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All-Around Endurance with Christian Meier


How many professional athletes start a second career in a different sport? How much can you transfer from the first career to the second? Can you be at the top of two sports during your lifetime?


Christian Meier is on his way to join this club of elite athletes. After a professional career as a road cyclist with many years on the Pro Tour, he took on a new challenge on the trails. Meier moved to Girona more than 10 years ago and became a local by adoption, one of the first pro cyclists to move to the Spanish gravel paradise. Last year he scored a win at TDS and approached 2024 with big ambitions on UTMB and a new sponsorship deal with Salomon.


We caught up a few weeks ago while he was exploring Madeira during one of his training camps. We discussed his views about the state of trail running compared to cycling, where the sport can go from here, his journey on the trails, and much more.


christian meier transgrancanaria 2024
Christian at Transgrancanaria 2024

You are currently on a training camp in Madeira. How is it going? Are you scouting the course for the Madeira Island Ultra Trail any time soon?


Yes and no. I would love to do the race, but it’s not planned for this year. Originally, I was looking at it, but then things changed because of trying to qualify for UTMB. So, not this year. I chose Madeira because my wife wanted to come and check it out. If she says let's go, I'm going. We're staying at a house here in the mountains and I’ve been running on the racecourse most days. It's amazing.


Right before Madeira, you were on another island, Gran Canaria. First, you went there to train and then to race Trans Gran Canaria. How was it?


I went to Grand Canaria a few years ago for the first time on a bike-packing trip. I thought, okay, I'm coming back for sure to do some running. Last year I went with my wife to do some running. We stayed in a little place above Tejeda and I just spent a week running and it was just amazing. This year I did a training camp with some friends, and then did the race. My race went terribly.


I was fighting something. I had some sort of sickness. I woke up in the morning feeling not great and eventually dropped. This is part of racing. Anyway, amazing place. Amazing race. Amazing vibes. There are people everywhere. it's a unique race. Like the island itself, you go through all the different microclimates, from green to dry and desert. It is a dynamic race.


As a spectator, TGC seemed to be one of the best events in trail running. The communication was no point. The live stream was high-quality and made it a pleasure to follow the race. In a previous interview, you stated that trail running will evolve into something like gravel. After attending events like TGC and UTMB, how far do you think the sport is from that time?


For a lot of people, trail running is experiential. The majority is seeking an adventure, especially in the ultra distances. There's a real spirit around going and doing a big challenge that pushes you as a person while seeing amazing landscapes. In these terms, trail running is similar to gravel like bike packing and long distances events. You get the same spirit of adventure in a nice environment.


UTMB is pretty cool, you know? [laugh] Last year, I got the advantage of running at the beginning of the week, so I could enjoy what UTMB is rather than kind of being stressed out the whole week waiting for your race. Seeing that many people coming together and enjoying the sport was wild. It felt like a cycling event. If you think about how many people were on Forclaz, it felt like the Tour de France when the crowd opened up while you were climbing. There is that shot with Courtney that is amazing. People have flares and wear costumes. They are fans of the sport. Maybe they raced earlier in the week and then stayed to watch the big race. The fans are the participants as well. This year felt like it had just taken that step into becoming something super cool. People just came to see it because it was an amazing event with amazing athletes. This felt like an extra step.


What you just described is the evolution of the sport that is going through, from being a participation to a fan sport. This would take it to the next level. The parallelism you made between UTMB and Tour de France is interesting. What are the reasons that made you compare the two events?


UTMB feels like a grand tour when you go through a whole night, and it is two days of racing. You are also tired in the same way afterward. The anticipation is also the same.

The atmosphere and the level of attention around the Tour de France are high. I did the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta, but only when I did the Tour I had one reporter from Canada calling me every day to know how I was doing. Everyone follows that event. It doesn’t matter if you are a cycling fan or not. Any family in France will go and out onto the road to watch cyclists pass by. In these terms, UTMB is comparable to the Tour de France. Everybody in the trail running world is focused on that week.


christian meier tour de france 2014
Christian at the Tour de France 2014. Image: Getty

Another recurring topic on trail running is how competition is fragmented. The events belong to different circuits and there is not a clear hierarchy among them. In cycling, you have the Grand Tours, the Olympics, and the World Championships which are above other races. Do you think that to evolve and mature as a sport trail running needs to go towards that direction?


When I first came into the sport, it felt disjointed. You had a lot of races and federations. In Spain, you have two national championships, one by the athletics federation, and one by the mountain running federation. This is different from sports where you have a centralized circuit.


As a new spectator, it is good when you can draw a narrative. You know the athletes, why they are racing certain races, and what they are to win. This kind of narrative is not present in trail running yet. The Golden Trail World Series is the closest we got. It's on TV, with great live coverage, and content production. They recreate the experience of a Grand Tour, They do a great job of telling those stories that engage the fans. if you're not necessarily a true trail running fan it's quite difficult to understand the sport. If Netflix did a series on trail running, where would they start? I don’t know.


If you want your sport to grow you need to make it easy for fans to watch and to follow its season. Do you think we are moving towards that model on ultra distances too?


At the moment, there's a lot of discussion around UTMB, Ironman Group, and World Trail Majors. With all the positives and negatives of UTMB and Ironman coming together, it does feel like the first time there is a series and a narrative. Is it the best way to do it? I'm not totally sold, but it feels like the first time that there is a narrative that you can follow. UTMB week itself is one of the prime races of the year and everybody wants to be there. It's becoming even more important, and the field is deeper every year. UTMB's top 10 was incredibly deep last year, while before you got maybe the top 5 or 6, and then it started to drop off relatively quickly. Now, you have big names all the way down to the top 15.

On the other hand, there are amazing races that if you're not a real fan, you probably don't know of them. For example, Grand Raid has a great history and is cool to run on this crazy island. I bet most people have never heard of it. I think there's still some work to be done in how we bring it all together and create something cohesive.


christian meier tds 2023
Christian at TDS 2023 finish line. Image: Romain Bourven

Another recurring topic in trail running is prize money. Despite more athletes dedicating full time to the sport, prize money and, related to that, financial sustainability are disproportionated compared to the level of training and competition. Do you have a view on how this discrepancy could be fixed?


It is multifaceted. Few things need to happen along the way. More money needs to enter the sport and a big shift will come when non-endemic sponsors enter. So, when it's no longer just Hoka or Solomon, but a real sponsor, like a multinational company who decides that trail running has a marketing potential for them. For those sponsors to come in, we need something that is valuable to market. This leads to the question: how do we grow the viewership?


First, we need to get it on TV. We need to get it in front of people. We need to build that narrative. We need to build a structure that creates value for sponsors who are coming into the sport. When all that comes together, then obviously things will grow. More sponsors. More money. More teams that want to have the best runners. Salaries will start to go up and more people enter the sport.


Right now, it feels like running is in this interesting spot where sometimes athletes are undervalued. Brands ask themselves, should I pay one person 50,000 euros a year, or should I give 200 people free shoes and they'll post on social media about it every single day? Social media comes into play. Influencers or ambassadors are willing to do things for very little versus true athletes who spend their lives training and performing. Brands are the actors drawing the value of the athlete.


When the sport becomes more competitive, every brand will want their runners at the front of the race, so the competition to build the strongest team will lead to higher salaries. To see a sport where the majority of the professionals are also working regular jobs. It is crazy. The Pro Trail Runners Association is doing is bringing more transparency and helping athletes with contract negotiations. This is driven through more transparency amongst athletes and helping everybody move forward instead of guarding everything about what we have.


This is a long answer, only because we need many things to fall in place from various angles for everything to get pushed up. I do believe we're starting to see that. The professionalization of the sport is happening right now. I see it on myself too, I've not announced it yet, but I've joined the Solomon international team. So, I see from an internal perspective the shape of the team and the organization and then see it with other teams. From the outside, teams like adidas Terrex have been doing it for a few years. ASICS is having a big push signing a lot of fast runners. More brands are entering the sport such as Craft, New Balance, and so on. They understood that having a trail running team is worthwhile. All of this is part of the positive trend we are seeing.


christian meier salomon running camp 2024

Switching to your journey into running comes from professional cycling. When you made the transition from cycling to running, which skills did you need to learn to succeed?


Patience. It was a difficult transition. Cyclists are one-dimensional. We sit on a saddle and pedal. It is the same motion every day. I had to develop muscular strength and endurance. It took quite a long time and as an athlete, you're not always so patient. You want to get into a new sport, adapt quickly, be at your best, and feel that you're able to compete at what you think is your capacity.


It took me two and a half years before I felt I could run the volume that I needed to be competitive. I had all the injuries you can imagine. Uphill was easy and it’s funny because I didn’t like climbing when I was a cyclist, but I like it now that I am a runner. I struggled with running downhill. My quads blew up. This was the hardest adaptation. In addition to muscular endurance, I needed to build technical skills.


Is there anything that you brought over from your cycling years, that you think made you successful?


I was used to putting in the work. I've always been motivated to train regardless. I've never been a person that struggles to get out the door. I love that part of it and you become good at suffering and pushing through. Maybe suffering is not the right word because, at the end of the day, it's something we're choosing to do. You need to be used to get into that mindset.


In a stage race, you must finish every day and you have days where you're riding in snow. Running is an easier sport to stay warm. In cycling, you are sitting there suffering on the bike and counting down the meters to get to the finish line. You know you must get to the finish line because you need to start the next day and you must keep going. You develop a certain amount of resilience.


With your cycling background on stage races, do you have any interest in ultra distances beyond 100 miles or long FKTs?


Definitely. I do have an FKT in mind, but I don’t know when I am going to attempt it. Longer distances intrigue me. I find it fascinating. Something like the Tor des Geants is very cool. So, I will try them at some point.


At the moment, I would like to progress on the distance and discover if 100 miles is good for me or not. Right now I'm focused on improving performance and running faster. It's motivating to look at the details and how I can develop my system to its maximum. Once I feel I've reached the maximum potential on the distance, I’ll go a little longer.


I am not sure if I’ll be successful in that space. In the past, I did bike packing events and I enjoyed it for the first 60 hours. After that mark, I felt like it was all about sleep deprivation and everyone was moving slowly. Whoever could sleep the least would win. So, we will see.


Even though you started to run on trails only a few years ago, you are living your second sports career and you are not a rookie anymore. If you had to assess your place among elite trail runners, where would you place yourself right now? Do you feel that in a few years and on a good day you can compete with athletes like Jim Wamsley or Zach Miller?


I don’t think I have an answer yet. I look at someone like Ludovic Pommeret. When I prepared TDS last year, I studied his splits from the previous year. I like his style. If I could get into the top 10 or top 5 at UTMB I would be happy.


Regarding how far I can push myself, I don’t know. On longer distances, more things can happen. When you cross the 20-hour mark, it’s not only about speed. I'm still trying to figure out physiologically where my balance is. Even as a cyclist, I performed the best when I sustained a relatively high power for a long time. That was my strength in cycling. I feel like I don't necessarily have enough experience yet in trail to understand my true strength. I only ran one 100-mile that was TDS last year. This year, I’ll run Ultra Trail Snowdonia and then UTMB.


Tell us more about your 2024 season.


As I said, I will race Snowdonia in May because it is a qualifier for UTMB next year. The goal is to be ready for UTMB. There might be some spaces for smaller races, but UTMB is the priority

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