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UTMB®: the On athletes taking on trail running's biggest challenge

3 countries. 7 races. 100 nationalities. 10,000 runners. It can only be the UTMB®. We preview the world's biggest trail running event and chat to the On athletes gunning for glory.

 

A melting pot of the world's best trail runners, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® is widely regarded as the most important and most demanding trail event in the world.

Every year, tens of thousands of enthusiasts from all walks of life descend on Chamonix in France to be part of the festivities.

And 2019 is no different. With a record 25, 678 runners applying to be part of the event this year – an increase of 3, 978 from last year. 

"It's a "must do" if you like trail running," says On athlete David Hauss, a former Olympian and European triathlon champion, who returns to compete in the CCC after a strong showing in the same event last year, finishing 14th.

"The atmosphere before the race is electric. And on Sunday afternoon, when you're waiting for the last runners, it's just absolutely crazy in the little picturesque streets.” 

 

 

“UTMB® continues to be the most competitive mountain ultra-race in the world and draws the best in the sport,” confirms fellow On athlete Katie Schide, who claimed second place in the 2018 CCC event at UTMB® and first place at the 90km Marathon du Mont-Blanc this year. 

“It's truly an international festival of trail and ultra-running.”

Katie will be taking on the UTMB® for the first time this year. As will her partner Germain Grangier, who is also an On athlete and the winner of the 2019 XXL Maxi Race

“It's the only ultra-trail running race where everybody is in their best shape to do well,” he said. 

Nobody comes to Chamonix to prepare for another race.

  

   

The primary race, called the UTMB®, includes sections in France, Italy and Switzerland on a course circling Mont Blanc. It's approximately 171 km long (106 miles) with an elevation of over 10,000 meters (32,900 feet).

Some of the best runners manage to finish in just over 20 hours. Most take between 32-46 hours – spending two consecutive nights running. It's as much a test of sheer grit as it is fitness.  

If this doesn't sound difficult enough, perhaps the fact 42% of runners were unable to finish in 2016 will give you a clearer indication of how demanding it is.

The second largest of the races, the CCC, was initially dubbed the "little sister of the UTMB®," but has emerged from the main event’s massive shadow to become one of the world's most prestigious trail races in its own right.

Spanning 101 km (62.7 miles) and climbing 6,100 meters (20,000 feet) over some of the world's most treacherous terrain – it's certainly not for the faint of heart.

Officially, there are seven races: the UTMB® (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc), the CCC (Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix), the TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie), the OCC (Orsières - Champex – Chamonix), the PTL (La Petite Trotte à Léon – non-competitive) the MCC (De Martigny-Combe à Chamonix), and the YCC (Youth Chamonix Courmayeur – junior event). But the ones detailed below are considered the most important.

 

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As above, three On athletes will be competing at the UTMB® this year; Katie Schide, Germain Grangier (both UTMB®) and David Hauss (CCC). We caught up with them for a little Q&A before the race.

Hey guys, how are you feeling ahead of the race? What are your goals? 

David: Excitement is rising! Training has been done, and the tapering has started! I'll be competing in the CCC again this year, and 100km is a long way. Now it's time to refresh mentally so I can push physically.

Germain: I feel good. My goal is always to run as fast as I can!

Katie: I'm both excited and a bit nervous to try this new distance. I'm not sure you can truly prepare for such a long effort, but spending long days outside in the Mercantour with Germain is what I enjoy most and I think enjoying the trails and mountains is an important part of racing. My goal is to finish in Chamonix feeling like I gave my best effort for that day (I guess it will actually be more than one day!).

 

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Katie and Germain, you both did remarkably well in the CCC last year. What's made you decide to do the UTMB® this year? 

Germain: I ran the OCC in 2015 (finishing 3rd after 54k) then CCC in 2018 (5th - 101k). I feel like it's time to try the big loop around Mont Blanc. I'm pretty excited.

Katie: UTMB® will be a new challenge for us! CCC is a really fun race, but I'm excited to make the full loop around Mont Blanc this year. It will look better on Strava. 

 

David, how do you train for such a grueling race? 

I have been altitude training for the past month. During my triathlon career, I loved to train in high altitudes - places like Font Romeu, Davos, St Moritz, New Zealand or the USA. I love being in nature, breathing pure air, and training hard!

I rode a lot compared to last year, like 300/400km a week, and accumulated lots of running miles too. We also did threshold sessions at 18km/h before tempo runs - but no track this time!

 

 

What sort of foods will you pack with you when running? 

D: I don't really use special food as I can eat pretty much everything during my runs - I must be lucky! I use things like gels, bars, protein - recovery stuff. I like to start with an empty belly and only eat a banana and an egg or avocado before the race. But once the race starts, I'll be taking on calories quickly!

G: We pack homemade food - almonds, rice, potatoes... It usually takes half a day before the race to prepare our racing food.

K: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, potatoes, some date/nut bars, and then anything that looks good at aid stations.

 

Do you still get nervous ahead of such a big event? 

D: I'm usually not really nervous when I take part in a race. It's more fun for me now, and I just try to enjoy it as much as possible. In trail running especially, you have enough time to get into the race.

G: Getting nervous is part of the game. I try to keep only the good vibes and the motivating stress.

K: Yes of course! I'm adding 55km to my longest run ever. But being nervous and uncomfortable is what makes life more exciting!

 

 

What's more of a challenge? The distance or the elevation? 

D: The distance. 100km is BIG! And you have to go up the mountain to reach your goal! It's like an entire life in one day - with good moments and bad. It's about how you can manage it. To be honest, I focus on time instead of distance; I split the race into three or four parts. I think this is the most efficient way to progress.

G: The challenge is the weather conditions that can be really cold at night or extremely hot in the middle of the days. Every UTMB® is different. It's a race for legs and brains!

K: The biggest challenge will be moving for such a long time without sleeping. Maybe I can grab an espresso shot in Italy?

 

Both the CCC and the UTMB races start on Friday 30 August, at 9AM and 6PM respectively. You can follow all the action on the official UTMB webpage and make sure to check back with us to see how our three athletes got on. 

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