Krissy Moehl and the 2009 UTMB

AJW's TaproomThe first time Krissy Moehl ran UTMB was in 2003, in the race’s inaugural edition. While weather conditions forced a reroute, which shortened the 160-kilometer/99-mile race to 150k, it was, at the time, the longest race she’d ever run.

Back in those days, Krissy “bled the sport,” as she describes it. “If you pricked me, ultrarunning would just bleed out.” Like many athletes who were new to the sport in the early 2000s, Krissy ran as much as she could, wherever she could. And that is how she ended up traveling to France for the first-ever UTMB.

That year, 600 runners started the race. There was just one start, the traditional evening start still observed by UTMB, but runners could decide on the fly what distance to race. That is, they could simply stop and qualify for a race finish at 50k or 100k, or they could continue the loop around Mont Blanc back to Chamonix for the full 150k finish.

The summer of 2003 saw a historic heatwave sweep across Europe, and Krissy had prepared for that intense heat. However, when race day dawned, the weather was cold, windy, and wet. There was no mandatory gear back then and as Krissy recalls, “I was woefully underprepared for the weather shift. Lesson learned! Always be prepared in the Alps and any mountains!”

Starting off, Krissy was alarmed by the sprint start and amazed by the large number of people lining the streets to cheer the race out of town, both of which have come to characterize UTMB and so many European races. It was simply an experience she had never felt before.

Then, there was the challenge of the language barrier. For at least 40 race miles, Krissy fell into stride with a German runner. Krissy didn’t know German and the runner didn’t speak English, but they found they could chat together in their mutual second language of Spanish until the German gentleman stopped for a cigarette break and Krissy forged on. She was clearly not in the U.S. anymore!

After hiking a long climb with co-race organizer Michel Poletti, Krissy went on to win the 2003 women’s race. Afterward, she spent a great deal of time speaking with Michel and his wife and co-UTMB organizer, Catherine Poletti. They were both eager to hear her American perspective on the event. Most of all, Krissy shared with the Pollettis the challenges the aid stations presented as they were quite simple with just plain water and a small selection of bread, cheese, dried fruit, and chocolate. Krissy knew then that some day she would return to run the full distance.

After the 2003 UTMB, Krissy ran off an incredible six-year stretch, during which she notched wins at some of America’s most competitive 100 milers including Wasatch Front, Vermont, Grindstone, HURT, and Hardrock. Additionally, while participating in the 2005 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, she added a fourth place at the Western States 100 and a second place at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile to her resume before finishing a strong second place at the 2009 Western States. A few months after that finish, she returned to UTMB. And run it she did!

Going into the race, Lizzy Hawker was the consensus favorite and off the gun Krissy chose to let her go. Krissy had learned key lessons at Western States and wanted to run her own race. Looking back on it now, most of Krissy’s vivid memories are experiential.

“I recall everyone talking about the fact that I was wearing a running skirt. That was a new thing. Using poles I bought a few days before the race in Chamonix, I never even practiced with them. By the end of the race, I couldn’t lift my arms because of poling so hard. And, lastly, the crowds in the middle of the mountains and the cowbells. There is something really unique about running in the Alps.”

As far as the race itself, Krissy didn’t really think about her place in the race until about 110k in at Champex-Lac. There, her crew told her, “Lizzy is sitting right over there.” At that point, Krissy shifted into competitive mode, thinking that if she ran the last 50k in nine hours, she could win. She had been calculating that the last 50k would take around 10 hours at her current pace. With this kick in the skirt, she took the lead, covered that last 50k in just over seven hours, and enjoyed a triumphant run into Chamonix in a stout winning time of 24:56, almost five hours faster than her 2003 winning time of 29:38.

I asked Krissy if she understood the significance of her win at the time. She said, “To be honest, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the race until several years later. The ultrarunning community is so inclusive and celebrates the frontrunners to the final finishers. I didn’t really think the international stage was any different and I was completely unaware that winning UTMB was so significant. There was something kind of ‘pioneering’ about going over there to race that is cool to think about now.”

Krissy continues to forge new trails as her recent win at the 160k Mt. Gaoligong Ultra in China, a UTMB franchise event, attests. She felt a certain pang of nostalgia back in March of this year when she received the winner’s trophy from Catherine and Michel Poletti once again, this time in China some 15 years after receiving that first UTMB trophy in France. Perhaps one of these years Krissy, will return to Chamonix as well. I sure hope so!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Krissy’s hometown of Bellingham, Washington. Boundary Bay Brewery has been brewing high-quality beer in Washington since the mid-1990s and their flagship beer is the award-winning Best Bitter ESB. Modeled after a traditional English-style pub ale, this is one of the closest beers I’ve tasted to the warm-ish pub ales that make English pubs famous. Give it a try the next time you are in the Pacific Northwest!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you recall Krissy Moehl’s commanding win of the 2009 UTMB?
  • Did you travel to and race one of the first several UTMB editions? Can you share a little about your experience?

The start of the 2009 UTMB. Photo: Henry Iddon

Krissy Moehl winning the 209 UTMB. Photo: Henry Iddon

There are 5 comments

  1. Greg

    Krissy Moehl is one of the best ultra runners of all time and for sure one of the best people on the planet. I was fortunate to meet her at the 2001 Cascade Crest 100 for the first time and have been a fan and friend ever since. She was the ultimate leader of team Montrail -Patagonia during the beginning of sponsorship in ultrarunning. Thank you for highlighting one of the best.

      1. Sam

        You don’t have to go back that far: http://78.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lfig6qxcX91qga534o1_500.jpg
        90s cycling bad boy sprint-superstar Mario Cipollini apparently smoking a cig…

        The history of athletes and smoking is something I’ve always been curious to research — this article from the Guardian piqued my interest:
        https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2013/dec/06/joy-of-six-smoking
        They talk about women’s tennis and the Virginia Slims Circuit, quoting Rosemary Casals from 1968: “And I like a beer after dinner, when I have the one cigarette of the day.”

        But they left out greatest-cyclist-ever Eddy Merckx: http://p6.storage.canalblog.com/65/20/219322/89328803.jpg
        Of course, naturally, he’s advertising those low-tar, low-nicotine cigs that are good for the T-zone.

        I smoked in high school and afterwards it became quite a habit as I worked and socialized with a lot of other smokers in restaurants and bars, but I quit when I started to get really into cycling. So glad to have made one of the few good decisions I’ve made in my life–but I do miss the social aspect of it–it’s great that it’s not really a thing for the youth these days, but it looks like smartphones are standing in for the addictive impulse now, and of course the long-term mental & physical health effects of ubiquitous media technology remains to be seen…

        Sorry for the tangent, great article–I hear what she’s saying about the trekking poles, I rarely use them and it’s killer on the arms when I do. I want to practice with them more, but I really only run on the single track at the larger city parks here in Indianapolis and I feel kind of ridiculous using them.

  2. Ellie

    I remember seeing that finishing photo of Krissy at the time and it remains one of my favourite ultrarunning photos ever – pure joy from someone who I have always admired so greatly. A truly world class athlete and wonderful person.

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