Lots of great ideas were shared by our ultra experts at the Alps Ultra Trail Seminar held by XNRG on the 25 February, aimed at helping those wishing to succeed in their Alpine races in 2017.
Here are the top five tips highlighted by the speakers on the day who were Robbie Britton, Nicky Spinks, Colin Barnes, Neil Thubron and Damian Hall.
Thorough preparation is all about moving you through the process from the fear of the unknown to building confidence. The more thorough your preparation, and the more specific, the more confident you will feel on the start line.
Be 100% clear on your motivation. Why are you doing it ? During the seminar this came up time and time again. The drive to challenge ourselves is a good reason, but the drive for a sense of exhilaration—the great ‘tingling’ feeling when you achieve something great—came across in all the speeches.
What also came across was the power of having a reason bigger than yourself. Damian Hall gave a great example of how he loved running across the finish line with his children. He is 100% focused on finishing for them, because they loved Daddy carrying them and running with them to the finish line.
Visualise what it will be like crossing the finish line, what it means to you, but more importantly what it means to everyone who knows you and cares about you.
2. Specific and thorough preparation.
To succeed in the Alps you need to train in the Alps. This was repeated by every speaker at the seminar. The Alps are so much larger, in terms of extreme climbs and descents, that you can only really get fully ready by going out there. Even if it is just for a few days.
This is one of the reasons XNRG have organised their Alps Ultra Trail Training Week.
Most of your training will, of course, take place at home, so what is the best way to train in the UK? Hills and mountains is the simple answer. The ‘Jez Bragg Snowdon Samba’ or the ‘Fan Dance’ came up several times. Basically, this requires you to head to Snowdonia or Brecon, start at the bottom of Mount Snowdon or Pen-y-Fan and head up to the top, walking / running, practicing with your poles and kit. Once you get to the top head back down to a different point and then turn round and straight back up. Do this 3 or 4 times, over 2 or 3 days, as many times as you can before you go.
XNRG is organising a ‘club’ trip (not official) to Snowdon for anyone who would like to train with fellow UTMB competitors. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to express an interest.
The topic of what shoes, what waterproof, what poles, what food came up throughout the day.
All the speakers were clear, the kit needs to match the expected conditions. The mountains have extremes of weather, from 32 degrees in the valleys to snow and minus 2 degrees on top. From 8–10 hours of solid rain to days of unbroken sunshine.
The objective IS NOT TO PASS THE KIT CHECK. The objective is to finish the race.
Kit tips from the event:
Shoes – comfort over functionality, make sure they are tough enough to cope with the tough rocky terrain. Test them thoroughly on similar terrain in the UK.
Waterproof – needs to be able to cope with the expected conditions. If the weather is expected to be bad, then heavy Gortex is essential. The waterproof standard required to pass the kit check is the absolute minimum and not suitable for more than a shower. Double the required waterproofness and you have something that is about the minimum you should take.
Poles – you would be thoroughly ill-advised to race without poles (and probably will not finish).
Rigid water bottles – a key tip was to ditch the soft water bottles and go rigid. The soft ones split and not having enough water between CPs will kill your race.
Cable ties – another good tip. Pack a few cable ties. They can fix broken rucksacks, shoes, zips etc.
Grazing bag – everyone thought this was a great idea from Nicky. Take a small bag so that you can grab food in the aid stations shove it in the bag then walk and eat.
Final thought on kit. Get it early and pick the worst weather you can find in the Welsh mountains (i.e. most weekends) and get down there to test it thoroughly. If it leaks or slips or chaffs, change it and then re-test it.
Nicky talked about her rule of three. Basically, if you think three times that you should do something, then do it. So if you think you should put on another layer, or take a layer off, and you notice you have thought it three times, then do it. You have probably thought it ten times, so don’t put it off. The same goes for anything. If you think you should get that stone out of your shoe, eat something, go to the loo – whatever it is. Do it.
Neil talked about the ten minute rule. If you are thinking you can’t go on. If you want to pull out at an aid station or if you think you can’t make the next summit, commit to pushing on for ten minutes then make a decision. Most of the time you will keep going because the negative thoughts will pass.
Handling bad times – have some rules or planned structure around how to handle the bad times. Have a play list on your iPod you love, have a song in your head, text someone you admire or love, save that special bit of food for that low moment. We all know we will have them so plan it ahead.
One final tip on this topic. You can set up for friends and family to receive text messages to tell them where you are and how you are doing. Damian suggested setting your own phone as well so that you get texts to tell you where you are and how you are doing to give you motivation.
5. Enjoy the Experience, don’t just endure it.
The mountains are a fantastic place. The views are breathtaking. Take the time to enjoy the moments. Enjoy the views of the Mont Blanc Glaciers, look behind you and see the valley below, stop and look at the stars when there is no light pollution around you.
Damian made the point that if you can arrive with a clear head, or at least start the race with a clear head you will enjoy the whole experience much more and probably do better. Try to clear all the work stuff, family stuff etc.
For those doing any of the UTMB events in 2017 we would love to help you have every chance of success either by training with us in the Alps at our training camp, or in Snowdonia, or just coming along to one of our multiday races to get miles in your legs. Happy training and good luck! Team XNRG
'To Race in the Alps, Train in the Alps'
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