The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is 170km long with over 10,000m of total climbing and descending, circumnavigating the Mont Blanc Massif.

Starting in the mountain town of Chamonix at 6pm on a Friday evening in late August, the race route involves long ascents over mountain passes, visiting small villages with cheering crowds and generous aid stations. Passing through France, Italy and Switzerland, it is the only race I have done where you are required to carry your passport with you as part of the mandatory kit.

Training Approach

At 170km and more than 10,000m of climbing and descending, the UTMB requires a very specific and dedicated training plan. Any race that has a 40% drop-out rate, as it did in 2019, demands respect, and I definitely gave this goal my full and undivided attention for the better part of 2019.

The training plan I created spanned 30 weeks, longer than a normal plan for me, but it allowed for a longer base period than normal.

Three key features were:

  1. Least race-specific training furthest away from the race – so I started with speed work, and then moved to longer intervals;
  2. Progressive hill climbing programme, from short to long intervals. You can read more about it here;
  3. Progressive strength and conditioning programme, designed to help with Stability, Strength and Power.

Unlike in previous years, I didn’t have any warm-up races, but instead went to Chamonix in June and ran the full race route over 4 days. This served as a great training session, and allowed me to become more familiar with the route and specific nature of its climbs.

For those looking to do the UTMB, I would highly recommend this, if you have the opportunity.

I also set aside a few weekends where I did a long run one day and a long hike the next. This helped me practise walking on tired legs, effectively simulating how I would feel during the later parts of the race.

Finally, I did one long run which started at 6pm (the race start time) so I could practise fuelling throughout the day before the race started and also the feeling and logistics of running from day into night.

The Race

I always create multiple goals for a race and I achieved them all. Firstly, I finished the race in a time I was really happy with.

However, that does not mean the race went entirely as planned.

I wrote an article you can find here – about the race itself and the hurdle I faced.

Training Points and Lessons Learned

If you are doing the UTMB, here are my 5 key points to build into your training plan:

  1. Develop a mental plan as well as your physical training plan. 40% of the field did not finish, despite being accomplished ultra runners. A lot of this was down to poor mental preparation.
  2. Power hike in training – on a treadmill, or during long days in the hills. Anything that gets you used to power hiking will be hugely beneficial come race day.
  3. Practise at least one long run starting at 6pm. This will allow you to experiment with your food throughout the day and then you know how your body will feel running into the night.
  4. If possible, get to the course and recce it. If not possible, try to do a long weekend involving hiking for 8 to 10 hours a day. Again, this aims to build up the fatigue resistance in your legs.
  5. Do not neglect the downhill running. Pick running routes that have the same amount of climbing and descending as the race, so your legs get used to the amount of downhill they will have to face.
  • training peaks level 2

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