Sunday, August 26, 2007

Headlands 50K : ups and downs

Championship time!

This Sunday, I participated in my first USA Track & Field Championship. I ran 3 Marathon Nationals in France, but this was a much different experience. Actually the difference is less about the country or the culture. It has more to see with the difference between road and trail running. Although not that publicized and covered by the medias, road racing is still more visible and popular, with hundreds of thousands of people running marathons each year. After all, trail running isn't an Olympic sport. What most of us like in trail running, and ultra running especially, is that it's more about your personal challenge than actual competition. No way to have distance records in this discipline as courses and profiles vary so much from one place to another. We enjoy the low key aspect of this sport, saying we just need a pair of shoes to hit the trail (oh, no, this is not an invitation to run nude like one guy got caught in the Cupertino hills several years ago!).

So, here we are, 140 runners lining up for a US Championship. No qualifying requirement, you just needed to have paid your membership dues to the USA Track & Field association before the race. Which 99 of us had. But very few runners from out of State, or even out of North California. As much as we have great local runners, that's not really representing of some great runners from many other states in the US. Too many events in the summer (Leadville 100M and the 100K championships the week before, Bulldog 50K, Cascade Crest and UTMB 100-milers this weekend, just to name a few) and not enough prize money to cover travel expenses are probably the main reasons. Well, at least, us local runners, we got most of the numerous medals! ;-)

Course review

Two weeks ago, I went to Rodeo Beach to run the full course of the Golden Gate Headlands 50K and get familiarized with the course. I ran Ohlone without knowing anything about the course, which happened to work great (1st overall!), but Headlands 50K was serving as the USA Track & Field Championship, so I wanted to get better prepared.

For this training run, the weekend of PCTR's Headlands 100-mile, I got the usual fog at the start, but the rest was sunny, from the Dipsea trail hill. I took my time to read the map and course instructions from time to time, take some pictures, then wandering in some places to get some water, yet thought I had pushed reasonnably in the uphills, despite a 23-mile training run the previous day. I ended up doing the full loop in 5:44. When I checked past year's performance, I saw times starting at 3hr59, with guys I know running in the 4:30-5hr range. I was not sure which trick I'll find on race day to save 1hr or more out of this training run...

A self portrait overlooking Muir Beach, during my sunny training run.
Note: the pictures of the course below are from this sunny morning, and may misrepresent the overcasted sky which sticked all day, this Sunday.

Race day

Started with meeting Hannes in Cupertino for a nice carpool. With 140 registered runners (half Miwok's field), traffic, parking and check-in at Rodeo Beach was straightforward. There was even barely a line for the toilets! The fog was there (of course), but it was not too cold. I picked my favorite Brooks orange sleeveless top and put my Brooks Trance shoes on. Thinking of my hero, Scott Jurek, who unfortuntaly dropped half way at UTMB this Saturday (he is the lead representative of Brooks in ultra running), too tired between his great win at Hardrock and the coming grueling Spartathlon (see Scott's blog).

Like Miwok, we start on the beach, actually closer to the parking lot, so for a longer and painful stretch in soft sand. Chikara started like a bomb. And was followed by a few guys.

I was just behind Bev and Caren when we hitted the single track trail. Passing a few, I ran into Rob, my favorite pacer (Miwok and Western States this year). I kept going on the uphill of Miwok Trail, then passed Erik (Skaden) who was chatting (I believe with Peter Fain). The top three guys were quickly out of sight. Steve Stowers (Skyline 50K winner, and in my age group) was one minute ahead. Rob and I at the finish:

Following Rob's tip to reduce the time I usually spend in aid stations, I didn't stop at the Tenessee Valley aid station (horse stables) and went on the next uphill, feeling Erik on my heels. Refueled at the Hwy 1 aidstation, then got on the third and tough hill of the Dipsea trail. Erik caught me half way up to Pantoll. Given he placed second overall again this year at Western States, and he looked so strong, I thought I won't see him again before the finish line.

The Bay and Mount Diablo in the background above the clouds, from the Dipsea trail (training run):
I was fearing the brutal down hill to Stinson Beach as I had twisted my right ankle there two weeks ago. Between the narrow trail, tortuous switchbacks, roots, rocks, irregular steps, slippery dust and the fallen trees blocking the way, it's a good (?!) remembrance of my Double or Quad Dipseas. I'm usually pretty good on technical trails, but this fear slown me down and Victor Ballesteros caught me at the Stinson Beach aid station, and didn't even stop at the station. I was going to see him again before we enter the Steep Ravine trail, and that was it.

A view from Matt Davis trail, before the streneous trail plunging to Stinson Beach (training run):

Through all the way up to Pantoll and down to Frank Valley (~6 miles), I didn't see any runner, neither in front or back, which is not very motivating. If it wasn't for all the pink ribbons--a perfectly marked course-- some flour on the ground, and volunteers posted at the required turned, it didn't feel like being in a race.

Getting to Muir Beach (above picture), I saw Erik up in the Coastal Trail hill above the aid station. I walked most of it, so I didn't think I'd catch him, which I eventually did at Coyote Ridge before flying down to Tennessee Valley for the second time today. He was having a bad day, the only way for me to keep up with such an elite ultra runner, and winner of the 2006-2007 Montrail Ultra Cup.

The rest is a tough hill, the seventh and last. Which seems endless as we still go up after reaching the bike path at Wolf Ridge. Here is a view of Rodeo Beach (start), from Wolf Ridge (training run):Then the last downhill, a sort of fast tour of the WWII bunkers, an abandonned "Pacific Wall" like the marks of the German Atlantic Wall in France, a part of which I visited this summer (see my own commemorative ultra run on the beaches of D Day).
And the finish line, at last! 11th overall, 4h23, 3rd Masters, enough for a "bronze" medal. For what it is worth in an Championship which was almost exclusively amongt local North Californian runners.

The aid stations were perfectly stocked and the volunteers very helpful and knowledgeable. Probably many volunteers who are themselves running these hills and trails around Mount Tamalpais. This is priceless. The BBQ at the finish line was perfect and welcomed after such a tough run and with this tenacious fog.

Below, from left to right: Chikara Omine (8th overall) and the top three Masters, Cliff Lentz (6th), myself (11th) and Steve Stowers (10th):
Then started a long 3-hour wait for the award ceremony, until each 5-year/3-deep age groups were filling in. Yes, I know, Greg, ultra running requires patience... Especially for family members and teenagers who made the effort of coming to the finish line, giving up their last day of the summer break (a big deal for Alex and Max!).

Our three top female runners (from left to right): 1. Beverley Anderson-Abbs (43), Red Bluff, 4:42:32; 2. Caren Spore (39), Davis, 4:48:25; 3. Devon Crosby-Helms (24), San Francisco, 4:58:29 (not Devon's day):
Agnès and the boys drove up later in the morning, with our friend, Sylvie. Sylvie had never attended the finish of a running race and was excited to combine this première with a trip to Marine Headlands. In her childhood she went to many bobsleigh races to support her father, so she was great at making noise with the Montrail bell we got at Western States! ;-)

The boys with Agnes' friend, Sylvie:

By the way, Greg (Nacco, not Pommier!), thank you for stepping up as the Race Director for this event, with Guy (Palmer), Jerry (Leith) and Peter (Franks). Must be frustrating for such a great runner like you to miss this Pacific Association Grand Prix event and USA Championship, but rewarding to direct us during this special day. I thought from Doug White's great account of his race in 1999, that you will celebrate the 10th anniversary of this race next year. But Guy told me the race actually started in the early 1990s around Point Reyes, before moving to Rodeo Beach for the start, probably in 1994. Seems like the history and roots of this race are lost in the mysterious wilderness of Marine Headlands...!Except for the lack of pictures, Doug's report would have made a great blog post, would the concept exist back in 99. Very well written and picturesque, a recommended reading for first time runners of this event. And, no matter how strong you are or how much visualization of the profile you went through, the hills are tough for everybody. As you can read from Barry Spitz in his Marin Independent Journal article, counting the epic finish of Ed Baker and first time stellar performance of "rookie" Mark McManus (4:02:18 for his first ultra trail run!).

A tough but great run, with only up and down hills, and less than a mile of flat terrain overall. With all you can expect from trail running: rocks, dust, fire road and single-track trails, views, steep up and down hills, roots, bushes, poison oak, switchbacks, solitude, camaraderie, aid stations, volunteers, great organization, perfect course marking, post-race BBQ, and even a very nice finisher t-shirt. Everything but the heat.

Congratulations to winner and course master, Brian Dayton, with a special thanks for coming from Colorado to kick our butts, local North California runners. Especially with the baby to come!

And, before you go farther and faster, as a bonus, a view of Golden Gate and San Francisco, from Marine Headlands, without the fog (training run)!
Ok, another extra bonus, the course on Google Earth and Google Maps. I particularly like who the switch backs going down Franck Valley, on the Heather cut-oof trail, see for yourself! But you need more to trick the Garmin 205...And the course profile, both views captured in Sports Track:

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Skyline 50K: fast and foggy

I flew back from France last Thursday, after some great training on the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) course. I was so excited to see how much energy and red blood cells I had accumulated during this "recovery" month in Europe after Western States. So excited that, on Saturday morning, I woke up at 3am (thanks to some jet lag) to get an early breakfast and drove up to Lake Chabot (40 miles from home). It was 6am there and very few cars on the parking lot, when I realized the race was actually on Sunday, the next day... "Every first Sunday of August" like the website says... I got confused because the Headlands 50K at the end of the month got moved from Saturday to Sunday, and usually, races are on Saturdays, not Sundays.

Anyway, one day later, woke up at 3, early breakfast, some time on my UTMB blog post before driving up to Lake Chabot again. Welcomed by a nice group of volunteers, Bill White the RD (Race Director) and his wife, and Stan Jensen, always here to help out and check what's behind all his statistics and numbers on his incredible Run 100s website (which is for instance used as a reference in the official qualification rules for the UTMB!). Like Stan told me, volunteering so consistently and enthusiastically is his way to give back to the community, as he enjoyed the support himself, having ran 130 ultras so far.

Met a few known faces as we were gathering at the starting line (Chuck, Lee and Winnie Jebian, ...), yet not as many as I thought for a local race and a Pacific Association USA Track & Field event. The field was limited to 250 runners but we were less than 120 actually. Recovery from the recent 100-milers, vacation, date (Sunday morning), there was several possible reasons. I was not surprised not to see Chikara though as I knew he is focusing on marathons this year.

I didn't run with my camera, so I don't have any picture of the beautiful course. As it turned out we didn't see the sun that day, so the pictures would not have been so great.

I started upfront on the nice paved bike path. Chatted with Mark (Tanaka) for the first half-mile. At the start he told me I could get under 4 hours on this course. I replied, no way, even Chikara didn't do it! I had not much clue about our pace as I forgot to change the units of my Garmin from metric back to statute (statute is not much of a use in Europe...).

I kept a close lead over Oswaldo Lopez and Steve Stowers for about 6 miles. Oswaldo didn't even stop at the first aid station and was faster in the downhills. We were on a 45'/10K pace, or 3h45 for the course which I found aggressive, yet doable. I'm not training on this course, but I had some memory of it from last year's Fire Trails 50-mile; yet we were not running the same sections, and some sections the other way.

Steve took off in the hill after Big Bear aid station (mile 9.35) and I was not going to see him again. We got in the cloud/fog as we were approaching Skyline Gate. It even got windy and rainy. The wind was lifting the dust from the trail, so I once again enjoyed my scarf (a Buff actually, something very versatile which I highly recommend - A product originating from Spain, Leo!). That saved my lungs from the dust and the excess of humidity, and eventually from exercise-induced asthma, which I sometimes get (see my Boston and Miwok race reports).

In such a weather, it was comforting to be welcomed at the Skyline Gate aid station by champions Carl Andersen and Ann Trason. With the cool weather and the strong/fast start, I was not feeling that well, so wanted to hang out for a while. But all the volunteers pushed me out, and I left as I saw one runner coming in. With a white cap, I thought that was Mark already, but it wasn't. Anyway, I left, getting a first cramp in my calves as I was exiting the station. Not good, we were only half way...

I rushed in the next downhill, flying over the tree roots, trying to keep the distance with my follower. Was no less than Richie Boulet, the fastest guy around on road (5K to 10 miles)! I actually didn't know Richie, I found out at the finish. He was parked next to my car and I saw his Adidas Transports singlet, so I asked him if he was here to win. He replied he'd be happy to finish. Sure...! ;-) Was his first ultra though, welcome to ultra and trail running, Richie!

Richie passed me around mile 18, mentioning we were not going to break the course record today. Well, between trying to finish and breaking the course record, that was quite a revised goal, all of a sun.

The rest of the course was uneventful, just a few cramps (calves) when switching from up-hills to down-hills, and a few stops before passing horses from behind (the mounted park patrol). And of course it was great to get to the well-stocked aid stations and so nice volunteers.

At the last aid station (Honker Bay, 3 miles to go), I could see Richie leaving as I was coming in. Stan was prompt to hand me a glass of water, it was my shortest stop at a station. From having followed him after he passed me, I knew Richie was much better than me on downhills and flat pavement. And with my cramps, I had not much expectation to see him again. Yet, less than half a mile from the finish, I almost caught-up and we ended up 7 seconds apart. A close finish for 2nd and 3rd place after 3 hours and 48 minutes of running...

Steve had finished in a blazing 3 hours and 41 minutes. Over the past 17 years (1991), and beyond Steve and Richie today, there have been only 6 better finish times than mine, including 2 from Tom Johnson and one from Carl Andersen (of course!). To show my ignorance of the ultra history, I will admit that I didn't know who Tom Johnson was, so I did some research on the web.

Among other achievements, Tom won Way Too Cool 50K in 1997 and 1991, placing in the other editions in the 90's. He won Western States in 1991 with a time of 15 hours 54. And he was named USA Track and Field Ultra runner of the Year four times in a row (1994-1997). So a legend for our sport. As I wrote to Bill, I think the course records which Tom holds (both open, 3:32, and 40-49 division, 3:36) are pretty safe for many more years. We'll see what Richie is up next year with is revised goal!

The surprise was then to see Chikara coming in 4th, right on 4 hours. Not the first time Chikara had missed the start (Way Too Cool 2006)... By 3 minutes this time. He ran the San Francisco Marathon one week before, placing 4th overall in 2:37. So he was very happy and all smile to PR (set a Personal Record) today. Even with these 3 minutes lost at the start, Chikara PR'ed for his 3rd Skyline 50K.

To be honest, the weather all helped us to run fast. Temperature can reach 100F on this course, early August, and I believe we got a mere 58-60F. Quite an advantage. Also, my new Garmin (Forerunner 205) indicated 49K on the finish line (30.45 miles). It's only a 2% error margin, so maybe the distance was right after all, and I was just flying too fast in the downhills and switchbacks. I posted the course on Google Earth and Google Maps.

Mark (Tanaka) was not happy with his 4:19 finish, missing his PR by one minute, ouch! He put some blame on the stress (the baby expected this month), and some on me for having chatted in the first mile and started too fast. When I think that he and Rob (Evans) chatted for the first 15 miles of our Fire Trails 50-mile run last year, I felt the comment was unfair. Just kidding, Mark was kidding.

Caren (Spore) took first again in the women division, yet she showed some fatigue after so many races this year and outstanding performances (1st at last year's Fire Trails 50M, the first 50-miler for both of us, 1st at Ohlone, 4th at Western States). She also mentioned that her leg were not going so great in such a unsual cool weather, living and training in the heat, in Davis, CA.

Richie had to leave promptly to open a store. So here we are, below, without him (Steve, 1st, on the left, Chikara in the middle, 4th overall, and I, 3rd).

Steve receiving a pack of the now famous coffee of sponsor Zombie Runner, from Bill's hands:

Caren holding (firmly!) her prizes as the Women Champion. Champagne!
Like a kid at Christmas, Chikara receiving his age-group award, great sleeveless fleece, flocked with the colorful Skyline 50K logo:
Oswald, who kept me on my toes in the first 6 miles, finishes 5th overall, 1st of his age group:
Overall, and as a conclusion, here is what I wrote to Bill yesterday:
Bill, Thank you again for setting up such a race. From the registration,
the website and course marking to the awards, the post-race BBQ, the aidstations
and the volunteers, everything was perfect. You are THE chef of Skyline 50K!
And his response:

Thanks very much for your email and for passing along the google earth link. It worked beautifully and is very cool indeed! ! We played with it for quite a while last night. Also like the little shoe symbol you put at the start, nice touch. Please do pass along or post wherever you like. As for the course distance, Ken Gregorich worked it all out based on EBRPD maps, so that's the source we've used for course statistics. Finally, thanks for your comments on the race. It's a lot of work to put together but hearing that the runners had a good time makes it all worthwhile. Both Bill and I ran lots of races for many years and we do this to give back to the ultra community. Hope you are recovering well. We are volunteering at Firetrails (Sibley) so may see out there. We'll definitely look for you. Best, Lee Remick (and Bill)

Unfortunately, I have a business trip to Paris the weekend of FireTrails, so I won't be back this year to celebrate my wonderful memory of my first 50-mile and Dick Collin's award.
For what comparing ultras on different hilly courses is worth, that was my fastest, so still working on my "Farther Faster" definition of endurance.
See you at Golden Gate Headlands 50K, the US National 50K trail championship in 3 weeks! And, yes, that will be on Sunday morning, I know... ;-)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

UTMB training camp: trail review for 2008?

Unlike the very organized Western States training camp of Memorial Day weekend in May, there is no formal training camp for the UTMB. Yet, given the high popularity and attendance (2,000 runners on the 100-miler, plus 1,500 on the 50-miler), more and more runners come to train on the course.

Bruno Tomozyk, Karine's coach (and companion), is a master at reviewing a mountain trail course and invited a small group of runners to join him and Karine in their preparation of the upcoming UTMB race, in 4 weeks. The group was formed of 4 runners from Aveyron (Pascal, Franck, Renault, Philippe), Pascal Blanc of the Team Lafuma, Karine and I. Bruno was the Master of Ceremony, head of logistics, and would participate in some runs, when available, after driving and parking Pascal's RV. Agnès provided an outstanding logistical support too, driving many miles around and below (tunnel) the famous Mount Blanc, top of Europe.
Jean, Franck, Renaud, Bruno, Pascal B, Karine, Philippe, Pascal P
As a follow-up of my previous post, A training week with a champion: Karine Herry, my goal in this article is to share my experience of this trail to (1) instigate some interest among my buddy runners of California who may be interested by running the UTMB next year (2008) and (2) share some tips for the runners who are running this year's edition, but have not been able to train on the course before.

The contingent participating from the US this year is formed of 29 runners on the UTMB (100-milers) and 9 on the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix, the 50-miler). Slightly more than 1% of the field.
Famous names include Scott Jurek, Karl Metzler (for a Hardrock rematch?), Hal Koerner (Western States 2007 winner), Nikki Kimball (WS2007 winner), Dean Karnazes (North Face's mascot, North Face being the presenting sponsor of UTMB). See the registration page on the website for the whole list.
I hope some of these tips can be useful to them so they can have some good time and experience, on a course quite different to what we have in the US.

See my UTMB training camp photo album for a full and visual coverage of the event.

The initial program was the following:
  1. Chamonix - Courmayeur (Refuge Bertone), 82 km, starting at 6:30 pm on Monday (the actual race starts at 6:30pm, from Chamonix)
  2. Refuge Bertone - Champex, 40 km, Wednesday
  3. Champex - Chamonix, 41 km, Thursday
However, a storm alert (and an actual bad storm as it turned out), forced us to revisit the plan, ending up in running the actual course in 72 hours, over 5 days, instead of 4:

  1. Chamonix - Notre Dame de la Gorge, Monday night
  2. Lac Combal - Refuge Bertone, Tuesday (by car from Chamonix to the Val Veni)
  3. Refuge Bertone - Champex, Wednesday
  4. Champex - Chamonix, Thursday
  5. Notre Dame de la Gorge - Courmayeur, Friday

For the purpose of the trail review, I'll describe the course in the order it is run on race day, not the one we followed to accomodate for the bad weather. Splitting it in about 4 equal parts. More details can also be found in the official 60-page Road Book (online and in English).


Unlike most of the ultras in the US, the race starts at the end of the day. It is supposed to allow you to go through the (first for some, only for the elite runners) night, fresh. Here are some tips about this first quarter of the course.
  1. The Chamonix - Les Houches section is partly road and nice trails, downhill. With all the excitement of 2,000 runners taking off, don't get caught in a too fast start!
  2. From les Houches, it's straight uphill, be prepared to walk up to the Voza pass
  3. The faster runners will need their flashlight at the pass, the others somewhere in the uphill
  4. You'll get on a road before St Gervais, steep downhill. After 9 turns/switchbacks, you should "jump" in a narrow and even steeper street (Montée de la Forclaz), almost a free fall into the main streets of St Gervais
  5. Before the next steep and long uphill to the Col du Bonhomme, you will pass Notre Dame de la Gorge: a typical church of this area, built hundreds years ago for hikers seeking protection before getting in and up the pass. Worth thinking about it for yourself on race day and ask Mary for her support. (By the way, a subscription has been launched to raise 1 million dollars to restore the site.)


  1. Just before the pass (Col du Bonhomme), there should be a patch of snow (névé), which you need to cross at the bottom (from left to right) to find a steep and rocky (large blocks) trail on the right of the snow. Quite tricky at night.
  2. The pass is not the end of the climb, there are still 1 mile and 450 feet elevation gain to the Croix du Bonhomme. Yet, the pass can be windy so plan on putting a layer on which you'll take off at the Refuge of Croix du Bonhomme, before descending to Les Chapieux.
  3. I found the downhill to Les Chapieux particularly tricky and hectic in some parts, with very steep and slippery (brittle rocks) sections. Moreover, even in day light, the trail is not easy to find, with many options and traces, not all good. Be carefull as you proceed in this section in the dark, look ahead and... good luck!
  4. There are some recommended/planned shortcuts before Les Chapieux, make sure not to miss them. There are steep though, hence not so good for your quads.
  5. 3 miles of up road (asphalt) after Les Chapieux: don't spend too much in the station, grab some stuff which you can eat and drink while walking. But make sure to take enough food with you to get the necessary fuel for the 6-mile and 3,000ft ascent to the Col de la Seigne.
  6. The trail after Elisabetta (the refuge) is large but rocky. Make sure to not miss this other recommended shortcut saving you a few unnecessary turns.

  1. Trient - Les Tseppes: not as long as some other ascents, but really, really steep. Don't miss the food offered at the Trient aid station, you'll need every calorie you can intake then.


Again, not too many tricks here, as you are getting to the end of your long journey.

  1. Col des Montets: the uphill is gradual and much easier than what you've accomplished so far. As you go though the pass and think you are done, make sure to keep some juice for the last uphill between Argentière and Le Lavancher. After it, you are mostly done, CONGRATS!

Again, more (176!) pictures about this incredible scenery can be found in my album.

General tips

  1. Aid stations. This is really the most important topic in my opinion. They are much fewer than in most ultras in the US
  2. Poles and backpack. Poles are heavily used by French/European runners, especially on this course. Telescopic or not. And mainly used for the uphills, as it requires a lot of experience to efficiently use them in the steep downhills. Since you need to pack quite some stuff (see list of mandatory items), a Camel Back is a reasonable option, freeing the hands from the bottles, and providing the opportunity to use poles to unload some weight from the quads in the uphills. Another option is to have bottle holders on the straps of the backpack, which allow for one (small) bottle of water, and one of electrolyte. They (Lafuma, Salomon) have great ultra running backpack in France. Note that you need to learn how to efficiently strap your poles at the back of the backpack so they don't bother you while running the downhills.
  3. Sport drinks. No electrolyte at the aid stations, you need to carry your own powder and make your own mixture on the go. And don't forget there will be hundreds of other runners with you at the aid station, so no personal service for the runners in the pack.
  4. Running shoes. Quite a few miles of road, so you need some cushioning. However, the most important is stability and grip as there are quite a few technical and slippery rocky sections.
  5. Weather. Can be bad. Very bad. Meaning rain, storm, and/or cold. Hence the mandatory items such as rain coat/vest and tights. I've experienced such weather, so I second the need to carry such items.
  6. Crew. I don't have a solution actually, just a feeling that this can be a nightmare. As for any ultra, you won't know where your runner is. You can imagine the difficulty to park with 2,000 runners on the course. Driving around the massif of Mount Blanc is not easy (high altitude and remote passes, roads with switchbacks). You should set your "headquarters" in Chamonix. You can then drive to Saint Gervais (30 minutes). I would skip Les Chapieux and go directly to Courmayeur through the tunnel (take a round-trip ticket), then drive back to Chamonix, from where you can drive to Switzerland. In any case, check the official Road Book for more instructions.
  7. Difficulty. From what I've heard, the UTMB is easier than Hardrock, with a slightly lower altitude (3,000-7,500ft). And from what I've experienced, it's much tougher than Western States, with the numerous steep ascents and quite a few tricky sections. Will be interesting to see what the contingent of outstanding runners coming from the US can achieve in comparison with their performance overthere.
  8. Drop bags. From what I read in the Road Book, you are only allowed two drop bags (Courmayeur and Champex). With the need to get your own electrolyte thoughout the race for instance, this makes a (good) crew a real advantage.


In addition to the great people I met in our "training camp team", it was fun to meet some celebrities on the course:

The Misubishi racing team, famous for their performance in the Paris-Dakar and many other rallies. The team was hiking around the Mont Blanc as a team building event. When we passed them and they recognized Karine, Luc Alphand picked up the pace and followed us to the top of Col de la Seigne. Luc is famous in France for 12 world cups in downhill skill. His ahievements in rally, both motorbike and automobile, represent an outstanding and unique reconversion between the two sports.

At Refuge Bertone we met Vinvent Delebarre and Samuel Bonaudo. They were leading an organized UTMB training camp with 16 runners, in 4 stages. Vincent has won the UTMB in 2004, and many other ultras. He was born in Chamonix, and works as mountain guide in the army. As for Samuel, he is known for his high school National title on 1,500m, and has recently switched to trail running where he should do very well too. In the picture below, after the supper at Refuge Bertone, Vincent teaches us how to say "La Peule", not la Pelaz, the name of the refuge we'll have lunch tomorrow.
In les Chapieux, on Friday, we were welcomed for a great lunch by the owner of the Auberge, Marie Arpin, whose brother, Paul, was an elite runner. He was training in the neigborhood mountains, being a sheperd, so was exceling at cross-country and trail running, but also on roads (2:11 marathon). He placed 3rd at the IAAF world cross country championship, behind two Kenyans. There is no question he would have done extremely well on the UTMB course, would the course have existed in the 80s.