Sunday, August 24, 2014

Celebrating 20 Years Mountain Running

In 2014 it's already been 20 years since I got hooked on mountain running. I've already celebrated this summer by finishing Lavaredo Ultra Trail 119km and Eiger Ultra Trail 101km.

Mountain crystal finisher award I received after Swiss Alpine Marathon 1995. 

I spent the summer 1995 in Switzerland training around Walensee, Melchsee, Davos, Saint Moritz and several other fantastic locations.

I also finished four tough and steep races that summer:

  • Vilan Berglauf 13.5km +1,840m
  • Frutigen-Adelboden Berglauf 19.5km +950m
  • Gotschna Berglauf (Klosters) 11.5km +1,080m
  • Swiss Alpine Marathon (Davos) 67km +2,700m

Those were very good times. In fact whenever you are running in the mountains, it's always a great pleasure.

But what matters is the next 20 years. There are still so many awesome races I want to finish. Starting from Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc 168km (104 miles) next weekend, my longest ultra so far.

Happy trails!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

UTMB 2014

Teaser Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® 2014 by UltraTrailMontBlanc

It's August. For ultra trail runners, it means only one thing: it's UTMB-time. The legendary Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is the biggest and best-organised mountain ultra trail event. With 7,273 runners participating in five ultra races (PTL, UTMB, TDS, CCC, OCC) it's the de facto World Championships. There are other races that are perhaps tougher, older and more prestigious, but they tend to be relatively small and low-key events. For example, Hardrock 100 has only 140 runners struggling to find their way on a largely unmarked course. There is only one Mont Blanc, and it's unique.

This year the list of favorites for the 168km (104 miles) UTMB looks very interesting. Having witnessed the winning performances of Anton Krupicka and Rory Bosio in 119km Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2014, my money is on them - assuming they will be healthy at the end of the month.

However it's worth noting that their competition will be extremely tough. For men the list is ultra long: Timothy Olson, Francois D'Haene, Miguel Heras, etc.

For women the list is more compact, as about 90% of participants are men. Nuria Picas is always a fierce competitor. In addition, 5-Time UTMB Champion Lizzy Hawker will be back in Chamonix!

Even Finland's Fritjof Fagerlund (who lives in Sweden) is listed. There will be 34 Finnish runners in 2014 races: 12 in TDS, 8 in OCC, 7 in UTMB, 5 in CCC and 2 in PTL. It should be noted that while officially PTL is not a race, the top teams tend to fight pretty hard for a podium finish. The Finnish team has placed 2nd, 1st and 2nd in the past three years. This year the course (which changes every year, but always goes around Mont Blanc) is the longest (306km) with more elevation gain (+28,000m) than ever. It's possible our Team Rumue will be the first in Chamonix.

I'm proud to be one of 2014 UTMB participants. I did CCC in 2012, and this year I won the jackpot - I'll be one of the 2300 UTMB starters in Chamonix at 5:30pm on Friday, August 29th. On the last Sunday of this month we will know the results. My bib is 549 - wish me luck, I probably need it!

The biggest question mark will be once again the infamously unstable Mont Blanc weather. Not only is Mont Blanc the highest peak in the Alps, it also boasts the most challenging weather. And those conditions can change faster than you can say DNF.

Even in August, statistically a nice summer holiday month, snow/hail with strong winds and intensely cold temperatures are totally possible. On the other hand, it can also be hot and sunny. Or rainy and foggy with muddy trails. As the organisers advise in the security section of their website: 'Anticipate the cold as well as extreme heat.'

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® - Eléments by UltraTrailMontBlanc

Two years ago I experienced the full force of the elements in CCC, when we were told to wear four layers of clothing. I did as ordered and put on a technical t-shirt, a long-sleeve warm shirt, a fleece and a full rain suit with a hat and double gloves, but still managed to feel cold at the highest passes. Only the hooded plastic poncho I happened to carry in my backpack saved me - my extra fifth layer.

The list of 'obligatory material' below should be taken seriously. At least I will. The organisers will most probably check you have everything at the bib pick-up. They might also ask you to show a random item during the race. I won't risk anything: I will carry every single thing exactly as required, all the way. I don't want to be disqualified at an aid station because my Salomon Soft Cup is 125ml, and not 15cl as required. I will be a good boy and have a 150ml cup.

About the poles I'd say: yes, I'll carry them and use them most of the time. They are a huge advantage and legal, so why not? BUT: be careful not to hurt/annoy the people around you, and don't wear the hand straps in steep descents in case you lose your balance. BD Ultra Distance poles are a popular choice, but take care or they might get broken. Especially if you are at all like me.

Finally I'd like to take this opportunity to mention that I feel a deep respect for all the fabulous race volunteers. It might be a good idea to smile and thank them, although you might be feeling dead by the time. A few kind words or a bad joke (preferably attempting to say it in their language for extra fun) never hurt anyone.

It's interesting how the true nature of a competitor is revealed in how they treat the vols. Please let's try to remember that they work very hard and long hours for free - and make it possible for you to be there and enjoy feeling dead :-)

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if you finish in 1000th place or whatever your goal is. But if you can leave a thousand volunteers along the way feeling a bit happier - now that's an achievement.

Les Bénévoles de l'Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® by UltraTrailMontBlanc

Ok that's all folks. Let's have the most beautiful adventure ever! See you at UTMB 2014!

Beautiful adventure by UltraTrailMontBlanc