Tag Archives: Europe

Race Report: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)

In January this year my name was drawn in the lottery for UTMB. That lottery draw set the focus for the entire 2014 running year. I filled out my calendar with other running events, but everything else was a sideshow, with UTMB the main event.

Bienvenue en France / Welcome to France

Prior to departing Chamonix at 17:30 on August 29th the furthest I had run was approximately 164 km and the longest I had run for was 23 hours 9 minutes. I would eclipse both of those figures during my circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc massif.

Just 10 or 15 minutes before the race started the intermittent showers that had sprinkled down for the previous half hour finally broke, but not into clear blue or even overcast skies; rather they broke into rain. Hence I shuffled amidst a throng of other runners across the start line wearing my waterproof jacket. The first kilometre involved a combination of jogging and walking as the 2,300 runners funnelled through a lively crowd encroaching on the roads of Chamonix.

We left the town and started along the trail towards Les Houches, a flat first 8 km following the valley, and my jacket came back off in the humidity caused by the rain. The first climb and descent (almost 900 metres up and 1,000 metres down) to reach Saint-Gervais managed to spread the field, although I almost expected to arrive at a finish line rather than an aid station based on the speed at which many people flew down the hill.

The first climb to Le Délevret
The first climb to Le Délevret

Continue reading Race Report: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)

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Upcoming Race: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)

Shortly after finishing my first 100-mile race in Leadville I decided that I would run a few more, and so I put together a bucket list by adding three more races. Last year I was able to check Western States off the list, and this year it will be Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB).

UTMB - Route Map
UTMB – Route Map

UTMB is a 168-km race that follows the long-distance Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trail through the Alps. As a hike it takes 7-10 days, while as a race it has a cutoff of 46 hours. The route starts and finishes in the town of Chamonix in France, crossing into Italy and Switzerland before returning to Chamonix. It features 9,600 metres of ascent.

UTMB - Route Profile
UTMB – Route Profile

Continue reading Upcoming Race: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)

Race Report: Paris Marathon

My running targets for 2014 are based around two races, with the first of those being the Paris Marathon, where I would attempt a new best time for the marathon.

Paris Marathon
Paris Marathon

I arrived in Paris a couple of days before the race and met up with Kirsten, who was part of my Johannesburg running crew. We headed to the expo to collect our race packets and spent some time wandering fairly aimlessly around Paris in the lead up to the race.

My target was to run a time under 2:50, although in the back of my mind I did have a stretch target of completing the race at a pace under 4:00 min/km, which would require a time approximately 75 seconds faster. Requiring an average pace of just under 4:02 min/km to achieve a sub-2:50 time I planned to set out at exactly that pace from the start. Kirsten has his main race for the year at the Comrades Marathon in June, so he was planning for an easy day out by sneaking in under 3 hours.

An easy train ride to the start and a not-too-early start time allowed an uncomplicated start to the day. Kirsten and I were also joined by Fiona, another member of our Johannesburg running club who stayed at the same hotel. We caught the train to the Arc de Triomphe, dropped off a tog bag, and headed to the start area. We were standing on the Champs Élysées with Napoleon’s monumental arch of triumph behind us and a gentle downhill leading towards the glittering gold-topped obelisk on the Place de la Concorde.

Paris Marathon - Pre-Race with Kirsten and Fiona
Paris Marathon – Pre-Race with Kirsten and Fiona

The gun went off and despite the 10 traffic lanes being occupied by runners the 50,000-strong field made for some early challenges in maintaining a steady pace. I separated from Kirsten but after a kilometre or so we were running together again and crossed the Place de la Concorde and started along Rue de Rivoli. The early pace was perfectly on schedule, ticking off each kilometre at just over 4:00 minutes.

Continue reading Race Report: Paris Marathon

Upcoming Race: Paris Marathon

On April 6th, one day prior to my birthday, I will run the Paris Marathon. Having not run a flat-out marathon since 2011 I hope to run my fastest time over the distance.

Paris Marathon
Paris Marathon

I did have the opportunity to run the course of the Paris Marathon over a period of two days in November last year, which will hopefully help in my mental preparation for the race.

Paris Marathon - Course Map
Paris Marathon – Course Map

My training over the past six months has definitely not been ideal, as it has been squeezed in between constant touring and considerable travel distances. From early January I tried putting more focus into my running efforts, and I also planned for four weeks of intense training that I will discuss in some upcoming posts.

After Paris I will start building up my mileage in preparation for my biggest focus race for the year, an ultra marathon that I will also discuss in a later post. But that can wait another 5 weeks (and a bit) until I cross the finish line within sight of the Arc de Triomphe.

Training Run: Luxembourg, France & 4 x 2000 m

I actually ran the below session in early November, and wrote this post in its entirety the same week but never got around to posting it. But this blog will start to see renewed attention as I work towards my running goals for 2014.

What do two different countries have to do with a speed workout, and a fairly uncommon speed workout at that?

First, let me mention that I had not completed a formal speed session in my running since the first half of 2011. I can’t honestly claim to remember that specific session, but my running log confirms that it was hill repeats performed on the street outside my housing estate in Johannesburg, and I remember those hill sessions very well. I would run a 500 metre section of the hill, generally 8 or 10 times, and the session would always really hurt.

Since then I have run a lot. I have run fast and I have run slow. My pacing has sometimes been indicative of a fartlek session and sometimes akin to a tempo session. But at no point since that last speed session have I planned and executed a session with any intent or purpose.

When I realised that some errands I need to complete on my third day in Paris would not allow me to complete a morning run, it meant that I would be running in the dark. Therefore I decided the safest option would be to find a loop with no streets to cross. The solution was the Jardin de Luxembourg, which I measured using MapMyRun.com to be around 1500 metres. I never put together routes for my easy runs that involve multiple loops, so I decided that if I was going to complete loops I might as well run them fast.

I planned out my session to run the approximately 3 km from my accommodation to the gardens, complete four loops of 1500 metres with a recovery period in between each. I made it to the gardens without incident, took off on my first loop but it seemed to take forever. I worried that I had already completed the loop without noticing, but when I finally completed loop one I looked at my watch to realise that it was actually a 2000 metre loop.

I ran a 2-minute recovery and took off for lap two. I ran each loop just faster than my marathon pace so it wasn’t a flat out 2000 metres, but it really did feel good to run fast. I decided to maintain my original plan of four loops despite the additional distance of each. Upon completion of my final loop I made my way home following a slightly different route.

With my target now focussed on a fast marathon I will start to include some formal speed sessions. I did enjoy running fast but I do not look forward to my first flat out, red line session, where you attempt to avoid throwing up since it will impair the attempts of your body to suck in  enough oxygen to sustain life. However I know that those type of sessions are something I have to look forward to.

Why would anyone not want to be a runner?

Paris Marathon

Training Runs: Paris Marathon Course

My last race was on September 22nd. My next race will not be until April 6th next year. I have signed up to run the Paris Marathon, targeting a fast marathon before building up my distance for a crack at a good run in a 100-mile race during the northern summer.

Therefore when I found some cheap flights from Africa to Paris I realised that it would give me a great opportunity to check out the marathon course. I decided that I would run the entire distance of the course over two days.

Paris Marathon - Course Map
Paris Marathon – Course Map

For my first day I travelled out to the Arc de Triomphe since the race starts very close by on the Champs Elysee. Compared to the narrow start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, it was amazing to consider the eight or so lanes of traffic that runners will fill for the start in Paris.

Continue reading Training Runs: Paris Marathon Course