Monday, July 30, 2007

A training week with a champion: Karine Herry

I saw Karine for the first time two years ago on the Western States course when she passed through Last Chance, the aid station I was captaining for my running club, the Striders. She barely stopped and finished 3rd, earning the F3 bib the following year. Unfortunately, 2006 was a very hot year and Karine dropped out last year. She was back for the 2007 edition this past June and, as I was running too, we had more time to get acquainted. As it turned out, we, the only French citizens of the 392 field, finished 17th and 18th overall, Karine preceding me by 12 minutes in 20 hours and 12 minutes. She was 3rd female, good enough to meet her goal of making another podium on this legendary course.
Nikki Kimbal and Karine, 1st and 3rd at Western States 2007
When discussing about our plans for our next family trip to France with Karine and Bruno (her companion and coach) after the race, we found out that we will be in Chamonix the same last week of July, Karine and Bruno coming to review the new course of the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB, 5th edition, August 24-26, 2007). Karine won last year's edition, setting a new course record of 25 hours and 22 minutes.
Karine in front of Mont Blanc, on the Italian side
So, as I will relate in more details in an upcoming post, I had the privilege to train with Karine for 5 days this week.
Road and trail

When I met Scott Jurek after Miwok in May where he placed 5th overall, he admitted that he didn't feel that great on trails after having trained so hard on roads, trying to qualify for the world championships of 100K (Canada, this July). Having missed the qualification by a few minutes in such a bad weather begining of 2007, he focused back on trail running and had an outstanding Hardrock, winning and setting a new course record. I hope he will do well at this year's UTMB for his first participation. And that he has the opportunity to review the trail as I just did, before.
Discussing the Brooks Cascadia models with Scott, at Miwok

What makes Karine's career in ultra praticularly outstanding is her ability to combine performances on both roads and trails. Karine has won the French Nationals of 100K road 7 times in a row (2001-2007). This year, she also won the National title for the 24-hour road race. On the trails, in addition to her participations to Western States and her victory at the UTMB 2006, she won many races including the Jeep Raid of La Réunion and Les Templiers race, 9 times.


Running and training with such a champion is not only motivational. It is also the opportunity to learn and progress. Here are some tips I gathered this week.
  1. Poles or no poles? When I joined this week's training group (see my coming UTMB training camp report), I was the only one to carry bottles (the American way...), when the 7 others were using poles in the uphills. After 4 days, I was pleased that Bruno was questioning the use of poles for Karine for the upcoming UTMB race. I don't deny it may provide some help when poles are properly used, and I'm excited to try this technique. In the meantime, I find reassuring it's not necessary to perform well, even on this course.
  2. Bottles or Camel Back? The question is not worth asking if you want to use poles. But, in any case, you need to carry so much stuff on the UTMB course that you need a backpack. So, adding a fluid puch to it or bottle holders on the shoulder straps, make a lot of sense, freeing your hands and arms from the weight of the bottles.
  3. Nutrition. Karine plans on writing a book on the topic of nutrition for ultra runners, so I should not disclose her secrets. Just three tips in the meantime. I already knew I should avoid acidic fruits before a race, but I didn't realize that it was true between races too. The second tip is to stop milk and diary products in case of inflammation. And, a third one is to drink some Green Magma, like Karine, and Scott Jurek!
  4. Knowledge of the course. A precise knowledge of the course of a race is definitely very beneficial. I could experience it at Western States, it helps to have trained through the toughest parts, especially for mental preparation. What I learned this week is the level of details of Bruno's knowledge of the course: turns, type of terrain, setting of aid stations, pace, time keeping/tracking, etc. With such details reported on the road book.
  5. Keep going. Last but not least, Karine impressed me by her persistent walking and running even when we got tired in the toughest uphills of this course. Agnès doesn't like the nickname I gave Karine for that: la teigne (ringworm)! I realize it's not nice, but it captures for me all the tenacity which makes Karine such a champion.

What's next for Karine?

10 years at the top of such a demanding sport is not easy to manage. Add to it the pressure coming with the sponsorships (Lafuma, Green Magma), an active and busy medical doctor career, and raising 6-year old twins, no wonder you hear Karine and Bruno discussing about lighter race schedules for the coming years. At least Karine doesn't have to deal with any commitment related to representing France in international championships as the French Track & Field Association (FFA) seems to ignore her despite a 10-year outstanding career. Will be interesting to see if turning 40 next year brings a second wind to Karine.

Karine passing through Argentières, the last 6 miles before Chamonix


Karine, thank you for being such a model of tenacity, kindness, natural and modesty, in France and internationally. It has been very inspirational to run with you this week, around the top of Europe, and learning a few tips from you and Bruno. I hope to come back soon to run the big race (UTMB) with some friends from California. Good luck on August 24 and 25 to defend your title (Nikki's presence may help you setting a new course record!), and for the continuation of your career in ultra running!

With Karine, in front of the Grandes Jorasses, at the Refuge Bertone


Scott Dunlap said...

Looks amazing! Sounds like you are having a great time.

BTW, not sure if you saw/heard the latest Scott Jurek interview. He has a few words to share about Dean Karnazes.

- SD

Jean Pommier said...

Amazing scenery indeed, hope you have the opportunity to run this ultra next year (let me know if interested).
And yes, I've already felt the heat around Scott's podcast. Uploaded it, and Dean's ones, on my iPod for my long flight back home tomorrow.

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Gorgeous photos. Not far from my homeland (Germany).

Jean, I started reading your blog about a month ago or so and really enjoy. We both have very similar roots (just different countries).

Hope to see you on the trails some day.


P.s. I believe, I saw you briefly in the background during the recent WS100 documentary on NBC (you can read more about that on Scott's blog). I think, you can buy that episode on iTunes.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Wow, looks nice there, Jean. Good you can hang out and run with your compatriots. Hope the jet lag's not too bad. See you back later this month!

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