The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is right around the corner. Today we're featuring IRunFar.com's pre-race interview with two of the men of The North Face Endurance Athlete Team, 2010 UTMB Champion Jez Bragg and Mike Wolfe. Check out the full post here. You can also read interviews with two of The North Face women competing in the 103-mile race here.
As this article goes up, the iRunFar team is on its way to cover the 2011 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. (Well, I’m running it, too.) I know it’s overused, but this very well might be the most competitive 100 mile race in history.
Let’s start with one hell of a rematch – everyone the top five at this year’s Western States will toe the line in Chamonix on Friday. That includes, Kilian Jornet, Mike Wolfe, Nick Clark, Jez Bragg, and Tsuyoshi Kaburaki. To that you can add 2010 Western States champ Geoff Roes, 2010 The North Face Endurance Challenge champ Miguel Heras, 2011 Hardrock 100 second place finisher Dakota Jones, two-time Western States champ and The North Face runner Hal Koerner, SEVEN-time Western States champ Scott Jurek, as well as a slew of top Europeans and Asians.
As with all races, not all who entered with be out there on race day. On the American side, the no shows include Anton Krupicka (recovering from a broken leg), Karl Meltzer (back injury), and Dave Mackey (scheduling conflict). I’m sure there are similar withdrawals from the overseas crowd.
iRunFar: We last saw you at the Western States 100 in June, where you ran to 4th place and a blazing sub-16 hour finish. How has your summer of recovery and then training been since then? Did you bounce back pretty quickly or take a nice break?
Jez Bragg: The recovery – train – taper phase between Western States and UTMB has been a bit blurred to say the least. I recovered pretty quickly from Western States so I really just threw myself straight into UTMB-specific stuff without too much of a break. I did quite a bit of road cycling and swimming to supplement the running early in the summer, which I always find works well to spin the muscle soreness away. With only 9 weeks between the two races it’s not a lot of time, but I’ve done all I can and I’m definitely feeling ready to go. My real focus has been on building leg strength. I know I can run 100 miles pretty quick, but there are obviously a few lumps and blumps along the way at UTMB, so plenty of long days going up and down the mountains has been top of the agenda.
iRF: It looks like you spent some time training in the Alps during July. Did you train on the course or on similar terrain? How did that go for you? Are you feeling like you’ve been able to train to your potential?
Bragg: I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the mountains over the summer – several days in the Lake District (North West England), a couple of weeks in the Alps and a few days in Snowdonia (North Wales) too. The Alps training was brilliant. I fastpacked the ‘Walkers’ Haute Route’, a high level route between Chamonix and Zermatt, then did a 3-day training weekend with The North Face Team covering the full UTMB route, as well a load of other single training days. As a whole, it’s all gone really well and should pay dividends in the race. It’s a difficult balance to strike with UTMB training. It’s obviously a super hard race so it follows that the training needs to be pretty hardcore too, but it’s so easy to over step the mark and completely trash your legs before you even start. With a bit of luck I’ve got it about right. We’ll soon find out….
iRF: You’re UTMB’s defending champion. What’s it like returning to the race in this way? Are you going back this year to defend your title or to run your own race? Or, do those two goal equate to each other for you?
Bragg: A bit different! Last year was a strange one. It was a great experience which gave me a taste of winning a big race, but it wasn’t the real UTMB race. I’m looking forward to running the full distance and seeing what happens. I will always run my own race and that definitely won’t change just because I’m wearing race number one. I know how to bring out the best in myself and that’s not necessarily battling it out at the front from mile one. It’s a long race and a lot can (and will happen). It’s gonna be very, very interesting.
iRF: One thing we’ve noticed about you is the joy you seem to derive from running in wild places. Is the scenery of the UTMB course at all motivating to you?
Bragg: I love nothing more than running solo in a super remote places. The UTMB course is very inspiring for me. Every time I go round, and I think it’s over ten times now, I’m just in awe of the incredible views – it certainly never gets boring. UTMB is very special race and the biggest reason for that is the beauty of the course and surroundings. When you’re feeling super tired and overwhelmed by the challenge, you just need to catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc or one of the other mountains to draw some extra strength to keep you going.
iRF: The UTMB men’s roster has some serious talent on it. With whom are you looking forward to spending some time out on the course? Who are your top five picks for the men?
Bragg: It’s certainly going to be a great race for the spectator. I enjoyed running with Mike Wolfe last year. We’re very similar in ability and we seemed to spur each other on a lot, so hopefully we will be get chance to run together again. Other than that, any english speaker will do! We all know how friendly the ultra community is, even amongst the elites, so it would be great to get to know some new people through running together out on the course – what better way to get to know someone that going through hell and back out on the UTMB course?! I’m going dodge that top 5 question. I think we know there is a young spaniard who will take some beating…..
iRunFar: You placed second at the Western States 100, just four minutes back of Kilian Jornet. That must have been a performance you were proud of. How did recovery go for you? And, in the two or so months between WS100 and UTMB, what kind of training have you been up to?
Mike Wolfe: I was definitely happy with my performance at WS this year. I felt great afterwards. I think it was the fastest I’ve recovered after a 100. I was generally fatigued for a bit, but that’s it. Since WS, I have just been focusing on lots of vertical, in terms of training. I was able to get in a good hard block of training late July through first couple weeks of August…. we’ll see whether that pays off in a few days, I suppose.
iRF: It looks like you might have raced and won a 50k in Montana earlier this month, the HURL Elkhorn 50K. We imagine it was a UTMB tune-up race. How did you feel during it? Did you experience the results you wanted for the day?
Wolfe: I decided to run the Elkhorn 50km two days prior. It was during my big block of training, and I did it solely as a “beat myself up” training run. Elkhorn was right at the tailend of a BIG 12-day block for me. My legs were fatigued, but I got out of it what I wanted, then put in 11k of vert in 20+ miles the next day.
iRF: You’re obviously quite fit. And, you’ve been to UTMB before, having placed second there last year, so you know all about the Euro-racing scene. Signs point toward this being a pretty spectacular race for you. What do you think?
Wolfe: I try not to ever speculate or go into races with any significant expectations on myself. I want to run my heart out, and I am excited for the depth of competition. Ultimately, for me, it’s about pushing my personal limits and relishing the love of the mountain environment (and, at UTMB, enjoying the amazing spirit/culture for this race). The competition always pushes me to explore my limits and that’s what its all about.
iRF: You put up a good fight against Kilian at WS100. What will it be like to compete against him and other top Euros on their home turf?
Wolfe: Tough, and tougher. No doubt about that. In addition to Kilian, there are a bunch of top Euros that will certainly be pushing up front. They have the advantage of training over here and course knowledge. But, no excuses. We are all equal when the race gun goes off.