The North Face FL Race Vest

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The North Face FL Race Vest is a race vest that has been well over 12-months in the making. I first had a look at this pack in November 2012. It was a prototype that had been created in preparation for Jez Bragg‘s epic run on the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

FL prototype 2012

FL prototype 2012

FL prototype 2012

FL prototype 2012

You will see the above images are a more minimalist version of the current FL Race Vest, however, lessons were learnt from the prototype and with feedback from Jez Bragg and Lizzy Hawker, the current model has been developed and tweaked with the TNFUTMB and similar long distance races primarily in mind.

I picked up my current vest just days before the 2013 edition of the TNFUTMB and it was reassuring to see that my vest was exactly the same as the ones being used by Rory Bosio, Jez Bragg and the rest of the TNF team.

Rory Bosio wearing the FL Race Vest after dominating the 2013 TNFUTMB.

Rory Bosio wearing the FL Race Vest after dominating the 2013 TNFUTMB.

Race vests have become the ‘norm’ in regard to race packs. All the leading brands are developing new systems, new sizes and new designs in the quest for the ultimate product. Certainly, Salomon have very much paved the way recently with S-Lab 5lt and 12ltr. In addition, my recent review of the inov-8 Race Ultra Vest had me 99% convinced that in my opinion, this new product by the UK brand was currently the ‘best’ available of its type.

The North Face FL Race Vest sits between the inov-8 Race Ultra and Salomon S-Lab products. Although the inov-8 product is supremely comfortable and perfectly designed, it may just not be big enough for a tough or long race when mandatory kit will stress a packs capacity. By contrast, the Salomon S-Lab 12ltr has been designed with long racing in mind and offers an excellent form fitting pack that many swear by. At 8ltr capacity, the FL Race Vest sits nicely in the middle ground and actually may very well be the perfect size for a mountain 100-mile race like TNFUTMB or similar.

Like all current vests, the FL comes with a bladder that sits inside a mesh pocket within the main compartment of the pack. However, if you are like me, you may very well prefer bottles or soft flasks? The front of the FL has two upper drawstring pockets that can accommodate bottles/small soft flasks or other items. I initially tried two 500ml bottles but found the ‘balance’ all wrong. When running they would feel far too close to my face and noticeable bounce from the weight was annoying. However, replacing the bottles with two smaller soft flasks that could accommodate 250ml each, this irradiated bounce and made the whole system not only infinitely more comfortable but also more practical.

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On the outside of the upper pockets are small stretchy mesh pockets that would hold gels or similar products.

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The lower part of the front vest has two Velcro closure pockets that may be useful in holding valuable items such as phone, keys, gps, camera and so on. Equally, you could add any food products for easy access on the go.

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Behind the Velcro pockets are two larger mesh stretch pockets. They are capacious and ideal for gloves, hat or buff type products. In actual fact, they are so spacious you can add soft flasks to increase liquid capacity.

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The rear of the pack has an upper zipper pocket that can hold a phone, keys, camera or any other item of value .

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Directly below the upper zip pocket is a capacious stretchy open pocket that can be accessed from the top or the left/ right side. This pocket has been designed so that you may add or remove essential items while still moving… gloves, hat or jacket!

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Two smaller zipper products have been added to the left and right hand sides of the larger rear mesh pocket. These pockets may also be accessed without removing the pack. They are small but ideal for money, keys or similar sized items.

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On the upper right hand side of the rear of the pack, is a blue bungee cord designed to hold ‘poles’ when not in use. Equally, at the bottom of pack on the rear is another blue bungee to hold the opposite end of the poles.

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A key feature of the pack is the adjustability on the side and the front. Underneath the arms are two independent straps that may be lengthened or shortened to get just the correct fit.

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On the front are two adjustable straps that have quick release buckles. The straps may be moved up and down independently to get the correct fit based on your morphology.

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A key point, particularly for ladies, above the pockets on the front are soft panels that stretch and adjust dependent on the size of your boobs/chest. When testing the pack, we ensured that we cross referenced everything with a female perspective. The feedback? ‘The best and most comfortable pack I have used for the female form’.

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One of the key elements of the pack is the inside of the main compartment. Instead of one large space, it has been compartmentalized to provide storage space for specific items. Of course, this is open to personal taste but as you will see fromm the photographs, this is a great help for a long race when one needs to carry a jacket, over trousers, space blanket, elastic bandages, cup and so on.

The zipper for the main compartment is full size, allowing the pack to be opened completely. This makes access very easy. On the back panel is a large mesh pocket that would hold the ‘bladder’ if this was your chosen method of hydration. I personally use this for space blanket, elastic bandages, cup, first aid and other mandatory items.

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The other side has a larger mesh pocket that is open ended, I add my hat and over trousers here and above is an internal zipper pocket.

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The open space between the front panel and back panel is roomy and ideal for a bulkier item such as a fully waterproof jacket.

This FL has been thought out to minute detail. It has perfect storage space built around the needs and desires of a long race when mandatory kit is required. It has also been designed to make access easy and stress free. The added combination of ‘on the go’ access to key areas of the pack while running makes this a serious and top contender for those looking for a fast, light and responsive pack that will allow the user to run stress free.

IN USE and TESTING

The FL has been on many runs and tested over the last 4-5months. On faster sessions of up to 90-mins and long days in the mountains, this pack holds firm against the body and is a pleasure to wear.

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I had no issues on it’s storage capacity. I could fit all my required kit in the pack and it still retained its form and comfort, even when fully loaded.

If I added the bladder to the rear compartment, this certainly did eat into storage space and one had to be a little more creative with packing.

As mentioned previously, I would always prefer to use bottles to a bladder and this may very well be the stumbling block with the FL. Two 250ml soft flasks are not adequate liquid capacity for any long run in the mountains, even when feed stations are on the route. Adding additional soft flasks in the lower stretch pockets on the front of the pack is possible but it feels like a compromise. I did add 500ml flat bottles to these pockets for one run and I thought I had found a solution. However, after an hour my ribs started to hurt with the pressure placed on them. I never did find a full solution for the problem other than, if I was out for a longer time, I used the bladder! Of course this worked and it worked admirably. So, this is very much a personal comment. If you like bladders, this will not be an issue for you.

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Running with the pack is a dream. It fits close to the body and does not move or bounce. Access while ‘on the go’ is excellent and you can certainly get food, gels, gloves, hat and even a jacket without stopping if you pack with those objectives in mind.

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The side adjustable straps offer on the go adjustment and unlike some other vests that are one size, with the FL if you add or remove layers, you can adjust pack tension while on the go to ensure you maintain a comfortable fit.

The front of the pack with two adjustable straps allows for customised tensioning and as mentioned, the upper stretchy mesh panels will be popular with lady users!

CONCLUSION

The FL is a great pack. It addresses many of the problems we all have when mandatory kit is required. The pockets, internal and external allow you to customise the pack for your own personal needs ensuring that you have stress free training and race days. At 8ltrs, the FL is not ‘too’ big that you can’t use it in training but more importantly, it is not too small that you can’t use it for racing. Certainly, if you only wanted to purchase one pack, this may very well be the ideal purchase.

In use it is extremely comfortable and the ‘open sides’ allow increased airflow providing a more breathable and cooler running experience, certainly in comparison to the Salomon S-Lab.

Verdict? – Very highly recommended.

  • Cost – £85 tbc
  • Availability – Feb 2014
  • The North Face HERE

The female perspective… by Niandi Carmont

Niandi is South African born, a former resident of Paris, she now lives in the UK. A runner for over 20-years; Niandi has completed Comrades Marathon 13-times, Washie 100 2-times and has finished well over 100 marathons and ultras  all over the world. Currently residing in the UK, Niandi splits her work life between the UK and France.

Niandi

 

The North Face FL Race Vest

This was my first test run with a race vest. Although no stranger to trials of varying distances ranging from 22km to 160km, I had never found a race vest to my satisfaction and had always resorted to the “safer” choice of race pack. The reasons for this choice are multiple, but basically:

  • Uncomfortable fit and inadaptability to the female morphology
  • Lack of breathability
  • Chafing which can also be linked to female specificity
  • Hydration strategy limited to bladder

In contrast the The North Face FL Race Vest addressed all the above issues:

  • Comfortable fit and perfect adaptability to the female morphology.
  • Very lightweight, breathable mesh back panel and front vest, covering very little surface area but offering maximum storage capacity.
  • No bounce, no uncomfortable rubbing or pull from the straps.
  • The upper front pockets can be used to carry 2 small 250ml bottles with either water or energy drink in addition to a TNF 2L bladder in the back for longer self-sufficiency races. Personally, I find this ideal as I can fill up the bottles on the go at the feed-stations and know exactly how much I am consuming. The bladder can be used in addition to the bottles as a safety measure for races which require more autonomy.

So when I tried the FL Race Vest in my training run I was pleasantly surprised to find I actually forgot I had it on. It wasn’t even a question of getting used to the vest. I instantly felt at ease in it. The front vest fitted perfectly over my chest – a sort of stretchy material which meant it never felt too loose and never to tight allowing the diaphragm to expand naturally and not causing any chafing issues.

The 8L back pack has a storage capacity suitable for any trail distance between 30km and 160km. There is absolutely no bounce – it sits comfortably in the middle of your back – no sagging to the waistline or bouncing from side-to-side. Two sets of independent straps underneath the arms and 2 sets of buckles/ straps on the front allow you to adjust the vest to fit perfectly. No unnecessary and complicated irritating, dangling straps you find on so many back-packs.

Another bonus is that the vest and pack covers very little surface area thus ensuring better breathability and less over-heating and chafing should you be a heavy sweater.

Hydration-wise as mentioned above the race vest is multi-purpose and depending on the length of the event and frequency of the feed-stations, you can carry bottles in the upper front pockets and/or bladder.

Speed is less of an issue for me but for runners wishing to waste as little time as possible, reaching around for a rain jacket, gloves, hat, head-lamp, Kleenex, energy bars; there are two lower zipped pockets on the vest and behind each of these two mesh pockets. I like this not only because it’s a time saver on technical terrain. In the dark it is also a stress-free option – nothing worse than groping behind you to get hold of a bar when your body is tired and aching all over or you are slipping around on a rocky, muddy descent in the dark. And it saves begging the runner behind to pull out a bar (or tampon) for you!

The back pack is equipped with a small zipped upper pocket – great for mobile phone and a lower mesh pocket for a jacket or over-trousers.

Inside is the bladder compartment, which can also be used for carrying race kit should you prefer, a central compartment and another pocket – so great for compartmentalizing!

Finally, my last pre-requisite – upper and lower draw strings to attach poles diagonally when not in use and the compulsory whistle on the front, should your navigation skills be as poor as mine!

Conclusion

I want it for my next 55km self-sufficiency event at night AND AT £85 it’s a bargain!

Spartathlon 2013

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SPARTATHLON is a historic ultra-distance foot race that takes place in September of every year in Greece. Arguably, it is one of the most difficult and satisfying ultra-distance races in the world because of its unique history and background.

The Spartathlon revives the footsteps of Pheidippides, an ancient Athenian long distance runner, who in 490 BC, before the battle of Marathon, was sent to Sparta to seek help in the war between the Greeks and the Persians. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides arrived in Sparta the day after his departure from Athens. Inspired by the report of the Greek historian, in 1982 five officers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF), who were also long-distance runners, traveled to Greece, led by Colonel John Foden. Their purpose was to ascertain whether it was possible to cover the 250 kilometers separating the two towns in one and a half days. The enthusiastic British team showed that the report by Herodotus was entirely plausible.

A man is indeed able to cover 250 km in less than two days and in fact in less than 40 hours. After the success of the project, the architect of the feat, John Foden, began to envision the establishment of a race that would bring long distance runners to Greece from around the world to run on the trail of the ancient runner Pheidippides. The next year a multinational team of British, Greek and other enthusiastic supporters of the idea, led by Michael Callaghan, a philhellene, organized the First International Spartathlon (Open International Spartathlon Race), wherein the name for the race combines the Greek words for Sparta and Feat.

The race was held with the approval and supervision of the Athletics Federation with the participation of 45 runners from 11 countries and included the participation of women. The organizational success of this inaugural race and its broad appeal were decisive to the subsequent establishment of the annual race.

Accordingly, in 1984 the International Association “Spartathlon” was founded. Since then a yearly race has been organized each September. Why September? Because that is the time reported by Herodotus for Pheidippides run to Sparta.

Information taken from http://www.spartathlon.gr ©Spartathlon.gr

The Race

The 2013 edition of the race will start on Friday 27th September with 350 participants and for any last minute dropouts; this entry list will be topped up from a waiting list of 160 runners.

UK entrants:

  • Mark Woolley
  • Robert Pinnington
  • Lindley Chambers
  • Claire Shelley
  • James Adams
  • Drew Sheffield
  • Martin Ilott
  • Philip Smith
  • Mathew Mahoney
  • Mimi Anderson *
  • Paul Ali
  • Mike Blamires
  • Cat Lawson
  • Steve Scott
  • Pat Robbins
  • Martin Bacon
  • Mark Hines
  • Laurence Chownsmith
  • Robbie Britton *
  • Jonathan Hall
  • Peter Johnson
  • James Elson

Countries represented:

Sweden, Poland, Australia, Japan, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Denmark, France, Spain, Netherlands, Finland, Argentina, Portugal, China, Malta, United States, Uruguay, Belgium, Austria, Brazil, Mexico, Czech Republic, Faeroe Islands, Switzerland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and of course Greece.

Spartathlon, for many is a bucket list race. It has a magic that cannot be found at other races. The distance, strict cut-off times, the heat and so on all add to the drama. The course is conducted point-to-point and elevation ranges from sea level to 1,200 meters (3,937 ft), over tarmac road, trail and mountain footpath. Aid stations are placed every 3 to 5 km and are provisioned with food, water and other refreshments as well as the runners’ personal supplies. The race is run under police and medical supervision with doctors, physiotherapists, and emergency vehicles being on call throughout the 36-hour race duration. The race is very demanding.

The course is not the most spectacular and 153 miles of roads may not appeal to many, particularly if coming from a trail or mountain running background. However, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has run this race and not loved it. For sure, the Greeks, French, Japanese, German and now a growing UK participation love this race and demand is continuing to grow.

Lizzy Hawker raced in 2012 and not only won the ladies race in 27:02:17 but placed third overall. The outright winner was Stu Thoms from Germany in 26:28:19.

For the 2013 edition of the race, all entrants are of interest. For many, Spartathlon is a journey about completion and not competition. However, two people are of interest and for opposite reasons. Firstly, Robbie Britton from the UK is coming to Spartathlon for the first time but he is potentially an exciting prospect for the overall with a solid 100-mile result at the South Downs Way 100 in a time of 15:43:53 and 239.008km at the World 24-hour championships. Robbie has said in his blog, “I’m right excited about getting to Sparta now and can’t wait for the great challenge of this historic race. We’ve got a solid British team heading out there; including a few Grand Union Canal Race winners, one of whom is attempting a double Spartathlon and it should be a great atmosphere out there. After a strong showing from the Brits at UTMB and The Grand Slam of Ultra Running, I guess we best put a bit of effort into Spartathlon now too…” Bog here

Secondly, Mimi Anderson will be doing Spartathlon her own way in 2013… she raced in 2011 and surprised herself with her performance. So much so, this year she is coming back to do it twice! Yes, twice.

Mimi’s press release:

‘Marvellous’ Mimi Anderson, the 51 year-old grandmother from Smarden in Kent who is a triple long distance running Guinness World Record holder and already the legendary finisher of several ‘doubles’ of extreme long distance races for which the one-way normal run would be beyond most mere mortals, is about to attempt probably her most daring double – a two-way run of the iconic Spartathlon race held in Greece each year.

Traditionally there are about 20 runners from the UK each year and Mimi first ran the race in 2011 when she finished 3rd lady overall and the 1st UK finisher in 32 hours 33 minutes 23 seconds. She has decided to return in 2013 and having completed the normal race on her previous visit, she will be attempting the double this year (a distance of 306 miles), which is believed to have only ever been done once before. It has certainly never been done by anyone from Britain and no female has ever attempted it.

Mimi’s plan is to do the race first then, all being well, start the return leg at midnight on Saturday night.  She will be running the race itself to achieve the best time she can and then attempting the return leg in in the same tough 36 hours maximum time allowed for the race.

Her husband Tim and friend Becky Healey will be crewing for her during the event and the reason for starting the return leg at midnight on the Saturday is to enable the crew to get some sleep – otherwise it becomes too dangerous for them to be driving safely!

Mimi will be running to raise money for her usual cause – the 10 Million Metres Campaign, which was set up by Alex Flynn when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 4 years ago.  People can donate on the Justgiving site at www.justgiving.com/marvellousmimi1

The 2013 event for sure will be exciting for all involved and for those watching. If you would like more information, please go to the race website.

Links:

All entrants can be viewed here

Live Tracking for race day here

The North Face at UTMB

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Here is a story of how the 2013 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc unfolded from behind the scenes for the whole team. Many congratulations to the runners, support crew and all participants who made it a wonderful day, night, day and night.

View the interactive gallery

HERE

all images and content ©iancorless.com – all rights reserved

Sierre-Zinal 2013 Race Summary

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What a race the 2013 and 40th edition of Sierre-Zinal proved to be. It was an exciting nail biter in the men’s race with a new star and the old guard shining. For the ladies, we had a new lady on top of the podium, a repeat performance for second and third and the UK showing how to be consistent and perform at the highest level.

Men’s race

Marc Lauenstein (Suisse) 2:32:14 took home the win from Juan Carlos Cardona (Colombia) who was Kilian Jornet’s pre race prediction by just 16 seconds in what proved to be a fitting climax to an incredible race. Cardona looked as though he had the race won but Lauenstein pulled something special out of the bag in the closing stages. Very little is known about Marc, however, he is a Swiss orienteering competitor and he won silver at the 2005 and 2006 World long distance orienteering championships.

Mountain running legend and Sierre-Zinal course record holder, Jonathan Wyatt (NZL) proved that experience and pure class can outwit the competition for a 3rd place in a time of 2:33:44.

Although entered in the race for some time, Kilian Jornet decided to run only in the days before the race. He was already at the Matterhorn and preparing for his next ‘Summit’. The temptation to drive from Italy to Switzerland was too great, and although he may very well have raced for ‘fun’ he placed fourth in 2:33:59. After the race he tweeted, “Super, super, happy today with Sierre-Zinal. I was here to enjoy the race and I feel super good. Finished in an unexpected 4th with my best crono!”

Robbie Simpson from the UK proved what an incredible talent he is, running for inov-8 he placed 5th in 2:35:32. It’s a world-class performance in a world-class field. A star of the future!

As you will see from my pre race summary, the 40th edition of Sierre-Zinal was such a tough race to call. Stars like Tofol Castanyer (7th), Rickey Gates (9th), Sage Canaday (17th); all proved that predictions are a fickle area to delve into, particularly in a relatively short and tough mountain race like Sierre-Zinal.

Sage Canaday runs a 2:16 marathon and has had repeated victories in 2012 and 2013. Many of those victories have come with course records. Just recently he won Speedgoat 50k ahead of runners like Anton Krupicka, Max king and Timothy Olson. Now of course here at Sierre-Zinal he may well have been running on ‘jaded’ legs. It is a distinct possibility. Post race he said, “Total muscle failure. Mountain racing in Europe is totally different from the US ultra-trail scene.” It does beg a question, are some of the top guys racing too much or do they need to be more specific in training? Certainly Rickey Gates has proven here that US male runners can perform in Europe, as did Anton Krupicka at Cavalls del Vent in the latter part of 2012. What are your thoughts?

On a final note, Cesar Costa (Martigny) has placed second at Sierre-Zinal three times before. For sure, many of us thought that 2013 may well have been his opportunity, however, he finished in thirteenth with a time 2:42:11.

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Ladies race

Placing 2nd at Sierre-Zinal in 2012, her first European race, I firmly placed my prediction on Stevie Kremer taking out the win after a stunning twelve months racing. At the finish line, Stevie didn’t disappoint, however, the top spot was not hers. In a repeat of 2012, Stevie placed second, 3:03:12 and Maud Mathys placed third, 3:04:13. It was like déjà vu.

One thing that did change though was the top slot on the podium. Unnoticed by me on the start sheet, Elisa Desco produced a career enhancing performance and she once again proved that after some time away from the sport that good things come to those who wait. Marc De Gasperi (2012 Sierre-Zinal winner) summed it up when he tweeted, “No words enough to say how much YOU deserve this victory! Brava, brava, brava!!!”

Kenyan, Hellen Musyoka set the early pace but in the end placed 4th with a time of 3:04:47 and GB mountain running legend, Angela Mudge proved that experience is what really counts when it comes to Sierre-Zinal with a great fifth place in 3:07:21.

Victoria Wilkinson from Bingley Harries in the UK produced a sterling run to place sixth overall and this was ahead of some sterling competition. For example; 2013 Speedgoat 50k winner, Stephanie Howe placed 11th, Lizzy Hawker 14th (admittedly training for UTMB), Zhana Vokueva 15th and Celine Lafaye 18th.

Without doubt, it was an exceptional weekend of racing and of course, from a UK perspective, it is great to see Robbie Simpson, Angela Mudge and Victoria Wilkinson flying the flag at the front of the top European races.

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You can actually watch all the action from the 2013 Sierre-Zinal here:

http://www.rts.ch/video/sport/athletisme/5125770-revivez-la-40e-edition.html

Sierre-Zinal Race Preview 2013

©copyright .iancorless.com.iancorless.orgSierre Zinal 1sirrezinalIt’s a birthday year for this iconic mountain race. 40 years! To celebrate, the race organisation have invited many a past winner.

Considered to be one of the finest mountain races in the world. It was once written that it is to mountain races what the New York Marathon is to marathons. It is the oldest mountain race found in its category in Europe’s mountains.

The location is incredible. Of all the races I attended in 2012, Sierre-Zinal left some incredible memories… you see, the Zinal basin is just an incredible place. Also called, ‘the Race of Five 4000m Peaks’ when you stand in Zinal, look to the Matterhorn, you fully appreciate why. It is quite stunning.

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Sierre-Zinal, which takes place in the heart of Valais’ Alps, offers its participants a significant challenge: distance – 31 km, 2200m ascent and 800m descent. Incredible scenery, a warm atmosphere and exceptional organisation explain the success and longevity of this challenge.

As Jonathan Wyatt (record holder of both Sierre-Zinal and the Jungfrau Marathon, as well as a multiple world mountain racing champion) wrote, ‘As a mountain racer you must experience the tradition and history of this race.’

The course records are held by Jonathan Wyatt at 2:29:12 set in 2003 and Anna Pichrtova 2:54:26 set in 2008. If anyone fancies breaking a record in 2013, it would be a great pay day! A CR and a win this weekend, would earn the lucky person 3,000 Swiss Francs.

Legendary Pablo Vigil is a special guest this year. He participated and won the race years back and has become an ambassador for the race and has been instrumental in ensuring a strong American contingent at the race, for example, Stevie Kremer may very well have not participated in 2012 had it not been for Pablo.

This years race, as in any year will have names missing and I guess the big omission will be Marco De Gasperi. He is choosing to race in Italy. So, who will be lining up from the impressive 40-year history of the race?

MEN

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Despite Kilian Jornet telling me he was having a rest post Trans D’Havet so that he could prepare for his Matterhorn Summits attempt and the ISF Skyrunning Matterhorn Ultraks later in August, it would appear the proximity to Zinal is just too much temptation for him. So, he will make the trip from Cervinia and line up in Sierre for what he says will be a ‘fun’ run. Read into that what you will. When I see Kilian’s name on a start sheet he always must be considered for the podium… however, he may just kick back and enjoy the day. Read my interview with Kilian HERE

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Sage Canaday is travelling to the race after a strong victory at Speedgoat 50k and although he will be new to the course, I have to think it will suit him. He will need to ensure that he is near  the front in the early stages for the long climb, but once up, the course flattens and he will be able to open up and let his natural speed do the work. If he has a good day and is pushed, we may well see a new course record.

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Max King has raced at Sierre-Zinal before and from memory he didn’t have a great race. He was around 20th and I think the European style of racing was just too different from what he was used to. However, he is a very different person now. In actual fact, Max raced at the 2012 Zegama-Aizkorri, however, that race was as problematic as his 2011 Sierre-Zinal. It’s a tough call for Max. Definitely top 10 potential and of course he has all the ability to be on the podium. But will he get over the European demons?

Course record holder, Jonathan Wyatt is back at the race and although his pedigree and his history elevates him to a high-profile within the race, one has to wonder how he will perform against top-level competition who are some years younger than him. He still runs and races regularly, but as he told me in Chamonix, it is for fun. We will see ‘Jono’ figure for sure… his ability will set him apart from so many other runners but I think the podium is an option.

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Tofol Castanyer is finding form after early season injury issues and recently placed 2nd at Giir di Mont. Like Kilian, he will also race at Matterhorn Ultraks. This race won’t tire or affect his Matterhorn performance so we can expect him to run hard and that can only really mean one thing, a podium place is without doubt in his grasp.

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Rickey Gates also raced at Giir di Mont and placed just behind Tofol. He is obviously finding form after a slightly problematic Ice Trail Tarentaise. Sierre-Zinal will suit him and his speed.

Cesar Costa has finished 2nd at Sierre-Zinal three times, he knows the course like the back of his hand and in the 40th edition will most certainly want to move one place up the podium for the win. He will without doubt be a favourite. Local knowledge and being slightly under the radar to the American runners will play into his hands. He will push hard and for sure, top 3 is an expectation.

Vajin Armstrong from New Zealand has been in Europe for some time. Sage Canaday for sure will be well aware of what this man can do after racing each other at Tarawera in New Zealand earlier this year. Vajin has speed and considering he has had some great results recently: 2nd at Zugspitz behind Philipp Reiter, 2nd at the K78 Swiss Alpine Marathon, one can’t help but think that he will shake things up and turn some heads at the finish in Zinal.

LADIES

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It all started 12 months ago and the progression has been incredible. Stevie Kremer lined up at Sierre-Zinal completely blown away by the competition and experience that surrounded. Cut to the finish of the race and she was 2nd on the podium. What has followed is a meteoric race in the sport and without doubt, Stevie comes to the 2013 Sierre-Zinal race as my outright favourite. Listen to my recent interview with Stevie HERE

Ladies Winner

Aline Camboulives won the race in 2012. She has experience and ability and for sure, I see her on the podium. But I think Stevie has moved on and has the all the potential to take the race to Aline and not only push her to the finish but to go past her.

Megan Lund is a name I am familiar with but in all honesty, I know little about her. Stevie Kremer has told me that she has great potential and is one to watch on this course. I am aware that she won the race in 2010 but her European performances are few and far between. She has had a baby and as Stevie said, don’t you come back stronger after a baby!?

Ladies Podium

Celine Lafaye has been up at the front of all the Skyrunning races and I don’t see Sierre being any different. She has all the ability and potential to win this race and if she has a good day, she will push Stevie at the front of the race.

Local lady, Maud Mathys finished 3rd last year and will come to the race knowing full well that Stevie is the one to watch. I anticipate she will keep as close to Stevie as possible and try to pull something out of the bag in the latter stages of the race. However, she was five minutes behind Stevie in 2012 and Stevie has moved on. Has Maud progressed at the same level?

Lizzy Hawker

Lizzy Hawker turned up and ran literally at the last minute in 2012. Once again she will toe the line in 2013. I anticipate a top 10 finish but not the podium. Like last year, she will use this as a prep race for her attempt at another UTMB title. Lizzy has also had injury issues and although UTMB is only weeks away, she is still on the road back!

Zhana Vokueva will also be looking to push at the front of the race. She recently raced in the Dolomites at the Skyrunning European Championships but it wasn’t a great weekend for her. She will be looking to get back into form and for sure, would like to repeat or go better than her 5th place in 2012.

Stephanie Howe has just won Speedgoat 50k and like Sage Canaday, that has got to be a great boost going into this race. If she has recovered well from Speedgoat, Stephanie may well be the person to push Stevie all the way to the finish. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

Finally, 2001 Sierre-Zinal champ and GB mountain running legend, Angela Mudge will toe the line. She has recently raced at a very high level and with some impressive results. I see Angela being a dark horse to the new runners who will know her name but may well dismiss her due to her lack of high profile racing of late.

Without doubt it will be an exciting men’s and ladies race.

Links:

Sierre-Zinal website HERE

The North Face announce team for UTMB

©iancorless.com.iancorless.orgIancorless_utmb206facesofutmbThe North Face have announced the team line up for the 2013 UTMB and what a line up…

Seb Chaigneau fresh from an impressive Hardrock 100 win will be gunning for the top the podium in Chamonix.

The queen of UTMB, Lizzy Hawker is currently recovering from injury, fingers crossed she will toe the line.

Jez Bragg certainly will provide great interest at the event this year. A previous winner of the shortened version he has always struggled to repeat his form. However, after solving some diet issues and conquering the Te Araroa in New Zealand, I think we will see a new Jez ready to do battle of the circular route of Mont Blanc.

Fernanda Maciel also has had some injury issues but she would appear to be well on her way to recovery.

©copyright .iancorless.com.P1100588

Rory Bosio has consistently performed well at both Western States and UTMB, she will be looking for a repeat performance.

Zigor Iturrieta has already had a busy 2013 and once again he will line up to battle against a race he conquered in 2010 with a third place on the podium.

©copyright .iancorless.com.P1170693

Mike Wolfe has had some time away from the sport but is back. He has recently had a top placing at Lavaredo Trail and it will be great to see Mike back in Europe.

Mike Foote made the podium in 2012 over a shortened race distance, he will certainly be hoping to move up at least one place higher this year.

©iancorless.com.iancorless.orgiancorless.orgP1060557_SnapseedfacesofUTMBfacesofUTMB

Timothy Olson has had two seriously impressive years, a Western States course record in 2012 and then a back-to-back victory in 2013. This will be his first time racing in Chamonix and without doubt he will be gunning for the top slot!

©copyright .iancorless.com.P1080748Helen Cospolich, Jason Loutitt complete the TNF North American line up and then we look at Japan. Tsuyoshi Kaburaki heads the TNF line up and can never be ruled out for a great performance at this iconic race. He will be followed by Hiroaki Matsunag and Minehiro Yokoyama.

©iancorless.com.iancorless.orgiancorless.orgP1000542_SnapseedfacesofUTMBfacesofUTMB

Finally, The North Face will complete the team with runners from China and Brazil. Yun Yanqiao, Xing Ruling and Stone Tsang for TNF China and Manu Vilaseca, Ligia Madrigal (Costa Rica) and finally Felipe Guardia(Costa Rica).

Ligia Madrigal in Costa Rica

Ligia Madrigal in Costa Rica

Without doubt, the 2013 TNF UTMB is going to be an exciting race. The TNF line up along with strong competition from the likes of Julien Chorier, Anton Krupicka and Dakota Jones it does mean that we can expect fireworks in the mens race.

UTMB_TNF Athletes_2013

Lizzy Hawker out of Ronda

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

June 6th

I have just had an email from Lizzy Hawker and unfortunately she has confirmed that she will not be able to run at Rond dels Cims.

Of course, this sad news for the race, the other participants and ultimately Lizzy.

Lizzy had an incredible latter half of 2012 with a series of top notch wins at TNFUTMB, Spartathlon and Run Rabbit Run. She went into the Christmas period with time away from running but returned early in 2013 with a series of races and personal attempts in Nepal.

Lizzy raced at Annapurna 100k and won the ladies race. She then decided to break her own personal record running from Everest base camp to Kathmandu (319km/ 198m) in 63 hours and 08 minutes (here) smashing her previous record. Not content with running for 63 hours, Lizzy then raced the 277km Mustang Trail Race and was 2nd overall.

In the email she says:

“As it turns out I’ve just had an MRI confirming a stress fracture in my foot. So, Hardrock would have been off the cards, and now I also have to pull out of Ronda del Cims. Frustrating, but it is what it is.”

 

Of course we wish Lizzy all the very best and we look forward to seeing her on the trails and mountains later in 2013.

Links:

  • Interview with Lizzy HERE
  • Race preview HERE

Lizzy Hawker – Interview

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker is arguably one of the greatest female runners of all time. She has transcended what we all think is possible in running. Her versatility over multiple distances and terrain has without doubt made her one of the most respected ultra athletes of all time. She has dominated the UTMB, she is a 24-hour champion and she has set numerous course records. I was fortunate to catch up with Lizzy in early 2013. She had just had a very successful latter half to 2012 but was recovering from an injury before embarking on another full year of racing and personal challenges.

IC: Lizzy, it’s a real pleasure to finally chat, we have been trying to coordinate this for sometime.  Firstly, can we go back to how you got into running, you say you always remember running but at what point did you realize you had ability?

LH: Well going back, I can’t remember NOT running. I guess we all run as children, you know, just running around. I always remember at school that I preferred running in contrast to netball or similar sports. I don’t know how really but it just became normal to run everyday. It was only for fun though. It never crossed my mind to race or join or club. It was just my way to be outside and in nature. It was a balance to school, university and all other distractions. It’s just something that has always been there for me and I don’t think it was really until 2005 when I entered a couple of long races that I realized that I had something that I should really pursue.

IC: Pre 2005 is that when you where travelling doing expeditions. You were in Antarctica. An Oceanographer, yes?

LZ: I was actually finishing off my PHD and then I had a job with the British Antarctic survey.

IC: Running was very recreational then, a way to keep fit?

LZ: Absolutely, it was my way to be outside and an escape.

IC: Did you do any competitions, half marathons, marathons etc.?

LZ: I did London Marathon just because I felt I should… you know, it just seemed logical. I remember it was several years before I actually got a place due to the ballot. This was prior to my PHD but I was working at the Antarctic Survey when I got a place. I was actually at sea for six weeks. It was only a month before London that I got back on land. Not ideal preparation! It was my first race…

IC: How was that, how did it go?

LZ: I enjoyed it but my time wasn’t special.

IC: Time?

LZ: 3:40 ish

IC: Wow, considering how fast you now run that was a humble beginning. Nice for us all to hear… 3:40 for many is a good time but it was a very modest start for you. How did you progress?

LZ: From London a friend suggested that if I love hills then I should do a marathon in a hilly place, you know, somewhere nice. So, I did Snowdonia marathon in Wales for a few years and then the same friend suggested going ‘off-road’. You know, going across hills instead of around them. So, I entered the Welsh 1000’s. Because I didn’t have fell-running experience at all, I couldn’t enter the fell class, so, I was in the mountain class. It meant a heavy pack, long trousers and walking boots. I enjoyed it and did it a couple if times… that was the only experience I had prior to 2005.

IC: In 2005 what changed, what was it that you then did that paved the way to were you are now?

LZ: Two things really. I was visiting friends in South Wales to escape my PHD for a weekend. They were running a 40-mile track race in Barry. So I just entered it. Primarily because they had. I think that was March and then I was selected for the England team for the UK 100k champs. That was based on my time at the 40-mile race. The 100k was a month later and in-between that I went to Turkey to SkiMo (Ski Mountaineer). Not conventional prep! Also, I had read an article about the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc (UTMB). UTMB did not have the prestige it has now and it had no wait list, so I entered. I was due to finish my PHD and it was a great excuse to go to the Alps. I would goo climbing and then race at the end. That was my first mountain race.

IC: So in 2005 with little or no experience, you go to UTMB. That is quite a step up eh?

LH: I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I had nothing to gauge it against. I had no idea even if I would get back to Chamonix after starting. I certainly expected not to make one of the cut offs… I was on the start and I thought about a quote from Alice in Wonderland, you know, the one about starting in the beginning and stopping when you get to the end. That was my goal. To start and keep going until I stopped or was stopped.

IC: What was that first experience like?

LH: I loved it. I started in the masses. I was way back at the start. I was on the Church steps way back from the front. It was a long long time before I even started to run. Just the sheer number and volume of people slowed everything down. I can remember, after about 15 to 20k I was somewhere between about 500/600th place. I actually finished 25th or 26th overall by the time the end came. I just worked my way past everyone… I just loved it. It was my first experience of running at night and I can remember after one of the feed stations, I was running up  a climb and I could feel the beauty of the mountains. I knew then that I would have to go back. Yes, it was magic.

IC: You have won that race (UTMB) five times…

LH: Well, kind of five times…

IC: Ok, yes, five variations of the race! We spoke after the 2012 finish and you said you still had unfinished business. You want that ‘time’* on the course. Will that mean you will be back?

*Lizzy is very keen to set the fastest ladies time in the UTMB course.

LH: Yes, I am mulling over my plans. I can’t confirm for 2013 but I almost certainly will be back to UTMB, if not this year then maybe next. I do have unfinished business.

IC: Do you think the plans that the UTMB organization have made for 2013 and moving forward to correct issues* in the past will work?  *by issues, we refer to the race being shortened due to unpredictable weather.

LH: I don’t know. What I would like to see is a sliding start time. So that they have the possibility to bring the race forward or delay by 24 hours, this will allow for good weather windows. I am not sure how that would work with the other races (CCC and TDS) going on but it seems to me that the weather systems work through quite quickly and this window may very well be ideal to allow the full race to go ahead. We want the race to be as it should be, a full tour of Mont Blanc. That is 160km. If I were taking time of work, paying money to get there, I would much prefer to add one extra day either side and have that possibility to race for what may very well be moderate additional expense. I don’t think they (UTMB organization) have taken this as an option but it is what I would like to see.

IC: I think many would agree with you. The race is a ‘tour ‘of Mont Blanc. Not a 60k, 100k or 140k. You want to go back and do the race and get the time* but your variety of races are extreme, you know, you run on the track, you run on the road, you run mountains, you run trail, you do multi stage, how do you apply yourself in your training, do you literally just go out and run and enjoy it?

LH: Pretty much I guess. I think over the years I have kind of built up a high level of base endurance so depending on the race I am targeting next I kind of focus training to that specific event. But because of the way I came into running, running was part of my daily routine. I wanted to be outside, I wanted to be moving and I just love running, So, that is really the backbone of my training even now I guess. I just like to run.

IC: For someone who loves the mountains so much, You are passionate about Nepal for example, what is it in your mind that allows you to run on a 400m track, time and time again for 24 hours?

LH: I haven’t done that yet!

IC: Yes I know that, but I am curious what it is within you that will allow you to do this?

LH: I can remember back to my first track race in 2005. I hadn’t been on a track since school. It was funny, I couldn’t get lost, I couldn’t fall down a crevice, I had no avalanches to think about and it basically just simplified the process. I could think about the running movement. I could just focus. Almost like meditation.

IC: Do you use meditation when running?

LH: I use mediation for it’s own sake. But that is just during the last 12 months or so. But I have realized that most of my running is kind of a meditation. Or at least  it is my quiet time. Time alone with myself. Not every case obviously but when I am alone it is a relaxing and spiritual time.

IC: I followed you at UTMB in 2012. I had the benefit of being in the feed stations with Keith (Lizzies crew from The North Face). You would arrive; Keith would have everything laid out. It looked planned with a definite strategy. Get you in and out ASAP. But I remember you said to me that it isn’t that planned.

LH: No not at all. I never know what I want but if I have the options I can choose what I want. I need to move through as quickly as possible.

IC: Do you find that you turn yourself off? Do you almost become metronomic?

LH: Not really. It’s a body and mind connection. It has to be very strong. You need to know what is going on; particularly with your body but at the same time you need to be able to cut pain off. You need to hang on in and sort it out. It’s two sides of the coin if that makes sense.

Lizzy Hawker at Sierre-Zinal 2012 copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker at Sierre-Zinal 2012 copyright Ian Corless

IC: If we look at your achievements, UTMB, 100k champs, 24-hour world record and in 2012 you had a golden period… UTMB, Run Rabbit Run and then Spartathlon. If we look at all these things, what are your highlights?

LH: Ultimately it is the running. It is an essential part of my life. The races are stepping stones within that. I think it is funny though, I look at what you call the ‘golden period’ and I don’t feel I raced at my best! I could have done so much more… It is kind of funny; I am always trying to improve. Go faster, go longer. I want to be so much better. I was happy with those three races but I felt I could have given more.

IC: Lets take Spartathlon. It is an iconic race in the ultra calendar. It is a race that has a different variety of people who take part, we often look at that race as giving some significant performances, and for example we talk about Yiannis Kouros and Scott Jurek. You raced for the first time in 2012. Did the race live up to its billing?

LH: It is an iconic race. The atmosphere is amazing. The route is not that wonderful, not so much the route but the fact that you are on busy roads and they don’t close them. I had times during the night with lorries passing me that were less than comfortable. It is an incredible race to be a part of though.

IC: Of course you had a pretty darn good race. You set a women’s course record, you were on the podium overall but yet you say it wasn’t good enough! Did you want to win outright?

LH: yes!

(Joint laughter)

IC: Funny. I love the standards that you set yourself. Will you go back?

LH: Yes, I am not sure in 2013 but I will go back and try again one year.

IC: After Spartathlon I guess you had a cleansing period in Nepal. You did Manasulu Trail. Is that type of race more for you, a personal race?

LH: Half and half. Of course, I love to be in Nepal. Nepal gives me so much back, to be in that place is rewarding but those Nepalese guys can really run, it is not easy.

IC: I love you say that you mention the men and the fact that you are not racing the women.

LH: It’s a small race!

IC: Yes, but women usually race women. You always race for the overall instead of racing for first lady. Are you very competitive?

LH: I guess I am competitive but the competition is within. I want to be the best I can be. I can win a race and not be happy or I could come way down the field but be happy because I did my best on that day. That is the way I feel about racing. It is a personal thing.

IC: You love Nepal. You attempted a full crossing, which unfortunately didn’t go to plan… you lost your sat phone amongst other things!

LH: Or the permits! Just a few things… (laughs)

IC: Will you try again; I know the rules have changed on how you can now do these crossings?

LH I definitely want to go back. It is my dream journey. To cross the Himalayas keeping as high as possible and moving fast is what really motivates me. I would love to go back.

IC: How long is that journey?

LH: About 1,000 miles.

IC: A long way!

LH: Yes, a pretty long way.

IC: A race has been announced that will take this whole route for 2014.

LH: Yes, Spring 2014 and 2016 I think.

IC:  Is that of interest to you or would you prefer solo?

LH: I can do both! (Laughs) I still want to do my solo journey because it will be so different. The race will miss the high passes. You can’t really compare the two. They both have validity and I would like to do both.

IC: 2013 is here, what does it have in store for you?

LH: Good question. I am mulling that over. Nothing is definite, not that it ever is. I am formulating race plans at the moment.

IC: Western States, Skyrunning, and UTMB?

** Please see UPDATE below

LH: Ronda del Cims 100m Skyrunning race is looking very likely in June. I hope to do Hardrock 100. I am on the wait list so I hope to race.

IC: You are high up on the wait list for Hardrock 100 if I remember correctly?

LH: Not sure it is high enough though? I will try to do those two and then we shall see what the rest of the year holds for me.

Lizzy Hawker copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker copyright Ian Corless

IC: Ronda del Cims is a tough course. It has plenty of climbing and altitude.

LH:  Yes. I am looking forward to it. It will be a real challenge and a great race.

IC: Well Lizzy as per usual, it has been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. Without doubt you are an inspiration to all. I really appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing you and following you around the Ronda del Cims course in late June.

LH: Thanks so much Ian.

*To get 2013 rolling, Lizzy raced at Annapurna 100k and won the ladies race. She then decided to break her own personal record running from Everest base camp to Kathmandu (319km/ 198m) in 63 hours and 08 minutes (here) smashing her previous record. Not content with running for 63 hours, Lizzy then raced the 277km Mustang Trail Race and was 2nd overall. However, just recently she entered the 24-hour championships and pulled out. Apparently all is well with Lizzy and her focus is now on Ronda dels Cims. I have to say, that Lizzy has not only the potential to win the ladies race but the race outright. Race preview HERE

UPDATE June 6th, An email from Lizzy “As it turns out I’ve just had an MRI confirming a stress fracture in my foot. So, Hardrock would have been off the cards, and now I also have to pull out of Ronda del Cims.”

Links:

Ronda dels Cims, Andorra 170km Preview

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It’s only 170km’s long. Don’t worry; it only has 13,000m of vertical gain and loss. It’s 94% single track, 5% path/trail and 1% on road so you can make up some time! It has 13 aid stations, starts on Friday 21st June at 0700 and you have 62 hours to complete the event. Easy! I don’t think so…

Logo_Skyrunning_World_SeriesTwelve months ago on the island of La Palma, Skyrunning held a conference post Transvulcania La Palma and pre Zegama-Aizkorri. The conference was called, ‘Less Cloud, More Sky’. It assembled some of the best ultra runners from around the world, team managers, ancillary staff and journalists. The purpose was to help forge a direction for the sport. To cut a long story short, what was apparent was the need for technical courses that would attract and test the best runners in the world. Also, the 100-mile distance, for many, was perceived as the one distance that Skyrunning did not cover. Twelve months down the road, or should I say the trail and we have Ronda del Cims, now in its fifth year. Possibly one of the toughest, gnarly 100 mile races on the planet.

With less than a month to the start of one of the most important mountain competitions, the ‘Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord’, a series of races starting at 10km and culminating in the main event, the 170km Ronda dels Cims.

Over 2,000 athletes will arrive in Ordino, Andorra from June 20th to 23rd to participate in an event that for them will be a tough and life changing personal challenge. In simple terms, the races on offer are hard, technical and pure. They offer a total immersion in nature and as such, must be completely respected.

The 2013 edition of the race will be particularly challenging. Due to a harsh and prolonged winter, several peaks and mountain passes will almost certainly have snow. Believe me, the fifth edition of the Ronda dels Cims has all the makings of a classic. So. Lets look who are the likely contenders in the female and male race over the 170km distance.

LADIES

The ladies race has all the makings of being a classic. We have some very tough mountain ladies taking part, all in with a chance of winning this race!

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker (The North Face) needs no introduction. Unlike Emilie, Lizzy has no specialization. She is an out and out ultra runner and performs to the highest level on road, trail or mountains. A multiple champion at the TNFUTMB she will bring all that experience to Ronda dels Cims. In the latter half of 2012 she had a real purple patch with wins at a shortened TNFUTMB, Spartathlon and Run Rabbit Run. However, she did have injury issues over the Christmas period. They have now cleared up and to get 2013 rolling she raced at Annapurna 100k and won the ladies race. She then decided to break her own personal record running from Everest base camp to Kathmandu (319km/ 198m) in 63 hours and 08 minutes (here) smashing her previous record. Not content with running for 63 hours, Lizzy then raced the 277km Mustang Trail Race and was 2nd overall. However, just recently she entered the 24-hour championships and pulled out. Apparently all is well with Lizzy and her focus is now on Ronda dels Cims. I have to say, that Lizzy has not only the potential to win the ladies race but the race outright.

UPDATE June 6th, An email from Lizzy “As it turns out I’ve just had an MRI confirming a stress fracture in my foot. So, Hardrock would have been off the cards, and now I also have to pull out of Ronda del Cims.”

Francesca Canepa copyright iancorless.com

Francesca Canepa copyright iancorless.com

Francesca Canepa (Team Vibram) placed 2nd to Lizzy Hawker at the reduced TNFUTMB in 2012 but then just seven days later lined up at the Tor des Geants and won it. An incredible double. Like many other ladies in this race, she loves tough and technical. The distance will not be a problem for her and when in form, she can push Lizzy, Emilie, Nerea and the rest right to the line. A very exciting addition to the race.

Emilie Lecomte far right, Transvulcania 2013 copyright Ian Corless

Emilie Lecomte far right, Transvulcania 2013 copyright Ian Corless

Long distance specialist Emilie Lecomte (Quechua) from France comes to Andorra after a very successful 2012. She set a new course record on the GR20 long trail in Corsica and she won the tough and technical, 100m Diagonale des Fous (Raid de la Reunion) on Reunion Island. She recently raced at Transvulcania La Palma and although placed 5th overall she was 2 hours behind race winner, Emelie Forsberg. Without a doubt, Ronda dels Cims is a completely different race to Transvulcania and for sure, Emilie will revel in the tough and technical aspects that this race brings.

Nerea Martinez copyright cmdsport.com

Nerea Martinez copyright cmdsport.com

Nerea Martinez (Salomon Santiveri) has already had a successful 2013. She won the 119km Transgrancanaria, won the Apuko 83km, won the Royal Raida 79km and just last month, won the 115km Ultra Trail Madeira. Wow! That is some start to 2013 and looking at her schedule, she has lots more planned! Without doubt she is in form but two of those races in the last two months, Transgrancanaria and Ultra Trail Madeira have been tough and long days out, 17h: 16m and 19h: 15m respectively. One has to question if these will leave Nerea a little jaded for Ronda dels Cims, if not, watch this space.

Julia Boettger copyright iancorless.com

Julia Boettger copyright iancorless.com

Julia Boettger (Salomon) is equally at home on the long tough trails. In 2012 she was on the podium behind Emilie Lecomte at Diagonal des Fous so she has all the required credentials, strength and mental fortitude to battle over a very tough and technical 170km. She was due to race Transgrancanaria earlier in 2013 but picked up a virus in the days before. She was due to race the 115km Penyagolosa Trails but she either did not start or pulled out. Ronda dels Cims will be her first big race in 2013 and without doubt she will arrive prepared for the battle. 

Update, 18th June. Julia has had to withdraw from the race for personal reasons.

Hiroko Suzuki (Salomon) gets a notable mention as another name to watch.  Hiroko placed 2nd in UTMF in 2012 and was 4th at Tor des Geants. Without doubt she has experience of long tough races and will be one to watch.

Karine Sanson will also perform to the best of her ability and push all the way.

MEN

Julien Chorier copyright mudsweatandtears.co.uk

Julien Chorier copyright mudsweatandtears.co.uk

The men’s field on paper has less depth than the ladies field. The out-and-out favorite is Julien Chorier. He excels on tough and technical terrain and as a previous winner of Hardrock 100, he will come to Ronda dels Cims understanding 100% what is required to win the race. In early 2012 he won the 100m UTMF in Japan. When TNFUTMB was shortened he left Chamonix and like Emilie Lecomte he made an attempt on the GR20 in Corsica. His plan was to break Kilian Jornet’s record time. However, the weather was against him. Just a few months ago he returned to Japan and this time he placed 2nd at UTMF. Renowned for meticulous preparation, he will be racing in Andorra with only objective, to win!

Jared Campbell copyright La Sportiva

Jared Campbell copyright La Sportiva

*Breaking news… no sooner had I done this preview and I was made aware that Jared Campbell (La Sportiva) would be toeing the line at Ronda dels Cims. Why has this now been confirmed? Well, he ‘tweeted’ this just a few hours ago… “The Andorra course (Ronda dels Cims) looks to be in primo condition! Is it bad that this gets me excited?”

Jared without doubt brings a whole new mix to the men’s race. He is notorious for tough and technical races. Without doubt he will embrace the course in Andorra and embrace the challenge it will bring. One of the very few to finish Barkley, Jared will tough this course out to the bitter end. He recently ran at Pocatello 50 and said he had tired legs but that will have been a training run for the end of June and then Hardrock 100.

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bruno

Bruno Brunod (Team Forte di Bard) is a legend in Skyrunning. Born in 1962 he has a list of achievements that we can only bow down to and acknowledge:

Record ascent and descent of Matterhorn from Cervinia in 3 hours and 14 minutes. Record of ascent and descent of the Monte Rosa from Gressoney in 4 hours and 45 minutes. Record ascent and descent of Aconcagua in 5 hours and 57 minutes. Record ascent of Kilimanjaro on the Marangu route in 5 hours and 38 minutes. Record ascent of Mount Elbert in 1 hours and 54 minutes. Just like Kilian Jornet, he is a true Alpinist. I have very little knowledge of his recent attempts and endeavors but his palmares alone mean that he should be respected and certainly he will be one-to-watch.

Matt Cooper copyright mattcooper.com.au

Matt Cooper copyright mattcooper.com.au

Matt Cooper (Salomon Australia) is currently training in Chamonix preparation for the race. He was 5th at TNF 100 in 2012 and may add an element of the unknown to the front of the race. He was due to race Bogong to Hotham in January but that race was cancelled. At Cradle Mountain Ultra (82k) he placed 3rd, recently won the 100k Alpine Challenge in 12:31 so he looks to be coming in to form.

Terry Conway at Cavalls del Vent copyright Ian Corless

Terry Conway at Cavalls del Vent copyright Ian Corless

Terry Conway (X-Bionic) from the UK is new to Skyrunning. In the UK he has had great success with wins and course records on the Lakeland 100 course but his recent trips to Europe to run at Cavalls del Vent and then La Course des Templiers gave no real indication of his ability to perform against much more competitive fields. In early 2013 he raced at Ultra Trail Barcelona and placed 3rd. He has been out on the Lakeland fells and mountains in recent months gaining time on his legs and accumulating as much vertical as possible. However, the trails in Andorra are a long way removed from those in the UK.

Dave James, The Coastal Challenge copyright iancorless.com

Dave James, The Coastal Challenge copyright iancorless.com

Dave James from the US has been immersing himself in Skyrunning recently. He raced at Transvulcania La Palma, Zegama-Aizkorri and now he will line up at Ronda dels Cims. Dave has a pedigree. He is a 100m US champion and has a fastest 100m time of just over 13 hours. However, he is just not used to the technical terrain that Andorra will throw at him. He is spending time on the course in the coming weeks. It will be a big learning curve buy he is under no illusions of what lies ahead.

Ty Draney copyright door5.com

Ty Draney copyright door5.com

Ty Draney (Patagonia Ultra Running Team) from the US is 38 years old and has over a decade of ultra running experience to fall back on. Way back in 2003 he placed 4th at Bear 100, a race that he then went on to win in 2008. He has placed top 20 at Hardrock 100 and most recently won Grand Teton 100m in 2009, placed 3rd at Grindstone 100m in 2010 and was 5th at The Bear in 2012. His recent form is open to question and a 27th placing at Gorge Waterfalls 50k in March leaves us with little indication of he will perform over 100+m tough mountain miles.

Finally, Nico Valesia (Salomon Agisko) I know little about. His most recent results are as follows: 1st Trail Bianco di Cesana 24 km,  1st Mini Trail di Gargallo,  2nd Trail Lago di Como 106 km,  2nd Trail del LAgo d’Orta 63 km,  7th Trail Oulx 48 km.

18th June, Nico has had to withdraw with an injury

One thing is for sure, Ronda dels Cims will be an incredible few days of ultra mountain trail running. Although I have highlighted the ‘elite’ runners one cannot rule out local talent who will have knowledge and experience of the trails, conditions and mountain. It will be very exciting!

Ones to watch:

Oscar Perez Lopez (2012 winner of the race), Uli Calmbach, Kenichi Yamamoto , Hugues Vos, Pep Ballester Gomes, John Todd, Amando Jorge Teixeira, Jean-Hugues Vos, Pep Ballester Gomes, Jordi Comas Corral, Jordi Codina Ventura and Marc Llucià Fleitas.

You will be able to follow the action unfold via Twitter, Facebook and via iancorless.com 

  • The race website is HERE
  • Skyrunning HERE

Comrades 2013 Preview

comrades_logo

Love them or hate them, road ultra marathons come no bigger or better than the ‘Ultimate Human Race’, Comrades. This year is an ‘up’ run. Starting on the coast in Durban, the course stretches 86.96km to Pietermaritzburg at 670m above sea level. Over 19,000 runners will test themselves over the ‘Big Five’; Cowies Hill, Fields Hill, Botha’s Hill, Inchanga and Polly Shorts. From the base of the first hill, Cowies, to the top of Botha’s Hill you climb 502 meters in the space of only 22 kilometers. Any seasoned ‘Comrade’ will tell you this translates into a lot of climbing. The first half of the ‘up’ is challenging, it needs to be respected and paced, any early exuberance will be paid for dearly later on in the day.

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But before the release of the gun, the atmosphere at the start is to be savored. It will burn and impression onto your heart that you will never forget. As darkness encompasses every runner the sounds of ‘Shosholoza’ a Ndebele folk song that originated in Zimbabwe fills the air. Although not the national anthem, the song is so popular in South African culture that it is often referred to as South Africa’s second national anthem. As the final words are sung (translated):

Go forward


Go forward


You are running away

You are running away on those mountains

train from South Africa

‘Chariots of Fire’ theme starts and with it the nerves and goose bumps increase. It is an incredible moment. The recorded ‘cockcrow’ of Max Trimborn adds to the sense of occasion and history and then with the sound of a horn you re released. Magical.

A Podcast Logo

Episode 8 – Comrades Special - A show decicated to the Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. We have interviews with Bruce FordyceEllie GreenwoodSteve WilliamsCaspar GreeffNicolaas Claassen and Zola Budd. In addition we bring you news and results from around the world, our current favourite blogs, Talk Training with the Ten Commandments of Ultra Running a Meltzer Moment with Speedgoat Karl and of course up and coming races.

The 2013 race

Men

Ludwick Mamabolo won the 87th Comrades Marathon and as such is the favorite for this years race… however, the defending champion is not without controversy, he tested positive for a banned substance at last year’s race, after almost a year of legal wrangling, was recently found not guilty because of ‘technical irregularities’ in the testing procedure and has therefore been awarded his prize money and his title.

Ludwick Mamabolo copyright supersport.com

Ludwick Mamabolo copyright supersport.com

Eight of last year’s ten male gold medalists will toe the starting line again. However, Leonid Shvetsov, who won in 07 and 08 setting course record times is injured, and Lephetesang Adoro tested positive for a banned substance, so they will not join the 2013 race. Triple champion Stephen Muzhingi raced in the last ‘up’ run and without doubt will be one-to-watch this year.

Mamabolo won the race last year in 5:31:03 but his participation this year is clouded in controversy. In 2010 Mambolo participated in his first Comrades and then finished second behind Stephen Muzhingi. Will this be the result for the 2013 edition?

Jonas Buud copyright blog.svd.de

Jonas Buud copyright blog.svd.de

My hot tip for the race and a relative dark horse is Jonas Buud from Sweden. Jonas is a fast man over the 100km distance and as he proved at the 2012 TNFUTMB he can run hills too. Jonas ran 6:28:57 at the IAU World 100km Championships in Seregano last year and previously he has finished second on three occasions; 2009, 2010 and 2012. He is not new to Comrades; in 2011 he had an excellent run and finished fourth in an incredible time of 5:42. He has openly said that Comrades in 2013 is his primary focus. Watch this space!

Of course Bongmusa Mthembu and Leboko Noto are also toeing the line, they placed second and third respectively in 2012 and of course they bring speed and experience to the race. In addition, Mambo, Kelehe, Moshiywa and Sosibo also obtained ‘Gold’ in last years race… it is a stacked and experienced field.

David Gatebe, won the Two Oceans at his first attempt in 3:08:54 and without doubt will come to Comrades with high hopes and aspirations. Mthandazo Qhina, second at Two Oceans in 3:10:02 also joins Gatebe to add some spice to the Comrades mix.

As per usual, Comrades will be a highly competitive  race and a surprise may very well come at any time. The depth of the field goes way back. However, Comrades is not just about the front of the race… it is the ‘Ultimate Human Race’ for a reason and as such, the vast majority of the 19000+ participants are just ‘ordinary joes’ like you and I. It is what makes this race so special. The support, the roadside parties, the crowds and the everyday runners testing themselves.

One of those ‘joes’ is nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce, who will not be running his 31st Comrades. He posted on backabuddy last year that his 30th, would be his last.

Four-time champion Alan Robb will return. Robb is one of three men who will attempt their 40th completion of this iconic race.

Ladies

It is impossible to talk about Comrades and the ladies race without mentioning Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva. Affectionately known as the ‘The Twins’ or ‘The Russian Twins’ they have dominated the race in the last 10 years. Elena has won the race seven times and her sister, Oleysa two times. The only break in this tradition came in 2005 when Tatyana Zhirkova won the race. Comrades is the home of the twins but Two Oceans did not go well for them and one has to question if they are arriving for the ‘up’ run in the best form.

Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva copyright sportsummary.com

Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva copyright sportsummary.com

Unfortunately, the anticipated battle and potential ‘break’ of the Russian stranglehold on the race coming from Ellie Greenwood is not going to happen. Ellie is out of the race with injury. Certainly from a British perspective I was really hoping that Ellie would return this year and move up from second to top the podium.

Another notable ‘Brit’ not at the race is Lizzy Hawker. Lizzy had injury over the Christmas period and has recently done a personal adventure in Nepal; she then followed this with a multistage race in the same area but just a couple of weekends ago she pulled out of a 24h race. She is now focusing on the 100m Ronda del Cims in Andorra, late June.

Americans Devon Yanko (previously Crosby-Helms) who has placed fifth in 2012 and Kami Semick, who was third in 2011 are not running. This in my opinion leaves the door open for Brit, Joasia Zakrzewski.

Joasia Zakrzewski copyright dumfriesrunningclub.org.uk

Joasia Zakrzewski copyright dumfriesrunningclub.org.uk

Jo had an incredible 2011 race. I remember it well, I was stood next to her on the start line. By the time we both reached the finish, she was showered, changed, fed and relaxing. Not only did she surprise herself but the whole of the female field at Comrades. She followed this incredible performance in 2012 with fourth place overall in a time of 6:33:41. My hot tip for the podium and without doubt a potential winner of the race. C’mon Jo! (Excuse the British bias)

Marina Zhalybina has a remarkable record at Comrades. She was third in her first attempt in 1999. She has finished the race twelve times and has always placed in the top ten.

Charne Bosman had a great run at Two Oceans. She is new to ultra but she has won the South African marathon and I guess she is the SA hope!

Without doubt, the ladies race this year is less stacked. Melanie Van Rooyen, Kerry Koen and Julanie Basson all return from 2012 and all three obtained gold medals.

Ultimately I see the ladies race as a battle between ‘The Twins’, Zhalybina and Zakrzewski with Bosman as an outsider.

Last but not least, we had all hoped to see Zola Budd (Pieterse) toe the line. She ran her first Comrades in 2012 and finished in 8:06. This year she was returning with a year of knowledge and without doubt she was going for ‘Silver’ and a sub 7:30 run, however, just yesterday she withdrew from the race on doctors orders. Unfortunately she has the flu.

First to last, the Comrades Ultra Marathon is an incredible race. It stirs the emotions and it mobilises a population. Come Sunday morning as Chariots of Fire fade and the sound of the cockerel crows I will be glued to my laptop screen with a tear in my eye… I have only run this iconic race once. It left a lasting impression and one that I would love to repeat.

I will be back one day.