Thirty-three-year-old Audrey Tanguy from the mountainous Savoie region of France had never toed the starting line of a road running race. Ever. Not a 10K, a 5K, or even a mile-long race. But here she was, at Hoka One One’s Project Carbon X 2 100K on January 7 at Wildhorse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix, Arizona. Tanguy traveled from France, had undergone COVID testing and safety protocols, and stood somewhat in the shadows of big hitters Camille Herron (USA) and Catriona Jennings (IRL) in the pack of 19 runners—all of them wearing Hoka’s new Carbon X 2 shoe.
Much of the attention was on Jim Walmsley, who was attempting a world record at the distance. Walmsley broke the American record, covering the distance in an astonishing 6 hours, 9 minutes, 26 seconds (averaging 5:57 minutes/mile). In doing so, he broke Oregonian Max King’s record of 6:27:44, set in 2014. But Walmsley fell 11 seconds short of the world record, held by Japan’s Nao Kazami in 2018.
On the women’s side, Herron and Carla Molinaro (GBR) ran out in front through midpoint. But as the race unfolded, a somewhat unexpected runner moved her way into the lead.
Tanguy grew up in the French Alps and has seen success racing trails at ultra distances.
During the winter months, she ski mountaineers because, she says, “We have a lot of snow!” Her overall strength and prowess on rugged terrain has earned her wins at the 2018 and 2019 TDS, a 135K/86-mile sister race to the 171K/106-mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. She’s placed at the Madiera Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) race, and second at the Grand Raid on Reunion Island.
All of her running successes, thus far, have been on rugged terrain with significant elevation gain and loss.
But an extremely flat, paved course? One that was chosen to set up Walmsley for a world record while highlighting the carbon-plated road shoes?
Tanguy, who is a mother, a P.E. teacher, and a professional runner, ran 7:40:36 (7:25 minutes per mile), besting the competitive women’s race for the win.
We caught up with Tanguy in the in the days following the event to find out more.
Women’s Running: Why have you never entered a road running race of any sort, until now?
Audrey Tanguy: I have never tried any road race because I live in the mountains… and love them! Secondly, I honestly thought that I was really bad and slow on the flat road. Now I know that I’m not that much.
WR: What sports did you grow up doing, and when did you start running… and then racing?
AT: From 3 to 13 years old I did ice skating, and my favorite ice skater ever was actually American, Sasha Cohen! After that I practiced many sports and particularly tennis for a couple years. I started running for fun when I was a kid, around 10 years old, with my mum. I still run two hours every single day! Racing wasn’t evidence for me. I was really stressed so I didn’t want to race. But I tried, one time at 24 years old… and I won. So I started to like it!
WR: Did you surprise yourself with the win at the 100K?
AT: For sure! I really didn’t expect to win! I really trained one-and-a-half months for this 100K so it was just an experience, and one more step to my big goal of the year, UTMB. But now I want to do another one.
WR: How did you train for the 100K, coming from mostly trail running and ski mountaineering?
AT: I did some track and road sessions, [which were] really tough for me, and also cross country ski and ski mountaineering. I live in the mountains so we actually have a lot of snow!
WR: Can you talk about the differences between a trail ultra and the road 100K, both from a physical demands standpoint, and a mental/emotional standpoint?
AT: I can tell you that, for me, the physical demands are more important on the road. You have to stay at the same speed as long as possible and always in the same direction, so it’s very demanding for your muscles. On the mental standpoint for me ultra is more demanding… because [they’re] even longer! I know that the road can be quite boring but I totally can keep my mind open and think to a lot of other positive things.
WR: Can you explain how it was running a flat, looped course versus exploring mountain terrain, like you’re used to?
AT: Actually, the looped race helped me to stay focused and run step by step.
WR: What does the rest of 2021 look like for you?
AT: Definitely my main goal for 2021 is UTMB… even if I’ll race at Western States, too! I raced two times at UTMB for TDS 2018 and 2019… and I won two times so I can’t do worse. Winning UTMB is my dream, so I try to do everything I can to reach my goal.
WR: Will you do more road races?
AT: For sure I will! I loved that experience!