I have dreamt of running the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) since I read Born to Run in 2010. And I have slowly built up my milage and my confidence to be able to tackle the UTMB, the «Mother of all ultra trail races». I felt confident going into the race, but I had never imagined that I would finish 7th after a nearly perfect race, a race that was my first trail 100-miler. I will remember crossing the finish line for the rest of my life!
First of all, let me tell you a little bit about my self. I am a 42 years old ultra trail-runner from Norway, married to Ingvild and a dad to Ingrid and Mari (both eight years old). I am currently based in Gran Canaria in Spain. I have worked in sales and marketing for many years, but I have now put that «career» on hold for a while, in order to spend more time with my kids and also be able to focus more on my running. I have lived in Norway’s largest ski resort for a decade and done most of my winter running on snow and ice (on cross-country ski tracks or in the ski slopes). Here in Spain I do not have to worry about icy conditions, and I can run on smooth trails year round.
My first ultra race was Kepler Challenge in New Zealand in 2003, when I studied for my masters degree in Australia. Then, work and other commitments took most of my focus/free time, and it was not until 2011 that I did my second ultra, the 50 mile long Ultima Frontera in Spain (1st place). Last year I finished second at the Pilgrim Challenge, fourth at the Transgrancanaria Advanced (85km) and 18th at Transvulcania. I finished off the 2013 race season with a tenth place at the CCC race in France/Italy (101km). This season started very well with a 6th place at Transgrancanaria in March and also a win at the Hoka Highland Fling in April (race report Highland Fling).
I had big plans for the Lavaredo Ultra Trail (120k) in the end of June, but I got sick a week before the race. After a two week period with no running, I got into training again, and I have had one focus since then – the UTMB!
The summer training has gone very well. I have done a lot of running with a lot of vertical, both in Norway and here in Spain, after we arrived in the middle of July. I spent a week in Tenerife and La Gomera in the end of July, which included some hilly long runs on some fantastic trails! In a three week training block in the end of July/beginning of August, I logged 510km running with 26000 meters of vertical gain.
The three weeks before the UTMB, I slowly reduced my milage and had a nearly perfect taper. I finished the taper with a week long stay in Val Veny in Courmayeur, Italy. It was very nice for me to stay in Italy the week before the race, and escape the hectic atmosphere in Chamonix. I think I got a good adaption to the altitude by sleeping at 1900 meters above sea level for a week.
My race strategy for UTMB was to start fast, but not go all out. I wanted to be near the front, but was also very focused of doing my own race and let my body adapt to the terrain and the pace. After Les Houches, I saw that I was running near by a lot of guys that I know are very experienced (Yeran Duray, Jez Bragg, Mike Foote, Timothy Olson and Hal Koerner), and therefore should be able to adjust their effort thru out the race. I decided to hold the same pace/effort that I had gotten used to, as I felt very comfortable on both the hike up and then the run downhill to Saint-Gervais (21km).
I got into a good rhythm after Saint-Gervais, and honestly just kept that rhythm all thru the night. I passed some runners, but I was also passed by a few. I have struggled on the downhills for the last couple years, but felt much more comfortable at this race. Luckily all my spesific downhill training the last months have paid dividends.
I got to Courmayeur after ten hours of running. I had a short chat with Bryan Powell from irunfar.com, and he said I looked strong. I did feel strong too, but we agreed that «The race hasn’t started yet». I saw my crew in Courmayeur, and they helped me with my gels and my drinks. My race nutrition is very simple: Tailwind Nutrition and some gels. I use gels when I can not get hold of Tailwind and have to rely on the energy drinks at the aid stations. I picked up some bars in La Contamine and in Courmayeur, but never ate them.
After Courmayeur, Gediminas Grinius and Jason Schlarb passed me. Jason was soo fast that I didn’t even think about following him. I passed some runners during the night and into the morning, Mike Foote and Tony Krupicka was two of them. I was sixt at the aid station at Trient. I did the last part of the UTMB-course last year (at the CCC) and knew that if I could keep a good pace on the downhills, I had the chance of a top ten finish. I am normally strong on the uphills and knew that all the other guys had to be tired too, so I could not loose too much time hiking uphill. I heard reports that I had between 10 and 20 minutes down to the next runner, but did not believe to much in those reports, as things can change very fast at the end of a race as long as the UTMB.
So, there was no surprise when Andrew Tuckey from Australia reeled me in after the aid station in Vallorcine. But, he looked a bit tired too, so I decided to try to push as hard as I could up to the last aid station in La Flegere (8km to the finish). By doing that, I figured that we would keep the pace high enough to keep the 8th, 9th and 10th place behind us all the way to the finish. And that strategy worked! Andrew and I stayed together up to La Flegere, filled our bottles there and started running down to Chamonix. We stayed together until it was three kilometers to the finish. I don’t think Andrew increased the pace that much, it was just that I didn’t have the speed required to keep up with him on the steep downhill section just before the village.
I tried to soak up as much of the atmosphere as possible after I had crossed the finish line. The UTMB-organizers do such an incredible job in order to make all the finishers feel that they are the «winner». And I felt that I had actually won the 7th place last Saturday.
The price giving ceremony was another highlight for me. I had a humble feeling being around all the other elite racers, but they were all so nice and inclusive!
What’s next for me? After some easy days, I’ll start preparing for my next race, the Tenerife Bluetrail in October. After that race, I plan to take November off, before I start preparing for the spring season. Main targets for the spring/early summer of 2015 is Transgrancanaria, Transvulcania and hopefully the World Ultra Trail Championships in France in the end of May (if I qualify for the Norwegian team).
La Sportiva Helios shoes and Injinji socks. This combination worked perfect. I had no blisters or sore feets. I ran with this setup for the entire race.
So, how can a dad to two kids and a full time worker (I have worked more than full time for the last ten years) end up playing with the big guys on such a big stage as the UTMB? This is what I have focused on the last three/four years in order to achieve the things that I have done:
I run a lot
There are no shortcuts. I run on average 120 to 130 km. per week, year round, most of it on trails with a lot of vertical. I do most of my long runs with a backpack similar to the one I use at Transgrancanaria or the UTMB.
I work with a coach/mentor
I have worked with Ian Sharman/Sharman Ultra for more than a year now. My running has improved a lot as a result of our cooperation. Ian has a lot of knowledge about ultrarunning, and it has been very helpful for me to discuss training, race nutrition, race strategy and long term planning of races and recovery. Ian is very friendly and easy to talk to. The training plans that he makes for me are very good, and I feel that they are customized for my needs and my life situation. As a mentor, Ian do not need to motivate me to train – it is more important that he reminds me to cut back when I am tired or feel fatigued.
I am Powered by Plants
When it comes to nutrition, there are no shortcuts either. I am very conscious of what I put in my mouth. I believe that plants is the best for me, and I have been 95 percent vegan for about a year now. I didn’t eat much meat before that either, but now I eat lots of vegetables, fruit, berries, beans, legumes, lentils, whole grains and so on. I feel that a vegetarian/vegan diet helps me recover a lot faster. And I just feel better!
I use the best gear available
I use very simple race nutrition
I have found out what works best for me, and that is a combination of Tailwind Nutrition and gels. I use gels in order to get enough calories if I have to rely on sports drinks from the aid stations. At the UTMB, my crew supported me with Tailwind at the five places that they were allowed to give personal assistance.
Going into the UTMB, I had a dream of a top-10 finish. I have run with some of the worlds best before, and found out that most of them are just like me – humans. I am not saying that I am able to win races like Transgrancanaria, Transvulcania or the UTMB – my point is that I am able to get into the upper sections of the rankings. But that’s only if I dare to dream about getting there. If you think you are slow, you will run slow. If you think you can run fast, you will run fast!