If you thought the hype surrounding the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight was big, you should be in Chamonix, France, right now. At 18:30 CET this evening, the biggest event in the ultra running calendar — the UTMB — kicked off and if all goes to plan, it could be the race of the century.
The 2017 men’s line-up currently reads like an ultra running version of the Hollywood Hall of Fame, with the likes of Kilian Jornet, Jim Walmsley, Tim Tollefson, Sage Canaday, Zach Miller, Francois d’Haene, and Xavier Thevenard all set to do battle on the 171-km circuit—with 10,000+ meters of gain—around Mont Blanc.
Whilst the elite athletes can expect to complete the course in around 20 hours, mere mortals face in the region of 40 hours out on the trail. Throw into the mix a brutal weather forecast for the weekend of rain, snow, and temperatures as low as -9°C and the challenge gets a whole lot more epic for all 2,300 runners competing in the 15th edition of the UTMB.
As the hours tick down to the start, we sat down with Eric Lacroix, the French running legend, elite ultra coach, trail author, and Director of University Sport in Reunion Island, for an expert insight into what it will take to complete the grueling race. Here are his five top tips:
What You Need To Do To Complete The UTMB
1. Stay Focused
The UTMB is special. When it comes to ultra trail running, it’s THE standout event to be referenced. From the incredible course around the mythical Mont Blanc to the bravery of the runners themselves; from the professionalism of the organization to the incredible support from the fans; the UTMB encompasses the very best of trail running.
Whether you’re a seasoned elite athlete or a first-time runner, this hype, excitement and pressure has the potential to become overwhelming. So if you’re going to have a chance of making it through three countries crossing 170km with more than 10,000m of gain, you’re going to need to know what works for you and stay focused on it.
If you thrive on pressure then by all means, hang around in town and lap up the atmosphere in the run-up to the event.
But if you find this kind of environment distracting in any way then remove yourself from it. Rent a house down the valley, hang out with your family, take some “me time,” breathe, and find a way to connect with your body.
Invest in yourself and give yourself what you need. Your body and mind will need to call on those reserves many times over the hours and days to come.
2. Say No to Innovation
Do not even think of trying anything new on race day. It’s been said many times before, but I cannot reiterate enough the need to be familiar with your kit and nutrition, and the power that this can bring you.
You will encounter a lot of unknowns on the trail you won’t be able to control: weather, injury, etc. But you can take charge of your ability to meet these challenges by sticking to your training. Don’t even think of trying to use poles if you’ve not used them before. Forget loading your pack with a new energy product.
At best you will use up valuable time and energy, at worst you could get sick or injured. It’s just not worth the gamble.
3. Adapt to Overcome
The UTMB is a race of extremes – not only is it an extremely long course that demands extreme effort, it also takes place in a high mountain environment where the weather can be extreme. Last year, the heat was the challenge — this year it’s looking like a rainy, cold race with snow expected down to 2,000m and temperatures of -9°C expected up high.
The ability to adapt to this kind of challenge is key. You may have spent all summer training in a dusty, warm, sunny environment and all of a sudden you’re facing two nights at altitude in sub-zero temps.
Accepting this is key. You cannot change it, but you can adapt your attitude. Embrace what you face and adjust your race strategy and/or kit accordingly.
4. Be Zen
Yes, you’ve done all the work to get here, served your ultra mountain running apprenticeship, and gathered the necessary qualification points. But you’re still really lucky to be here. There are literally thousands of other runners who would give their first born for a shot at the UTMB, so it’s worth remembering that when things get tough.
Be grateful for the opportunity, enjoy the here and now, and run with your heart wide open.
5. Keep Patient
More than anything else, the UTMB demands patience. One-hundred-seventy kilometers is a long way, and going out too hard, too fast, too soon will almost certainly come back to bite you later.
Last year, for example, American Zach Miller went out like a bull and led the race for 124km before the wheels came off. He eventually finished in 6th place.
Ludovic Pommeret, on the other hand, suffered with stomach problems at the beginning of the race and was back in around 50th place at the 50k mark before smashing through the field to take the win.
Patience and pacing are absolutely key if you want to complete the UTMB.
In short, stick to your training, keep positive, stay calm, and above all, enjoy one of the most prestigious and beautiful races in the world!