Keeping Your Head in the Game When the Weather Goes South

on August 26, 2022

This week the eyes of the trail running and ultrarunning world are all on Chamonix, France, as the annual UTMB Mont-Blanc festival of races takes place in the mountains in and around the Chamonix valley. The main event, the 170-kilometer UTMB, which circumnavigates the Mont Blanc massif, kicks off at 6 p.m. local time on Friday, August 26, and this year promises to be a doozy!

In addition to the typically difficult course and the star-studded field of ultra-luminaries in both the men’s and women’s race this year, as it has in the past, the weather could play a starring role.

At the time of this writing, the race-day forecast is calling for some storms and temperatures in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit with cold winds along the ridges. In past years during circumstances like this, the race organizers have required participants to carry additional cold weather gear, and a couple of times the course has even been modified to keep runners safe. This year, my guess is that runners will need the required additional gear, but the course will not be modified unless it becomes impassable.

In my experience, I believe it is important for all of the participants to focus on three things in this year’s race: to adjust expectations, prepare meticulously, and stay positive.

Umbrellas up at the start of the 2018 UTMB. Photo: iRunFar/Kirsten Kortebein

Adjust Expectations

Due to the potentially hostile weather, athletes must prepare for the race to take longer than anticipated. Mud and slick rocks on the climbs and descents may slow folks down. And the need to stay on top of everything required to finish such a race means that aid station stops will likely take longer and require more logistical planning. In short, this might be a great year to just throw your pacing chart out the window.

Prepare Meticulously

Earlier this week, I was speaking with a UTMB runner and told her, “Just have your crew bring you everything!” I was only sort of joking. Given the nighttime start and the forecasted cold, wet conditions, staying warm will be a key concern. Good gloves, a warm hat, layers, and multiple wardrobe changes will be essential. In this case, it is certainly true that if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Kilian Jornet passing through a rainy Les Contamines at the 2018 UTMB. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Stay Positive

Nothing impacts a runner’s mood and mindset more than extreme conditions. Whether it’s the heat at the Western States 100, or the altitude at the Hardrock 100, adverse conditions can bring down even the most hardened veterans.

In the hours leading up to the start of the event, and during the event, it’s essential for runners to stay in the moment, control what they can control, and accept the fact that every participant from the front to the back of the pack is dealing with the same challenges. Maintaining an optimistic mindset will be key to success in this year’s race.

Rain failed to dampen spirits at the start of the 2019 UTMB for Maite Maiora (left) and Mauri Pagliacci. Photo: RunFar/Bryon Powell

UTMB excites and inspires the global ultrarunning community every year. This year, in addition to providing excitement and inspiration, it will also have a few life lessons to teach. Lessons that athletes can take back home with them and apply to their everyday life. The importance of adjusted expectations, careful preparation, and an optimistic outlook can make us all better runners and, ultimately, better people.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Bandolero Brewery in Clovis, New Mexico. Bandolero’s signature pale ale, Pancho N’ Lefty is a fruity, dry hopped pale ale, brewed in the classic tradition. Light and crisp with just the right blend of hops and malt, Pancho N’ Lefty is an excellent hot-weather beer that also goes well with barbecue, Mexican food, and pizza.

Call for Comments

  • How do you feel about running and racing in bad weather?
  • Is it all bad or do you strangely enjoy it sometimes?!

Moody La Fouly, Switzerland. A wet and cold storm event at the 2017 UTMB brought rain to low elevations and snow to the higher parts of the course. Photo: iRunFar/Kirsten Kortebein

Andy Jones-Wilkins finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.
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