The UTMB event is a 171 km ultra marathon with over 10,000 m of ascent. It makes a loop around the famous Mont Blanc, starting and finishing in Chamonix, France, while traveling through Italy and Switzerland in the process. The UTMB 2021 event started at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 27.
In the UTMB race this year, Kailas athlete Martin Perrier (FR) finished 40th in 26 hours and 37 minutes, a big leap from his 161st place in the same race in 2018. In this interview, Martin kindly share with us how he made such big progress and useful tips for runners preparing for UTMB.
Martin Perrier in UTMB 2021
Kailas: What does UTMB mean to you?
Martin Perrier: For me, UTMB will always represent my dream come true. When I first started running 10 years ago, I discovered this incredible race in my home country that looked absolutely impossible: running between 20 and 40 hours around Mont Blanc sounded crazy, and I wondered whether I could be able to do it one day. A few years later, in 2018, I was on the start line of UTMB for the first time and I had tears in my eyes realizing that this dream had finally come true. Today, living in Geneva really close to Chamonix, UTMB is still my favorite race of the season and one I will be racing every year if I can.
Kailas: How did COVID-19 affect your life, work and training?
Martin Perrier: Training and racing during the pandemic has been tricky, with so many races canceled at the last minute. It was difficult to find the motivation to train hard all year. But thankfully, I have remained healthy and those are small problems compared to the bigger ones faced by millions of people around the world who lost their jobs or their loved ones.
Kailas: Congrats on your winning the 40th place in the UTMB race! Is this what you expected? How did you feel about your result?
Martin Perrier: After finishing 161st in 2018, I was aiming for a top 50 this year and I was very happy with my race and my top 40 result! Naturally, I will try to do even better next year and hopefully reach the top 20!
Kailas: Can you share with us your experience in UTMB?
Martin Perrier: I managed my race really well this year, starting at a conservative pace and passing many people all the way to the finish line. I was 235th after the first climb, 161st after the first descent, 95th in Courmayeur (approximately the halfway point of the race) and 44th in Vallorcine (the last aid station) before reaching the top 40 on the last descent. The big climb after Courmayeur, at the very end of the night, was the hardest point for me physically and mentally, but I recovered well on the famous Grand Col Ferret climb and then I saved a LOT of time on the 20km descent before Champex-Lac.
Kailas: How did you train and prepare for UTMB this year, such as your training volume, training types, nutrition, etc.?
Martin Perrier: Something very important I did during my training was to do three training sessions on the UTMB course, to get familiar with the different climbs and descents from 30 km to 170km, and that revealed very useful mentally during the race, knowing what to expect and when. The other thing I did was to do several races during the summer, including Montreux Trail Festival & Trail des Hauts Forts in the Alps, which kept me in a racing mindset for several months leading to the event.
Kailas: Can you introduce what gear you chose for UTMB this year?
Martin Perrier: The most important piece of gear on an ultra like UTMB is shoes, which need to provide enough cushioning but also a responsive ride for someone who is trying to finish in under 30 hours. Then with so much mandatory gear to carry, the running vest/pack is the second most important item to choose. Finally, the windproof, waterproof jacket is absolutely essential for a race like UTMB in the Alps, where it is always getting very cold at some point during the night. Running poles are also very useful and I personally like having them when I expect a lot of climbing.
Martin Perrier wearing Fuga EX and Windbreak Vest Pack in UTMB 2021
Kailas: What Kailas products did you use in UTMB this year? What’s your feedback on them during UTMB?
Martin Perrier: For my shoes, I picked a combination of FUGA PRONASA edition for the first half of the race until Courmayeur and then FUGA EX for the second half, with a bit more cushioning for when my feet started to be sore. I added the Kailas gaiters to prevent getting any rocks in the shoes. For my running vest, I hesitated between the Fuga Air II and the Windbreak hydration vest which I love, and I went with the Windbreak because of its lime green color, in combination with the Kailas Waist bag with lots of storage room and bib & poles holders. Finally, the Nebula Shakedry jacket was an absolute lifesaver on the coldest and windiest parts of the course.
Martin Perrier wearing Nebula-Shakedry Running Jacket
Kailas: Do you have any tips to share with the runners participating in UTMB?
Martin Perrier: #1 - DO NOT START TOO FAST! This advice is true for any ultra running event, but especially in UTMB where the elites at the front start running at a crazy pace and they take everybody with them on those fast and flat first 8km. The key is really to take your time at the beginning and catch up hundreds of people later on. You cannot win the race in the first 2 hours, but you can absolutely lose it there.
#2 - My other advice would be to know the course in advance, either by running on it if possible, or at least by studying the course in detail. Some parts like the Pyramides Calcaires, the final descent to Courmayeur, the climb to Champex Lac or the final climb to Tête aux Vents and La Flégère has the potential to destroy you mentally if you don’t expect them or know them in advance.
#3 - ENJOY! you are running in some of the most beautiful mountains on the planet, so make sure to enjoy it fully!