In only a months time, I'll be heading across the Atlantic for possibly my biggest challenge to date: The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 2013 (UTMB). This is big mountain trailrunning at its finest and most intense! Arguably the most competitive 100-miler in the world, this race will take me from Chamonix, France, around the Mont-Blanc massif, and back to Chamonix. I'll cross through Italy and Switzerland en route, stacking-up a leg-wobbling 62,000 ft of combined elevation gain and loss. To put that in different terms, it's like going up and down the Empire State Building 21 times or climbing Mt. Everest from sea level...and then coming down! The race is actually 104.3 miles in length, taking the average competitor just over 40 hours to complete. Along the way, more than 50% of racers will abandon their effort (65% dropped out in 2012, 80% of those from reported stomach problems). With that said, the two words that describe my feelings about this race are FEAR and RESPECT!
Following a great result in the Gobi race 2 months ago, I've struggled with balancing my recovery from that event with my preparation for UTMB. Having only taken 2 weeks off after returning, I feel that my abbreviated recovery has been the main culprit in my rather lackluster training sessions recently. Instead of having strong workouts daily, it's been much more of a rollercoaster: some days are good, many are not. The brutal training conditions here in Tennessee have not helped matters, either. The intense heat and humidity make long training efforts on the trail a near impossibility.
After hitting a low point last week and feeling that nothing was working right, I stepped back and re-evaluated my position. Mentally, I was more than willing to put the time in to train. Physically, I was bottoming out on runs that I typically flow through with no problem. This conflict was causing a serious problem for me. My solution? Focus on a variety of shorter, higher intensity sessions, oftentimes completing 2-3 sessions daily in order to keep my overall mileage up. Since this shift of focus, I'm feeling stronger and more willing to get after this last training push. Admittedly, my current training format is NOT what I had previously planned for going into this race, but as with all things in the ultrarunning world...it's best to just go with the flow! This format allows me to continue to train and turn in workouts that I've been very happy with, and I think that it will allow me to arrive at the starting line with confidence and a full tank for the challenge ahead. As my good friend and champion runner Daniel Rowland told me, "It's better to be 10% undercooked, than 1% overcooked!" Ha! Very true.
Training issues aside, I am utterly pumped to have the opportunity to get to take part in this event. It's world class, in every sense of the word: the course, the terrain, the crowd support, everything. We say in the trailrunning world, "don't fight the mountain because it will always win", and that's my focus for UTMB. Instead of pursuing some controlling notion of how I can impose myself on the race, I will set out to see how the race will reveal itself to me, flowing through the terrain in search of a oneness with the mountain. No ego or preconceived aspirations...only to finish and to hopefully gain a deeper understanding of myself somewhere along the way.