevation gain and running at high altitude with races in Colorado (Silverton 50k, Kendall Mountain Run) and Utah (Speedgoat 21k, Tushars 100k).

I wouldn’t be able to do all this without the wonderful support of my family and the understanding of my girlfriend Alena. She’s been providing tremendous moral support, allowing me to find time to complete all the training hours required for this preparation.

I have also been focusing a lot more on weight loss and nutrition. I lost approx 20 kg since January, focusing essentially on balanced nutrition, calorie control, and portion control. 😀

To track my fitness and race performance, I use a Coros Apex Pro 2.

View from the top of Mount Delano, 12000 ft, during the Tushars Marathons 70k near Beaver, UT

In what ways has Arduua Coaching and Fernando supported you in your training?

Having a coach is a huge motivator. Training by yourself is hard; it takes a lot of willpower to get going, do strength sessions, find time to do interval runs, or wake up early to do a long run. It’s not always fun, especially when you’re a bit fatigued. The program in itself with Training Peaks is super helpful because it basically gives you homework, and you feel compelled to complete it to not fall behind. So, in essence, it keeps you honest. The regular updates from the coach are also very important to keep you engaged and hold you accountable for results. Fernando has been very responsive and attentive to my progress and an excellent moral support. Furthermore, his training program is very well thought out and it works. So once you notice that it’s effective and produces results, it motivates you to keep on making sure that you don’t fall behind with the training.

Seeing results in the field during races has also been a huge motivator. This year, I’ve managed to beat my PRs regularly by 20-30% on all distances, thanks to losing weight, obviously, but also thanks to the work we did to improve my VO2 max. As a matter of fact, the VO2 max improvements have been pretty amazing to observe and make a huge difference.

View from Blue lake during the Tushars Marathons 70k near Beaver, UT.

What are your dreams and goals with trail running coming up next?

First, finish that UTMB CCC and cross that finish line in Chamonix! This would be a dream fulfilled that started 5 years ago to the day. That alone would be a nice accomplishment.

Then, I am on the waitlist for a couple of awesome races like the Barkley Fall Classic and Javelina 100, and I plan to participate in a number of local races.

But after that, I have a number of crazy dream races in mind that I’d like to try like Tor de Geants, Swiss Peaks, Diagonale des Fous, Tarawera, Mt Fuji, Everest marathon, Laugavegur in Iceland, Karhun Kierros in Finland, and Cocodona 250 here in Arizona! From a challenge perspective, nothing is too big! 😀

There is one race that I followed several times and would love to do one day, and it’s the HardRock 100. I love the San Juan mountains. That part of Colorado is insanely cool, and that particular race is so special.

Scout Mountain Ultras, (the race I completed last weekend) near Pocatello, ID.

What is your best advice to other trail runners out there dreaming about the UTMB or similar races?

Believe! Nothing is too crazy! With patience, preparation, and determination, everything is possible. So go for it! Don’t be intimidated because you feel you don’t belong there because you won’t finish, or you’re surrounded by people way more fit than you are. The hardest part about taking on these challenges is having the courage to show up and doing what it takes to accomplish them. Remember that you’re not racing against everyone else, you’re racing against yourself. That’s the beauty of these insanely difficult and long races. You’ll run them at your own pace with the goal of finishing them. Then, if you end up middle of the pack or better, good for you, and if you DFL, then good for you too!

So do your best to accomplish your race. And if you don’t finish, it’s ok, it gives you the opportunity to come back next year and try to finish it again! We don’t do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard. So embrace the difficulty and give it your best shot! And when it gets hard, and it will, don’t give up. Let the race kick you out. If you make the cutoff at an aid station, just keep going. That way, you’ll know that you gave it your best shot and will have no regrets if you DNF.

Preparation is critical for these kinds of races. So it’s important to “work the problem” and come up with a good battle plan to get you ready for these races. That’s where having Fernando from Arduua as a coach has been of tremendous help. There’s only so much you can do to prepare alone and learn.

You don’t want to look at climbing a mountain upfront all at once but in stages. You want to look for the steps that will help you get to the top eventually. UTMB seemed unattainable 5 years ago, and it sure looked like it without lots of preparation. So I proceeded in stages, participated in dozens of races, and learnt a lot in the process. I went through countless hours of training, and eventually, I got the opportunity to participate in my dream race. But in my experience, more important than the final goal, it’s the journey to get there that matters. As you take steps toward your goal, you will gain experience, performance, determination, etc., that you’ll be able to apply toward other goals. So at the end of the day, I may never finish UTMB CCC, but what I’ve learned during this whole journey will allow me to accomplish other important goals that I value just as much.

At the top of Kendall Mountain (13k ft) with my son Heikki during Kendall Mountain Run near Silverton, CO last year.

Thank you, David, for sharing your incredible journey with us

Your story is truly inspiring and a testament to the power of perseverance and passion in trail running. Best of luck with your upcoming races, and we look forward to cheering you on at the finish line!

/Katinka Nyberg, Arduua CEO/Founder

If you have any questions regarding Arduua or our training servive please contact me for any questions katinka.nyberg@arduua.com.

David on Strava

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David’s Races

Check out David’s races and webpage links below…

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