UTMB Training Part 1 – Volume + Intensity

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I’ve been signed up for the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) for a couple of months now and I realized I haven’t really shared any information about the training and preparation for the race.

The event takes place this coming August 30th with a start in Chamonix, France. Organized by The North Face the UTMB is a 105 miles ultra marathon with 31,500 feet of elevation gain (more than climbing Mt Everest from sea level!) and a cut off time of 46 hours. At 4,810 m (15,782 ft) the Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Western Europe. 2300 athletes will run around the mountain, going through France, Italy and Switzerland. It’s the first ultra during which I will have to carry my passport.

Being born in France and having spent a fair amount of time in the Alps this is a dream come true. I have been fortunate to be able to qualify and to secure a spot in the race. Going home for what is considered the Olympic Games or the Tour de France of trail running is a very exciting and emotional prospect for me. By the time the race starts it will have been about a year since my mom passed away not too far from Chamonix. I dedicate this challenge to her and I wish she could be at the finish line. I would not have developed the endurance and resilience necessary to undertake a running adventure at this level without what she taught me and in particular her courage fighting cancer for four years. On my long mountain runs my mind sometimes presents me with a visual of her waiting for me at the finish line, sitting in a wheel chair with a blanket, craning her neck to catch a glimpse of me coming in the chute (which always leads to me breaking down in tears).

Preparing for the race is complex, tedious and fun! There are a couple of dimensions I would like to cover on tri-ops in order perhaps to help future runners but also to keep my sanity in check and reflect on what I’m doing! I will cover: training volume/intensity, nutrition and gear preparation. Let’s start with the training.

SBTR 100K (well more like 50K)

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I had just gotten off course twice in the last hour, it was noon, my heart was pounding, I was puking, it was hot, still a big climb away from the aid station. I was calculating: time to recover at aid station + who knows the conditions ahead + wanting to finish before 9pm (we started at 7am) = might as well stop now = where do I get a ride? One hour before I was chasing the guy in front of me and I was giddy at the thought of a sub-12 for a 100K!

 I quit a race yesterday – after about 30 miles. It was the first time I quit a foot race. It’s not like I didn’t make a cut off or got pulled out by race personnel. I was plunging to exhaustion and was going to end up in an helicopter flying to the Santa Barbara ER (if only there would have been a spot for an helicopter to land in that dense brush and savanah of the Santa Ynez mountains). Quitting was right. I’m grateful I came back in one piece and I am satisfied with the way I handled every situation that arose. Although I can’t pinpoint what went wrong exactly I can definitely see the chain of events that led to quitting.

rio del lago 100 mi – 10.6/7.2012

After Miwok this year I was looking forward to running Pikes Peak Marathon but I was also looking for an opportunity to accumulate the points to qualify for the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in Chamonix, France, in 2013. I wanted to run the AC100 but it was sold out very early and they don’t seem to want too many runners on the course since they don’t have a waiting list. It’s already sold out for 2013 by the way…

A friend told me that the Rio del Lago 100 miler was a qualifier (I had to get 3 or more points before the end of the year and I would rather run in California). 2011 NFCE gave me 2 points, Miwok also two points (which seems abnormal but that is an issue that I will examine later) and a runner needs to accumulate 7 points in 3 races. Too afraid that it would sell out I registered right away. According to the web site it looked like a very feasible 100 mi run with reasonable elevation gain (2700m I think) and a generous cut-off time (34 hrs: what could go wrong? I could probably walk the whole thing and qualify for UTMB). The scenery looked nice and I heard that the course shares some trails with the WS100… legendary stuff right?

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