It was really hard to admit, I even covered it up from doctors, but inside I felt fragile. So, to get rid of the stress I started to run further and further.
He was one of the surprise packages at the 2014 UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc). Gediminas Grinius, from Lithuania, was a relative unknown going into the world’s most famous ultra-distance trail running race. 167k and 9,600m of mountain elevation gain later he ran back into Chamonix, France, to cross the finish line in a superb fifth place and in doing so announce himself on the world trail running stage. Gediminas paced his debut UTMB to perfection and, despite suffering a knee injury with 30k to go, clocked a time of 21hrs and 50 mins, leaving many high-profile names trailing in his wake. In this Q&A blog, Gediminas (ed: who in March 2015 won the high-profile 125k Transgrancanaria ultra in a new course record time) reflects on his UTMB experience and talks about how -after serving in Iraq -ultra running helped him combat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Who is Gediminas Grinius?
I’m 35-years-old. I was born in Lithuania and for the last two-and-a-half years have been living in Poland, serving in NATO HQ.
How long have you been running? Where was your first race and how did you do?
I’ve been running regularly for seven-a-half-years. I did other sports, such as military pentathlon, when I was younger but my first real running race wasn’t until 2007, at the Vilniaus Half Marathon in Lithuania. I must admit, I don’t remember my exact time from that race but it was around 1hr 25mins. I have never been what you would call a very fast runner!
When did you make the step up to racing ultra distances and what inspired that decision?
I came into running very late. At the time I was in my 20s and serving with Polish troops in southern Iraq. I started to run for meditation purposes, however as time went on my running evolved into an exploration of my boundaries. When I returned from the mission I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was really hard to admit, I even covered it up from doctors, but inside I felt fragile. So, to get rid of the stress I started to run further and further. Through doing this I eventually discovered the world of ultra running.
You made your UTMB debut. Were you surprised at how well you did?
Yes, it was a big surprise. It was not only my UTMB debut but my first 100-mile race too. I had hoped to finish in the top-20, so to come in the top-5 was a huge result for me.
For the first part of the UTMB race I tried to stick with Anton Krupicka because he runs races very wisely and speeds up slowly, if that makes sense!
Did you have a UTMB race plan and did you execute it?
The UTMB is an enormous event and this year in particular there was a very competitive field of professional runners assembled. Other than hoping for a top-20 place, I didn’t really think too much about positions. To do so in my first 100-mile race would have been nonsense. For the first part of the race I tried to stick with Anton Krupicka because he runs races very wisely and speeds up slowly, if that makes sense! Unfortunately for Anton, he had problems during the race, so I pushed on ahead. I then played my own game, running at my own pace, until I caught Mike Foote, Yeray Duran and Jason Schlarb. I decided my best option was to spend the night running with these guys, and so that’s exactly what I did.
As morning broke I had no idea what my position in the race was. Then, upon reaching an aid station, I saw Bryon Powell, from iRunFar, who told me that I was not only in the top-10 but in 7th. This was a surprise because I had no idea how many runners I had passed earlier in the race, nor did I know how many of those ahead of me had dropped out during the night. Suddenly for the first time in the race my mind-set changed. I was now fighting for a place. Up until then I hadn’t found the race too hard. The pace was fairly slow and it was not too technical. However, about 30k from the finish I injured my right knee and from then on really struggled to lift my feet from the ground when running. I suffered a lot in that last 30k. It was strange because mentally I was very fresh, but physically I was hampered by pain. I was, of course, delighted to finish 5th but I think the injury cost me a shot at 4th place.
How did your performance at UTMB stack up against other things you have achieved in your running career?
To race in any huge international event like the UTMB is a fantastic experience. It was the biggest race of my life and biggest result. Whenever I get to race against guys whom I have read all about in glossy magazines or watched online in running movies it is just brilliant. I now feel like I am running with them as an equal. I am currently in second place in the 2014 Ultra-Trail World Tour rankings (ed: Gediminas eventaully finished third overall) which I am very proud of too. There are a lot of people who have helped me get here, especially the guys who welcomed me onto the Polish inov-8 team. They have supported me through some crucial times and have never been afraid of my nationality, which has proved a problem for other Polish companies. I will never forget this support.
What are your ultra running strengths and weaknesses?
My most important ultra running strength is family support. Without it I wouldn’t be running at all. My weakness is running over technical terrain. I have lived all my life in relatively flat areas, so to now improve my skills over technical, mountainous terrain is difficult but I am working hard at it.
What are your running plans for 2015?
I will try and do some of the Ultra-Trail World Tour races, starting with Transgrancanaria (ed: which he won in a course record time) but, as always, much will depend on holiday-time and money. I would really love to succeed in winning a place, via the lotteries, at either the Western States 100 or the Hardrock 100. Both are renowned ultra races and it would be great to go out to the US and race in them.
inov-8 is all about the committed athlete. How are you committed?
All my free time is devoted to running and the mountains. I love to spend time in the great outdoors with my family, teaching them about what really matters in the world. When I’m running I feel real. There is no mask or anything like that, it is just me. It remains a kind of meditation for me and I am committed to it. I’m also obsessed and crazy, that’s for sure!
The x-talon 212 was fantastic throughout the UTMB, feeling lightweight and giving me good grip.
What is your favourite inov-8 shoe?
I ran the UTMB in the x-talon 212, which was fantastic throughout, feeling lightweight and giving me good grip. I also used the race ultra vest. It was really comfortable for the whole time and didn’t bounce like some other packs can do. I love running in the bare-grip 200 shoes too because it feels so natural and your foot sits so close to the ground. I find my feet begging me to do more and more kilometres!
Gediminas Grinius – 2014 standout results
Transgrancanaria (ESP) 125k. 11th, 16:11:13
Chojnik Trail Maraton (POL) 43k. 3rd, 3:56:35
Lavaredo Ultra Trail (ITA) 119k. 3rd, 13:01:22
Zloty Marathon (POL) 42k. 4th, 3:37:49
Chudy Wawrzyniec (POL) 53k. 1st, 4:33:53
Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 168K. 5th, 21:50:04