Faces of Ultra

A selection of images from my personal project, ‘Faces of Ultra‘ have been published in the January edition of Running Fitness.

You can view more images at the website www.facesofultrs.com

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Looking back, Moving forward – Skyrunning

Looking back over the 2012 skyrunning season, it was, to say the least, an intensive year. It was a year of major transition from the past format of main races and trials, to the introduction of the Ultra distance and separate circuits. The transition was complicated and not without difficulties but it paved the way for a completely revised 2013 format.

The start. Ultra Cavalls del Vent. ©ISF

The season saw triumph and tragedy, great champions, bright young stars, new races and spectacular locations.

At the beginning of the season in May, the introduction of the Ultra Series wrote a new page in skyrunning history. The Transvulcania Ultra Marathon not only perfectly embodied skyrunning’s “sea to sky” concept, but had probably the deepest field of world class runners to date, including American legends like Anton Krupicka, Geoff Roes, Rickey Gates, Mike Wolfe Joe Grant and 21year-old Dakota Jones who went on to win the race.  Dakota, Tony and Joe came back for more…

Nuria Picas, winner Kima Trophy. ©ISF

The more gruelling courses typical of European skyrunning have almost surprisingly gone down well with the American runners, giving us the conviction to keep it “tough and technical“ rather than provide a watered-down version to appeal to a wider public – something to look forward to on the other side of the Atlantic next year together with a selection of the best that Europe has to offer…and our first 100-miler.

The 2012 SkyMarathon® Ultra Series has represented the first and most important encounter among top European and American Ultra runners with a level so high that all the mens’ race records in the Series were broken! Legendary ultra runners competing in the Series (apart from those mentioned above) include: Kilian Jornet, Ikker Karera, Andy Symonds, Dawa Sherpa, Francois D’Haene, Erik Clavery, Seb Chaigneau and among the women:  Nuria Picas, Anna Frost, Lizzy Hawker, Maud Gobert, Darcy Africa, and Nikki Kimball.

Kilian Jornet the sport’s top star, yet again gave a command performance taking not only the World Series combined title, but also the Ultra Series title, totalling seven outright victories and two third positions in all three disciplines.  2011 World Series champion Luis Alberto Hernando placed second and Britain’s Tom Owens moved steadily up the ranking to take third position.  Ultra Series’ runner-up was Andy Symonds and Germany’s Philipp Reiter placed third.

Emelie Forsberg, Nuria Picas, Anna Frost. Ultra Cavalls winners. ©ISFIt’s in the women’s field that the most rapid revolution lies however. Young, talented runners with no skyrunning history debut and rise to glory in just one season and, note, women are finishing in the top ten overall, closing the gender gap.  Sweden’s Emelie Forsberg is one of these ladies.  Twenty-five years-old, she ran her first skyrunning race just this year and in only one season conquered the World Series combined title in a field stacked with highly competitive Spanish runners like Nuria Picas, Blanca Maria Serrano and Nuria Dominguez.

Nuria Picas has finally shown that talent and determination go a long way by winning some of the toughest races on the Series.  She finished second after Forsberg in the World Series combined ranking and won the Ultra Series outright. Anna Frost, after a superb start at the Transvulcania Ultra, was plagued by injury throughout the season but fought tenaciously for a second position in the Ultra ranking where Forsberg placed third.

Kilian Jornet & Tony Krupicka, 1st and 2nd at Cavalls.  ©Ian Corless

Alongside Forsberg, another star was born: 23 year-old Italian, Silvia Serafini who, like Forsberg, began skyrunning just this year, testing her skills in all three disciplines to climb to third position in the world ranking.

Two world records highlighted the Vertical Kilometer® Series on the gruelling course in Fully, Switzerland with1,000 metres elevation gain over just 1.9 km distance.  The men’s record of 30’42” set by Italian Urban Zemmer is just a short step from climbing at 2,000 metres per hour – upwards! French runner Christel Dewalle set the women’s record in 36’48”.  Overall Vertical Kilometer® Series champions were Urban Zemmer and Spain’s Laura Orgué.

In 2012, prize money amounting to €140,000 (including the Series’ final prizes) was awarded to 148 athletes. The figures are still small for the huge effort and incredible performances involved, but as the sport grows, prize money will do like-wise. Complimentary accommodation, travel subsidies and promotion are more ways that a top runner can benefit – and so will the sponsor.  Major industry players are now investing in trail running and many brands have top runners and teams participating in the Series.  See Team ranking

Media coverage of skyrunning events reached new heights this year from print to websites, blogs and social media, to videos, podcasts and television on a global level.  A big thanks goes to all those who followed the skyrunning heroes through thick and thin, in heat and cold and darkness, breaking news in real time and capturing high-flying emotions in images, text and videos.

Look out for the 2013 Skyrunner® World Series calendar to be announced next week.  We’ll be focussing on new events and personalities, a worldwide ranking for runners and races, regulations and safety issues as well as the announcement of the 2013 European and 2014 World Championships.

‘Get Ready’ S3 EP 10 – UTMB

Another great video from the ‘Get Ready‘ series of films that feature The North Face and possibly one of my favourite ultra runners of all time, Sebastian Chaigneau.

Seb running up Notre Dame de la Gorge

Seb is a great guy. He always has time to talk, chat, relax and give advice. We have actually a 60 minute interview with Seb ready to transcribe and and edit for Talk Ultra, so we must aim to get that out soon…

This film captures the 2012 The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.

As you may know, I was at the race and managed to catch up with Francos D’haene, Lizzy Hawker and Mike Foote after the race. You can listen to the interviews HERE or HERE on iTunes.

Seb the day after the race keeping his eyes protected

I spoke with Seb after the race and he told me how his vision disappeared and how frightened he became. I’m glad to say he is recovering well.

Here is a great movie that captures the atmosphere of UTMB 2012.

UTMB pre race

With just over 24 hours to go to the 2012 TNF UTMB here is just a quick look at some of the contenders for this year’s race.

One important factor is the weather!

The race organisers have been tweeting, texting and posting as much as they can about the severe weather that is predicted over the race weekend. It would now appear that a ‘mandatory’ 4 layers of clothing will be required.

Forget being lightweight! Finishing anyone of the races this year in Chamonix may very well come down to how good your kit is.

Australian, Mick Donges has just posted a last minute blog and writes:

The forecast is snow down to 1800m, temperatures on the high mountain passes are -10 degrees and they are saying 4 layers of clothing is necessary. They are predicting severe and dangerous weather.”

Will the course be shortened I guess may very well be one big question. My gut reaction is no! Lessons have been learnt from previous years and I think the process of ‘pre-warning’ via text, email and social media is all in attempt to ensure that all participants are prepared. The 2010 shortened race made the UTMB organisation re look at mandatory kit and increase what was required for 2011 and 2012. It would appear that they are now ‘adding’ to this kit pre race to compensate for worsening conditions. Having said that, safety is paramount and should conditions become extremely dangerous I am sure they will have no issue in ‘pulling the plug’ and I agree and support that.

The LADIES

Firstly, Ellie Greenwood has moved down from the UTMB to the CCC and I predict a win for her! The terrain on this course may not be what she is used too but the cold and snow is something she is well practiced in and actually I think she may even welcome it!

Krissy Moehl is the course record holder and loves the UTMB but she has had a busy year with Western States, Hardrock and mow UTMB. She knows what is needed on this course and she has the invaluable experience. If she is fresh she will be up at the front with Lizzy Hawker.

Amy Sproston has placed well at Western States but UTMB is a whole new ball game for the 100k-world champ and I have to say she may well be in for a surprise.

Rory Bosio is another achiever at Western States but as was shown last year in the men’s race, UTMB is not Western States! I think Rory may be up at the front but not contending with my ladies prediction…

Lizzy Hawker loves the course and I wouldn’t bet against her. I spoke to her at Sierre Zinal and she was racking the training and was running the UTMB course in 2 days as ‘training’. She has some issues with her back but even with this issue, the mountains are her playground and she will take the win barring disaster.

Emma Rocca from Spain is maybe a little more suited to the UTMB as she has a multi-sport background and is a ski mountaineer.

Katia Fori from Italy has been top 10 at UTMB before and will once again contend.

Finally, Meghan Arbogast will toe the line. Another great 100k runner, Western States finisher and 2nd at KFK50 but as I keep saying… UTMB is nothing like those races and I can’t help but think the terrain and cold weather will play against the American field

The MEN

Dave Mackey has moved down to the CCC and Mike Wardian is out of the race due to a stress fracture. To be honest I don’t think either of those removals will make any difference to the UTMB outcome. Both are great runners but not in contention on this course.

With Kilian Jornet not taking part (or will he?) the field this year is maybe a little more open.

Jez Bragg after winning the shortened race in 2010 hasn’t fulfilled his potential but this may be his year. He didn’t race as he wanted at Western States but that may well have been a good training run for the UTMB. He is super motivated.

Seb Chaigneau after 3rd last year told me that this may be his last UTMB but he recently had a bad accident and damaged his knee. He will start the race but who knows what implications this will have, He knows the mountains, he knows the course and he is tough. If the knee causes no problems he will be up at the front.

Julian Chorier is the hot tip. He is in great form and meticulous in prep for the big races. With the Salomon Team behind him they will be going into this race with a plan. A plan to win.

Other Salomon athletes such as Iker Karrera who placed 2nd in 2011 will also be chomping at the bit and we may well see Chorier, Karrera and Francois d’Haene all running together to help each other along until the latter more decisive stages. Francois d’Haene has a good year this year and he will be in the top 10 if all goes well.

Nemeth Csaba from Hungary placed 4th last year and knows the race well. He has finished multiple times in the top 10 and I guess he only needs a ‘perfect’ year to move onto the podium or take the win. He did after all finish 2nd in 2006.

Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, Carlos Sa and Patrick Bohard all paced top 10 in 2011 and return to the 2012 race. Although Kaburaki finished behind Sa and Bohard you can’t help but think a good race will move him up the field and place him top 5. In 2009 he was on the podium in 3rd and the previous year he was 4th.

Jonas Buud from Sweden is super quick and his 100m-world record of 12:32 confirms that. But just like Ian Sharman, this speed doesn’t translate to the high mountains. He has won the Swiss Alpine Marathon though. He may make top 10 but not top 3.

I am still uncertain if Miguel Heras is running. If he is he will be up at the front and may well take the win but he has had a mixed year. My outsiders are a couple of Aussie – Jim Villiers and Clarke McClymont. Clarke is running the race for the first time but having met him, chatted and discussed him with a close friend he may just create a surprise…

I will be in Chamonix over the race weekend and provide updates and news as and when I can.

Without doubt an interest race lies ahead.

New Horizons for the ISF

Another important step marks the rapidly changing face of skyrunning as the ISF takes on the 100-mile distance.

The rule was approved at the ISF AnnualGeneral Assembly which took place in Spain on July 6 during the SkyGames®.   Members representing the 22 countries in person or by proxy attended the meeting, chaired by President, Marino Giacometti.

The new Secretary General was elected in the form of skyrunner Nina Dacanay from the Philippines who no doubt will bring, among her many qualities, competence and efficiency together with a strong passion for promoting the sport.

New blood on the Management Committee includes Evgeny Kolchanov (Russia), Ian Sharman (Great Britain) and Fabio Menino (Italy) – all three runners.   In fact, key runners were elected to stand on the Athletes’ Commission, namely Anna Frost (NZL) Joe Grant (USA) together with Fabio Menino and Ian Sharman.   Their input will be invaluable in the development and strategy of the sport and to represent a voice for runners everywhere.

The athlete has always represented the number one focus for the skyrunning management and, at the beginning of the season, a seminar was held on the island of La Palma, Spain, with a view to gaining insight from the sport’s principal players – what runners really want and how they would like to see the sport develop.  “Less Cloud. More Sky” was the title, emblematic of the new horizons skyrunning aims to explore.

Running legends representing different disciplines, countries and brands attended the three-day seminar from May 14 – 16, together with a number of the most representative media outlets from four continents.

Representing the ISF were president Marino Giacometti and VPs Lauri van Houten and Dr Sergio Giulio Roi.  The superstar athletes attending were: KilianJornet, Iker Karrera, Anna Frost, Seb Chaigneau, Maud Gobert, Francois d’Haene, Thomas Lorblanchet, Florent Troillet, Gustavo Reyes, Csaba Nemeth, GiulianoCavallo and Americans Anton Krupicka, Mike Wolfe, Geoff Roes, Joe Grant, Ian Sharman, Nick Clark, Nikki Kimball, Transvulcania winner Dakota Jones and World Mountain Running champions Max King and Marco De Gasperi…..

For a new generation of runners the skyrunning past, illustrated with slides and videos, was an eye-opener. The topics examined included:  the social media phenomenon, sponsorships and the industry – how these relate to the runners – and back to the industry; why a federation was created; how it interacts with the athletes; and the federation’s spirit and values.

The feedback from runners has proven invaluable in indicating the way forward and, just two months later, in giving runners a place and a voice on the Federation’s Management Committee and Athletes’ Commission.

Thanks to the success of “Less Cloud. More Sky” another seminar is programmed for 2013.

Seb Chaigneau ‘Get Ready’ episode 3

The North Face athlete, Sébastien Chaigneau explains you how to prepare to run by night.

Some good tips in this film and certainly wise advice about being attentive of sleep patterns and not disrupting your ‘normal’ training.

Seb is being interviewed for Talk Ultra later in June for an early July edition.