7 Bizarre Items That Powered These UTMB Ultra Runners

It takes a lot to get through the dark moments of ultramarathons. Check out some odd ‘gear’ that helped these UTMB runners take on the challenge.

Dougie Simpson hoists the Scottish flag, a must-carry item for the runner.

Completing one of the brutal, high altitude UTMB mountain events demands a lot from an individual. Training, dedication, commitment, and an element of luck may get you to the start line. But it is your ability to push through the darkest, coldest, loneliest, and lowest moments that will determine whether you make it back to the finish in Chamonix.

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Keeping going when things are grim requires not only mental and physical strength but the ability to draw on something personal that inspires you to battle through the pain, fatigue, and exhaustion.

And when the going gets tough, we often find strength and motivation in the strangest of places and from the most bizarre of sources.

Here are seven slightly off-the-wall items that powered these runners to UTMB glory in 2017.

1. Stephanie Howe Violett – A Cuddly Alpine Ibex

Race – UTMB 168km, 9,500m+
Time – 30 hours 29 minutes 18 seconds

Elite runner Stephanie may be sponsored by The North Face but for this year’s UTMB she was powered by Cedéric the ibex.

“For most of the year my spirit animal is a gazelle, but for the month of August and the UTMB, it becomes an Alpine ibex. These iconic wild goats live up high in the mountains, are synonymous with the terrain that the UTMB passes through, and are excellent climbers. Cedéric is a bit of a lucky charm and will accompany my support crew at aid stations around the course.”

2. Dougie Simpson – The Scottish Flag

Photo by Andrew Drummond

Race – TDS 119km, 7,200m+
Time – 27 hours, 24 minutes, 58 seconds

This was Dougie’s first ever UTMB race, but he has been dreaming about completing the TDS for many years. A proud Scot who recently relocated from Australia back to his homeland, Dougie’s lucky charm was a Scottish flag that accompanied him all over the world to other top-class sporting events, including the Rugby World Cup, F1 Grand Prix, and Commonwealth Games. Designed to celebrate a Scottish triumph, Dougie got the flag out of his pack as he entered Chamonix and ran through the streets with it draped around his shoulders.

3. Nikki Barnard – A Compass Bracelet

Photo by Seven Twenty Productions

Race – UTMB 168km, 9,500m+
Time – 43 hours, 23 minutes, 38 seconds

This was Nikki’s second attempt at the UTMB, and having experienced what it felt like to have the wheels come off in 2016, she was determined this year would be different. Nikki’s weapon of inspiration for 2017 was a nomadic compass bracelet designed to direct avid travelers in the direction of good fortune.

“I had two other friends running in the UTMB this year and we all had these bracelets. I looked at it whenever things got rough, and it kept me focused and moving in the right direction towards my dream.”

4. Sam Brooks – Mini Baked Potatoes

Race – TDS 119km, 7,200m+
Time – 30 hours, 15 minutes and 52 seconds

Most runners fuel themselves on a combination of gels, energy bars, and electrolytes. But Chamonix-based UK runner Sam Brooks takes a more basic approach to her nutritional strategy. Her food of choice for this year’s TDS race? Mini baked potatoes with salted butter and extra salt.

“Simple slow-release carbs, easy to eat and digest, potatoes with salt are packed full of potassium and sodium which helped to keep cramps at bay in the heat. They also provided a welcome break from all the sweet stuff that we inevitably have to consume out on the trail. I loved them!”

5. Meg Fuller – The Trashy Novel

Race – CCC 100km, 6,127m+
Time – 24 hours, 49 minutes and 28 seconds

This was the first time that Meg had ever run a 100km race, but she knew that distracting her mind from the pain would be key. Her inspiration was certainly unusual: a trashy novel audiobook (by Jilly Cooper to be specific).

“I chose it because I wanted to listen to some mindless nonsense that would help me to disengage my brain from the discomfort and relentless questioning — How cold am I? Am I eating enough? How far to the top of the next summit? etcetera. It can be boring listening to your own brain for hours on end, so whacking in the earphones on the ascents and in the dark really helped me immerse myself in something else and keep moving forward.”

6. Faith Briggs – A Powerful Poem

RaceOCC 56km, 3,500m+
Time – 10 hours, 8 minutes, 7 seconds

This may have been Faith’s first ultra, but her role as a Columbia Sportswear Director of Toughness had her well prepared to deal with the challenge of running 55km through the mountains in relentless rain. When things got super tough, Faith called on this Nayyirah Waheed poem that she repeated over and over again in her mind to help her stay positive.

“Like a mantra, it enabled me to keep negative thoughts at bay and stay positive and focused on the goal of reaching the finish line in Chamonix.”

7. Mark Chase – A Cheesy Playlist

Race – OCC 56km, 3,500m+
Time – 9 hours, 40 minutes, 16 seconds

Faith’s fellow Columbia Sportswear Director of Toughness Mark Chase was also taking part in his first ultra, but drew on inspiration of a different kind to power him around the course. Mark’s weapon of choice? Cheese… Of the musical variety.

From Justin Bieber to Bobby Brown, from Sam Smith to Bruno Mars, Mark’s OCC music choice may resemble a teenage girl’s playlist but it obviously did the trick as he put in a pretty awesome sub-10 hour performance.

What weird items get you through ultramarathons? Let us and your fellow runners know in the comments below!

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