Lehkonen joined Mile 27 around a year ago and at the time listed his goals as top 50 in some big races. Since then, Henri has moved from aiming for top 50 to regularly placing top 10 and even top 5 against some quality opposition. He trains hard, and the harder the training week the more he likes it, but he also plays hard. If you are looking to celebrate post race in Hong Kong then apparently Henri’s your man!
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTERESTED IN THE SPORT?
Living in Hong Kong the mountains and trails are at your door step. I started because I was bored one weekend and found a ~11k route from home to the beach over some of the main trails on Hong Kong Island. I was doing that every other week or so plus a few other trails on the island every now and then for a good 18 months before I entered my first race which was the MSIG Hong Kong 50k in October 2014 (I finished in 101st place!). After a few days for my legs to recover, as I could hardly walk, I entered my next 50km for 6 weeks later and the rest is history. Nowadays the interest is fuelled by seeing how competitive I can be in races and by using races and trail running as a way to explore the world.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE RACE SO FAR?
That’s tough to nail down one answer – I think all the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) events have such an amazing buzz to them due to the scale of the production, the quality of elite athletes and the fact for most of them it’s a new part of the world to visit. So far out of the UTWT races I have been fortunate enough to run Transgrancanaria, Ultra-Trail Australia, Lavaredo, a cut-down UTMF and Hong Kong 100. All of them were exceptional experiences.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM A RACE?
I think any time when you are running an ultra and have been running throughout the night, and then the sun comes up and you are on a mountain somewhere epic in the world is truly memorable. I remember both at Transgrancanaria coming out of the night and thick morning fog into a wide-open, mountainous valley with blue sky, sun and looking up towards the famous Roque Nublo and at Lavaredo reaching then descending from Tre Cime just as the sun rose. These moments are always a chance to self reflect on why you enjoy the sport and justify the effort you have put in.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ULTRAMARATHON ACHIEVEMENT SO FAR?
Definitely Hong Kong 100 this year. I was stoked with my result of 26th overall, 3rd highest HK based runner, well under sub-12 hour (11:35) and the resulting ITRA score of 743. On all metrics and relative to the competition this was a standout performance and hopefully a sign of what I can keep achieving.
WHAT IS ON YOUR RACING BUCKETLIST?
Any UTWT race is probably the easiest way to describe the bucketlist. Luckily I have Eiger and Diagonale Des Fous locked in for 2017. I would have loved to have been involved in the UTMB week somehow but sadly that will need to wait for next year! Being Australian I would love to do more racing in Australia so hopefully I do get more chances in the future.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM ULTRAMARATHONS? WHAT HAVE THEY TAUGHT YOU ABOUT LIFE AND YOURSELF?
So many things…..
1. It is amazing how much fitter you can become by focusing on training and notching up races.
2. Life is better outdoors especially when mountains are involved. Spending each weekend on the sofa watching Netflix is not cool.
3. Ultras and trail running in general are a great way to see the world and more so visit destinations you wouldn’t otherwise go to. I think of the random mountains, villages, peaks, hillsides, empty beaches, cliff side goat tracks, scenic trails, waterfalls etc I have been on and its amazing to think all the non-runners I know will never visit those places.
4. The community of ultra / trail runners is a fantastic network that you can instantly connect with when exploring your own country or the world.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF TRAINING?
When I am out running it’s a disconnect from the rest of this overly connected world we now live in. No phone, no Whatsapp, no Facebook, no work emails etc. Great time to be with your mind, think, make whatever plans or solve whatever problems you need do. Sometimes is tough when that alarm goes off at 5am but after every session you always feel on a high and are setup for the day ahead. The side benefit from all the training I do is the ability to eat nearly as much as I want and it doesn’t seem to make any difference to my weight!
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE BENEFITED FROM TRAINING WITH MILE 27?
Structure, structure, structure – I think having a training plan that has focused varied sessions throughout the week and over weeks and months is the key. Without the structure it’s easy (accidentally of course) to omit hill repeats or other harder sessions. And knowing someone else is keeping an eye on you is the extra motivation to get the sessions done and not go easy or skip the last rep! Also the access to a wealth of knowledge of race courses, race strategy, nutrition, gear, injuries etc that Andy and the Mile 27 team have is invaluable.
WHAT IS THE ONE TIP YOU WOULD GIVE A FELLOW ATHLETE TO HELP THEM ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE OF RUNNING AN ULTRA MORE?
The simplest answer is to quote The Ginger Runner: “Train Hard. Race Harder. Party Hardest”, but delving into it here are three (not one) tips:
1. Train because it’s fun and you like getting outdoors and putting in an effort, rather than just training for training’s sake. Make the hard sessions fun: do intervals at a group track session, do hill repeats that’s somewhere with nice scenery so you can’t help but smile and take in the surrounds on your recovery, do the long runs with friends and enjoy being outdoors in amazing locations in great company.
2. Try to get in a few races that cover different distances, different terrains, and ideally among different communities. Some you put down as A races for the year, others just have fun and enjoy the experience! Entering one race a year and making that the only thing you focus on doesn’t seem wise to me as if it doesn’t play out the way you planned you will be devastated. Sometimes races work out well and you get the result you want, sometimes everything goes wrong! Having more races under your belt can’t be a bad thing….
3. Drink beer. Often.
WHAT IS YOUR NEXT RACE?
My next focus is Ultra-Trail Australia again.