If Ludovic Pommeret graces the start line of the 2024 UTMB, he will do so on the 20th anniversary of his first attempt at the revered race. And he placed fifth at the most recent, 2023 edition.
There are not many athletes in this sport or any who can boast the 48-year-old Frenchman’s longevity, and still compete at the highest level. We caught up with him to see if we could glean any insights to this, and to hear some of the story of his illustrious career in the mountains.
Pommeret was born in Grenoble, France, where he lived for five years until his parents moved to the mountains. The family moved once more before eventually settling in Valloire, a ski resort in the Savoie region, where Pommeret lived from the age of 10 until he returned to Grenoble for university.
It was in Valloire that he had his initiation to mountain sports, and he said: “I was not hiking, more skiing and snowboarding. I was also doing some windsurfing on the lakes. But not really running until I was 25 at least.”
Pommeret’s initiation to running in the mountains was not through any formal coaching or training philosophy — but started out as a fun challenge with family. He shared: “My brothers-in-law — my wife has two brothers — were runners and they were doing a race in 2000. There was quite a lot of climbing. They pushed me to participate in this race.”
Pommeret surprised himself and the others with his natural ability, and cheerfully recounted: “As I was not practicing running, they expected to beat me, but it was not the case!”
Later that same year, he set his sights on a bigger challenge — a local 107-kilometer trail ultramarathon starting in Valloire, but he didn’t finish, and said, “For the first one, it was too much.”
Rather than starting with shorter races and building up incrementally, Pommeret was drawn to the challenge of just finishing a very long distance. He continued to train and build up miles, with the goal of one day finishing his local ultra, but the race was canceled before he had another opportunity to run it.
“And then I tried another race in 2004, it was called UTMB, you know this one?” he asked wryly. Here Pommeret suffered another DNF, having still not cracked the code on how to train for long races, and with little running experience.
Eventually, it called for a change in strategy: “Then I started to run some shorter distances to train, and started to have good results.”
Among the highly competitive shorter races he completed were the 2007 Sierre-Zinal, where he made the top 20, and the 2008 Les Templiers, where he placed fourth.
Although still self-coached and training in a somewhat haphazard manner, Pommeret was accumulating experience and miles-in-legs and continued to go from strength to strength. Also in 2009, he cracked the 100k distance in superb fashion, placing third at the CCC.
He shared, “It was not really training, I liked to go in the mountains for running and I was racing quite a lot. I was racing almost every two weeks in summer, and I was also doing ski mountaineering in the winter.”
To this day, Pommeret divides himself between the two disciplines — pursuing trail running in the summer and ski mountaineering in the winter. He attributes this balance in part to his longevity, saying: “I think [skimo] is a kind of cross training during winter. It’s still an activity that requires a lot of effort and it’s good training. It gives you more power, but there’s less impact and it’s better for the joints. It helps to recover a bit during winter from small injuries that you pick up in the summer.”
A turning point for Pommeret was when he was selected to run for France at the 2015 Trail World Championships, held in Annecy, France. Resolved to do the best he could with the opportunity to represent his country, he said: “This was when I started to work with a coach. I wanted to have a more structured preparation for the world championships.”
Pommeret placed fifth, and running on Team France at the world championships became a staple on his calendar for many years to come, with two more fifth-place finishes in 2016 and 2018 being the high points.
His improved training structure also led him to a win at the 2016 UTMB — a race that just finishing had previously eluded him. He shared, “I think I have done UTMB seven times but finished only four. The 2016 race is the best memory. Especially because I was a little bit sick in the beginning of the race, and I couldn’t imagine that I could win.”
Another event that has drawn Pommeret back again and again is the Diagonale des Fous on Réunion Island. He took second in the 100 miler in 2009, 2014, and 2019, before tying for the win with Dani Jung in 2021.
In 2023, he was back, but with a different purpose. He said, “This year I went there with my wife. We were running together, and we wanted to finish together. We tried last year [and didn’t finish] and this year, second attempt, we finished. It was her first 100-mile finish.”
Pommeret talked about the unique culture and ambience around Diagonale des Fous that keeps drawing him back. He said: “Everyone on the island knows about this race and everyone dreams of one day completing it … and to discover the island through the race, it’s really special.”
Throughout his running career, and alongside family life, Pommeret has continued to work as a computer science engineer, and currently works for air traffic control in Geneva, Switzerland. When I asked him if he found it difficult to find the time to train alongside other responsibilities, he said: “It was in the past, because I was working full time until last year, and in Switzerland that’s 41 hours per week. But for the past year I am working 60% of that, so that’s much more comfortable.”
He continued, “When you are working full time and training, it’s hard to spend time with the family and there are compromises. Now also my daughters are older, they are 19 and 22, so they need less of my time.”
Currently, Pommeret divides his time between his mid-week home, close to Geneva, and the family’s second home in the mountains near Valloire. He structures his training around this, and said: “During the week when I’m working, it’s more training on flat paths, and the weekend more on the mountains.”
Having already raced extensively throughout Europe, in 2021 Pommeret was first bitten by the Western States 100 bug — when he traveled to the iconic American ultra to pace French teammate, Audrey Tanguy. The following year, with a Golden Ticket in hand, he returned and placed sixth in his Western States 100 debut.
Normally at home in the mountains, the hot and fast downhill race was a step outside of Pommeret’s comfort zone, and he said: “You have to be prepared to run 90% of the race. Even in UTMB, you can walk. In Diagonale des Fous, you run even less, but the Western States 100 is different. You have to manage also the heat, as it’s usually really warm, but for me the most difficult part is to run all the time.”
Pommeret then demonstrated his versatility by following up his sixth-place finish at the 2022 Western States 100 with a win at that year’s rugged and technical TDS.
In 2023, Pommeret returned to the Western States 100, but was less satisfied with his run that day, placing 12th. His season was far from over, however, as an invitation to pace eventual winner Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz in the 2023 Hardrock 100 led to him extending his time stateside, along with his wife and one of their daughters.
He said, “I extended my vacation, and we took time to visit the western part of the U.S. We went to Monument Valley [on the Navajo Nation] and the Grand Canyon [in Arizona]. It was very cool.”
For Pommeret, the Hardrock 100 is a bucket list race — this was his fifth year entering the draw — so he relished the opportunity to experience the race through pacing. He said: “It was good to discover the race in another manner. I paced the last half of the race and Aurélien was really strong … It’s something different as there are only a few on the start line, so it’s really different to UTMB or Diagonale des Fous.”
Pommeret’s summer of both running and recovering in the U.S. stood him in good stead when it came to the 2023 UTMB — where he put on a master class in patience and consistency, holding pace all race, while the rest of the field came back to meet him, eventually finishing fifth.
He recounted: “At the beginning I was not feeling that good. The pacing was okay because I was in the expected timing, but I was really far back in the ranking — around 50th. That was more mentally difficult, but my pacing was what was planned. I did not expect to reach fifth place. What I took from this race was that I could keep the pacing consistent from the beginning almost to the end. I think it was the most consistent UTMB of my life — the most Courtney [Dauwalter]-style pacing!”
He added that, “I think the preparation for the Western States 100 helped me for UTMB this year, because there are some flat parts — there are some parts that are really runnable, where I could run fast.”
Although his 2024 plans largely hinge on the Hardrock 100 lottery, the 2024 UTMB does hold some significance for Pommeret, who noted: “Next year it is my 20-year UTMB anniversary. I started in 2004, so it will be 20 years. Maybe I will go again, I don’t know. First, I am waiting for the lottery for the Hardrock 100.”
Finally, when I asked him if there is a secret to his great longevity, he candidly responded: “Sorry, no magical formula. If I have one, I will keep it for myself!” I think we need to have another off-the-record conversation with him to uncover the answer to that question.
Call for Comments
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