Contemplating the UTMB® – Chasing a dream

Fabrizio Foglia lives in Tabiano Bagni – in the hilly countryside near the city of Parma, Emilia-Romagna – ItalyPassionate about mountains and sport he initially took up Trail running as part of cross-training in preparation for mountaineering and cross-country skiing. Fabrizio has participated in over 30 Cross-country ski marathons including the Marcialonga.
Ultrarunner since 2009, Fabrizio has participated in over 100 Trail races, including 3 The Abbots Way, 2 Lavaredo Ultra Trails, Trail Monte Soglio, Ultrabericus, Eco-Trail de Paris, Morenic Trail, Q.U.T. Quadrifoglio Ultra Trail 100km, CCC 2010 and, of course… the UTMB 2014.

UTMB® Musings. Between You and Me . . . 

by Fabrizio Foglia

Sooner or later, most runners are going step up and challenge themselves to something new. Be it type of running event, or perhaps a change in distance. For many different reasons… for personal growth, to try something new, or just to be part of legendary running events.
Whatever the reason…. It happens.

But sometimes… this happens: You’ve gained the confidence and experience at marathon or even ultra distances, you’ve progressed onto the trails and you realize that many of your very own bucket list races seem to start verging towards events of an increasingly challenging nature.

Like a Kid in a Sweetshop

It’s as if you’ve suddenly woken up. A whole new spectrum ofdream locationsprestigious events, and obscure running philosophies opens up before your very eyes. There’s so many races out there!
And then you start to focus:Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc® – right up there level with the Olympics, Champions League, or even the Super Bowl. Wow!
For many of us mid-pack trail runners, planning to take part in andcomplete a race like the UTMB® slowly becomes the main target (fixation?) of our sporting life time. You may even find yourself closing your eyes and drifting all the way out to Mont-Blanc. Wondering and picturing the majestic enormity of it all.

Fabrizio Foglia at the "Arancabirra" Trail Race in the Aosta Valley
Fabrizio Foglia at the “Arancabirra” Trail Race in the Aosta Valley

Bitten by the UTMB® Bug

You’ll think about it every day, every night
It will at points seem like an impossible challenge: “If I’m a wreck after a 50 km race, how can I possibly repeat it twice right afterwards?!” Hey, no! Remember that every year plenty of athletes cross that  UTMB® finish line!
So start to think…. “one shot”… and you’ll begin to believe.

One Shot…

Just holding the thought in your head may give you the shivers: A hundred miler with over 10,000m (32800-ft) elevation gain is hard to even imagine…30/40/45 hours without sleep… sheer madness!

…One Kill…

100 miles is the top distance in “trail running” – anything above and it fuzzes into “trail-hiking”, which is a different ball game altogether, one where the walking part tends to dominate over the running factor.

To honour a race like the UTMB® it’s not enough to just startrun.. and hobble towards the finish.

Being the possible race of a lifetime it’s vital to reach race date properly prepared – but in no way exhausted. You need to be healthy in both body and mind. Relaxed.

UTMB Start Chamonix © UTMB® - photo : Michel Cottin
Emotions can run high – UTMB Start Chamonix
© UTMB® – photo : Michel Cottin

Meticulous Preparation

You’ll start to prepare. Months before, you’ll build up to the UTMB® with the right training sessions and prep races: 40, 50, 80 km and so forth.

There are so many different aspects to consider, to test, and perfect during the months leading up to the race.
During all the qualifying races, runners will (should) have gained all the necessary experience regarding race kit, nutrition, handling extremely varying weather conditions, backpack organisation, right change of clothes and self-sufficiency between aid stations.

UTMB © UTMB® - photo : Pascal Tournaire
UTMB – magic!
© UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

UTMB® Basics

In this ultra distance it’s important that you’re competent at:
Using Poles – (for mountain environment) as a means to reduce energy expenditure of the legs and back
Looking after nutrition – in order to keep energy levels up
Foot care – to avoid blisters
Know your kit –  test all gear previously and thoroughly, in as many weather conditions as possible.
Positive Mindset – start the race with the determination to reach the end, but also with the correct respect.

UTMB Start Chamonix © UTMB® - photo : Franck Oddoux
Incredible crowd support – UTMB Start Chamonix
© UTMB® – photo : Franck Oddoux

UTMB® Tips

  • Break up the race route into smaller chunks – Try and focus on reaching the following aid station. Don’t fret over the full distance or time remaining.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself.
  • Remember… when your legs are spent, it’ll be your head that’ll get you to the finish line.
  • Rest if you’re tired – sleep or just relax at the aid stations. Even if it’s just for a minute or two.
  • Recce the course – or run the shorter distance races – the OCC® or the CCC®

A fundamental factor is not “how to avoid” issues during the race, but rather to know exactly how to face and overcome them.

This Will Happen

  • You will have your moments of weakness.
  • You will feel dead tired.
  • If it’s hotyou will can feel very uncomfortable.
  • You may well possibly feel like you’re going to freeze during the night at altitude.

But remember this is normal. This is what we signed up for!

Concentrate on the now.
Concentrate on the now…

Be Mindful

It’s important and useful to remain aware that you are experiencing a magical experience to live to the fullest.
Concentrate on the now.
Look around: the incredible organisation, the awesome landscape, runners from all over the world, the hundreds of volunteers, and the crowds of spectators along the course, waiting night and day to cheer you on!

Bare Necessities

2 days on the trails, all your possessions tucked up into your backpack. Whether it is cold or warm, whether you are sick or injured, all you have is on your shoulders. And it’ll have to suffice.
But what can you and must you leave out of that very backpack?
All the thoughts and tensions of everyday life: traffic, work, phone calls, stress. Leave them behind!
All you need to think of is where you are putting your feet and where you are headed to.

It’s a bit like going primitive, with only the need to satisfy bare necessities: hunger, cold, and sleep, nothing else.

Chasing the Dream - Fabrizio Foglia
Chasing the Dream – Fabrizio Foglia

Just Keep Going

And how does it all finish? The end will come. You… with your slightly tearful face simply going down a road in Chamonix. A road filled with cheering crowds. You’ll be dog tired, extremely dirty and sweaty. And in the background you’ll hear a tune playing – that’ll stick in your head forever, nestled snugly in that corner where you keep your most precious memories…

One Shot? No Margin of Error?

Or rather, there shouldn’t be; but oh well if there is… The UTMB® will still be there next year, as will Mont Blanc itself, with a community of complete nutters scattered along the trails, chasing and running after a dream…


Maria E. BelliniMaria Elisabetta Bellini is Italyontrail.com’s founder, born in the U.K, she came to running whilst living in Italy, where she still lives and trains. Never ceasing to marvel at what’s at the summit of a hill, or around the bend along the trail, she loves using trail running as a means to explore nature, contemplation and Italy.

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