The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

Ultra-distances: day and night, racing in snow or 100-degree plus temperatures... Why we do what we do and what keeps us running.

Dreams of a Journey ...

Give me a spark of nature’s fire. That’s all the learning I desire.

The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2009 - I had my dreams of a journey. But sometimes you realise your dream, and sometimes you realise your dream in a different way to how you had imagined.

For me this year the hardest part was getting to the start line - photo shoots, commitments, talking to people, interviews, journalists - it is a world away from the physical and mental space you are in when you run. So, for me things get easier once a race starts, simplicity and focus - all then you have to do is to run. You are alone - only you can make your race - you are alone and free - you, your body, your mind, the mountains and the challenge …

Sometimes in a race you fly - you feel the flow - you feel the joy - and you run. But sometimes there will be something that saps your energy and your focus. This time the humble foot gave me a bit of grief! But the support from everyone - friends, family, TNF, other runners, volunteers, and those out on the trail - the encouragement, the smiles, the wishes of ‘bon courage’ - that is what UTMB is about - sharing something special in a good spirit.

I’m still half disappointed - 2nd place - and slower than my best time. But for that day it was the best that I could give - and so for that I have to be happy. I realised my dream to run the very best that I could, and to complete and just to take part in UTMB is something special. It means a lot. Krissy Moel (first lady) had a truly great run, and I’m happy we had this chance to meet.

In so many ways, UTMB gives you a big spark from nature’s fire.

That spark lights the hours, the days, the months after …

That is what is so precious.

- Elizabeth Hawker

Just one short week and a few hours...

Alone, in the clear air and searching sunlight, we are afoot with the quiet gods, and men can know each other and themselves for what they are.

Just one short week and a few hours …. we will be standing together in the Place du Triangle de l’Amitie in the centre of Chamonix. Together and yet each alone. Alone with our own thoughts - our own hopes, expectations, fears and doubts. Excited and yet trepidatious.

People ask how time passes in a long race, but it does. The running becomes almost a moving meditation helping you through the times when you feel great and the times when you feel like you can’t go on. There are moments of camaraderie with your supporters and fellow runners. But there are moments of feeling entirely alone.

In many ways we will be alone up there in the clear air and searching sunlight. Alone in the sense that it is only us that can make our race. No-one but ourselves. That is why in some ways the race is like life. The hours ahead will bring us to know ourselves deeper, to know ourselves for what we are.

Whatever may come, whatever the hours ahead will bring, there is something to remember - race or no race, there is no victory except the joy you are living while you are ‘dancing’ your run. (Fred Rohe in ‘The Zen of Running’)

Run … and find that joy. In the race … and in your life.

- Elizabeth Hawker

Running is an art...

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.

Running is an art ….. So maybe we need a little bit of a gift …. But even when we have the gift, we need to do a little bit of work …

Endurance - it’s more than just competing in ultra distance races - it is more than simply running. It’s the lifestyle of never looking for the easy way out. It’s finding opportunities whatever the situation. It is a freedom, if you have the courage to seize that freedom. It’s an exploration towards the edge. For each of us this ‘edge’ will be in a different place. And that place will be constantly changing. It is the journey to find that edge which maybe teaches us more about ourselves.

But back to the moment … Another weekend, another race - 78km in the Graubunden. I’ll make the start-line, but with cracked ribs and sore grazes from the last race - I’ve come to an edge before I even start. And the last race - less than two weeks ago - the IAU World Trail Championships (68km and ±3500m) - Bronze Medal for Great Britain. Just a little bit of the magic seemed to come back …. until my head forgot to race, and I fell, and I fell again!

So for now my work is to allow things just to flow, just to be what they will … and to run for the love of it. One step at a time.

- Elizabeth Hawker


If you are tired of training:
- Look forward to the exceptional and overwhelming atmosphere in Chamonix!!!
- Have a look on the website and the wonderful pictures of the Mont Blanc
- The more you are training in advance the less pain you will have during the race!

If you are tired of running during the race:
- You will have to face situations where you don’t want to stay on the track anymore - then you can motivate yourself with the next check point! The check points often offer delicious cheese and other motivation boosters!
- Think on the finish - you can do it! Think on the extraordinary feeling to cross the finish line in Chamonix - goose skin…. I can promise: you will never forget your finsih - crossing the finish line will give you reward for all pain and trouble!

- Elke Streicher

Western States 100 – my thoughts from the race…

5am, 27 June 2009
Squaw Valley to Auburn
100.2 miles on a mixture of single track trails and fire roads
18,000ft up, 23,000ft down

Western States completely lived up it's reputation as the biggest and best 100miler in the US. It’s undoubtedly up there in the world standings too. Why? Because it has all the attributes of a great race and more; a historic route (it was used by prospective gold hunters to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains when they headed west in the mid 1800s), wild terrain, plenty of climb and descent, beautiful scenery, well-stocked aid stations with the most enthusiastic volunteers I have ever come across, a river crossing, extreme temperatures, a highly competitive field - the list can go on and on.

My race was like a dream. I took so much pleasure from actually being in the race - from taking part, from running the fabulous Western States trail - that despite all the low points I went through, I loved every single minute.

What I enjoyed most was the great sense of freedom that the wild surroundings provided. Most of the time I was running solo, it almost felt like I wasn't taking part in a race - just me, the trail and the environment, moving along as gracefully and efficiently as I could, enjoying the scent of the pine and the muted silence from the wooded surroundings.

The sense of freedom was helped by running lightweight. The Xenon double bottle waist pack was a perfect choice keeping bottles securely stowed and hands free to eat. The Voza trail shoes equally rose to the challenge, providing a great balance of comfort, lightweight speed and protection. It was a setup that worked well and allowed me to concentrate on running the race rather than worrying about kit and comfort. When I negotiated the notoriously hot series of canyons I also grabbed an E50 bottle holder. Filled with ice and water I used it to dowse myself down, keeping my core temperature as low as possible despite the soaring temperatures on the trail.

The race itself was an exciting affair. I paced it well, moving through the field consistently over the course of the race to a point where I could challenge for a top 3 spot in the last few miles. That I did, moving into 3rd place with a mile to go and ultimately finishing just 2minutes behind the 2nd place runner in a time of 16hours 54minutes.

The finish at Placer High School Stadium in Auburn made all the effort, all those long hard training runs and all the commitment worthwhile. It had been an incredible experience, one which I felt privileged to be part of.

- Jez Bragg

Additional Equipment

- Keep in mind that it can be very cold on top of the mountains, especially during the night. It may be useful to have gloves and headband or bonnet in your backpack

- Take walking sticks with you! They can also be very useful for the downhill running, you have a better foothold with the sticks, especially in the case the paths are muddy

- Don’t forget a jacket that keeps you warm in case of rainy weather

- Take the best and lightest headlamp with you, you can get

- Absolutely necessary: trail running shoes! Wear them a lot of training kilometres in advance so that they get more flexible and that you know, where the critical points for blisters are. Before starting the race: make a flexible tape on the critical points to avoid blisters

- Take plasters with you!

- Elke Streicher


- One important thing is to get accustomed to backpack running in order to avoid excoriation on your back and to get the feeling for running with a backpack. Think in advance about the equipment you will need during the race and run with this fully loaded backpack. This will give you experience of where you put things most effectively, e.g. the bars should be simply accessible without having to drop off the backpack and to loose valuable time.

- Prepare yourself on being on the track such a long time. Forget the times of the usual races, you are at the UTMB, you will need double time for the same distance.

- Sure, it is very useful training in a hilly environment and prepare for the altitude difference, but you can also do that with mountaineering, this will give you a good feeling and experience for the rocky trails and train you for the downhill running on loose stones

- Very important seems to me to learn how to cope with sleep derivation - you will start in the evening and most probably you need to survive two nights - it would be helpful to do in advance a 24 hours race - so you can learn how to overcome the fatigue!

- Try to focus training on being on the track a lot of hours and not necessarily to make a lot of kilometres, an essential point is to learn to be patient and enjoy the way!

- Elke Streicher

The longest day of the year …

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.

Spring melts into summer
the days lengthen, and so do the thoughts ….
a time for growth - for doing, for thought, hopes, plans.

A time for living in the moment,
Then we know what it truly is to be rich?

Run - run lightly and run quietly
It’s to do with attention - listening to yourself
And it’s to do with intention - thinking ‘lightly’
Grounding the feet and the body so the spirit can fly …..
Mindful running - graceful, it becomes a work of art, an act of creation.

Why do you run?
Sometimes, and for all of us this is true, we are running away …..
Sometimes we are running to search ….
But if we realise deep down that the truth of our running is that in our running, in our moving,
We ‘find’ ourselves …
Then for us running is the gift that lets us know ourselves deeper.
And then for us, when we loose our way for a time,
our ‘moving’ hindered by a physical injury or a mental disquiet,
It is then that we loose ourselves.

Take some time
just to ‘be’ - and just to ‘be’ in the mountains or in the nature
Draw on the strength you find, use that strength as the core of your ‘movement’.
Run lightly - be light of foot, light of heart and light of spirit.
Lightness - not in the sense of lack of care or of thought.
Lightness as a humility, a realisation that the world is far greater than our own concerns.
Light as a gentleness - both in our relations with eachother, and our impact on our environment.

Be ‘mindful’ then maybe, just maybe, the run will ‘flow’.

- Elizabeth Hawker

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