Succeed in your UTMB® with a personalized training plan

Are you gearing up for one of the UTMB® Mont-Blanc races this August? Whether it’s the UTMB®, CCC®, TDS®, OCC®, MCC, or PTL®, RunMotion Coach, the official coach of UTMB® Mont-Blanc, is here to guide you. We’re committed to helping you excel in these legendary races around Mont-Blanc and boosting your chances of triumphantly crossing the famed finish line in Chamonix.

Achieving success, whether it’s setting a record time or simply finishing, demands a specialized trail training regimen. In the following, we’ll share expert advice tailored specifically for the UTMB® queen race (171 km with over 10,000D+ elevation gain) and other events throughout the week.

Maintaining a consistent training program for UTMB® success

To achieve success in your UTMB® race, it’s crucial to maintain a training regimen of at least 10 hours per week, though 15 hours is ideal. The bulk of this training should be dedicated to running, as it’s vital to condition your body to withstand the impact and handle the elevation gains typical of these races.

To complement your running, it’s advisable to incorporate cycling into your routine. Cycling not only boosts endurance but also strengthens leg muscles, which is essential for long-distance trail running. To vary your routine, consider ski touring or cross-country skiing in the winter, and swimming in the summer.

For the CCC® race, aim for 8-12 hours of training weekly. Meanwhile, for the MCC and OCC, a weekly commitment of 5 to 10 hours should suffice. However, these guidelines vary depending on individual factors like previous training load and personal goals. If you’re planning to increase your training hours from last year, remember to do so progressively to avoid injury and burnout.

Conducting specific sessions for Ultra-Trail or UTMB® preparation

The demanding races of the UTMB® Mont-Blanc call for targeted and well-planned training. To effectively prepare, it’s essential to incorporate a range of specific trail sessions into your regimen. These specialized sessions are designed to simulate the unique challenges of ultra-trail races, enabling you to adapt to the varied terrains and conditions you’ll encounter. By focusing on these tailored workouts, you’ll be better equipped to tackle the demands of the UTMB® and similar endurance events.

Trail hiking sessions

A cornerstone of ultra-trail preparation is trail hiking training. This practice closely mirrors the pacing of an ultra-race. The primary objective here is to familiarize your body with transitioning between walking and running and to get comfortable with these varying speeds. Typically, it’s advisable not to exceed 5 hours in a single trail hiking session, as this can overly stress the body. For those looking to add more volume to their training, consider supplementing with an additional 1 to 2 hours of cycling afterwards.

In order to accumulate more substantial training loads, participating in preparatory races is beneficial. These races provide practical experience and help build endurance. We’ll delve into the importance of these races and how to effectively incorporate them into your training plan in a subsequent section.

Hill sessions for strength and technique

Hill sessions are a key component of trail running training, designed to focus on building strength and improving running form, particularly at higher speeds. A typical hill session might include exercises like 12 repetitions of 30-second sprints or 8 repetitions of 1 minute and 30 seconds uphill runs. While these intervals may seem brief, they are highly effective and can be conveniently performed in a variety of locations, including urban areas with long hills. These sessions are also easily adaptable to tight schedules, such as fitting them into a lunch break. It’s common to experience a significant increase in heart rate during these workouts, reflecting their intensity and effectiveness in building cardiovascular and muscular strength.

Incline threshold sessions for enhanced climbing ability 

Threshold training on an incline is pivotal for improving your capacity to tackle long, steep ascents, typically ranging from 500 to 1000 meters in elevation gain. These sessions are designed to develop your resistance and endurance for uphill challenges. A typical incline threshold workout might consist of intervals such as 4 sets of 6 minutes or 3 sets of 10 minutes. Executing these exercises trains your body to maintain a steady, challenging pace over extended uphill sections, thereby building the specific endurance and strength required for significant climbs in trail races.

Downhill running training: preparing for impact

Experienced trail runners understand that it’s often the descents that are most taxing on the legs. To effectively prepare for this, specific training in downhill running, particularly at over-speed, is essential. This type of training initially causes muscle fibers to break down, which then leads to muscle strengthening as part of the recovery process. A typical downhill training session could include up to 10 sets of 1-minute downhill runs. These runs are performed at a pace faster than what you would use in a race. This strategy is designed not only to strengthen the muscles but also to enhance your comfort and control during downhill segments in competition, ultimately making you a more resilient and confident downhill runner.

Targeted muscle strengthening for Ultra-Trail efforts 

Appropriate physical preparation is crucial for excelling in ultra-trail challenges. Central to this preparation is plyometric training, which includes various jumping exercises. These exercises are designed to enhance explosive strength, crucial for tackling uneven terrain and steep inclines.

In addition to plyometrics, incorporating cycling or home training exercises can significantly benefit your strength and endurance. These exercises should focus on maximum effort over short durations or use high resistance for prolonged uphill simulations. This approach ensures that your muscles are conditioned for the intense demands of ultra-trail running.

For those based in urban environments, utilizing stairs is an excellent way to engage in plyometric training. Stair workouts can effectively mimic trail conditions, helping to build the necessary strength and agility for challenging trail runs.

Scheduling preparatory races before the UTMB®

In the lead-up to major events like the UTMB®, participating in preparatory races is an invaluable part of training. These races serve multiple purposes: they provide an opportunity to test your refueling strategy, ensure the safety and reliability of your equipment, and evaluate your nutrition plan in a race setting. Essentially, these races are like dress rehearsals, offering a chance to assess your current form and readiness.

For instance, if you’re gearing up for the UTMB® or the TDS®, consider scheduling a trail race of about 80 to 100 km sometime between May and early July. Alternatively, you might opt for two separate 80 km trail races spaced a month apart. For those preparing for the CCC®, aim for a trail race in the range of 60-70 km between May and mid-July. For the OCC® and MCC participants, shorter races ranging from 20 km to 42 km until the end of July would be suitable.

These preparatory events not only bolster your training load but also provide practical experience under race conditions, which is crucial for building confidence and endurance for the main event.

Preparing for weather conditions at the UTMB® Mont-Blanc

In the UTMB® Mont-Blanc, the swiftest runners complete the course in just one night, typically finishing by Saturday afternoon. However, only about a hundred participants manage to finish within 30 hours, i.e., before midnight on Saturday. For the majority, this means enduring two nights of outdoor running.

Consequently, night running preparation is essential. Getting accustomed to the effort required at night and familiarizing yourself with your headlamp are key. Consider training in the evening, starting at sunset and descending with the headlamp, or beginning your run early in the morning to experience running at sunrise. However, spending an entire night outdoors for training is not recommended due to the excessive fatigue it can cause. Instead, opt for a few hours of night training. Participating in night races or races with very early starts can also be beneficial.

For TDS® participants, where half of the runners spend a second night outdoors, and for the majority of CCC® runners who finish during the night, night running preparation becomes even more crucial.

Additionally, preparing for cold weather is important. The passes on the Tour du Mont-Blanc can reach altitudes of up to 2500 meters. Although these are not high mountains, the late August weather can be cold, and there is a possibility of snow, especially at night or during rain. Snowfall can lead to changes in the course.

It is vital to test your equipment under these conditions during training. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the UTMB® Mont-Blanc’s mandatory equipment list, particularly the items required for extreme cold conditions.

Moderating training intensity in August

As you enter August, you reach the ‘money time’ – the crucial final phase of your preparation for the UTMB®. Early in the month, it’s still appropriate to engage in some longer outings. However, it’s important to start reducing your mileage in the last 2-3 weeks before the race.

Arriving at the race too tired or, worse, injured, can significantly hinder your performance. Alongside managing physical fatigue, maintaining mental freshness is just as crucial. Keeping up the desire and enthusiasm to give your all on race day is essential.

A common mistake runners make is overtraining in the weeks leading up to the race. Even if you feel the urge to increase your training load, it’s vital to remain disciplined and moderate your training as the race approaches. This balance ensures you arrive at the starting line in the best possible condition – physically and mentally primed for the challenge ahead.

Prioritizing recovery in your training program

Effective recovery is essential to fully benefit from your training load. The three fundamental pillars of recovery are sleep, nutrition, and hydration, each playing a vital role in your body’s ability to recuperate and strengthen.

Sleep: The most regenerative factor for the body is sleep. Aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night in a tranquil environment. During particularly intense training weeks, consider extending this to 9 hours, or incorporate a nap during the day, especially after heavy training sessions.

Nutrition: Post-workout nutrition is crucial. Consume a mix of carbohydrates and protein within an hour after your workout. This timeframe, often referred to as the ‘metabolic window,’ is when your body most efficiently assimilates these nutrients. This practice aids in replenishing carbohydrate stores and expedites muscle recovery.

Hydration: Hydration is a key element of recovery. It’s advisable to drink at least 1.5 liters of water daily, plus an additional 20 to 50 cl (200 to 500 ml) for each hour of physical effort. Always carry a water bottle during long outings to maintain hydration.

Additional recovery methods like massages, compression socks, electrostimulation, and hot/cold therapy can also be beneficial. These techniques can further enhance recovery, reducing muscle soreness and improving overall readiness for your next training session.

Nutritional strategies for the week before UTMB® Mont-Blanc 

Digestive issues are a leading cause of withdrawal from Ultra-trail® races. Running places significant stress on the intestinal walls. During physical exertion, the heart prioritizes blood flow to critical organs like the brain and muscles, sometimes leading to reduced blood flow to the intestines. This, coupled with the physical impact of running, can cause damage to the intestinal lining.

To mitigate these risks, it’s beneficial to establish a solid nutritional foundation in the weeks leading up to the race. A regimen of L-glutamine and probiotics can be particularly helpful. L-glutamine serves as a vital nutrient for the cells of the small intestine, supporting nutrient absorption and reinforcing the intestinal walls. Probiotics aid in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome and promote effective digestion.

As the race approaches, optimizing carbohydrate stores becomes crucial, since carbohydrates are the primary energy source during an Ultra-trail®. This strategy offers an advantage in the early stages of the race and at the first aid stations.

It’s often recommended to slightly reduce (but not eliminate) carbohydrate consumption from 7 days (J-7) to 4 days (J-4) before the race. Continuing to train during this period helps deplete the body’s carbohydrate reserves.

From 3 days (J-3) to 1 day (J-1) before the race, focus on consuming high-quality carbohydrates such as starches, rice, potatoes, bread, pancakes, honey, and maple syrup. Some runners may prefer gluten-free options. Limit intake of high-fiber foods to avoid potential irritation to the intestinal walls. Instead, opt for easily digestible fruits like bananas or cooked fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches.

In addition to these pre-race dietary strategies, it’s also critical to plan your nutrition and hydration strategy for during the race.

Effort management during your UTMB® Mont-Blanc race 

The moment has arrived: you’re at the starting line of the UTMB® Mont-Blanc! This race is an extraordinary journey of self-discovery and pushing your limits. One critical piece of advice – avoid the common mistake of starting too fast. Remember, you’re embarking on a prolonged exertion. The few minutes you might gain at the start could cost you dearly later in the race.

A well-crafted training regimen is your best preparation for this day. Tune into your body, rely on the training you’ve undergone, and most importantly, enjoy the experience. Reflect on the journey that brought you here, the months, perhaps years, of training that have prepared you to traverse these magnificent trails around Mont-Blanc. Embrace and savor every moment!

To further enhance your chances of success, consider a personalized training plan specifically tailored for the UTMB® Mont-Blanc. The RunMotion Coach app, the official coach of the UTMB® Mont-Blanc, is an excellent resource. Simply input your experience level and your specific goal for the UTMB® Mont-Blanc event – be it UTMB®, CCC®, TDS®, OCC, MCC, or PTL®. The app provides detailed advice and a structured training program based on the principles discussed here. All that’s left for you to do is run!

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Mailis Durif-VarambonMailis grew up in the mountains, where she went hiking and biking every weekend. She loves outdoor activities where she can relax at the end of the day. At RunMotion Coach, she is responsible for communication management.