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Jez Bragg's 2013 UTMB Training - Part 1

by Editor
Wednesday 24th July 2013
 
 

Have you ever wondered how the front runners prepare? 2010 UTMB winner Jez Bragg has kindly agreed to share a diary of his training in the run up to race day


Brecon Beacons - 13th July 2013

Think about summer time you’ll probably picture beaches, sunshine, holidays and relaxation. It’s fairly normal for people to take a couple of weeks off over the summer to go away on holiday and unwind. For participants of The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), the summer period means something rather different; a peak training period preparing for this epic of all epics which takes place around (literally) the Mont Blanc massif in the Alps at the end of August every year.

UTMB as it’s affectionately known, is an annual 100-odd mile race which circumnavigates Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in western Europe, taking in mountain passes, rugged trails and incredible glaciated scenery. It’s a race which has inspired, and quite often broken, those that have been brave enough to take it on. It has a course that requires a huge amount of respect, although that doesn’t seem to put off the 2,500 participants who line up every year, or the thousands of others that apply through the ballot but miss out.

Jez Bragg

Photos: Jez Bragg winning the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in 2010 - Photo © Damiano Levati

Fortunately, as a previous winner, I manage to sneak a guaranteed entry each year. So this year, after a hectic winter (well summer technically) in New Zealand, I was able to make a relatively late decision to enter once I knew my body was sufficiently recovered for it. I forget the number of times I’ve been round the course – at least a dozen – and maybe half of those actually in the race. It’s such a classic route, it doesn’t get boring, but nor does it seem to get any easier with experience. All reasons why I keep getting lured back….

Each summer I try to mix things up a bit to get the necessary training in. By necessary training I basically mean going up and down big hills - all day – because that’s what you do during the race. Leg strength is key, so too the ability to climb and descend the mountain trails for lengthy periods without causing too much damage. With the equivalent of around ten Snowdons in elevation, you definitely can’t afford to neglect the hill work.

For the last few years I’ve paired UTMB with Western States, two hundred milers in two months, admittedly with mixed success. This year, I have a clean build up, definitely not over-raced, but still trying to ‘manage-out’ the effects of a tough couple of months in New Zealand.

Over the next 5 weeks I have plenty of training jaunts planned to provide adventure, interest, and plenty of climbing. For me, the training is as enjoyable as the race itself; really just a good excuse to get into the mountains and explore. Like I need one really…

So first stop last weekend was the Brecon Beacons, probably the closest set of decent-ish sized hills to where I live, on the south coast. I met up with my old training buddy Matt, and we set off in ridiculously hot conditions to see what we could manage. With temperatures above 25 celsius when we set off first thing, and climbing to over 30 celsius over the course of the day, the heat was the main constraint and ultimately dictated what we could manage. We decided on a 50km loop from Garwnant Visitor Centre, taking in the Taff Trail, a high level ridge section from Pen y Fan, a pit stop for food and liquid in Talybont, and then back round over a couple more sections of high ground to arrive back at Garwnant.

Hot, hot, hot – some of the toughest conditions I’ve run in – probably due to the relatively high humidity of the UK which makes sweating a relatively ineffective process. Thankfully the distances between water refill opportunities were relatively modest – and allowed us to just about keep cool and hydrated enough to be safe. You’ve certainly got to be very careful in such conditions, and strictly manage your body temperature and hydration.

So 2,000m+/- of climbing on a 50km loop was a good start to my UTMB prep, and the clear skies meant far reaching views in every direction, providing generous reward for our efforts. Next stop is the Scottish Highlands where I have something a bit more dramatic planned….

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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