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Our runners at the 2015 UTMB - an inside view

by Editor
Tuesday 11th August 2015
Tags  ULTRA-TRAIL DU MONT-BLANC   |   UTMB   |   CCC   |   Chamonix   |   OCC   |   Kirsty Reade   |   Robbie Britton   |   Majell Backhausen   |   Paul Navesey   |   Britta Sendlhofer   |   Pip Haylett

Introducing six Run247 contributors who will be participating in the 2015 Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc®:

Kirsty Reade

Kirsty Reade

Robbie Britton

Robbie Britton

Majell Backhausen

Majell Backhausen

Paul Navesey

Paul Navesey

Britta Sendlhofer

Britta Sendlhofer

Pip Haylett

Pip Haylett


Your preparation

Question In no more than 144 characters, how would you describe the type of runner you are?


Robbie Britton: Full time runner and coach who loves every second of the journey. Wants to race every weekend.

Kirsty Reade: What I lack in ability I make up for in determination!

Majell Backhausen: A happy runner who is dedicated to personal goals and enthusiastic in my encouragement of others. I keep the big picture in mind when it comes to training and my overall enjoyment of the sport. I am also a runner who actually eats like an Ultra Runner!

Britta Sendlhofer: Formerly very keen and dedicated runner trying to get back into shape

Paul Navesey: I love running, but more so I love racing. I'm less interested in chasing times but find a huge enjoyment in competing against others.

Pip Haylett: A beginner who has been lucky so far, and fallen in with the right crowd to push me along.  Happy and determined.

Photos: Britta and Kirsty training in on the Lake District fells in 2014

Question The most important training session of your preparation:


Robbie Britton: Rest day. It means I can keep the consistency of training all summer, which is more important than one session.

Kirsty Reade: It's got to be the long, hilly days out - the Tecnica Maxi Race, the Eiger Ultra Trail and a couple of weekends in the Lakes.

Majell Backhausen: Rome wasn’t built in a day - as I like looking at the big picture, I think each session is equally important, they all contribute a small part to the overall journey towards the goal and success. A good laughing session is the most enjoyable though, great for that core stability.

Britta Sendlhofer: Long days in the hills with lots of ascent and decent.

Paul Navesey: I can't pinpoint a single session that I would highlight as most important. The crucial part of training for me is consistency.

Run consistently, then as much as possible  add to that running on relevant terrain and then on top of that add specific sessions either on the track, trails or hills.

Saying that, I am partial to a track session and the 300m track in Chamonix is great fun, it's not often I get to run 55 sec reps on a track! Anything from 300m to 3000m reps have been included.

Pip Haylett: A weekend in the Lake District, trying to get some hilly miles in. In truth, I feel very, very  under prepared for this and don't feel like I have trained appropriately at all.

Photo: Majell running in the mountains

Question Excuses - get them in now:


Robbie Britton: None. I don't do excuses and I can't wait to race.

Kirsty Reade: I don't really have any except the fact that I commute into London (about two hours each way), which has made fitting everything in difficult at times. But I've done a lot of run-commuting!

Majell Backhausen: Proper preparation prevents piss poor excuses!

Britta Sendlhofer: Not enough training. I also appear to have lost some of the will to hurt.

Paul Navesey: I don't have any excuses lined up. If I need any I will refer to Rick Ashton who has a bag of excuses so deep he could provide the entire CCC field!

Pip Haylett: Too slow, too old, carrying a wine waist. 

It's hard to train for the Alps in Oxfordshire.

I didn't expect it to be that hilly.

I chose the wrong shoes.

Photo: Pip Haylett after the 2015 South Downs Way 100

Question Your biggest success:


Robbie Britton: Bronze Medal at the World 24hr Running Championships in April. 

Kirsty Reade: Completing UTMB last year! I'd like to repeat that this year. 

Majell Backhausen: Representing Australia at the IAU Ultra Trail World Championships in 2015

Britta Sendlhofer: Completing a Bob Graham Round in 2007 in 23:30:23. [The route over 42 Lake District Peaks has to be completed in 24 hours]

Paul Navesey: Quitting my job in London and swapping morning commuting for morning runs in the Chamonix valley for the summer.

Pip Haylett: From a race point of view, finishing the South Downs Way 100 still standing was a highlight.

From a running point of view, learning to run more efficiently and without anymore injury... and now learning to be an efficient running coach I think is my biggest success. 

Also, having my 8 year old say his favourite sport is running over football was pretty good.

Question Your biggest fail:


Robbie Britton: Getting beaten by the Rhino suit at Comrades 2010. I learnt a lot running 11:39 there.

Kirsty Reade: Stopping to walk in Bournemouth Marathon (because I was feeling sick) and Liz Yelling seeing me. 

Majell Backhausen: Failing is another opportunity to learn. I have learnt a lot from making small mistakes such as: taking off my undershorts moments before racing the Dorking 10 mile race. That chaffing lasted for weeks! 

Britta Sendlhofer: Recent Lakeland 50 - a DNF [but I covered 35 hilly miles, which was further than I had run in a long time, without recurrance of injury problems]

Paul Navesey: Not finding running and joining a club sooner. Lots of track, XC, road and trail races missed! Although I have thoroughly enjoyed the other sports along the way.

Pip Haylett: Too many to list here.  Mainly around the running / family balance and divorce.

Photos: Kirsty (left) at the finish of the 2014 UTMB [Note the fizzy orange!]

Question When I'm not running I like to…


Robbie Britton: Read, cycle really slowly on an old bike, write and plan future adventures.

Kirsty Reade: Do something outdoors with my husband and dog.

Majell Backhausen: Walk very casually and eat very slowly. Being outside and enjoying the simple things in life is important to me. I love being removed from the ability to use technology, being out of reception and wifi.

Britta Sendlhofer: Walk, read, eat - and attempt to learn how to work my sheepdog!

Paul Navesey: Eat!... and keep up to date on the world of Strava!

Pip Haylett: ...read about running, learn about running, test stuff about running.  In an ideal world I'd do those things.  In reality I try to fix the running / family balance.

Photo: Majell makes friends with some locals


The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc®

Question Why the UTMB/CCC/...?


Robbie Britton: The competition, the mountains, the 10,000m of up and down. Because Chamonix feeling like a trail running Mecca during race week. Because something inside me makes me want to win this race one day. 

Kirsty Reade: Through a quirk of luck I got into the UTMB again this year (I did it last year too). It was a dream to do it for many years, so to get another opportunity makes me feel incredibly lucky. 

Majell Backhausen: After living and training in Chamonix for the summer, having the opportunity to circumnavigate Mt. Blanc (our over looking nosey neighbor), is an opportunity I could not refuse, I think it will cap off an awesome journey and experience. Also because it has the world Ultra in it, I figure when I finish that bad boy, I will have the license to eat like an Ultra hungry runner.

Britta Sendlhofer: I love Chamonix during race week and after a few years of spectating and supporting it was time to get involved again! I am running the OCC, the shortest of the evnts - it allows me to feel part of the occasion and I should be finished in time to follow the other distances!

The location, with Mont Blanc at its centre; the sense of occasion; the cammeraderie amongst runners and the generosity of the supporters and spectators; the scale of the challenge - it is a great place to be!

Paul Navesey: The CCC for me as its a hilly, point to point mountain race in a fantastic part of the world. The European support for races is always mind blowing and the racing is always tough. It ticks all the boxes for a long trail race... and UTMB is too far!

Pip Haylett: It's a race I've read about and been interested in for years having spent a fair amount of time in and around Chamonix in the winter and summer.  I love the mountains, the energy they give and the history associated with the human endeavour around there.  I had the points for the CCC, hope to have the points for the UTMB ballot next year.

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


Robbie Britton: Last year I ran 26:48 here, after starting conservatively I got real excited about 20:00 hours in, went too fast and Knackered myself. I also struggled on the uphills, so that is why I moved out here this summer.

Kirsty Reade: I ran the CCC in 2011 and 2012, the TDS in 2013, then the UTMB in 2014. So I worked my way up. Logically this means that I should enter the PTL next year but I need a willing team-mate. Britta? 

Majell Backhausen: In 2014 I spent the week in Chamonix during the UTMB festival. I crewed UK runner Danny Kendall to a great result in CCC, was able to cheer like a maniac for Robbie Britton during his final 10km decent and it was then a seed was planted.

Britta Sendlhofer: I completed the UTMB in 2008. I have been to Chamonix to support others a few times since.

Paul Navesey: I have unsuccessfully run the CCC race before. My race ending at La Fouly. After starting the race with an injury, by La Fouly I had very little motivation to continue and decided to end my race there. Certainly a mistake I will not be repeating.

Pip Haylett: I've watched the UTMB DVD and read some race reports.  Otherwise I've ridden my bike around some sections of the course... and talked to Kirsty about it.

Question What were your qualifying races:


Robbie Britton: Erm... West Highland Way and UTMB I think. I don't reckon they count flat, road 24hr races.

Kirsty Reade: UTMB 2014 and South Downs Way 100 2014.

Majell Backhausen: UTTJ (Un Tour en Terre du Jura), 115km, France, 2014 (HERE); Megredi Mountain Trial 100 mile, Italy, 2014; Druid Challenge, 83 miles, UK, 2013.

Britta Sendlhofer: None required for the OCC

Paul Navesey: Centurion South Downs Way 50 & Endurancelife Sussex CTS Ultra.

Pip Haylett: Think I used the Endurance Life Gower (40ish miles, 1 point) and Dorset (45 miles, 2 points) for the 3 points I needed.

Hope next year will be SDW 100 (4) and CCC (3?) + one other point race for the UTMB.

Photo: Kirsty during this year's Eiger Ultra Trail


Your expectations

Question Realistically:


Robbie Britton: Under 24 hours.

Kirsty Reade: Sub 40 hours

Majell Backhausen: To complete UTMB, finishing strong and with a smile. Having enjoyed a freaking good journey!

Britta Sendlhofer: A challenging day out in the mountains with some highs and lows - literally as well as metaphorically speaking!

Paul Navesey: I am not often found chasing specific times as I enjoy racing people more than racing a clock. However, I have taken a look at previous times run by friends and fellow UK runners over the past couple of years. If I can repeat a similar run to what they achieved then a top 20 finish would be a very likely outcome and I'd be back in Chamonix before Saturday!

Pip Haylett: Finish.  Realistically, I haven't done anything like this before, and I'm petrified.

Five tips for the SDW

Photo: That's dedication - Paul quit his job in London, swapping morning commutes for morning runs in the Chamonix valley

Question In my wildest dreams ...


Robbie Britton: The podium. One day, but maybe not this year. Fear not those who dream whilst they sleep, but those you dream whilst wide awake.

Kirsty Reade: To be honest, it's just all about conquering that 170km and 9600m of ascent and finishing feeling like I gave it my everything. That's what success looks like for me. Time and position is pretty irrelevant.

Majell Backhausen: To run a respectable time for my first attempt and having the strength in my legs to push the final section keeping up with the local Ibex.

Britta Sendlhofer: I will complete in decent shape without injury and with a big smile on my face throughout.

Paul Navesey: To be stood on the podium in Chamonix Saturday afternoon. The podium stretches to 10 for CCC so maybe not quite as wild a dream as it initially sounds but with the field of athletes attending I would be exceptionally happy to achieve it.

Pip Haylett: Finish in style, in the top half, with a smile and without stabbing anyone or being stabbed. [Ed: were talking accidental stabbings through poles here, not trail rage]

Question My biggest fear is ...


Robbie Britton: The race being canceled because of the weather. Otherwise I'm just really excited.

Kirsty Reade: Not finishing. And if I do finish, nobody having any fizzy orange for me. 

Majell Backhausen: Not having the chance to complete the whole event or leaving it with a negative experience.

Britta Sendlhofer: Negative emotions. I recently have fought some big battles in my head during runs, asking myself just why I put myself through the pain, whilst being cross with myself for not having respected the demands of the event and not having prepared well enough.

Paul Navesey: Missing the start of the UTMB race... I guess I should throw an extra couple of gels in the pack and hope for a long delay in Chamonix!

Pip Haylett: That my Five Fingers are not cut out for 101kms in the mountains, and I fail on a foot ware issue.


Racing ultras

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


Robbie Britton: The last climb up to Tête aux Vents. Last year it broke me physically and mentally but this year I cannot wait to be at the foot of the climb, feeling strong and in control. The last bit of the race is business time and I love being able to run in that pain.

Kirsty Reade: The second dawn on the Sunday. I'll have been going around 36 hours by then and hopefully Chamonix won't be too far away.

Majell Backhausen: The moment when it hurts so much or the situation seems so ridiculous that it makes me laugh.  

Britta Sendlhofer: The climbs. The further I go, the more I dislike decending!

Paul Navesey: I'm really looking forward to getting to La Flegere, the final aid station just 8km from the finish, all downhill. Putting on the trusty Petzl Tikka and hitting the forest track in the dark. I may not be moving at my peak speed but there is nothing like trees, roots and the beam of a head torch combined to make you feel like you are flying.

Pip Haylett: Looking up and seeing cool places we run past.

Question When I look at the runners around me at the start I think:


Robbie Britton: Bon Voyage, Bon Chance, Good Luck! We're all in this together, if someone runs better than I then I am happy for them, it's my own race I'm focused on. 

Last year it was pouring with rain and I was standing next to Timmy Olsen and Rory Bosio so I did wonder how to get The North Face sponsorship...

Kirsty Reade: Why are their legs so much more muscley than mine? Why do they all have much better kit than me? 

Majell Backhausen: You’re just a friend that I haven’t met.  Lets bring it in for a hug and go hit the trail, buddy.

Britta Sendlhofer: Everyone else looks thinner, fitter and faster - probably the start of those negative emotions!

Paul Navesey: I can't wait to go racing! A lot of excitement with a pinch of nerves but mainly just wanting to race!

Pip Haylett: Blimey, they all look like they will win it.  Look at the awesome kit! 

Hahaha Hokas look stupid.

Photo: Britta on one of her rather too short training runs

Question Silent concentration, music or banter with runners and supporters?


Robbie Britton: The music at the start really gets me going, but I try to save it for when I'm in the pain cave at the race later on. I love chatting with runners, supporters and everyone involved! My Nan, Mum and my Girlfriend will be on the course this year so I'll try to keep them smiling too!

Kirsty Reade: As Anne Trason said '100 miles is a life in a day' so a bit of everything. There will be times when I really need the silence and there will be times when I'm desperate for some chat or to see my friends.

Majell Backhausen: If I can share a laugh about a ridiculous situation with a fellow runner, that would be great. This happened at the World Championships, when I was trying to climb up a mudslide alongside a Finnish Runner, we were moving nowhere fast and all we could do was look sideways and laugh about it. It’s a great memory.

Britta Sendlhofer: All of the above. Some excited banter at the beginning and some friendly words (or just smiles, due to the language barrier) later on. I don't mind running by myself and have plenty of little mind games lined up in case the going gets tough and the views alone don't keep me smiling! Some music can really help to bring some 'fire' back and a spring back into the step, but I don't usually use music during events as it seems rude towards fellow competitors and supporters.

Paul Navesey: I'll chat to anyone at the start. Although given my very basic French and even more basic Italian unless they have an unusual interested in my name, age and that I like to run then the converstations may be limited to an Allez Allez with a big smile!

Pip Haylett: Silent outside, but the voice in my head keeps banging on about all sorts.  Often take headphones, but never use them. 

Question The crazy thing about running an ultra is not the distance but ...


Robbie Britton: The time. You can't think about distance in the mountains, it's all about time. 10k means nothing if there is a mountain involved. Break it down into hours and enjoy each one.

Kirsty Reade: The journey you go through in your head. It can be a total rollercoaster, feeling desperate one minute then great the next, sometimes for no apparent reason. You've just got to get through those rough patches, embrace the strange places your brain will wander off to and try to focus on the mile you're in. 

Majell Backhausen: The amount of individual steps you take over the distance - the number is huge and sounds much more impressive!

Britta Sendlhofer: But the conversations you may have with yourself. They say you learn a lot about yourself, which is true. You may not like everything you learn though!

Paul Navesey: They are not crazy but I am always blown away that so many people give up their time to stand behind a table full of food they have carefully chopped and prepared into bite size amounts then tell everyone how awesome they are for hours on end. Like being a parent to 2000 toddlers. I'm sure some other similarities exist too!

Pip Haylett: The choice of picnic foods.



Question Plugs for sponsors or your must have piece of kit:


Robbie Britton: Profeet have been sending me some different shoes out to try so I'm really grateful for that and excited every-time a new pair turns up!

Kirsty Reade: I don't have any sponsors but my top 3 items of kit would be: Inov-8 Race Ultra 290 trainers (the only shoes I've found that don't give me blisters over very long distances), my Black Diamond ultra distance poles and my Berghaus Vapour Storm jacket which will keep out any weather. 

Majell Backhausen: A good pair of well used Injinji socks together with some well soiled shoes- I will opt for a pair of HOKA One One’s. Also a solid pair of Compressport trail shorts and calf guards, for their compression and stability.

Britta Sendlhofer: Hoka One One shoes. After years of suffering with injuries these crazy looking shoes have got me back onto the trails.

Paul Navesey: No sponsors so free reign here! A good pack. The mandatory kit list for CCC is not ridiculous but certainly worth having a pack that you can fit all the kit, food you need and are happy wearing for a long period of time. I really like the Inov-8 race ultra vest. 3 litres so ideal size, no zips to faff around with and very comfortable.

Pip Haylett: I seem to have accidentally gone from being an Ashmei devotee to a Salomon Full Pro Kit w*nker. 

But really its all about the Vibram Five Fingers.  Oh, and my Lemi stick.

Question Secret tip for aspiring UTMB participants:


Robbie Britton: See eating and drinking as part of the challenge. I mentioned this to Kirsty last year and she said it helped! Even if you don' want to, keep some energy going in! At times you may not to walk, but keep taking another step, so keep taking another bite too! 

Kirsty Reade: Train for the downhills as well as the ups! That was my undoing the first year I went out there. I'd done so many hill reps but I hadn't focused on those long, steep, technical downhills and my quads were shredded. 

Majell Backhausen: Get the points required for the race, they have gone up in the last two years, so get the required amount before they go up again!

Also, get super comfortable in the kit and the fuel you intend to use on race day. And don’t forget the 5PE rule: Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Excuses!

Britta Sendlhofer: Break things down into short achieveble steps, at worst, it's just one step in front of the other. Enjoy the experience and know that you are priveledged to be there!

Paul Navesey: With Strava, Twitter, Facebook & Instagram there's very few secrets now! However, for all the races I think a very relevant and useful tip would be to practice for the descents. Each race has thousands of meters of ascent, which gets a lot of focus in training. What goes up must come down! There is equally as much descent in every race so practice running downhill at least as much as you do running up hill.  

Pip Haylett: Get the points.  Enter the ballot, take it from there.  Don't try to train in Oxfordshire.


Life after the UTMB

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


Robbie Britton: I want to see how the race goes first before making my next race goals but at the end of September I'm running across Iceland with my mate James Elsons (he's kind of a big deal). It's going to be awesome! 

Kirsty Reade: Immediate plans involve fizzy orange, a large meal and a nice sleep. Longer term, if my husband is reading this then I'm going to take a nice long break and focus on supporting him in his cycling, and if he isn't reading it then I've entered the King Offa's Dyke Race next September (185 miles along the border between Wales and England). 

Majell Backhausen: Recovery is goal number 1- this will hopefully give me time to write back to my Mum’s emails.

I will then put time into proper preparation for the next adventure along a trail which has not been trekked before, watch this space. 

Britta Sendlhofer: At the recent Lakeland 50 I made a pact with a fellow competitor to try and bring down my parkrun PB by Christmas, so shorter and faster runs.

Paul Navesey: After CCC I will be throwing some spikes on and getting stuck in to a good old cross country season in the UK. They are without doubt amongst my favourite events. The courses are short and tough, each in their own way. Hilly, mud covered or occasionally flat and fast. The common theme across the variety of courses is the hard racing.

They are also a great way to work on that speed and strength over the winter that will no doubt serve very well come those longer spring and summer races. Plus, they are brilliant fun!

Pip Haylett: I could tell you, but it would lead to divorce.  Few more races coming up this year, then some good plans for next year.  Away from the standard races I've been running this year...

Robbie Britton

Photo: Robbie Britton prepares on the trails around Chamonix for the 2015 race


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