The harder and longer the race, the better Denise Zimmermann performs. It’s, thus, not a surprise that she finished third at this year’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a challenging race made more difficult by near-record high temperatures. In this interview, Denise talks about what drew her back to race UTMB for the fourth time, the highs and lows of her race, and where she’ll race next.
For more on how the race went down, read our 2015 UTMB results article.
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Denise Zimmermann Post-2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here at the finish line of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. I’m here with Denise Zimmermann. She’s the third-place finisher. Boy, it’s less than a day since the race finished. How are you feeling?
Denise Zimmermann: Oh, now I feel great. It was just wonderful.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you. You had a very strong performance. It was solid, solid, solid start to finish, at least from my perspective. Is that how you felt?
Zimmermann: Yes, at the first time I always start a little bit slower. Then I came in form, but the last 20k it was a little bit hard.
iRunFar: A little bit hard? Well, it is a 170k race, so the final 20k is probably going to be difficult no matter what.
Zimmermann: Yes, but my muscles are a little bit empty and I twisted my ankle, so the last part down was not so nice.
iRunFar: A little bit painful.
Zimmermann: The last kilometer was really like you dream it.
iRunFar: The last kilometer weaving through the streets of Chamonix with people cheering for you?
Zimmermann: It was so nice. I’ve never had such a great finish line.
iRunFar: Really? That was your best? That says something because you’ve raced a lot of mountain races here in Europe.
Zimmermann: Yes, I make a lot of races.
iRunFar: When one looks at your race results, it’s just tough mountain race after tough mountain race after tough mountain race. I think you like the mountains?
Zimmermann: Yes, I love it. But sometimes I do also some strange race like 24 hours in a circle, but this is good for the mental so you can make a lot of strong mountain races.
iRunFar: I did notice you participated in the IAU 24-Hour World Championships earlier this year.
Zimmermann: Yes, but there I had some problems with the stomach. It was really hot.
iRunFar: It wasn’t the best of days feeling-wise?
iRunFar: Let me ask you about this race. You’re not a new entrant to UTMB. This is your fourth finish. What keeps you coming back to these mountains?
Zimmermann: It is a very great organization. The view, the mountains, they are just wonderful.
iRunFar: This year was pretty special. It was a full moon. The moon rose while you were running during the race. Then the next day the weather was perfect with hardly a cloud in the sky. What was it like experiencing these mountains under best-case-scenario conditions?
Zimmermann: It was just wonderful because usually I don’t stop for to make some pictures, but this time I had to make some pictures. Also, during the night, the full moon was wonderful. Sometimes you don’t need a headlamp it was so bright and so full.
iRunFar: The moon was a headlamp?
iRunFar: I want to ask you about how your race went. From my perspective looking in, it seemed like you were steady, steady, steady, steady all the way through, but I’m guessing there were some fluctuations in your personal experience.
Zimmermann: The first time I always start a little slower than the other runners. Then I can go faster. To go up is for me much easier to running down, but the last part it was so hard because also my muscles are empty, very empty. Then I twisted my ankle, so I felt it a little bit with pain, but the finish line was close and I know I was the third woman. So the last kilometer I could fly into town to the finish line.
iRunFar: I think you steadily moved up through the rankings as the night went on and then the morning went on. Then I believe you moved into the third position at Vallorcine?
iRunFar: How did that go? I think you probably passed Caroline [Chaverot] after she was injured or before?
Zimmermann: She was just injured just before the aid station.
iRunFar: Then prior to that, moving up through the women’s field passing woman after woman, as the morning went on and the afternoon started, were you just feeling good and able to climb better or descend better? How did that go?
Zimmermann: To climb up, the best time was as the morning came from Courmayeur up. It was so nice of a part, to run down also. Then in Switzerland, in the Swiss part of the race, it was very hot. Until the end, it was just very hot. But at the end, yes, I had to drink a lot. Then I lost a little bit from the pace. Otherwise, it was good.
iRunFar: Probably everybody’s pace was affected by the heat yesterday. It was near-record temperatures for here in the Alps at this time of year. The race said this morning that, as of this morning, there were 900 drops which is an incredible amount.
Zimmermann: I was also thinking a lot of people and runners stopped the race because they had salt problems also with the muscles because they drank too little. Sometimes you don’t want to eat anything, but you know you have to eat otherwise you can’t finish the race. By this temperature, it’s much more difficult to eat anything.
iRunFar: Yeah, I’m not surprised to be totally honest with you that you finished third here. You seem to excel the more difficult the conditions get. You run some of the toughest races in Europe under some of the toughest conditions. Yeah, I’m not surprised. You’re headed onto a race that is arguably twice as tough as this one in two weeks. You’re headed to the Tor de Geants.
Zimmermann: Yes. I look forward to it, and I love it.
iRunFar: This will be your second Tor des Géants in two weeks, correct?
iRunFar: You finished third there. Are you going back to see the mountains again? Are you going back to experience the sleep deprivation there? Are you going back to try to place higher? What are your goals?
Zimmermann: For me, I have a great feeling to see the mountains. I hope to finish again.
iRunFar: I guess it is just a goal to finish the Tor.
Zimmermann: Yes, it’s a big journey. It has so many things to make it correct. So much happens during the race, so I hope I can finish.
iRunFar: Your season doesn’t end there. You’re still racing some more—Grand Raid Réunion.
Zimmermann: Yes. This year, not. Last year, yes. This year I make some race in Italy.
iRunFar: Which race is that?
Zimmermann: [Ultra Trail] Lago d’Orta. It’s a smaller race, 90k, but very familiar and a great area.
iRunFar: Two races in Italy this fall.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you. Congratulations on your third-place finish at UTMB.
Zimmermann: Thank you very much.