The North Face athlete Jez Bragg is no stranger to the UTMB. A win in 2010 put his name in the history books and he's back this year to continue his special relationship with the event. His running hit the news earlier in 2013 when he ran the length of New Zealand. The 3054km Te Araroa trail took him just 53 days. His latest blog entry details his recovery from this epic and the challenge of learning to run and race again. Jez kindly took time out of his final preparations in Chamonix to answer a few questions. Best of luck and blue skys to the whole Bragg team!
What's your history with the UTMB?
I ran my first UTMB race back in 2005 and I've been hooked ever since. It has a unique course, a unique atmosphere and a unique level of difficulty! The UTMB course holds some my fondest trail racing memories - notably a win on the shortened course in 2010 - and also some of my worst memories - like having to withdraw from the race in 2011 after suffering a chest infection. I love it every I time I step foot on the course, whether it be in training or during the race. Sunrise after a tough night running through rain and snow in 2011 was very special.
What's your favorite section of the course?
The section from Refuge Bertone to Refuge Bonatti is always amazing, although it will be in the dark this year with the earlier start time. The cruisy descent from the top of the Grand Col all the way down to Praz du Fort is also pretty cool. The trick is being in a position to really run those latter sections well to achieve a solid finish time.
What are your top 3 bits of advice for first timers?
(i) Run your own race - don't get carried away with the razzmatazz of the start and go off too quickly.
(ii) Plan your nutrition carefully. The food on the aid stations is different to what the Brits might be used to - so I plan to have my own food available along the way.
(iii) Save yourself for the second half. Many people drop at Cormayeur - there's plenty of fast running to be enjoyed beyond there - so keep something back/ left in the tank.
It's very sociable at the back of the field! Is there much talking among the elite competitors?
Not really to be honest. Quite often there is a language barrier, but everyone's usually working too hard, or too focused, to speak.
Do you have any mental strategy for digging yourself out of the inevitable holes/lows?
Peaks and troughs. You will go through spells of feeling rough, but if you can get yourself through the other side, invariably there will be a high to be enjoyed on the other side. Also think about why you may have slumped? Low blood sugars, dehydrated, feeling sorry for yourself...? Then correct it!
What's your key piece of TNF kit for this race?
Stormy Trail jacket and pants - super lightweight and packable, but incredibly protective in wet weather.
Are you a fan of technology - iPods, HR monitors, GPS watches etc?
Mmmm. Yes and no. I will be taking an iPod shuffle with me this year to help get me through the rough spells, and also a my Garmin Fenix to help with speed, pacing and monitoring altitude. I try not to be too reliant on technology but it has to be done in part.
What's your key nutrition for races like the UTMB?
A mixture of gels, flapjacks, chocolate, rice pudding, and probably the odd expedition type meal (dehydrated) if I can stomach it.
Will your New Zealand experiences help your racing?
I hope so - certainly mentally! This is my first competitive long race since the expedition and I'm excited to see how my recovery and training has gone. I'm feeling very positive after a great summer of training, but in reality I won't know until I'm half way round. I definitely learned a lot about myself in NZ, both mentally and physically, and I will always be able to draw strength from those experiences.