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Four runners and the UTMB - an inside view

by Editor
Wednesday 27th August 2014

As race day approaches, we asked four Run247 contributors and participants of 2014 The North Face® Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc® a few questions:

Jez Bragg (JB) Kirsty Reade (KR) Robbie Britton (RB) Gemma Bragg (GB)
Jez Bragg (JB) Kirsty Reade (KR) Robbie Britton (RB) Gemma Bragg (GB)


The North Face® Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc®

What is your history with the UTMB (Previous times you have run, other events during race week such as CCC or TDS…):

Jez Bragg (JB): I've lost count. I think five finishes and two DNFs. Best run was on the shortened course in 2010 - 1st. Best run on the full course last year - just under 24hrs for 11th.

Kirsty Reade (KR): I ran the CCC in 2011 (when I was a total rookie and made every mistake in the book) and 2012 (when I made slightly fewer mistakes but we had horrible weather conditions), then the TDS in 2013. I've always felt like a bit of a fraud about never having done the big race (not that the others are small) so this year I'm finally doing it. 

Robbie Britton (RB): I ran once in 2012, straight from a six week Arctic expedition, but the course was shortened because of bad weather (which seemed good to me at the time!) 

Gemma Bragg (GB): I first came out to Chamonix in 2010 to support Jez (I was his girlfriend at the time!) and went round with his support crew. It was so exciting to follow the runners and also extremely nerve racking, I was a tad tearful when Jez came over the finish line and was in awe of all the runners who were completing this epic journey. I came out again in 2011 to support Jez and after a second year of spectating I knew I wanted to come back as a runner the following year to experience this magic journey myself. The UTMBwas a bit of a big jump for me, so the CCC it was!

In 2012 I ran the CCC, although the course was slightly shortened due to the weather, for a lot of the race we were running in heavy snow and -10degrees up high (crazy for August, but thats the mountains for you!). I came back in 2013 and ran the CCC again, as I was keen to complete the full 100k route and luckily the weather allowed this to happen this time round. (Read Gemma's 2013 race report HERE)   

Why the UTMB

JB: Because it has the best and most iconic course of any race of its kind in the world. It also attracts many of the best runners in the world who I want to be pitching myself against.

KR: Since doing the CCC I've been completely smitten with Chamonix, the atmosphere there in race week, the Alps, everything about it! It's just a really special place and an incredibly special race. Plus, doing the CCC or TDS you have to get up really early in the morning and get a coach to the start so doing a race that starts at 5.30pm in the town centre seems much more sensible. 

RB: Many of the top European & US 100 mile racers are here, it's a beautiful challenge and mountain running is something I want to get better at in the long run.

GB: The UTMB has a very special place in my heart; I love the ambinance, I love the journey, the mountains, the contrasts, the magic of the experience, and just being 'out there'. I love all the villages you go through, the absolutely amazing support throughout the route and the kindness of all the volunteers out there supporting you to achieve your goal. I love the sound of the cowbells and just the whole uniqueness of the experience. It is something that is so hard to describe unless you have been out there and experienced it yourself. Being a spectator along the UTMB route and running the CCC have been some of the best times of my life and having the opportunity to actually run the whole of the UTMB course is something that really excites me, as well as makes me extrememly nervous!

What were your qualifying races:

JB: UTMB last year and The Vibram Hong Kong 100 in January (I think?)

KR: The 2013 TDS and the 2012 CCC. I'm nothing if not loyal to the UTMB brand.

RB:Caesars Camp 100, mini UTMB 2012 & NDW100 I think. Last year was mostly about 24hr races so results from 2012 count.

GB: I cant quite remember but I think it was both my CCC's and the North Downs Way 50.

What motivates you most

JB: The week in Majorca we've got booked straight afterwards.

No, joking apart. I know the feeling of making it back to Chamonix after a good run on the UTMB course. That is one of the greatest feelings in the world, and that really motivates me to do my very best. The sense of accomplishment from the mental and physical journey you go through is impossible to capture in words. It makes you want more.

KR: For me this will be the biggest personal challenge I've ever undertaken and I'm very motivated by trying to push myself as far as I can in my running. I'm also a member of the Trail Team 2014 (www.trailrunningteam.com), which is a huge honour and that has motivated me in my running a massive amount. Lastly, but probably most importantly, I have gone on about this race all year and an awful lot of people have had to listen to me bore them to death about it and have supported me, so I'm really motivated to do my best for them. Some of them are coming out to support me so I really want to do a good time (for me) and make them get out of bed really early to see me finish. As Britta (Run247 ed) knows from last year, I'm pretty motivated to get to some fizzy orange and a big plate of frites at the end of it too. 

RB: The racing. I love racing.

GB: Hm, this is a million dollar question... there are a lot of things that motivate me but I guess the key things are, the achievement of finishing such an epic race and my first 100miler! To prove to myself that I can do it and to make people proud of me, in particular to make Jez proud and to make my amazingly supportive parents proud!

Your preparation

Your training:

JB: Western States 100 :o)

Several long weekends on 'long' and mountainous routes over the summer: The Rigby Round in the Cairngorms, UTMB & Tour du Monte Rosa. I also had a final long run at the Dorset Doddle - 32 miles along the Jurassic Coastline, at a fairly brisk pace. [ed: See Jez Bragg's blog for more details: jezbragg.blogspot.co.uk]

KR: I did some big races as training (South Downs Way 100, 100 miles at the Thunder Run 24 hour race, Transvulcania, South Downs Way 50, Country to Capital, Thames Trot), weekends in the Lakes, four days in Chamonix with the Trail Team. I had Mimi Anderson coaching me and I submitted fully to her wisdom and experience so I've been running up hills pulling a tyre (as well as without a tyre), doing a lot of long runs and just generally doing whatever she told me. And it's been working well for me. 

RB: Quality over quantity. Longer run since WHW in June has been three hours. I spent three weeks in Font Romeu training on my own.

GB: Training wise, I never follow a plan as such, as I am not very good at sticking to plans, but I have tried to mix it up, so I have been doing speed sessions with my local club (Bournemouth AC) each week and also entering the local league races for speed work. I have been trying to incorporate some core work - so weekly pilates class and body bump class (not quite as often but have tried to go most weeks) and then some longer runs - time on my feet. The last few months I have tried to do some more consistent hill work. My two biggest sessions were going to Snowdonia and doing four reps in one day up and down Snowdon and a 3-day reccie of the UTMB course at the end of July.

Excuses - get them in now:

JB: It's a long way.
I forgot my rice pudding.
They only have flaming cheese and salami on the aid stations in the alps.
It's too hot.
It's raining.

KR: I live in Berkshire and it's very flat!  I have very little legs!

RB: Nothing. I am where I am in my career, whatever the result I will be better next year.

GB: Since the training weekend unfortunately my back has ceased up a little- I have had some sports massage on it, she says it is nothing sinester (in terms of an injury) but is oober tight and stiff, so not much movement in my lower back, and it really stiffens up when I sit for long as well as my shoulders.... not ideal, but i guess i wont be sitting much during the UTMB, so will have to deal with the pain after the race.... hoping the adrenaline will take over during the race.

I wish I had...

JB: ...jet thrusters built into my The North Face FL pack vest.

KR: ... done a few more weekends in the Lakes. I feel like I could have done a little bit more training on some really big hills. 

RB: ...discovered how fun this was when I was younger.

GB: ...faster legs and the same genes as Rory Bosio!

Your expectations


JB: Better than last year.

KR: I'd love to just get round. All I want is to finish. 

RB: Sub 30 hours 

GB: To get to the finish line smiling! I would love to finish in around 35hours.

In my wildest dreams...

JB: A time starting with 21...

KR: ...my downhill technique will dramatically improve during the course of the race, my climbing will become amazing, my quads won't get trashed, I won't feel sick, I'll feel fine despite two nights without sleep. 

RB: I prefer to call them long term goals. They're wild, but that's all you're getting.

GB: To finish in 29- 30hours and come top 10 female, or nicer still to podium - now that really would be a dream come true

My biggest fear is ...

JB: The salami and cheese.

Getting attacked by a French runner with 'sticks.

KR: ...tripping over a kerb in Chamonix at the start and breaking my leg. Or just not finishing when so many of my friends are out there supporting me. 

RB: ...not fulfilling my potential. 

GB: ...is getting injured or my back good and proper ceasing up and not being able to continue, or getting completely lost somehow.

Racing ultras

You wouldn't thinks so, but I'm really looking forward to...

JB: ...the last third of the race. It's the bit that REALLY hurts, but it also tends to be the bit when I can really excel.

KR: ...being out in the mountains at night, getting to the top of some massive climbs, seeing the sun rise twice, eating a lot of cheese. 

RB: ...the last 20-30 miles, when it really starts to hurt.

GB: ...seeing what its like to really push through the pain and dig as deep as I've ever dug to keep moving, running into the second night and experiencing these delusions that people talk about?!

Things you always pack but never use?

JB: That piece of bandage/ strapping they always make you carry at UTMB.

KR: Thus far my survival blanket and whistle. Let's hope that doesn't change. 

RB: Leggings. I have really hairy legs and if the shit hits the fan I'll put on my waterproofs.

GB: I tend to use most things I pack, i havent needed to use the bandage/ first aid yet or safety blanket- lets hope that remains the same for this race.

Things I only eat during an ultra:

JB: Gels. Probably around 50 of the little blighters.

KR: Chicken noodle soup, pork pies and sausage rolls (UK ultras only), sweets, coca cola. 

RB: Clif Shot Blocks

GB: An excess of Mars bars, Yorkie chocolate, flapjacks, wraps with Nutella, cake - basically I may treat myself to the odd chocolate bar, but having 4, 5, 6 in a day, plus cake, plus flapjacks, plus litres of coke etc. is not something I frequently do, apart from on race day! 

How would you best sell/explain the experience of running 100 miles to a non-runner:

JB:  It's an impossible sell. I've tried it many times and have now given up. My blog post for the Huffingdon Post www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jez-bragg/why-i-run-100-miles-for-f_b_5522068.html is the best I can do to try to explain it.

KR: It's kind of like living a week but all in one day - you have all the ups and downs, you eat a week's worth of food, you meet loads of people, you see the best in humanity, you see things that will inspire you, you see incredible scenery, you see the sun rise (twice, if you're slow like me), and when you cross the finish line you'll feel a bigger sense of achievement than you ever have for anything else. Whatever happens you'll have an experience you'll never forget.

RB: It's just like a really long picnic with some running thrown in that feels amazing to finish.

GB: This is a good question and I am not really sure how to answer it. I find that most non-runners just look at me with a vacant expression, say I'm mad or something similar and then change the subject! When people ask why I do it, I generally say 'well its better then sitting on my bum all day!', and also I say that I just love the feeling it gives you, I love the challenge, the experiences, pushing myself to see what I can do, the freedom it brings me and the sense of peace and safety the mountains bring.


Plugs for sponsors - your must have piece of kit:

JB: The North Face Feather Lite Storm Blocker Jacket and Trousers. Super light and super effective - love them.

KR: My best piece of kit is my Berghaus Vapour Storm jacket. It's Gore-Tex but very light and breathable, with a good hood and nice thumb loops. I have total confidence that it'll keep out all the elements. For nutrition I'll be carrying TORQ gels, bars and powders (for drinks). They have really nice flavours (eg rhubarb and custard, strawberry yoghurt) which will come in handy when I'm finding it hard to get stuff down. My LED Lenser SE07 head torch will be indispensible for the night sections. It's really bright and gives other runners head torch envy. 

RB: inov8 Race Ultra vest to carry all my kit and food! X-Talon 212s to keep my feet in the right places.

GB: I absolutely LOVE the North Face ladies running shorts - I dont know what model they are, but they have a really nice soft waist band and are just super comfy, the best pair of running shorts I have ever had! I have never used poles until this year and I am using Black Diamond, super light trekking-poles which are pretty awsome too! 

Secret tip for aspiring UTMB participants:

JB: Get to Cormayeur in one piece and take it from there.

KR: There's no substitute for getting out onto the UTMB course in your training. I know lots of people who've run UTMB races without having run in the Alps before (including me) and it's just on such a different scale to the UK that it's well worth getting out, even for a weekend, to experience it. Also, I was shocked by how much of it you end up walking, so long days of walking out in the hills are great training for it. Your training doesn't have to be all running. 

RB: Figure out what you can eat for 24+ hours, the rest you can train.

GB: Get out in the mountains! Practice your downhills and not just the climbs, descending is just as technical as climbing and you can gain a lot of time on the descents. Keep drinking throughout, from the start, just sips even if you dont feel thirsty, keep hydrated.

Life after the UTMB

After the UTMB (your plans for rest and future ambitions):

JB: A week in Majorca straight afterwards. Thereafter, a very good question. I don't currently have any race plans but i will base my decision on whether or not to extend my season on my performance at UTMB. I would like to run a fast ish 100km at some point, and I'm also tempted with The North Face Endurance Challenge Final in San Francisco in early December.

KR: Immediately after, my plans mainly include fizzy orange, a large meal and a lot of sleep. Beyond that I'm going to take it easy for the rest of 2014. I'd love to have a go at the Bob Graham Round next year, that's my ultimate ambition. I've also earmarked Trans Gran Canaria and Lavaredo for next year. I'd like to try some mountain marathons too. 

RB: Month off from competition (going to walk the Bob Graham with some school friends and do the Round Norfolk Relay with my club) then a sit down with the coach to discuss next year. Maybe get a marathon PB at end of November.

GB: To be honest I havent made too many plans after UTMB, as I haven't ever raced this distance and really dont know how long it will take me to recover. I am also writing a research for my Masters which is due in October, so I need to focus my energy on that!

I am not sure about other runners but I have found that the UTMB really is a way of life in the last few months prior to the race - it is all that seems to fill your mind and you spend a lot of time training and thinking about the race and then the last few weeks getting anxious and paranoid about every niggle.... so I think it will be a case of evaluating everything afterward and making plans for the rest of the year then.

In the future I would really like to do some multi-stage mountain races, perhaps some of the races they do in Nepal I really like the look of. I would like to do a joint journey with Jez somewhere, I am not sure I am up to running the length of NewZealand, but some long-distance adventure/journey I would defintiely like to do. There are so many races and opportunities in the Ultra world, just not enough time in the year!

Follow Jez, Kirsty, Gemma and Robbie (from Friday evening) HERE


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