Mathieu Blanchard Pre-2023 UTMB Interview

A video interview (with transcript) with Mathieu Blanchard before the 2023 UTMB.

By on August 30, 2023 | Comments

Frenchman Mathieu Blanchard is the top returning man at the 2023 UTMB, after his superb performance last year, where he placed second.

In this interview, he talks about the need for a healthy mind as well as a healthy body for success at ultrarunning, finding his passion for running again after a difficult start to the year while training with friends in the Alps, and what he’s most looking forward to in this weekend’s race.

For more on who’s racing, check out our in-depth men’s and women’s previews. Follow along with our UTMB live race coverage from Friday.

Mathieu Blanchard Pre-2023 UTMB Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Mathieu Blanchard. It’s a couple of days before the 2023 UTMB. Good morning, Mathieu. How are you?

Mathieu Blanchard: Good morning. Meghan. I’m feeling good. Yes. And it’s two days to UTMB. So, let’s go!

iRunFar: The last time we saw you was after Western States seven weeks ago in America. I think you’ve had quite a life adventure since then. Would you like to tell us a little bit about it?

Blanchard: Yes. We met at Western States two months ago, and yes, it was a crazy year for me, 2023. I think this is the first time in my life I feel that I took too much. I wrote my book for one year and it was a huge work. I put a lot of effort in this project. And 2023 was the release of the book. So, I worked on it, and I raced a lot. I started early, 1st of January actually, to run on the track in Montreal to prepare for the marathon of April. I went in February to Coastal Challenge Costa Rica jungle. 250k in one week. Then I went to Kilimanjaro in Africa.

iRunFar: I didn’t know you did Kilimanjaro, too.

Blanchard: Kilimanjaro because I went to train in Kenya, so it was close to Kenya, and it was a dream for me. I trained a lot in Kenya. Then I did the marathon, Paris Marathon. I ran the marathon this hard which is really hard on the body, and then Western States. So yes, it was crazy, crazy, early year. And I took too much, and I remember the Western States that I was very prepared physically because I trained a lot on flat for Western States with Paris Marathon. I trained in the sauna, the heat and everything. So, my body was really ready for it, like never in my life. But my mind was very tired, and I didn’t know that. I discovered it during the race. I remember the first climb, maybe 5k after the start, I was like in my head, Wow. I’m super tired. It will be a long way today to run 100 miles, and I don’t want to run 100 miles. I’m too tired today. My body felt good, but my mental was destroyed and tired. And it was my first time actually in my life I felt it. Usually I always have a strong mental to pilot my body, but this time my body was strong, but my mental was not here. So, I discovered it for the first time, still new in the sport. Still plenty of things to understand and to learn.

iRunFar: Yeah.

Blanchard: So, the month of July was very, very difficult for me. For the first time in my life, when I saw my running shoes in my place, I didn’t want to take it and to go to run. So I had a break, and it was a tough time this year, this Western States.

iRunFar: Yeah. But you said off-camera right before this interview, you took a few weeks break. You didn’t run. And then there was a Salomon training camp here in Chamonix, and that’s where you found the fire of running again.

Blanchard: Exactly. The fire came back early August, only four weeks ago, three weeks ago. I didn’t run for one month in July, just some walk, a very short run, and some biking, just to feel the fresh air outside. And early August, the first week of August, I went here in Chamonix with the Salomon team, and we did what we used to call the summer training camp. And I met the team again. I met some smiles, and I met some good energy with people preparing some races like UTMB, and other races, summer races. And this team spirit fed me a lot. So, it gives me good energy to build back my mental, and my mind. And then more during the run around the Mont Blanc, I felt very good actually. We did a huge volume running, all of the UTMB trail is 170k. And I did another big run before this camp, and after the camp, so it was almost 300k for one week, with very good sensation, super easy, super motivated to wake up early to do it. And then the week after this camp, I did another big training block and I was like okay, I think the fire is back as you said. And I’m ready to announce that I want and I will run UTMB.

iRunFar: It sounds like you learned a very important lesson about how involved the mind is in ultrarunning and trail ultrarunning.

Blanchard: Exactly, yes. The first time I felt that even if you have the best body, the best physical preparation, if the mind is not here to activate and to manage and to control the body, it doesn’t work. So now I discovered it, and I will have to think that when I prepare a season with big races. I will have to for sure, prepare my body, but I will have to find a way to relax more and to take maybe a little bit less projects, but I am too passionate.

iRunFar: [laughs]

Blanchard: It’s difficult for me. But to always have the body ready, but the mental as well. So, this is what I learned this year, and I will have to apply it for the next season.

iRunFar: Yeah. It’s really interesting to me that you have such a fresh thought about UTMB. Like, most people have been thinking about UTMB for a year, for nine months, for something like that. For you, you’ve now been thinking about it for two weeks or three weeks?

Blanchard: Yeah, exactly one month. But the difference with maybe others, I ran the UTMB three times. So I already have experience on UTMB. I can run UTMB with the eyes like that. [covers eyes with hand]

iRunFar: [laughs]

Blanchard: I run it three times in race, and three times in training. And I run CCC as well. So, I really know the trails around, and it’s my strength, UTMB. I trained a lot with my upper body. I’m super strong. I’m super strong on the poles. I’m able to walk super-fast on the big, long climb. So, this is more my strength than Western States, even if I like to go out of my comfort zone. But UTMB, it’s more my comfort zone. So, deciding it two weeks ago was not very stressful for me.

iRunFar: It’s interesting also to me, many people try UTMB many times, but it’s very rare to keep improving, which is what you’ve done each year that you’ve been at UTMB. Two years ago you were third. One year ago you were second. And not only were you second, but you were just a few minutes shy of the winner. Like, that’s about as incredible of performance you can have that doesn’t involve winning UTMB. How does one come to a race thinking about that incremental improvement through time and how to, I don’t know, keep expanding upon that?

Blanchard: Yeah, it’s a very good question. Three, two, and the time evolves, because I run it as well in 2018. I run it in maybe 20, 23 hours 3rd in place. I used to live in the city in Montreal, so no mountains where I lived. So, in 2021 I traveled to Europe to train in mountain, but it was very punctually, and I was able to get a good race finishing on the podium. In 2022 I moved more in France and in the Alps. I spent one month, two months, so I spent more time in the mountains. And now this year I decided to buy a base camp in the Alps in France, so I used to spend more time in the mountains. And then the more I spend time in the mountains, I feel the more I improve my level. And I still feel that I am improving, and better in the climb, better in the downhill, because I practice in this environment. So hopefully, I will still be able to improve on the UTMB, but we still run in the nature. We saw this week that the weather was really bad.

iRunFar: That was some nature, wasn’t it?

Blanchard: So when the nature wants to slap us and to give us bad, bad time with the rain, the mud, for sure you can’t compare with the other edition. So, we’ll see. Hopefully if the conditions are good, I will be able to run as fast as the last two years. But if we have mud, if it’s super cold or super hot in valley, we will have to adapt. But for sure I feel that my body and my mind seem improved from the last year.

iRunFar: The men’s race is fascinating this year. I think for the first time in the many years that I’ve been here, nine of the top 10 men from last year are back. In addition to, of course, a very deep men’s field. Have you been thinking about the competition and the folks you’ll spend time with? Or are you visualizing more yourself out on the course?

Blanchard: Yeah, it’s a good question. And I didn’t know that nine people came back from the last year. So, no, I prefer to focus on me. I don’t think about the other because these races are so long that everything can happen. And even if you are the best, if you have the best preparation, and if you speak with the media, you think you are feeling very good, you never know what will happen. And even the best can have a hard time during the race. But yes, we know that at UTMB we are in the most dense competition field in the world. I mean, in the Ultra Trail races. So for sure it will be super tough to fight, but this is why we are here as well, because we love to push themselves. And what I like to say is that I love to use the other to improve myself. It’s not, for me it’s not a fight. It’s more an improvement. Thanks to the other, you can push, and maybe you push yourself more than if you went to run alone on this race.

iRunFar: For sure.

Blanchard: It’s a common improvement. This is why I always see the race, and if the competitors around are super strong, it’s perfect because it will give me the possibility to push myself in the zones that I don’t know, maybe, and where I will improve myself. This is what I look for.

iRunFar: I think we really saw that in you last year. Like, your, “fight” is not the right word, but competition with Kilian [Jornet] all the way through the end of the race. It saw you both rising to levels you probably wouldn’t have been able to do alone.

Blanchard: This is the exact conditions why we were able to run under 20 hours. This is because we met, we had the meeting at 110k after La Fouly, and then we compete together all the way. He pushed in the uphill where I was a little bit…

iRunFar: And you came back to the downhill.

Blanchard: And came the back in the downhill. We push in every places of the race. This is why we were able to transcend ourselves and to push ourselves in the zones that we can’t imagine before the race. And this is why we were able to run that fast and to run under 20. So, it’s a very special condition, if you want. I think if today you start the race and you say I want to run 19:30 alone, it will be very, very complicated. But if you have the weather with you, the good sensation, and maybe a competition with someone who will help you, to push you in the crazy limits, you will be able maybe to do this crazy time.

iRunFar: Yeah. Last question for you. Since you said you still recently found your love of running through being here and doing the loop around the mountain, what moment or what place are you really looking forward to this weekend?

Blanchard: The place I love the most is the meeting with my family.

iRunFar: Okay.

Blanchard: Actually, this is the only moment in the year I have in the same event close to the trail. So maybe in the restaurant, my father, my mother, my little sister and brother, my best friends, my girlfriend, everyone are here around this event. And this is what I love the much. Yeah, it’s when I run on this loop and I see the smiles of my family. And having a good time before the race, after the race. It’s a one-week event. So, it’s not only the race, it’s also the community. I love to share what I love in my life, what I feel during all these crazy adventures, and sharing it on the social networks. Still have a screen in front of us, but here the people are here and real.

iRunFar: Real life.

Blanchard: And they smile at you. They thank you for what you share. And this is what I love, this big meeting. And this is what I’m looking for again on Friday.

iRunFar: You know what? I think that’s about the exact same answer, I think we asked you a question very similar to that last year and you answered the same way.

Blanchard: So, it’s not a lie. So, it’s not a lie.

iRunFar: Yeah, yeah.

Blanchard: This is what I feel, and this is what I will continue to love.

iRunFar: Mathieu Blanchard, best of luck to you in your fourth loop around Mont Blanc, and may this be the best one for your mind.

Blanchard: Thank you, Meghan. See you on race, and see you everybody on the race.

iRunFar: See you.

Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.