Francesca entering the feed station at Les Houche
Francesca Canepa may very well not be a name that you know. In fact, until the weekend I am pretty sure that unless you know your ultra and trail running very well you may have not even heard of her!
But after a stunning run, the 41 year old mother of two put some serious ultra running ladies in her wake when she finished second behind Lizzy Hawker at the 2012 edition of The North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc.
Francesca is Italian born but now lives in Courmayer literally on the UTMB route. She only started running in 2010 but comes from a sporting background; an excellent ice skater and National level in snow boarding.
Her transformation from snow and ice to trail running is quite remarkable. In a very short period of time with the help of Prof Fabio Maragliati, she has won some impressive races:
- Abbotsway Campionato Trail Lungo 120km 5500D+
- Trail de Vulcain
- Trail de L’huile Raidlights
- Trail de Mirmande
- Maratona Alpina Val Della Torre
- Trail Cret de L’Oiseau de Beaujolais
At the Lavaredo Trail in June earlier this year, Francesca confirmed her potential with a win over the 120km course in the Dolomites. Her winning time of 15:58:02 relegated Fernanda Maciel (FRA) to 2nd in 16:29:02 and Katia Fori (IT) 3rd in 17:28:39.
Francesca was quoted as saying after the race:
‘I’m so excited with this result, not only for the fact I won the women’s category but also because I finished at 10th position in the overall ranking!’
Arguably at the 2012 UTMB she has moved up a notch. You don’t get on the podium at this iconic race without some hard running and a quality performance. When you look at some of the names behind Francesca, you begin to fully appreciate her outstanding achievement. Emma Roca (Spain) was 3rd 61/2 mins in arrears, Rory Bosio (USA) was 4th, Katia Fori from Italy 5th, Amy Sproston USA 8th, Meghan Arbogast USA 12th and previous UTMB winner and course record holder, Krissy Moehl (USA) was 14th over 2 hours behind her.
Believe it or not, speaking to Francesca after the race she told me that she is due to start the Tor des Geants this coming weekend. Now if you think UTMB is hard, wait till you look at the TDG; 330km with 24000m of positive incline.
“I will be on the start but I don’t know if I will finish. I am not sure if I will have recovered? It is 330km; I think if I continue the race it will be like training… I will sleep, eat… it will be a really slow race for me”
The race starts on the 9th September and competitors have days to complete the course. To provide a sense of perspective, last years female winner was Anne Marie Gross. She managed to complete the tough 330km race in 91:28:21. To clarify, that is just under 4 days! Yes, 4 days.
I managed to catch up with Francesca for a short interview on the evening after the UTMB. She looked fresh and had a glowing smile. However, it was apparent that the race had taken its toll. She had that all too familiar ‘wobble’ to her walk.
You can listen to the interview HERE
What did you think about the revised UTMB route?
“In a 100km’s we need to be fast and I didn’t like this. I also didn’t know the new course. I had problems managing my race from a food and drink perspective”
Did you think you could beat Lizzy Hawker?
“I know that Lizzy is a world champ at 100k’s. I knew she was favorite. I prefer more climbing and this new course played into Lizzies favour”
Tell me about your strategy in the feed stations?
“It’s really important that I have my own food. Renato from Vibram looks after me. I usually don’t eat what I find at the pit stops…. I normally eat no solids. I drink. I like Sprite and I appreciate Yogurt for my stomach. Fruit is nice but UTMB it was too cold”
Perfect feed station strategy
Are you happy with 2nd place?
“I am really happy with the second place. It’s my first UTMB, why would I not be happy!”
What do you think about the decision to reduce the course?
“I am sure it was a good decision. Security and safety is paramount”
Mentally did you find the new race route difficult? It was a loop course with a tough last climb?
“Yes the last climb was tough, I didn’t expect it. I also had no food or drink left. It was a challenge…. In regard to running a loop I don’t like this. Mentally it’s tough”
Did you appreciate what you had achieved with your second place?
“Yes I appreciated it! I appreciated the crowds, my children. It is a moment to remember”
Will you be back at UTMB next year?
“I need a little recovery but yes, I think I will be back”
Francesca Canepa is a name to watch. I think the Tor des Geants will be a tough test for her and with the proximity to UTMB may very well be just a little too much! After all, it is 330km.
Her next focus race is the Skyrunning event ‘Les Course de Templiers’, Francesca will line up with the Vibram Trail Running Team and once again see if she can dominate another impressive ladies field.
Saucony ProGrid Xodus 3.0 – Vibram
Francesca used the Saucony Pro Grid Xodus 3 with Vibram sole