In 220 days trail runners from around the world will again flood the streets of Chamonix, head down to the little town of Les Houches and then climb up to begin their loop of the Mont Blanc Massif. Here are my thoughts on what ingredients may help you to be ready for UTMB, whether you plan to run this year or sometime in the future.
Learn to power hike well: 14 minute miles for a daily run or hike might sound pretty reasonable to most of us. Just for reference, if you complete the UTMB in 24 hours that is an average pace of 13 minutes and 42 seconds per mile… 14 minute miles on this course makes you one of the top men, and some years would make you a champion on the womens side. With 10,000 meters (over 30,000 feet) of climbing and descending, hiking well is key to finishing. The final 3 climbs of the race are steep, long, and being at the end of the race are particularly challenging. During this final quarter of the race if you can hike 30 or 35 minute miles uphill, you will be doing great.
Be like Tim Tollefson: Tim (along with having the best hair in ultrarunning) did two very smart things in training for his first UTMB. First he trained very specifically for the course, as seen here https://www.strava.com/activities/668231241. This run mirrors the last 4 climbs at UTMB. While training does not always need to mirror the course you are training for, these types of runs will make you stronger and serve as huge confidence boosters when you get to that point on race day. Second, Tim got running poles. Traditionally Americans have not been to keen on poles. Well, UTMB isn’t in America. Being flexible and open to adapting your mindset (whether you decide to go with poles or not) is the lesson to learn from Tim here.
Run around Mont Blanc: You may be thinking, “Well thanks captain obvious, if I had done the race before I wouldn’t be wasting my evening reading your website!” Ah, true, but one can run/hike the trail outside the race. Run the Alps is a guide service that will arrange accommodations and lead you around the Mont Blanc Massif in an amount of time that will allow you to actually see the mountains, taste the food and snap as many photos as your iphone can handle. If your name got pulled in the UTMB lottery and you have no idea what you are getting into, go check out the mountain, and if your name didn’t get pulled, even better! Don’t put off your Mont Blanc experience, Go check out Run the Alps this summer and let them show you the adventure of a lifetime.
Just Chill: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Chill. Your training during the next 8 months will not go perfectly, and that is OK. Smart training and a smart race plan will probably get you around the mountain. Being really strong is not enough, you have to mentally be ready for things to go differently than you planned, and be fine with that.
Embrace the Night: You will run all night, and possibly run all night twice. Get a great headlamp, and use it during your race training. You don’t need to do a lot of night runs, but being comfortable at night and having some experience and tools to get you through will help. Last year climbing out of Courmayeur, I was insanely jealous of every person in town. They were in their beds (except for the amazing fans and people cheering!!) and all I wanted to do was sleep. The mossy side of the trail was calling to me. Sleep is obviously important to training, but prep your mind and body just a little bit to be awake at night and working hard for a very long time.
The UTMB awards ceremony takes place near the start/finish area and coincides with the race cut off. Along with the top men and women, the UTMB organization brings up the final finisher (this year Laurence DuPont in 46 hours and 42 minutes). Its an emotional experience, and one of my favorite traditions in ultrarunning. It completes the event by celebrating pure grit, which, in the end, is really the most important ingredient in getting around the mountain.
Final finisher Laurence Dupont with Caroline Chaverot and Ludovic Pommeret. Photo: IRunFar.com