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Who's Francesca Canepa?

by Editor
Wednesday 5th September 2012

Ian Corless from TalkUltra chats to the 41 year old mother of two who only started running two years ago yet placed second woman at 2012 The North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc

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!

However at the 2012 edition of The North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc the 41 year old mother of two left some well known ultra running women in her wake to finish second behind Lizzy Hawker.

Francesca is Italian born and 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 Beujolais

Francesca Canepa - second woman at 2012 The North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc © Ian Corless

Photos © Ian Corless

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 The North Face Team member Fernanda Maciel (BRA) to second (16:29:02) and Katia Fori (ITA) to third (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.

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.

Francesca Canepa - second woman at 2012 The North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc © Ian Corless

Photos © Ian Corless

Question What did you think about the revised UTMB route?
Answer In a 100km 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

Question Did you think you could be at Lizzy Hawker?
Answer I know that Lizzy is a world champ at 100k’s. I knew she was favourite. I prefer more climbing and this new course played into Lizzy’s favour

Question Tell me about your strategy in the feed stations?
Answer 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 at the UTMB it was too cold

Question Are you happy with 2nd place?
Answer I am really happy with the second place. It’s my first UTMB, why would I not be happy!

Question What do you think about the decision to reduce the course?
Answer I am sure it was a good decision. Security and safety is paramount

Question Mentally did you find the new race route difficult. It was a loop course with a tough last climb?
Answer 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

Question Did you appreciate what you had achieved with your second place?
Answer Yes I appreciated it! I appreciated the crowds, my children. It is a moment to remember

Question Will you be back at UTMB next year?
Answer I need a little recovery but yes, I think I will be back

[You can listen to the interview HERE]

Francesca's next focus race is the Skyrunning event ‘Les Course de Templiers’, where she will line up with the Vibram Trail Running Team.

Francesca used the Saucony Pro Grid Xodus 3 with Vibram sole


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