In this interview, she talks about how she tried to conserve her body and mind for the later part of the race, choosing to race in the second half to see what she could do, and what it was like to finish on the podium of the most competitive 100 miler in the world.
For more on how the race played out, read our in-depth UTMB results article.
Katharina Hartmuth Post-2023 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Katharina Hartmuth. It’s the day after the 2023 UTMB, and you’re the women’s second-place finisher. Congratulations, Katharina. How does that feel?
Katharina Hartmuth: Thank you. It’s still incredible. And yeah, it’s just amazing. I can’t believe it myself.
iRunFar: My first question for you, you said before the race that you were going to be, I don’t know, cautious and careful. This is your first UTMB. Is this what a cautious and careful Katharina looks like?
Hartmuth: Yeah, actually, it was, until there was the second half, and I realized that there was a race actually going on, and that I had a chance to…
iRunFar: Have a podium.
Hartmuth: Exactly, exactly. So, I played it all safe and sound, and it was my plan to take it easy, or rather easy. And I think my split times, they were really good, which I gave my crew before.
iRunFar: So like, what you did matched your plan.
Hartmuth: Exactly. It matched my plan until maybe like, last 40k.
iRunFar: I think maybe I expected you to go out a teensy bit more conservatively. But as early as 20k in, you were right there with the leaders. You were within the top 10, and the women’s top 10 was condensed within like, 90 or 120 seconds of each other. So, you were just there from the start ultimately.
Hartmuth: Yes, I mean, that was maybe some coincidence.
iRunFar: [laughs] Okay.
Hartmuth: It definitely was not my goal to go hard from the gun. I mean, you have to go fast on that first flat part anyways, because otherwise people just run over you.
iRunFar: You wouldn’t be here with us. [laughs]
Hartmuth: Exactly. So obviously there it was maybe a bit faster than I want to do.
Hartmuth: But after that, I mean, I pretty early had the feeling that, yeah, legs are good. And then it just can go for it, or maybe even push it a little bit. Yeah, but it was not that I was feeling, Oh, this is way too fast. Or, What am I doing here? This is not good.
iRunFar: Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about the nighttime, like, traveling through sort of the high mountains of France, and then Italy, coming into the halfway point, of Courmayeur. Were you just like, all night long, just trying to take care and manage all the details of yourself? Were you starting to think about the women around you at all? What was that like?
Hartmuth: Actually, I didn’t really think about the women around me until, I don’t know, 100 kilometers.
Hartmuth: So, I just wanted to get through the night in good spirits. And I felt actually quite confident, because I trained a lot during the night in the mountains. I mean, it was quite some wind, clouds at the top, and it was a bit difficult then to run there in the night, because literally you couldn’t see anything. But then I realized, Okay, I’m used to this, I can do this. And that helped me a lot, because I think there are many people had slowed down. So actually, I got through the night very well, until the end when I developed some problems with my knee, which was not pleasant at all. Yeah.
iRunFar: I saw you taped up on the knee. Have you been taking care of something there for a bit?
Hartmuth: Yes. So, the tape in the beginning it was only like, precaution.
Hartmuth: But then unfortunately something like a runner’s knee started to appear, and then I was afraid that it would get worse, and that maybe I would have to drop because it was too early in the race to have a bad runner’s knee. And then I tried to tape it up again at Courmayeur, but then my leg was too sweaty so the tape didn’t stick.
iRunFar: It didn’t work.
Hartmuth: But luckily then I figured out to try a different muscle activation in my leg to take the stress off the knee. And that then worked quite well, because I was afraid the downhills would become a big problem afterwards. And I mean, I had some knee pain throughout the race, but it was never super bad.
iRunFar: It’s very interesting that you had the presence of mind to think about activating your muscles in a different way to prevent that in the middle of UTMB.
Hartmuth: I mean, that was the only chance to stay in the race. Because I had a similar problem at Transgrancanaria earlier this year. There it only got worse and worse. And I mean, I made it to the finish line, but it was a super painful experience, and I didn’t want to experience that one again.
iRunFar: Yeah. After Courmayeur, after the race’s halfway point, you were really inside the top five then. However, the women’s race for the top five stayed dynamic kind of all the way through. When did you start really engaging with the women’s race and being like, Hey, I have a chance to really do something here. I’m going to go for this?
Hartmuth: Yeah, so I think after 100k I caught up with Manon [Bohard Cailler] who is also on the Hoka Team. And she told me that she was the current fourth position. That’s when I realized, Okay, wow. I’m now in fourth place. And at that moment, I thought, well, if I can keep that position. I mean, it was still such a long way to go. That would be the best fourth place ever. And then I continued, and then people started telling me that second and third place were actually super close. Like, within the next 10 minutes ahead of me. And that’s when I realized, Wow, okay, that’s pretty close, and there’s still a few hours of the race left. And I felt good. So, I was like, Okay, I will just see if I catch them naturally by just going my own pace, or what happens. And then I somehow came closer to them without pushing too hard. I was just doing my own thing. And then people would tell me. “Oh, they’re only five minutes, only two minutes.” And then I think when I caught Blandine [L’Hirondel], I realized, Okay, she has now maybe a weak point at the moment. She didn’t feel well, I think, in that moment. And I felt very strong when I overtook her. I was okay, let’s see. Now I’m in third. And then Fu-Zhao [Xiang] was before me. And I was like, okay, maybe I can catch her as well. So that was actually the moment when the race somehow began. When I was…
iRunFar: Where was that exactly?
Hartmuth: So I caught Blandine. When was that? That was after Champex-Lac, the first climb. And then the next climb.
iRunFar: Okay, so maybe the final 40k or 30k of the race is when you were really focused on this.
Hartmuth: Exactly. And that was, I think, when I also mentally switched from, I want to finish this. to Okay, I want to be on the podium if possible.
iRunFar: Yeah, yeah.
Hartmuth: I mean, I saw that chance and then it was like, Okay, let’s try.
iRunFar: What was it like, or let’s see, first of all, where did you pass Fu-Zhao to come into that second-place position? And then what was going on in your head then of being like, “Geez, I really like, I’m here. I’ve got to hang on to this now.”
Hartmuth: Yeah, well, I caught her just briefly after the Trient aid station.
iRunFar: Okay. Okay.
Hartmuth: And then after that aid station, there is a climb which is just super steep. And I knew that my strength is power hiking. So, I knew that if I could push a bit on that climb, maybe I could not even, not only overtake her, but also like, put a gap between the two of us.
iRunFar: Put time on. Yeah.
Hartmuth: Exactly. And I think that worked. And I was in second. But then I immediately got afraid that that was a bit too much.
iRunFar: [laughs] Like you did too much in that moment?
Hartmuth: Exactly because on the on the previous hill I also did the same to Blandine, so I pushed a bit more than I would have done maybe without this move. And I think on the very last hill up to La Flégère, there I really was afraid that I pushed too much.
iRunFar: You could feel it then.
Hartmuth: Exactly. I was completely empty there, and actually there I was afraid that both of them will catch me again. [laughs]
Hartmuth: Yeah. So that was tough then. Also, in the last downhill they told me, “Hey, Blandine, she did really well on the climb. She’s only five minutes behind you.” And I was like, Now I have to race until the finish line. Yeah, I just gave it everything and luckily could secure that second place. And I think, I mean before the race obviously I would have been happy with any top five position.
iRunFar: [laughs] But once you find yourself in second,
Hartmuth: Once you’re second, only five kilometers from the finish line, you’re like, “No, I want to stay in second now.”
iRunFar: I’m not giving that back.
Hartmuth: Yeah, exactly. So yeah. Maybe in the end it was a bit of a gamble to race that hard with the two ladies. And really on that last climb I actually asked myself the question, if I would make it to the finish line at all. Because I felt so, so empty. Yeah.
iRunFar: The look on your face was really fun at the finish line. It was sort of like, a mix between utter happiness and utter shock. Maybe like a disbelief that you were there on the podium of UTMB. Have you started to believe that that’s what happened yesterday?
Hartmuth: Not yet, actually.
iRunFar: Okay. Okay.
Hartmuth: It feels strange also that now people are coming up and congratulating me. Also, my phone is just like, buzzing all the time.
iRunFar: Sorry about that. [laughs]
Hartmuth: I don’t really want to look at it. It’s still, yeah, I still can’t really believe it. And also, after these long races you need, no matter which position you end up, you need just some time to digest the race, because it’s such a long time that you’re out there. And then now with this outcome, it’s even harder, because now everybody wants something from me and I’m like, hey, can I please for, I mean, calm down, and have like, a little recap.
iRunFar: Yeah, yeah. Two major second places in your 2023 year. A second place at the Trail World Championship 80k, a second place here at UTMB. Your trajectory with the sport was already on the up, but we can safely say that this is a huge ascendancy. What’s a person like you going to do next now that that happened this year?
Hartmuth: Actually, that’s quite a tricky question. It’s always a tricky question the day after a race. But I think today it’s especially hard, because like yesterday I had this funny thought. I was, okay maybe I need to stop now. Because I ran so well, I can’t top that.
iRunFar: Yeah. I mean, that’s a real thing is like, where, what is the top? Is this the top? Is the top still quite further? Like, that’s the big question for you right now.
Hartmuth: Exactly. I have a few races in mind that I want to do in the future. I mean, I have no concrete plans yet. I mean, the only concrete plan now is that it’s almost the end of the season, so.
iRunFar: Your concrete plan is your couch maybe a little bit?
Hartmuth: Exactly. Yeah, I’ll just like, digest everything and finally start to rest, and calm down, and collect some ideas for next year. So no concrete plans for next year yet. But, yeah, it’s tricky because then people yesterday told me, “Hey, will you come back next year and try to go for the win?” I was like, I don’t know. That’s maybe a bit too much. And I, yeah, it’s, I don’t know. It’s tricky. But yeah, it’s strange, because I feel like next year can, it’s hard to top this year. So, I don’t know how to go into next year, because I’m afraid that it’s only getting worse now. [laughs]
iRunFar: Or it’s still getting better.
Hartmuth: Yeah, but you know, now also expectations are higher. So yeah, it’s different definitely from going into this year where nobody really expected something.
iRunFar: Here we are after you having placed second at UTMB this weekend.
Hartmuth: Yes, we are. So, let’s see what comes next. Yeah, but for now, I just, first of all, try to enjoy everything that’s still going on here, and try to realize what happened. Yeah, I’m sure that I have enough ideas and goals of what I want to do next. But yeah, right now I think I don’t have this one thing where I’m like, “Okay, this is next, and I have to reach a goal.” It’s not. And I think for now I’m actually happy with that.
Hartmuth: Because throughout the year, you always have your agenda of races.
iRunFar: The next thing. The next thing.
Hartmuth: And especially with UTMB, at the end of the, almost the end of the season. Throughout the year is this big goal. And now? Well, I’ve reached like, more than my goal.
Hartmuth: And I think now maybe it would not be a good idea to already look for the next huge goal.
iRunFar: Yeah. It sounds like maybe like a little bit of psychological rest and respite is what you’re looking for.
Hartmuth: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for sure. And autumn, especially if it’s nice with the weather as it is now, I will definitely go out in the mountains again and try to do as much trail running as I can before the snow arrives.
iRunFar: Yeah, yeah.
Hartmuth: Because I will dearly miss it throughout the wintertime. But in terms of races, I think from now I’m definitely satisfied for this year. So yeah, let’s see what happens next year.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations on your second-place finish at the 2023 UTMB. Yours was a thrilling performance to watch.
Hartmuth: Thank you.