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UTMB 2016: top runners talk about their hopes for the race

by editor
Friday 19th August 2016
Tags  Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc   |   Damian Hall   |   Jo Meek   |   Robbie Britton   |   Nicky Spinks   |   Holly Rush   |   Majell Backhausen   |   Jez Bragg
In the final part of our series of UTMB article we talk to some of the top Brits and a top Aussie about the race itself. 

If you missed parts one and two you can catch up now: 
Part one: our top runners talk training
Part two: they talk kit! 

Damian Jo Robbie
l-r Damian Hall (photo by Summit Fever Media/Contours Trail Running Holidays), Jo Meek and Robbie Britton (photo by Natalie White)

  • Damian Hall, who recently set the FKT on the South West Coast Path and finished second in the Highland Fling, securing a place on team GB for the forthcoming World Trail Championships. Damian was 31st in last year’s UTMB.
  • Jo Meek’s race highlights include a 2nd place in the MDS in 2013, a 5th place in Comrades, 4th place in the World Trail Championships in 2014 and podium finishes in many other races. Jo is also in the team for the World Trail Championships in October.
  • Robbie Britton, shy and retiring winner of the 2016 Arctic Ice Ultra, 3rd at the IAU World 24 hour Championships in 2015, always at the sharp end of mountain races.
  • Nicky Spinks, record holder for the Ramsay Round, Paddy Buckley Round and until recently the Bob Graham Round, completed a mind-boggling double Bob Graham Round earlier this year.
  • Holly Rush, winner of the UltraVasan 90 and Montagn’Hard races in 2013 and North Downs Way 50 in 2016, 7th place in Comrades 2013, reformed (world class) road runner. Also on team GB for the World Trail Running Championships.
  • Majell Backhausen, member of the international Salomon / Suunto team, has represented Australia at the World Trail Running Championships, winner of the Tarawera 50k and 21st place in UTMB 2015.
  • Jez Bragg, winner of the 2010 UTMB, 4th place in Western States the following year, has represented England and GB at 100k championships, and has run the length of New Zealand (1898 miles).

Nicky Holly Majell Jez
l-r Nicky Spinks (photo by inov-8), Holly Rush (photo by Asics), Majell Backhausen and Jez Bragg

1. What’s your favourite bit of the course?
Damian: The finish is well brill. The start is well brill. I love that undulating plateau section after the climb out of Courmayer, too. All of it really. Except the long descents. But from memory, there aren't many of those, right?
Jo: From the recce I’d say Bovine and the runnable descent into Chamonix.
Robbie: Either the balcony from Bertone to Bonatti or the descent from the Grand Col Ferret. I love to run and those bits are real runnable.
Nicky: Hard to say as in 2014 I suffered from sickness from Champex so it was all a bit of a blur from then on. And I was in the dark or clag a lot up to then. I'll tell you in a month's time!!!
Holly: There is this lovely little meadow between Bovine and Col de Forclaz where cows graze and there is a little house where the farmer lives. It's so quiet apart from the the cow bells and the views are stunning.
Majell: The sections where I look up and enjoy the view. So often, amazing bits of the course are missed, because I'm trying to run and not fall.
Jez: Descending Grand Col Ferret towards Praz du Fort. It’s always nice to reach the 100km mark and have the night section behind you.
2. What’s your most feared bit of the course?
Damian: The last three descents weren't much fun last time. I broke a pole, blackened a toe on a rock and swore a bit last time. This time I'm sure I'll skip down them singing happily.
Jo: The first part of the CCC is pretty tough but I’m not sure I fear it. I’m not mad keen on the technical bits after Les Tetes aux Vents. I think to be honest the bit I fear is the bit I’m going to travel along when I have a bad patch because I will and if I only have one then I’m very lucky!
Robbie: There is nothing to be afraid of, it’s just a running race. I look forward to the tougher sections, a chance to push yourself.
Nicky: The flat bits.
Holly: The descent from Flegere to Chamonix. I hate it, it's so rocky and rooty and it will be the last 8k which is going to kill the quads.
Majell: It’s that chair in the aid station and the buffet. If I get caught there, its scary.
Jez: Tete Aux Vents via la Flegere to the finish. It’s so easy to let your guard down and ‘leak’ time at the end.

finish line 1

3. How likely will you be to cry at the start/during the race/at the end?
Damian: My selfish daydream is that my two kids might join me for the run-in to the black arch for a super-cheesy finish and that might make me cry.
Jo: At the end probably.
Robbie: When everything goes well I cry like a wee baby. 
Nicky: Not likely. 
Holly: I will put money on me crying if I finish....not sure if it will be due to happiness or pain?
Majell: I recently ran the BUFF Epic Trail and during a really bad patch, I thought of my good friend who passed away, early this year. That pretty much put a tear in my eye. From up above he will probably pull that trick on me again.
Jez: I’ve been there too many times before, it’s not going to happen.
4. What would your dream result be, if everything went perfectly?
Damian: First place. It's not going to happen. But I dream about it. I was 31st last time and I'd just like to do better. Hopefully I can finish in daylight on Saturday.
Jo: I just want to run my best and hopefully it’s enough to do justice to my dedication to training and satisfy me.
Robbie: Winning the CCC, followed by an awesome week supporting Nats at the TDG.
Nicky: To finish like I finished the L'Echappee Belle last year (2015). I felt strong, I had come through a bad patch when I was too hot, I ate well, I was running strongly and I'd enjoyed the race.
Holly: Winning....of course!
Majell: To win. There would be nothing better from the race, you could ask for.
Jez: Winning again.

Sumo podium

5. What would be worst out of being beaten by the man dressed in the sumo suit, DNFing, or finishing on the podium but being unable to climb the steps to the stage at the prizegiving?
Damian: If I'm on the podium, I won't care if I can't walk for a month (any longer and I might miss the Trail Running World Championships). Deffo the sumo suit. Is he there again? Oh heck. I'd better up my game.
Jo: Not finishing.
Robbie: The latter would be awesome, giving every last ounce to get on that podium and then having to crawl on there. Haha! I’ve been beaten by the men in the rhino suit at Comrades (11:39 in 2010) so I’ve had my lifetime fill of being beaten by oversized costumes :)
Nicky: DNFing.
Holly: DNF ing would be the worst. I DNFed at Laverado last month due to injury. I knew I did the right thing but it's always crap when I can't finish something that I have started and trained bloody hard for.
Majell: Haha, why am I seriously pondering over the sumo suit guy and a DNF? I got to get my ego in line!
Jez: DNFing. Finishing behind a sumo is better than nothing. If I can’t climb the podium steps it’s a good sign, I’ve thrown everything at it.

Finish line 3

6. What are your thoughts on children/partners running over the line with you – sweet and supportive or stealing your thunder? 
Damian: Hehee. See answer to question 3. If it's okay for Nathalie Mauclair, it's okay for me.
Jo: They all help to support that runner so it’s their result too. They all deserve that finish line moment.
Robbie: I’ll race anyone to the line, no mercy given. I’d happily overtake someone who was running into the finish with their child/partner. 
Nicky: I loved the supportive / bell ringing / children / family atmosphere of the UTMB/PTL finish over the weekend that I saw in 2014. For me it was one of the highlights sitting in the cafe on Sunday morning/afternoon seeing all the families running in with their battered, tired spouses/dads/mums/wives. It's not just one person's dream it's a whole family's.
Holly: I think it's weird. Can you imagine someone doing it at the Olympic marathon? I would like to think I am sprinting to the line and kids would just hold me up (also helps that I don't have any). But dogs.....now that's another matter.
Majell: I don’t have kids or a partner. But I am taking applications, so please apply on my website www.majellbackhausen.com
Jez: Children are ok, no partners!
7. If trail running was in the Olympics would you rather win Olympic gold or win the UTMB/CCC?
Damian: Olympic gold. UTMB happens every year, the Olympics every four. Plus my five-year-old daughter just asked me if I was running in the Olympics. She seemed a bit disappointed with my response.
Jo: If trail running was in the Olympics and it was a runnable trail I’d definitely be more suited to that. I don’t live in the mountains or in fact a particularly hilly area so I am competing in an event which will be a huge challenge. Wish me luck!
Robbie: Olympic Gold, although we need to sort out the shower of shit that is in control of the Olympics/Athletics at the moment. They’re all too keen on filling their own coffers, going on fancy holidays and keeping their corporate chums happy. We should be doing more to eradicate doping and making sport about the athletes, from first to last.
Nicky: I wouldn't be any use at Trail running and enjoy running in the mountains so much more so I'll say UTMB please.
Holly: Olympic gold....hands down.
Majell: UTMB, for sure!
Jez: Olympic gold. I think it would attract the strongest field and I always want to pitch myself against the best.

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