If you have missed the previous posts about UTMB preparation here are the links: Part 1 – Training Volume & Intensity, Part 2 – Nutrition. This week I want to explain and clarify the issues that relate to the gear that is needed for participating in the UTMB. For US-based ultra runners, this is subject to much torture because in the US I have yet to see an event that has a mandatory gear list. It stems probably from the fact that in the US no one cares if you die on the mountain in severe weather and also reflects cultural attitudes: in the US you’re on your own! In contrast, the UTMB organizers provide a list of clothing and safety items that participants have to carry – the bags are checked when bibs are handed out (a couple of hours before the race) and random checks can occur on the course. It’s a lot of gear to carry for a ‘running race – this sounds more like a fastpacking list. And it took quite some time and research to assemble most of the items. Please note that the list doesn’t include a backpack! I’ve had a great experience with the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Set so I got a Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 to fit all the gear that I need to take with me. On long runs carrying the UTMB gear the pack weights about 8 to 9lbs.
Over the years I have developed a nutrition strategy that supports the muscular and systemic training load. This can be broken down into three different components: routine nutrition, effort nutrition, and recovery nutrition. Routine nutrition is concerned with daily food intake (meals, snacks, hydration, supplements), effort nutrition is implemented during long runs and races (fuel, supplements, and hydration) and recovery nutrition comes into play when effort has stopped and the body needs to repair and regenerate. One thing to remember is that there are no hard rules here. Nutrition needs to be tailored to genetic make-up, athletic level, and circumstances. In other words my nutrition strategy is only specific to me but I do hope that the following points can help inspire many ultra athletes design their own strategy.
The most striking quality of what I eat on a daily basis is that it is made of organic, non-GMO and non-processed foods. That’s it! That is where the dogma stops. This personal guideline is not only important for ultra-endurance performance but also for a healthy lifestyle. Our ecosystem has worked for thousands of years to provide us with nourishment and medicine. What about sweets then? Although I love to make desserts I limit my consumption of processed sugar to a minimum (maybe 3 times a week). I tend to not understand when I hear runners at all levels think that because they are active they can just eat what the hell they want! The human body and spirit is both strong and susceptible to toxins. Typically I eat lean proteins and vegetables and a huge amount of fruits. I have the meat usually come from Niman’s Ranch (delivery through Spud) and the veggies and fruits delivered by Farm Fresh. My lunch typically is a huge salad and I add carbs with Udi’s bread (I don’t consider myself gluten intolerant but I feel better when I avoid it). For pasta, I have been very happy with quinoa pasta.
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 wheelchair 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.