Pros share their tips for running trail ultras
Crossing the French Alps in stages offers seasoned runners, familiar with towering peaks and long distances, the chance to stretch their legs and reconnect with ultrarunning after the two-month stay-at-home lockdown in France. Camille Bruyas, Julien Michelon, Nathan Jovet, François d’Haene, Sebastien Spehler, Thibaut Baronian, Michel Lanne, and Theo Detienne decided to invent their own unique challenge for July 2020: 980 km, 40,976 meters of vertical gain, 8 athletes, and 5 stretches of backcountry trails to cover on foot or mountain bike. Enjoy this exclusive where each these pro athletes share their advice and favorite tips on how to take on such a colossal endeavor.
June 29 2020
Athletes: Nathan Jovet and Thibaut Baronian
Train for long distances
How should you prepare for a long-distance race? Our athletes explain the important factors to consider: sleep, what you eat, how you manage your effort and pace, and your gear.
Nathan provides us with his recommendations. “To run long distances, you should already be used to spending several hours at a time in the mountains. You should also know what foods work best for you and to have tested beforehand what you plan to eat. Hydrate regularly and before you’re thirsty.”
For François, motivation is the key. “For me, it all comes down to the project. You need to find something really motivating, inspiring. You need to find a project that means something to you. The rest will naturally fall into place, even though there will be times when you have serious doubts.”
Thibaut warns about overtraining and insists on taking the time to rest and recover. “The risk when training for this type of endeavor is overdoing it. Spreading out the training load is key. Listen to your body, especially when you need to rest and recover. It is important to include rest into your training program. Also make sure that you get enough sleep, which really helps with recovery. Take naps (10 min to 1.5 hrs) whenever you can.”
Athletes: Julien Michelon, Sebastien Spehler, and Theo Detienne
Tips for running at night
Using a high-performance headlamp that you know how to operate, managing battery life and brightness, setting the right pace, eating the right foods at the right time, and staying mentally focused: the experts shed light on the key aspects to consider when running at night in the mountains.
For Michel, trail running at night offers an exhilarating and technically challenging adventure. “You call upon different senses when running at night, and so need to be much more careful. Before heading out, you should program your headlamp and know how to use it. Customizing brightness levels to make sure that your batteries last long enough is also really important. This translates to running safe. It’s reassuring to know that your gear won’t let you down in the middle of the night!”
Several athletes, like Camille, agree that, “dimming your headlamp on climbs and increasing brightness on descents is the way to go.” Nathan explains that, “At night, I dim my headlamp to the lowest brightness level on climbs since I’m not running fast enough to need to see very far ahead. This allows me to have enough battery life for the rest. Then, on the descents, I like to be able to see clearly, so I set my headlamp to maximum brightness.”
Julien explains that the two most important components for him are, “efficiency and weight. I prefer a bright headlamp so that I don’t have to spend too much energy looking where I need to place my feet and I also like a headlamp that is light enough so that I almost forget I’m wearing it.”
For Sebastien, it’s a matter of habit. “It’s important to go on a few night runs with your Petzl headlamp to get accustomed to using it. Even with its great lighting power, it takes time to get the right feel.”
Thibaut also recommends keeping a watchful eye on what and how much you eat, and to make sure that you mix animal protein into at least one or several snacks. “They stimulate the body and help a lot in fighting fatigue at night!”
Theo says that he, “always makes sure that the batteries are fully charged and checks at least 10 times that they are in his pack before heading out.”
Athletes: Michel Lanne and Camille Bruyas
Enjoy yourself when running an ultra
Being surrounded by family and friends as well as incredible landscapes means that enjoying yourself when running a trail ultramarathon should be really easy… if you eat right and know how to cope when your energy level drops from time to time.
Thibaut works a lot on the mental aspect of ultrarunning. “Try to ‘think positive thoughts’ and revel in every moment of the race, the atmosphere, and the scenery. Setting the right pace from the very start will allow you to fully enjoy the race and avoid ‘bonking’ as much as possible.”
Speaking of “bonking,” Michel recommends that you come to terms with the fact that ultras include moments when you will feel more than a bit lackluster. “Enjoying yourself also means accepting the low points and knowing how to persevere when your energy level drops. You should constantly listen to your body. True enjoyment resides in overcoming the challenge of a long-distance effort, running through amazing landscapes, and being able to muster up the energy for the incredibly enriching experience of running day and night powered only by your legs and sheer will."
For Camille, enjoying an ultra requires, “great food to eat (#cookies), and a support crew that cracks jokes.” Fantastic!
This particular project means a lot to François. “How fast you run and how well you perform doesn’t really matter. What’s important is planning an adventure that you find truly motivating and then making it happen. The fun of being fully immersed in your project will take care of the rest.”
With all of these great tips from the pros, now it's time to embark on your own personal projects and adventures!
Athlete: François d’Haene