By Marianne Hogan
By Marianne Hogan
On June 23rd, I had the incredible honor of racing the prestigious Mont-Blanc Marathon 80K as part of the Salomon Ultra Running Academy (SURA). The race consisted of 92 kilometers with over 6,000 meters of vertical gain in the mountains surrounding Chamonix, France. It was by far the longest race I ever took part in in terms of time. Very successful athletes absolutely forewarned me of this, but nothing quite prepares you for that pain you experience in a race when you’re just not quite feeling your best.
The race took me a little bit over 14 hours to complete, which is almost twice the time a 50-miler sometimes takes me. But as much as I would have loved completing the course at a faster pace, I am thankful for the views I was able to soak in, the laughs and chit-chat I was able to share with fellow SURA athlete Mathieu Blanchard, the intensity of the French crowd cheering us on at the finish and, most importantly, for the lessons I’ve learned along the way. In retrospect, there are a whole lot of things I would do differently in order to better my chances of succeeding at the Mont-Blanc 80K. As with anything in life, it is especially helpful to experience and learn from your mistakes in a race, as you are more likely to change your behavior for the next one. One thing I definitely don’t regret is wearing my Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra shoes. 92km later and not a single blister or foot discomfort! But here are notes for the rest of the race with a few words of advice thrown in if you’re thinking of doing your first ultra. I hope it helps.
1. If you are going to race such a long race as the Mont-Blanc 80k, with MORE than 6,000 meters of elevation gain, you better train and plan accordingly. Find some steep terrain and practice: both up and down. I discovered new muscles that day, and that only means I hadn’t worked them enough beforehand. Lesson learned.
2. Similarly, if you are going to run an 80k with that much vert, you will take twice as much time to complete the race as you would another 80k. What does that mean? The need for more fuel! Running/hiking up the mountains surrounding Chamonix is much different than running every step of a 50-miler. Covering a 5-mile distance will take you twice as long (or more) and you WILL NEED FOOD. Prepare and plan accordingly. The Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra running pack/vest was perfect for planning an optimal calorie intake during the race.
3. If you are going to race with poles, train with poles. Having mainly competed in the U.S., I had never competed with poles, and did NOT train enough with poles in order to master the proper technique come race day. If used properly and efficiently, poles can certainly help deliver a better performance as they allow you to preserve some energy in your legs and allow you to use your upper-body strength. Please note the emphasis on properly and efficiently. If you don’t use them properly, you end up worsening your performance as you’re just carrying extra weight and tiring yourself. It is especially important to learn how to run with the poles as opposed to only hiking. In retrospect, I definitely think there are a lot of sections I should have ran, but instead opted for the support of my poles and having not yet completely mastered the art of running uphill with poles, I ended up hiking sections I should have run. If you are able to attend one of the “How to Trail Run” Salomon workshop in your area, I strongly recommend you do so, as you will learn proper techniques. I was using some Salomon collapsible pole made specifically for trail running and they make it really easy for you to pull in and out of your pack and expand as needed. They are a prototype model that are in development so look for them in shops soon.
4. Finally, and most importantly, don’t beat yourself up TOO much on what you would personally define as a poor performance. Some days you feel like you’re on top of the world and ready to crush while other days you feel quite the opposite. Don’t let one bad day overshadow all of your previous performances. Evaluate your mistakes, learn from them and show up to your next race stronger than ever. The next race for me in this SURA journey is the TransAlpine race, a seven-day stage race in the Alps, at the beginning of September, which I will have the pleasure of running with fellow SURA teammate, Mathieu Blanchard. I will make sure to apply all of the knowledge I have learned during this adventure that was the Mont-Blanc 80K. It certainly was a dream week surrounded by incredibly inspiring individuals within the Salomon Family in the incredibly unique location of Chamonix, France. I cannot wait for the next chapter. Congratulations to all Mont-Blanc 80K finishers (and starters for that matter!) There is always something to be proud of if you go out there and give it your best possible shot on that day.
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