Read about the first edition HERE on Ultrarunning.com
Read about the first edition HERE on Ultrarunning.com
I was recently in Chamonix for the UTMB series of events. I have to be honest, I have avoided Chamonix at the end of August for the last few years… The whole UTMB extravaganza just feels too overwhelming, there is no escape. So, I have chose to either have a holiday or work on smaller races.
This year I was asked by adidas to work on the event, documenting the experience of their Terrex Team as they prepared to tackle all of the events the UTMB offer, the exception coming with the crazy long PTL.
Working for a brand brings a whole new perspective and experience to an event like UTMB. Instead of chasing multiple runners over multiple locations, my priority would be to follow the favourites within each of the respective races – OCC, CCC and TDS. The UTMB would also be raced and followed by the whole Terrex Team but due to a prior commitment, I would skip the big loop around France, Italy and Switzerland.
UTMB needs no introduction, the series of races have arguably become a flagship for the sport. As UTMB has grown, so has the demand for people to race and for media to cover the event. This brings a whole set of challenges, especially for media. As a brand, adidas were required to pay a fee to allow myself and the film crew access to certain areas of the race, for example aid stations and finish line, and thus we could capture certain required images and also have the license to use them. UTMB provide live coverage of the event and it must be said, they do an incredible job using a helicopter, runners and mountain bikes to cover much of all the race routes. It is quite an incredible logistical problem and in addition, they provide live commentary with an ever-changing group of people providing on the spot analysis of the race. You can pretty much follow every race, start to finish live.
The team arrived in Chamonix one week before the UTMB main event and I arrived on the Monday. This meant the YCC started Tuesday, TDS Wednesday, OCC Thursday, CCC and UTMB starting Friday. You can do the math, that means long days, early starts, late nights and little sleep.
As a team, adidas had rented one huge chalet that would host the whole team, the hashtag #oneteam being a very important motto and ethos not only during race week but it is a hashtag that the team is using to bring the whole Terrex ethos together. It is very much ‘all for one, one for all!’ The chalet had two chefs who provided meals for the entire team and in so doing, dietary needs could be looked after and the need to try to find a restaurant in Chamonix was removed.
A team physio, Dave, was literally ‘hands-on’ everyday from morning to evening to keep the whole team in top condition. In the words of Team Manager, Robert, ‘without his immense treatments, day and night, someone like Luis may well have not raced!’
I am fortunate, after years covering races, I was well acquainted with much of the team; Luis Alberto Hernando, Sheila Aviles, Dmitry Mityaev, Ekaterina Mityaeva, Tom Evans and so many more. This always makes my job easier as to work closely with athletes, particularly in race week, there has to be trust and respect.
I was working alongside the adidas film crew who have been working on the Terrex brand for some time. A great group of guys who know how to work hard, laugh hard and find the time for a beer at the end of the day, no matter how long it may be. Big shout for Rapha, Andy, Patrick, Yannick and then man stuck to an editing stool, Bene. We had a separate chalet as the hours we work are not ideal when athletes are trying to sleep. Meal times were a family affair though and the athlete house was our hub for the week starting with an 0800 breakfast as and when applicable.
Behind the scenes is always fascinating. Looking at apparel, shoes and new development it was clear to see that adidas’ commitment to trail and mountain running is huge. They had specifically designed waterproof jackets and trousers for the team that complied with UTMB rules while still being light and packing small.
Athletes such as Yngvild Kaspersen and Tom Evans (Yngvild 2nd at Pikes Peak and Tom 3rd at Western States) were flown into Chamonix to be part of #oneteam even though they would not race. It was clear that adidas’ commitment to bringing everyone together is a high priority.
A signing in the UTMB expo allowed fans to get close, chat and get a signed photo from Tom, Luis, Holly and Sheila. The buzz was incredible.
Post the signings, we took Tom in to the mountains for a photo shoot. The most ransom moment of the whole week… A couple just married saw Tom, recognized him and then came for a wedding photo! The groom was running UTMB.
Over the course of the week, racers and non-racers would each continually give up their time to crew, support, follow and cheer on the team. A prime example being Ekaterina crewing for Dmitry during TDS to a stunning 2nd place. Two days later, Ekaterina would run UTMB and place 4th while Dmitry crewed her.
Filming and photographing brings its own challenges of long drives, big hikes and a relentless pace that leaves one drained and exhausted by the end but high on emotion. It’s always a tough call on who to follow? Many of the races had more than one adidas runner participating but from a story and media perspective, we would have to make decisions in advance. The TDS for example, our emphasis was on Dmitry. For CCC, Luis Alberto Hernando was our primary story. Needless to say, it’s incredible when it all comes together, Dmitry placed 2nd and Luis won CCC. To be able to see the journey unfold at close quarters and tell the story is quite special.
While we raced around with cameras, the remaining crew would chase around providing aid and support. Tom Evan’s quite rightly said, ‘I have raced and won CCC, I have also crewed on big races – I know how hard and tiring crewing is.’
But despite the long hours, the short nights and the relentless fatigue, nobody complained. On the contrary. As the week went on and the results came in, everyone was becoming hyped by the experience and results. It was infectious.
But nothing is perfect. Racing is fickle. While racing went well for Dmitry and Luis for example, others had a tough time. It’s here when the #oneteam ethos kicks in. We are all human, sometimes we are ahead and all is going well, other times, things don’t click, for whatever reason. As an athlete, that can be very hard. It takes months to prepare for an event and then on the day, for it not to come together as expected can be hugely disappointing. As one runner said, ‘I have let the team down…’ But the response was unequivocal, ‘You have let no one down!’
Sheila Aviles had stomach issues in OCC, Timothy Olson struggled at UTMB and finally had to withdraw and all along, the support from adidas and the team was 100%.
Holly Page made a last minute decision to run CCC, battled through the first half of the race with terrible stomach problems only to come out of the other side and then race strongly over the latter stages for her first 100km finish. It was a story echoed throughout the whole week, ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Being ‘In the arena’ to quote Roosevelt is what the sport of trail and mountain running is all about, ‘ The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.’
Roosevelt in his quote sums up all adidas stand for with the Terrex Team.
Our day started with an early alarm, a quick breakfast and a drive to Courmayeur – the plan to climb to Refuge Bertone and capture early content with Mont Blanc providing a stunning backdrop.
Plans hit a problem from the off with a long wait to get through the Mont Blanc tunnel. Once in Courmayeur it was gps time to navigate a route to the trail head. This was a constant theme of the whole week… Great gps software and gpx route are essential – we could plan to meet the runners as much as possible during a race.
We started our climb later than we would have liked but we pushed the pace – not that easy with a 15kg camera bag! Once there, the weather was perfect, the scenery magical and we knew we were going to get some great content.
For Luis, we were aware we could capture him on the descent, chase after him and then capture him again after he had visited the aid station.
I positioned myself on the descent knowing that I would get a dynamic shot as Luis dropped in front of me taking a left turn with Mont Blanc behind him.
As Luis approached, disaster struck. A ‘runner’ who was spectating ran ahead of him ruining all my ‘pre’ shots. As I shouted for them to get out of the way, they then stopped directly ahead of me, right in the middle of my shot. I had to compromise… shit happens!
I then raced after Luis on the descent and then got to my second spot. This time all was good with clear shots and I then ran with him capturing more content before he raced off around the mountain.
Being early in the day, we decided to wait and capture the other adidas runners who were participating as the time gaps at this stage would not be too great. Later, it would be impossible if Luis ran the race we anticipated! Abi Hall, Macy were looking good but Holly Page was struggling with a bad stomach.
Dropping bag to the car via the twisty descent, we now had a 2-hour drive to Champex Lac. Luis was motoring and now in the lead. Race projections said he would arrive at 1425. Our navigator said we would arrive 1410.
Once again we used gps software to find an access point pre Champex Lac that would allow us to capture content on steep forest trails. Luis arrived like clockwork powering up the climb using poles to keep the momentum.
At Champex Lac he ran the footpath and roads around the lake allowing more opportunities before we went off-piste on a dirt road allowing for one last shot before we would then lose him only to re-connect at Trient.
Trient provided a shot before the aid station and then we drove out of Switzerland and back in to France before capturing Luis on the climb of the Col des Montets – our last opportunity before his arrival at the finish.
Now Luis was motoring and opening up a gap on the 2nd place.
At the finish, myself and Patrick (film crew) waited for Luis in the press area while the remaining adidas team watched the huge screens in the square.
Finally, Luis achieved his coveted UTMB victory. It was an emotional finish. His wife, Nieves, greeted him with open arms. The Terrex team mobbed him as soon as they could… A post-race drug test delaying that process for some time!
Back at the chalet it was time to download the day’s work and release the content.
There is no ‘I’ in team and that was personified during this intense UTMB experience. We all had roles but flexibility is key. Athletes became crew, office workers became car drivers and everyone became a supporter both in a physical and mental capacity.
It was a real pleasure to be immersed with a brand and follow closely the whole process that make a race and team come together. Certainly, the UTMB and Chamonix experience made team bonds stronger.
On a personal note, to leave on Saturday am while the UTMB was underway was hard, especially with Ekaterina running. I have witnessed her growth in skyrunning over the last year’s and then to see her rise to 4th at UTMB not only made me really proud but also a little jealous and envious that I wasn’t available to capture that journey in images…. Next time!
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ZINAL, SWITZERLAND – Sierre-Zinal is a legendary trail race because of its nearly five decades of history and revered athletic performances, and on Sunday along its famed trails in the Swiss Alps another trail running legend added yet another chapter to both his own storied legacy and the race’s as well. Setting out with a blazing fast pace, Spain’s Kilian Jornet (Team Salomon) ran away from one of the most competitive trail running fields in recent memory to win in 2:25:35, shattering Jonathan Wyatt’s longstanding course record of 2:29:12 by three minutes and 37 seconds. It was Jornet’s seventh win at Sierre-Zinal in nine tries.
📷Kilian at the 2014 Sierre-Zinal
On the women’s side, Switzerland’s Maude Mathys* (Team Salomon) also broke the Sierre-Zinal course record, winning in 2:49:20 to best Anna Pichrtova’s 2008 time by nearly five minutes.
*(In 2015 Mathys was reprimanded for an ADRV for using clomiphene, a fertility drug which features on the WADA Prohibited List under section S4: Hormone and Metabolic Modulators. Mathys was let off with a warning as the drug was being taken in the hope of getting pregnant.)
Both Jornet and Mathys won from the front, surging to the lead on the challenging early uphill. As part of the second season of the Golden Trail World Series, Sierre-Zinal had another deep, talented field.
That seemed to bring the best out of the athletes taking to the starting line at the fourth stop of the six-race Series.Jornet was chased valiantly by 2016 winner *Petro Mamu from Eritrea, who also broke the former course record, finishing just 56 seconds behind the Spaniard in 2:26:31.
*(Petro Mamu (ERI) tested positive at the doping control in Premana after both the World Mountain Running Championships and the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. Mamu received a nine-month ban starting on 19 September 2017 after admitting to the findings and co-operating with the IAAF (reduced from 2 years). All results of his following 30 July 2017 were cancelled. The substance being a medication normally used to assist with Asthma.)
American runner Jim Walmsley (Team Hoka), competing for the first time at Sierre-Zinal, was 3rd in an impressive 2:31:52. Juan Carlos Carera was 4th in 2:32:52 and Great Britain’s Robbie Simpson was 5th in 2:33:55.
Kilian Jornet grabbed the lead a few strides into the race and was alone from there on out. The course gains 2,200 meters from the start in Sierre to the finish line in the idyllic alpine village of Zinal, rolling along before a big downhill finish. Jornet wasted no time letting the competition know he was going for broke. At the Chandolin checkpoint he was ahead of Mamu by two minutes 1:05:59 and in hot pursuit of the course record set by Wyatt in 2003.
“I checked the time after the climb from the start and I knew it was good,” Jornet said. “I expected a couple guys to come with me on the first climb like Petro and Davide Magnini, but I was alone from the start after a few hundred meters. I have big respect for the record of Jonathan. He was a leader of the sport so to follow in his footsteps is a great feeling. This is special of all the victories.”
Jornet set his sights on the 31km Sierre-Zinal race with a dedicated training regimen that he knew was necessary if he was to approach the record of Wyatt. He scaled back his racing schedule this season to focus his training in an attempt to see just how fast he could be.
“I usually average about 15 races per year, and there have been years where I did 50 races between trail running and ski-mo, so you don’t train. You race and recover,” Jornet said after his win. “The goal this year was to focus on training and see if it makes a difference in the performance. I always target to win, but I plan a strategy in each race so I don’t really race full-out because I know I have another race just after, sometimes the next week. This year, the goal was to give everything and not have to worry about recovering for the next race. And I was six minutes faster than my best time here so it seemed to work. I thought it was possible to break the record, but I thought I’d be counting seconds.”
After winning in his 2019 debut at Zegama-Aizkorri Mountain Marathon in June, Jornet was appearing in his second Golden Trail World Series race of the season. Next, he will set his sights on the oldest trail race in America, the Pikes Peak Mountain Marathon in Colorado, the fifth stop of the 2019 Golden Trail World Series, on August 25th
In the women’s race, Mathys made sure Jornet wasn’t the only one breaking a record on the day. Her time of 2:49:20 was five minutes ahead of fellow Swiss Judith Wyder (Team Salomon) who finished in 2:54:20, and it broke the former course record of 2:54:26 by five minutes and six seconds. Wyder was also under the former record by six seconds.
Mathys was 3rd at the Dolomyths Sky run in Italy a couple of weeks back, but on Sunday she used her strength in the uphill to put distance between herself and the field in the early going. She was more than three minutes ahead at the Chandolin checkpoint and was never seen again by the rest of the pack.
Italy’s Silvia Rampazzo (Team Tornado) was 3rd with another strong effort on the Golden Trail World Series. She finished in 2:56:17. New Zealand’s Ruth Croft (Team Scott) continued her amazing consistency with a 4th place finish in 3:01:56, while France’s Anais Sabrié was 5th in 3:01:58.
ABOUT THE GOLDEN TRAIL SERIES:
The elite runners of the Golden Trail World Series are trying to earn points in the season-long chase for a spot in the Grand Final, which will take place in Nepal in October. The athletes must participate in three of the six races during the series in order to be eligible for the final. The top-10 men and women with the most points in their three best races will earn a trip for themselves and a person of their choice to the Grand Final. The overall final standings (and the men’s and women’s champions) of the Golden Trail World Series will be determined again by the runners’ three best finishes during the season, plus their result at the Grand Final.
Photo credits: Martina Valmassoi and Jordi Saragossa
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Damian Hall ran his first half marathon race in 2011. In his own words, “It was a life-changing race.” Just 1-year later he ran his first marathon and first ultra-marathon. Dedicated to the art of running, Damian became a student of the sport and through his journalism work, he gleamed as much information as possible. He became his own test subject.
In a very short period of time, he completed the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc on four occasions progressing each year to finally place 5th. He has run Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert,the Ice Ultra in Arctic Sweden,The Coastal Challenge in Costa and has excelled at multi-discipline and long distance races in the UK such as The Spine, The Dragons Back and the UK Trail Championships.
His love for the sport has also seen him test himself on multiple challenges and FKT’s such as running ‘The Rounds’ such as Bob Graham, the South West Coast Path and most recently the Cape Wrath Trail with Beth Pascall.
A lover of a good mug of tea and a Tunnock biscuit, Damian, the husband and father of two children, has a popular voice on the UK ultra-run scene.
Leaving his beloved UTMB alone in 2019, Damian will challenge himself in September with the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa.
Training for…, a series of new articles brought to you by the multi-stage and ultra-running specialist store, myRaceKit, http://www.myracekit.com
We are very fortunate to have myRaceKit sponsoring several articles on ‘Training for…’ in this scenario, the UTMR, the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, an epic trail race designed by no less than Lizzy Hawker, who in herself is an absolutely stunning multi-day ultra-runner. Lizzy came up with this beast of a race, or should I say beasts of races because now there is more than one, there is the big one which is a 170 km with 11,300 meters of vertical, there is a four-stagerace which is basically the big one broken down into four days and then there are the Ultra Three Passes which is 100 km with 6420 meters of vertical gain, big statistics. I wondered, what enticed Damian to tackle the UTMR instead of UTMB in 2019?
“I thought if I’m not doing UTMB, I’ll do the race with the closest name,” Damian says with a hint of mischief. “No. I think number one, I love running a hundred miles, I think it’s a really special race distance, I also love running a hundred miles in a lumpy place because it’s just that bit more ‘hurty,’ but I think the number one appeal really for me is Lizzy Hawker actually, I’ve never met her and she’s a huge inspiration to me. When Iwas just getting into the sport, she was winning UTMB every year, and I love her outlook on the sport, I’m sure she probably wouldn’t call it a sport, it’s probably more than that to her and probably to me as well, but I’ve read her book, I love that and she’s just super inspiring. I still have that UTMB obsession to shake off, I did four UTMBs in a row and I’m looking forward to a year without one just to freshen things up and see what that feels like and UTMR, it’s not too far away either, is a similar time of year but in a way it sounds very similar and yet very different. Obviously, the crowds will be a lot smaller, the field’s a lot smaller. It sounds like a tougher course, there’s more climb. From the pictures I’ve seen, it’s possibly more spectacular. I’ve had three good friends do it including Nicky Spinks. They’ve all absolutely raved about it. There’s a whole load of reasons to be attracted to the race. I’m really excited.”
Put like that, it’s self-explanatory why Damian will venture to new ground. After all, the Matterhorn as a backdrop to stunning trails is an easy sell. It’s arguably the most iconic mountain in the world, maybe even more so than Everest. After all, Everest did not make it on to Toblerone packaging!
Damian came to this sport later in life, and in doing so, has inspired a great deal of people to relook at their own running and what they can achieve. I’ve always said, age is just a number, it doesn’t actually really mean anything. Not only are you proving that but there’s countless other people proving that. In 2014, Damian placed fourth in the Spine and second in the Cotswold Way, which was then just about over 100 miles. The following year, I raced at the Dragon’s Back, he placed 29th at UTMB. Then the following year, you came to The Coastal challenging Costa Rica where you placed fifth in a super stacked front field. Second at the Highland Fling which was a UK trail championship, a great result. You moved up from 29th to 19th at UTMB, then 19th to 12th and then 12th to 5th! Actually, 2018 was a great year for you because you won the Ice Ultra, you were sixth at Madeira and you were first at Ultimate Trails and second at Mozart 100.
“Yes, I think I’ve realized that UTMB and similar are the races I like. Long climbs and some technical aspects and fun. I suppose fun, long technical descents. I’ll be honest, I like a hiking race. I like a long climb that’s so long, you can’t really run it. I like the change in rhythm that that brings. I am not full-time but am dedicated. My progression has been gradual, and I am happy. UTMR in a way is perfect because it’s some of the similar format big mountains, similar distance that kind of thing but it feels quite fresh and that’s a new course.”
Running well for any race usually requires very specific preparation and ideally on opportunity to go and run on some of the race route.
“I’m still undecided whether I’ll be able to go on recce or not. Traditionally, I haven’t really recced races because I’m in the sport for the adventure really. Obviously, I love the athletic, the competitive element of it too. I love the adventure element where you’re not really sure what the course looks like and you’re not sure what’s of the next horizon, the next mountain, the next valley.”
A family man who works, how does Damian plan his training? How does he fit in training? What does his research look like when going into a race? So many questions come to mind! It’s very easy with the Ultra Monte Rosa course I guess, look at a map and it’s a nice big circular loop and you suddenly start to see really key statistics like Zermatt and Saas-Fee and then you start to look at everything else and then suddenly you realise there’s lots of 4,000 meter mountains in this area. It’s going to be quite a hard race. How does Damian start to approach the training process for a race like this?
“I guess the distances is a key statistic and you’d hope people would know the distance before they sign up but then it’s also how much vert as the Americans call it, how much ascent is in the race overall. What I learned from my first UTMBis actually the descending is going to hurt than the climbing. It’s always important to know roughly what that figure is and that’s going to dictate probably the latter block of my training.”
You need to be strong for a race like a long distance ultra, particularly when in the mountains, I wondered on Damian’s approach to strength and conditioning?
“I do additional strength work making sure my legs are strong enough for that. I suppose how technical is the course is something that people think about a lot and quite rightly. UTMB for example has got a couple of short technical sections, I suppose, but mostly it’s good terrain, good hard trails. I must admit I haven’t looked in detail yet at UTMR about how technical it is compared to UTMB.I have heard more technical. Strength is key and another thing I’ve done over the time is I’ve worked with Shane Benzie who’s a movement specialist on having good technique for descending, especially for the technical terrain. I still don’t always get it right. I’ve just seen some of my photos from my recent race and they’re a bit disappointing. My technique was out of step. As you get tired sometimes, old habits slip in.”
I am sure that Damian’s training is more than just going for a run, but what about speed?
“There’s volume of course, ultra-runners need volume and miles. But I’ll be going to the track as well because last year for the first time, I started doing track work. I hate it but know it’s effective. I’m 43, I’m trying to squeeze every… I guess people would call it marginal gains, but I make sure I’m as fast as can be as well legs being as strong as can be and so on. I will be going to the track.”
Vertical climbing is a key element to a race like UTMR, as well as the descending as Damian has mentioned. Breaking training down into blocks, ‘periodization’ is important, I asked Damian how he approaches these elements.
“A good plan is all about periodizing, for now, I am in a good spell of getting fast. Vertical training will come a bit later nearer the race, which thankfully is in the summer when it’s a bit more pleasant getting to mountainous places. Also, what’s changed for me over the couple of years also is that I really look forward to runningraces. Now, I think I’m more sensible in picking three or four key ones for a year. Actually, I really enjoy the training. I love training for the sake of training, which is a nice feeling, a nice place to be, I suppose.”
Adding races in to training can be difficult, especially if one of those ‘other’ races can be as important as another ‘A’ race. For example, Damian hopes to run Western States which is close to UTMR and the courses are very different.
“Yeah, at the moment, I’ve still got this outside hope or outside wish of doing Western States in late June. Obviously, some of the Western States training would benefit UTMR, but some of it would be quite different. I don’t know if I’ll be doing it yet. In a way, I can’t plan too much of that, but I know that July and August will be all about UTMR for me. That probably means a big amount of days and trying to get a lot mountain running.”
Equipment for Western States is pretty straightforward. You need a pair of running shoes, shorts, and a top, and a hydration vest, whereas UTMR is going to be something that is completely different. Variables in terrain, extremes of hot and cold, mandatory kit, poles, etcetera. I asked Damian what are some of the specifics in a mountain race in terms of equipment that he needs, must have, and then the optional extras that he takes?
“There is something special about doing a mountain race where you have a pack, where you’re feeling self-reliant, where you know you can be okay for 6, 8, 10, 12 hours with everything in your pack, maybe even 24 hours if you get off-course. I do like that. That’s mostly why I got into the sport really is to have those mini mountain ventures. I do love agonizing over what kit to take and checking the weight of everything and checking the weather and all that aspect in the few weeks beforehand. I love all that, the anticipation.”
So, what equipment does Damian take?
“I’ll take two if not three waterproof jackets because probably the last weather forecast, the day before the race, will probably determine which one I take. With UTMB, I learned in the past that the weather can do anything and you’re not really sure. You need to be prepared for bad weather in high mountains. Any jacket should have taped seams and of course one needs appropriate trousers to go with the jacket.”
“I’ll probably, depending on the time of year, take a Protec-Shell which is probably a winter jacket. I wouldn’t expect to use that, but you never know, the weather really might come in and you don’t want to be caught out. I don’t expect to race in that, but I’ll take that out with me just in case.”
“Base layers, I use merino wool because that just gives you a little bit of extra warmth. For the last two years at UTMB I’ve worn merino gloves. I’m pretty sure they’ll be on mandatory kit list. If the weather is rough, I might be taking two, I might be taking a pair of mitts to go over the top of the gloves. I imagine there’ll be some mid layer. Again, that’s a tricky one. Sometimes if you go the lightest possible then you might get caught out. Again, I’ll probably go two different options maybe a merino one and maybe a PrimaLoft. I’ll probably take a light pair of tights as well if it’s on the mandatory kit.”
“Headlamp and spare batteries are essential, I really like the Petzl NAO+ which you can program in an app. You can decide exactly how many hours you want it to last for. It’s really bright. It’s been dependable so far. Poles, I like the Black Diamond Z Pole.”
Poles have become increasingly popular in ultra-races, particularly in mountain races. Certainly, in America, you wouldn’t see anybody using poles. I think that’s primarily because the terrain out there is probably more runnable. I’m not saying that they don’t have plenty of vert. For example, Hard Rock has got plenty of vert. Hard Rock is a good example because now if you look at the elite field in Hard Rock, they’re pretty much all using poles. Poles have become almost the ‘go to’ in races like UTMB and all these other mountain races but a lot of people think that they can just pick up a pair of poles the day before a race and use them. There is absolutely a real skill to using poles. Damian has used poles on many occasions, I wondered about his thought process?
Read about using poles HERE
“Poles still causing some debate definitely in some British circles where I think they still get called cheat sticks. About whether they’re really useful or not, in the last couple years I’ve seen definitely even people like Jim Mann and Nicky Spinks, Jasmin Paris and so on use them. Personally, I think they help me with long climbs. I can’t prove they do really unless I suppose I did a huge climb without them and then a huge climb with them to compare. I suppose I’ve never actually done that. Some of it may be psychological. You might feel you’re climbing better with them, but I really believe in this sport the mental side is so important. If you think you’re climbing well, then chances are it will help, positive mindsetis key and think. I really feel they helped with climbing. It’s not just spreading the load of the muscles. It keeps you more upright as well which can aid your breathing. It also means your muscles, especially your quads, get less stress because there’s always a temptation to bend. Practice in training is essential, especially on your long runs. Also, press-ups are excellent to tone the required muscles.”
“Also, the better your arms are moving your legs tend to follow your arms. If your arms are keeping a decent cadence your legs are hopefully not being too lazy and keeping a decent smaller cadence. A bigger cadence but a smaller gap, smaller stride. That’s what I found. I also try hard to tuck them away for any flats or downhills because I think they seem to slow me up. I think that’s a cadence thing where if you’re holding poles your arms move less and therefore your legs can move less. Poles also aid travelling down hill, sometimes I’ve been so wrecked that my quads have needed the extra help on the downhill.”
Safety is a key element in mountain races, the need for minimum calories, minimum liquid, a mobile phone and so on. I wondered if Damian had witnessed key changes?
“When I started out in the sport, I think I’d usually go with a bladder, that seemed to make more sense but the last few years I’ve been using soft flasks. I think it’s easier to see how much water you’ve got and to monitor how much you’re drinking. For example, at Station A, you might just fill them both up and try and drink them both by the time you get to the next one. I think if I need to carry one and a half, I’d probably just take three soft flasks. One might stay in the back of my pack depending on how hot it is. If it’s getting hot I’ll maybe bring that into play, but what I’ve learned as well as sometimes you have a third one that’s full of water and you use that for tipping over your head if it’s really hot rather than drinking because it can be more important to bring the body temperature down, definitely what I learned at Costa Rica! In regard to nutrition, it goes in waves and it constantly changes, I usually go with one gel and some nuts to be honest because nuts are high calorie per weight. If you are in trouble or you found someone else is in trouble, the sugar from a gel is going to help them quicker. Emergency food is very personal. In addition to a phone, often a space blanket or even a form of bivvy bag is required along with a whistle and compass. It all makes sense. Now I even would consider a GPS like a Garmin inReach as a really useful safety addition.”
Most mandatory kit lists include whistle and compass, that’s pretty normal. Some sort of elastic bandage or strapping is also useful should you have a bad ankle or a knee that you can strap it up is useful. Also, your own cup just makes sense.
“Yes, definitely, it is kind of horrifying especially in road running. I’m not trying to beat up on road running necessarily but when you see a city half marathon or marathon. Then you just see the debris left behind afterwards of water bottles. I don’t know how practical it is to turn that to road races and stuff but obviously, this is the way forward. We’re all in the last year or two become really aware of plastic wastage and yes it’s horrifying some of the stuff we’ve seen in the oceans.”
Finally, I asked Damian for a top-tip to get ready for UTMR.
“There are a few things. An obvious thing is a bit more strength work which obviously has other benefits and should help prevent injury and stuff. I must credit Ian Sharman who used to coach me, his signature session is probably the weight vest hike which I’ve become a fan of, and a weight vest is only probably only about £30 or £40 online, maybe eight to 10 kilograms and you wear for half an hour at a time, one or two miles, ideally a little bit of hill involved. Not running and just hiking you definitely don’t run downhill because that’s a hell of a lot of weight to go through your knees. If you just get in the habit of doing a short walk, often for people it’s a dog walk maybe, that can grow a bit of strength quite safely.Ultimately if you live somewhere flat it’s probably a good idea if you can sometimes get away to somewhere lumpier and do some specific training. Personally, I live near Bath in the bottom of the Cotswold’s, I go to the Brecon Beacons quite regularly, which is a three-hour round trip for me. The longest climb there still is just only 400 meters, that’s not even half of what it will be in the Alps, but one can do repeats.”
One thing is for sure, in any running adventure, if you want to progress and perform, you need to be specific. Damian has applied these principles and year-on-year, as he has learnt and has progressed. It’s not just the ‘running’ part but the planning, the equipment, the strength, core, nutrition and importantly the mind. To achieve one must address all those aspects to perform.
Training for…A series of new articles brought to you by the multi-stage and ultra-running specialist store myRaceKit, http://www.myracekits.com.
MANDATORY EQUIPMENT for UTMR
Mobile Phone – HERE
Head Torch and batteries– HERE
Emergency food (400 cal)– HERE
Bivvy bag– HERE
Elastic bandage– HERE
Drinking cup– HERE
Waterproof jacket w/ hood– HERE
Waterproof trousers – HERE
3/4 or full run tights– HERE
Warm hat– HERE
GPS tracker (provided)
Identity papers– Passport is required in a waterproof bag
Rear light– HERE
Thermal warm layer– HERE
Run pack– HERE
Dry Bag– HERE
myRaceKit – HERE
UTMR – HERE
Damian Hall – HERE
Listen to the ‘Training for…’ article on Talk Ultra Podcast HERE
UTMB is upon us and the hype just keeps on building and building. The 2018 edition looks set to be another great race and the year when the chances of an American at the top of the podium, have probably never been higher!
The 170km loop that starts in France, passes through Italy, then Switzerland and once again returns to France with 10,000m of vert is considered the pinnacle of 100-mile mountain running.
It is easy to look at UTMB and the presence of Kilian Jornet on the start line and say, ‘we know who has won!’ To be honest, I think Kilian is the odds-on favourite to win the 2018 edition, particularly with Francoise D’Haene missing the race. What Kilian has achieved in 2018 after a very serious injury has been quite remarkable. What is most impressive is the range of his skill, he can break an almost unbreakable FKT in the UK (Bob Graham Round), win a super-fast and competitive Sierre-Zinal and then win and set a course record at the most technical and pinnacle skyrunning event there is, Trofeo Kima, just 5-days before toeing the line at UTMB. Without doubt, Kilian is the one to beat, however, the one thing he has against him is the lack of specific 100-mile training. For anyone else, that would be a huge problem, for Kilian, no!
Many will say that Jim Walmsley is the prime contender to beat KJ but let’s give a nod and respect to Tim Tollefson who has placed 3rd twice and now knows the race like the back of his hand. He prepares specifically and respects the race and the distance. His form seems a little off based on results in 2018, but, I am sure Tim has only ever had his eye on one prize.
Luis Alberto Hernando is for me one of the greatest and most underrated mountain runners in the world. He is pure class. He is a multiple world champ, has placed 2nd at UTMB before and missed the race in 2017 because he knew he didn’t have the necessary form to win. He has been quiet this year which can only mean very specific training. He hasn’t run many 100’s and this has been his downfall in the past, he always races hard and from the front which can mean he blows up. This may be Luis’s year for the win, but everything will need to go right, and Kilian will need to be a little off. A Luis victory would be extremely popular!
Jim Walmsley finally fulfilled his dreams and ability with nailing Western States earlier this year and obliterating the course record. He has earned his 100-mile apprenticeship. Last year at UTMB it was all going well, and Jim was running a smarter race, it went wrong but he rallied and then finished in the top-10 closing hard. He has a tough decision to make at this year’s race, does he go on gut feeling and run at ‘his’ pace early on and hope he can take it to the line (think Zach Miller) or does he hand with Kilian, mark him, stay with him and then make a move late in the race where he then maybe can use his natural run speed to win? It’s important to note, that running and winning UTMB will be at least 20% more time on his feet than the WSER victory. I think Jim will make the podium this year and yes, he could be at the top of it, quite easily!
Xavier Thevenard has done it all at UTMB winning all the main distances over the past 4-years. He will no doubt be reeling from his DQ at Hardrock and that could work either way at UTMB. It may motivate a superb performance or put questions in his mind. Podium potential for sure but not a winner this year.
Alex Nichols is for me the greatest US potential for a win in years. However, it may take this year for him to fully understand the race before he can come back and win next year or the year after. I said many times in the last 18-months that Alex has the greatest potential and he proved it recently with his Nolans 14 FKT. He is one to watch and a dark horse.
The above are my prime podium contenders but as always, it’s a stacked field with the following toeing the line:
That is an A-list of contenders with Gediminas Grinius and Javi Dominguez as stand outs. It is UTMB, so anything can happen on the big loop. One person to watch is the UK’s Damian Hall. Over the past 3-years he has moved closer and closer to the top-10 and last year placed 11th. He is super motivated this year and although I don’t think he will make the top-5, the chances are high for him to fulfil his top-10 dream.
Mimmi Kotka for me is the 2018 UTMB champion. She has won CCC, TDS and has crushed mountain races such as Madeira Island Ultra Trail, Mont-Blanc 90km and the Maxi-Race in Annecy. She eats mountains and although this is her first 100, something just tells me she is ready for the big loop.
Caroline Chaverot of course should be the odds-on favourite but boy-oh-boy as she had a tough time of things after winning ‘everything’ and I mean ‘everything’ a year or so ago. Her form is a real question mark and she has openly discussed on social media that she has been very unwell. Caroline in form is of course podium potential, anything less and she would be disappointed.
Uxue Fraile has a 5th, 3rd and 2nd at UTMB and that alone sets her up as a prime podium contender. She always runs a savvy race, has loads of experience and for me, she may well match her 2015 2nd place.
Kaori Niwa has been 4th at UTMB and recently took 4th at Hardrock 100, so, we know she has endurance. That is super important here at UTMB and although victory is unlikely with Mimmi and Caroline in the race, the 3rd slot on the podium is possible.
Sephanie Violett was 15th last-year which seems a below par performance based on her experience and skill. But UTMB is not the US and Magdalena Boulet and Kaci Lickteig also placed out of the top-10. I have a feeling that these three women will change things around this year and impact on the top-10 with Stephanie my tip as the one who does the best of the trio.
Beth Pascall and Jo Meek are two Brits who I believe this year will turn heads. Beth gets the nod over Jo as she has much experience at the long game with success at races such as Lakeland 100, Dragons Back and the Spine. She dropped at UTMB last year after getting cold, this year I am putting my neck on the line and saying top-5! Jo has trained specifically and knows the UTMB mountains after placing 2nd at CCC. This is her first foray to 100-miles and this length of time on her feet. She has all the ability to do well, so, fingers crossed she makes the top-10.
Fernanda Maciel has buckets of experience at the long game, has excelled at UTMB time and time again and I have no reason not to think she will do the same again this year. A prime top-10 contender and for sure, 4th/ 5th is a distinct possibility; she has placed 4th twice before.
Juliette Blanchet was 4th last-year and has buckets of experience and results at long and tough races… She was 2nd at Raid de la Reunion after UTMB in 2017. She will be fighting for the podium and amongst the 2018 women’s field, she has a great chance.
Cat Bradley has won Western States but, in all honesty, I have no idea how she will fare on this monster 170km loop. You don’t win Western by accident which is why she gets a nod here, but let’s look at Kaci and Magdalena last-year, they were both outside the top-10.
Mariya Nikolova is not a name that many will have heard but she has been in the top-10 at UTMB previously and she has won in Turkey at Cappadocia. Her recent form is a little unknown but an improvement from 9th is to be expected.
Emilie Lecomte has been there and done it in long distances races but seems to be lacking the speed of her prime. Amy Sproston has been 8th before, she will be in the top-10 game but not a podium contender. The UK’s Sophie Grant is another real contender with Beth and Jo, she was 15th last-year. Teresa Nimes was just outside the top-10 placing 11th in 2017. Aliza Lapierre dnf’d last year but has loads of experience as does Ildiko Wermescher who has been 6th and 7th at UTMB previously… In all honesty, Ildiko should be in the list above. Francesca Canepa is a long-distance specialist. Katia Fori also one to watch after 5th at MIUT.
It is all to fight for. The big loop with all that distance, vertical gain and descending, variable weather and just the many, many hours on foot means nothing is guaranteed. So, expect some surprises!
Action stars Friday 31st August.
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I think it may well be a seminal edition and for many reasons.
I wrote about the men HERE.
The ladies race turned out to be far more unpredictable than the men’s with many of the pre-race favourites either having bad days and going slower than expected or dropping through illness or injury. This opened the doorway for an interesting top-10 and several unexpected names.
The TOP 10 Ladies
Nuria Picas 25:46:43 – Came into the race not a dark horse but with a question mark. Nobody doubted the ability of this lady, she has proven time and time again that she is a dominant force in mountain running over any distance. She dominated the UTWT rankings and has placed 2nd twice at UTMB. However, in the latter part of 2015 and pretty much throughout 2016 she was missing from racing. It appeared to me that a really tough calendar and race dominance had taken its toll. 2017 has been quiet and just recently I watched her race in Tromso at the Tromso SkyRace and she placed on the podium. It still left me with a question mark though on UTMB – would she have the endurance for 25-hours of running?Nuria set the pace in the ladies race and produced a dominant performance. She built a huge gap during the night and day and it was only in the latter 20% that the race took its toll forcing her to slow. The margin she had built up so important! At the end, this margin was reduced to less than 5-minutes! Nuria is back and like many long-term fans of the sport, Nuria’s victory is a welcome one. A seminal moment.
Andrea Huser 25:49:18 – Andrea races and races. She has a physical and mental strength un-matched. A race can start badly but she has the tenacity to push on and this year’s UTMB is no different. She started down the ranking, pushed on and with over half of the race covered took control and moved to 3rd and then second. She hunted Nuria Picas down as she slowed, almost a re-run of 2016 when she hunted Caroline Chaverot down. For two years running, 2nd at UTMB.
Christelle Bard 26:39:03 – Signifies the excitement and unpredictable nature of 100-miles. Although she has had success at CCC and TDS in past year’s, Bard was not really on my radar for a top-10. My fault, I should have done more research. Experience counts though and a steady start paid dividends as she slowly but surely moved through the field. In the final 80km’s or so she moved through the field from 10th to an eventual podium slot. A seminal year for this lady!
Kaori Niwa 27:31:39 – Was not a surprise after placing 8th last-year. The 100-mile distance is all about consistency and perseverance and this is how this lady excelled. As the distance and weather conditions took its toll, Niwa pushed on and reaped the rewards. A seminal year for this lady!
Kellie Emmerson 28:13:06 – Australian Emmerson was a surprise top-10 who I think (?) was running her first 100. She is proficient over the 100km distance and maybe the most significant indicator coming into the 2017 UTMB was her 4th at Tarawera earlier this year. Her race was well executed with patience and consistency and her 100km pace kicked in the latter stages to go past St Laurent.
Alissa St Laurent 28:13:43 – Had a tough race but persevered to finally have a strong and consistent race to place 6th. She certainly slowed as the race progressed and I am sure she will be frustrated with losing that 5th place in the closing stages.
Anna-Marie Watson 28:37:16 – What a breakthrough performance for Anne-Marie, last year we had Jasmin Paris from the UK in the top-10 and this year I was expecting Beth Pascall to step up to the mark but this was all surpassed by Watson. Her progress through the sport has been quite the surprise, go back to 2008 and she placed 124th lady at CCC – cut to the 2017 UTMB and she was 7th. Wow! That is some progress and the indicators are there, from 2015 she has a string of victories and top ranked places, 2nd at the 2015 MDS, 1st Cotswold Way Challenge, 1st at Cappadocia Ultra and most recently 1st at Gran Trail Courmayeur – a seminal performance.
Amy Sproston 28:44:08 – Has a running history the length of my arm and a string of notable runs, highlights coming over many varying distances. She has been top-10 at UTMB before – 8th in 2012. Notably she has also had great results at Western States, 2nd in 2016. So, matching her 2012 position is no surprise, it looks like she paced herself well with a slow first half and then making up ground in the second half. Notably, the USA’s top female finisher!
Mariya Nikolova 29:04:16 – This Bulgarian lady was 16th at UTMB in 2015 in almost 33-hours. 2017 is breakthrough year for her and her time of 29 hours a significant improvement even when one considers the shorter course.
Robyn Bruins 29:41:11 – So, the Australian ladies have a seminal year, just like the USA men. Bruin placed 10th and in doing so arguably has one of the best results of her career. She is known in the Southern Hemisphere, but in Europe, no, she is a newbie. This result will no doubt kickstart a renaissance not only in her own running but the running of Emmerson who placed 5th.
Pre-race favourite and I think many pundits odds-on for victory, Caroline Chaverot, had a tough race and dropped at midway. Chaverot, like Picas in her hey-day has been unstoppable with many races and a recent victory at Hardrock 100 may well have just taken its toll. It could be a seminal UTMB for this French lady as she decides her plans and calendar moving forward.
As often happens, many of the pre-race favourites had a tough night, day and night at the 2017 UTMB.
Magdalena Boulet, 5th last year had a bad day, Juliette Blanchett 4th last-year dropped early, long distance specialist Emelie Lecomte dropped at Courmayer, Fernanda Maciel withdrew with eye problems from the wind, snow and rain and Stephanie Violett (formerly Howe) battled on for a finish but was not in the top-10 as I and many others expected.
So, a seminal year without doubt.
The 2017 UTMB was billed as the ‘best ever’ and as the weather finally improves in and around Chamonix, life returns to normal for us all and we have an opportunity to step back and look at how important this years race actually was.
I think it may well be a seminal edition and for many reasons.
Yes, I think this years race may well be a great influencer in the later developments not only of ultra-trail but more importantly the runners who participate.
The men’s race featured a known top-10 and I think it’s fair to say there were few surprises. Unlike in previous editions, the main contenders battled throughout and few dropped or faltered resulting in a super exciting edition of the race.
Read about the Ladies race HERE
Francois D’Haene 19:01:32 – Francois is the best 100-mile mountain runner in the world. No question. Coming into the race, it was a coin toss if he or Kilian would win the race. I like everyone else went with Kilian – how can you bet against Kilian? But with reflection, Francois always should have been the hot-favourite for victory. He prepared meticulously for UTMB with victories in ‘warm-up’ races, he ran the UTMB route over 4-days with Salomon teammates and yes, he is the course record holder. He started at the front, closer than I had anticipated and he never relinquished a firm grasp of the race. Experience, fitness and endurance over the final third of the race saw him pull-away from Jim Walmsley and Kilian to confirm that he is the best in the world.
Kilian Jornet 19:16:38 – It’s tough being Kilian, so much pressure. But he shrugs it off on his own way… At the UTMB this year he interviewed runners on the start, filmed the start and continued to film over the opening miles. He surprised me by keeping with the front of the race, an unusual tactic for him. Maybe he thought that if he let Walmsley, D’Haene and the others go, he would never reel them back in. I expected Jornet to win, as did pretty much everyone else but a lack of running in 2017 and the early fast half of the race no doubt took its toll. He finished 2nd and that in itself is incredible, the fact he suffered so much is even more remarkable. He is an incredible ambassador and I know personally that he will be as happy with D’Haene’s victory as if it were his own. Let’s not forget he summited Everest twice in one week, won Hardrock 100 and won a fast Sierre-Zinal in the lead to UTMB.
Tim Tollefson 19:53:00 – Yep, Tollefson signifies why the 2017 UTMB is a seminal edition for US runners. He placed 3rd last-year and backed it up again with third this year. He started steady and let his experience, training and mental strength run a finely paced and well-judged race. It was impressive to follow how he meticulously worked his way through the race. With approximately 50km’s to go, he moved up into third and he remained in that place all the way to the line – impressive!
NO4 – Xavier Thevenard 20:03:14 – He’s won all the UTMB races (CCC, TDS, OCC and UTMB multiple times) and yes, of course, he was a favourite for the podium and or victory. Early on he raced with the front but I think he decided the pace was a little hot and he eased off. He knows how to run this loop though and experience counted. His fourth is no disappointment and confirms his ability over the 100-mile distance in the mountains.
NO5 – Jim Walmsley 20:11:38 – This was the seminal performance of the whole UTMB and yes, I have been vocal on Walmsley post his 2017 Western States. I have to say, he impressed the hell out of me at this year’s UTMB. He took the front as I and many expected but unlike Western, he understood the task at hand and who was behind him. A naturally fast runner, he obviously struggled to run slower but he restrained himself, often waiting for Jornet, D’Haene and others. I said before the race started that he would find the final 30% tough and he did. He is incredible over the 100km distance or running say 10-14 hours but beyond that is all new ground. From 100km he slowed and struggled dropping to seventh but then rallied to move back to fifth. This was THE learning curve that Walmsley needed and I am convinced that this IS the turning point in his 100-mile running career. He has already proven up to 100km he is incredible, now we will see him harness this learning curve not only in pacing and race management but also how to handle the mind games that this distance brings. I am convinced we will see Walmsley top UTMB and Western States podiums in years to come.
NO6 – Pau Capell 20:12:43 – He is a rising star of the sport, he has already had an incredible 2017 with a string of top-10 performances and now sixth at UTMB. He paced well-being a novice at the 100-mile distance but his Transgrancanaria run earlier this year no doubt helped. He was all set for fifth until a flying Walmsley found a late surge to grasp a place from him. A seminal performance.
NO7 – Dylan Bowman 20:19:48 – D’Bo nailed his first UTMB finish and confirms that the USA are finally understanding mountain running in Europe and in particular UTMB. I remember a few years back when he finished Transgrancanaria and he was blown away by how difficult and fast that race was. He’s slowly plugged away and learnt the craft.
NO8 – Gediminas Grinius 21:24:19 – He nails the 100-mile distance and his eighth place just proves how consistent he is. He will no doubt be disappointed with his placing after placing second last-year, but this year’s race was as stacked as stacked can be and this is a solid performance.
NO9 – Zach Miller 21:28:32 – Has been injured in 2017 and I think this no doubt impacted on his race and strategy. Last-year he ran off the front with what was either going to be a blazing victory or an incredible blow-up. It was the latter but he rallied for sixth. This year, he without doubt respected the distance but maybe he also realised he didn’t have the fitness and endurance to blaze a trail at the front. Either way, his 9th is solid, it confirms his ability for the distance and like Walmsley, he may well understand that a little patience will go a long way. A seminal performance.
NO10 – Jordi Gamito 21:44:31 – A revelation in 2017 and while I and others thought a solid race was possible, him rounding out the top-10 is a surprise. This will no doubt rally his enthusiasm and commitment for 2018 – a seminal performance.
The UK’s Damian Hall had an incredible race finishing 12th and top Brit. He only started racing a few years ago and he must be wishing he started earlier! David Laney was the USA’s prime contender for top-5 after two previous solid performances, he finished 14th. Other notable top-10 contenders such as Jeff Browning, Julien Chorier, Jason Schlarb, Tofol Castanyer, Sage Canaday and Miguel Heras all had mixed days. Most finished but Heras and Castanyer dropped. It is important to note that despite the weather and the high-level of competition, I consider the drop-out rate in the men’s race to be low.
Now we just need to wait one year to see how this year’s seminal race impacts on future editions.
It is a great time for the sport!
The Matterhorn provides a stunning backdrop for Switzerland’s Matterhorn Ultraks race, a 49km Skyrunning race with 3600m of positive and negative gain. Now in it’s 5th edition, the race once again is in the Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series.
It is a magical race that provides a circular journey that starts and concludes in the picture postcard mountain town of Zermatt with the towing Matterhorn ever-present to inspire the runners.
The day started with rain and cloud. It was an ominous beginning. But by the time the runners had reached the high-point of the course at thee Gornergrat, the rain was easing, the cloud was clearing and suddenly the sun broke through. What followed was a glorious and hot sunny day.
Whispy white clouds penetrating the blue of the sky, we all knew though that it wasn’t going to last… with 2 hours of running the sky turned grey, the rain arrived and low mist enveloped the mountains; the beautiful Matterhorn was gone!
Wild expansive space, high mountains and the 3100m Gornergrat provides the high point of the race and the first indication of how the race would play out. Marco De Gasperi was pushing the pace closely followed by Aritz Egea and Eugeni Gil.
In the ladies’ race, Ragna Debats was already dictating the race and the pace but Sheila Aviles and Laia Andreu were very close and chasing together.
A 1000m drop from the summit is broken by a small climb at Riffelalp and then Furi follows at 24km at 1880m. Two short sharp climbs follow, the first to Schwarzsee at 2583m and approximately 28km covered. Here De Gasperi was leading Gil Ocana, Anthamatten and Egea – it was all too close to call! For the ladies, Debats was still at the front, but like the men, anything could happen.
A drop down to 2200m from Schwarzsee was followed with another 500m+ climb and then what follows is mostly a flat runnable plateau that gently weaves up, down and left to right all the way to Trift. De Gasperi had taken the lead now and was flying, Gil Ocana chased but the Italian was looking too strong – he really wanted this victory, it was clear to see. Anthamatten was now in 3rd and Egea in 4th.
A short kick up of 100 to 200m follows Trift and then a fast and furious drop of almost 1000m over a distance of 6km leads to the finish line in Zermatt and the assembled crowds. De Gasperi sealed victory in a new course record, bettering Kilian Jornet’s time and this 2017 course was 1km longer – an incredible run.
Gil Ocana held on for an excellent 2nd and Anthamatten placed 3rd. Once again Egea ran an excellent 4th place.
We also witnessed the race of a rising star, Petter Engdahl who placed 5th.
Debats finally managed to open a gap in the latter stages taking a convincing victory ahead of Laia Andreu who had shadowed Debats all the way to Trift.
Aviles placed 3rd followed by Laurance Yerly and Michaela Mertova.
Skyrunning is not just about the uphill and more often than not, it’s the downhill that determines the winner. Today was all about patience and consistency. Racing is often a mental journey as much physical, De Gasperi and Debats today proved this at the Matterhorn Ultraks.
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1. Ragna Debats (NED) 5h52’05”
2. Laia Andreu (SPA) 5h53’22”
3. Sheila Avilés Castaño (SPA) 6h00’17”
4. Laurence Yerly (SUI) 6h15’45”
5. Michaela Mertova (CZE) 6h20’36”
1 – Marco De Gasperi (4h42’31”)
2 – Eugeni Gil Ocaña (4h45’15”)
3 – Martin Anthamatten (4h48’59”)
4 – Aritz Egea (4h53’50”)
5 – Petter Engdahl (5h00’46”)
The stunning Matterhorn provides the backdrop for Switzerland’s Matterhorn Ultraks race, the next race in the 2017 Migu Run Skyrunner World Series – a 48km race with 3600m of positive and negative gain. A magical race, now in its 5th edition that provides a circular journey that starts and concludes in the picture postcard mountain town of Zermatt.
Eight out of eleven Sky Classic races have been completed and Matterhorn Ultraks counts for a 20% bonus on points, so, it is all to fight for.
Wild expansive space, high mountains and the 3100m Gornergrat provides the high point of the race where the ever present lone peak of the Matterhorn shadows the race and runners with it’s majestic beauty.
Zermatt, located 1600m above altitude provides the focal point for this high altitude race, a beautiful place steeped in history. It’s a logical start and finishing place for such an iconic race.
Renowned for its tough opening kilometres, the Matterhorn Ultraks immediately heads to the sky via Sunnegga at 2260m all the way to the high point Gornergrat at 3130m. It’s a brutal 14km to open any race and as such, those opening km’s can be decisive in who crosses the finish line first.
Aritz Egea has been on fire in 2017 and he is looking to better his 3rd place of 2015. He needs the points but it has been a long season.
Marco De Gasperi pioneered those early Skyrunning days with Giacometti in the early 90’s and he is still running head-to-head with the best in the world and matching them, he was recently pipped to the top-slot at Dolomites SkyRace and Comapedrosa.
2015 champion and designer of the course, Martin Anthamatten will be fired up for victory, especially after his recent success at the Red Bull 3000m vertical race – he is in great shape and knows the course like the back of his hand.
Jon Albon, Skyrunner World Series Extreme champion in 2016 and recent winner of the Tromso SkyRace is toeing the line here isn Switzerland. He is incredible talent but this race may well lack technicality for Albon to excel, he will be in the mix for sure, but the top-slot maybe a tough call?
Aurelien Dunard-Pallaz had an incredible race at Ultraskymarathon Madeira – he lead the race from the front only to be passed in the latter stages by Albon. He also had a great run at High Trail Vanoise giving Luis Alberto Hernando a push all the way to the line. He has come of age in the Skyrunning Series this year and we may well see the Frenchman achieve another podium place in Switzerland.
Equally, Pere Aurell has stepped up to the plate in 2017 kicking off the season with a strong run at Yading SkyRace in China and then an excellent run at the Royal Gran Paradiso. Aurell has raced a great deal in 2017 and he may well be feeling some fatigue but he is strong and motivated.
Andre Jonsson just keeps racing and racing. He has had a gap from racing recently and we may well therefore Jonsson fresh for the Ultraks race. He is always in the mix and earlier this year he had some excellent top placings, the best coming at the Royal Gran Paradiso just 1-week after a great run at High Trail Vanoise.
Hassan Ait Chaou has always run well in Zermatt, particularly last-year when he pushed for the podium. This year his form seems a little below his 2016 levels but on this course I wouldn’t rule him out of something special on the day.
Murray Strain may well be a surprise package in the race and he will almost certainly not be on the radar of the top runners going valuable points – don’t be surprised if he makes the podium!
As always, the depth of talent in Zermatt is deep, surprises can come from anywhere, two names worth keeping an eye on are Benat Marmissolle and Marc Casal Mir.
Can anyone beat Kilian Jornet’s 2013 time of 4:43:05?
The ladies race will be an interesting one with Megan Kimmel, Stevie Kremer and Elisa Desco not racing – all ladies who have excelled in past edition, Kremer still holds the course record 5:18:43 set in 2014.
However, Ragna Debats is on fire in 2017 with a string of top results, the most recent coming in Tromso when she was just a few minutes behind Maite Maiora. Debats recovers well and I am sure she will be the lady to beat in Zermatt, the course will suit her, her run ability matches her technical and climbing ability.
Rising star Sheila Alves will have other ideas… her podium at Zegama-Aizkorri and recent victory at Comapedrosa has left her wanting more and she will almost certainly be Debats biggest rival.
Paloma Lobera and Michaela Mertova are podium contenders and then it is wide open. The potential threat from Megan Kimmel, Laura Sola, Aziber Ibarbia, Maria Zorroza and Ekaterina Mityaeva has disappeared in the last week due to injury or sickness.
The ladies race is wide open!
The 2017 edition of the race has had a slight course change adding an additional kilometre to the race, so, finish times will need to take this into consideration, particularly with course records.
The race starts 0730 on Saturday August 26th.
The Sky Classic ranking?
Five results out of eleven are counted for the final titles and end of season bonus prize for the Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series category.