Mimmi Kotka considers her third-place finish at the 2021 UTMB as her first successful 100 miler. In the following interview, Mimmi talks about how she identified and overcame some long-term health problems related to running over the past few years, how her race went, and what was the cause of some very painful final kilometers.
For more on what happened during the race, check out our UTMB results article for the play-by-play and links to other post-race interviews.
Mimmi Kotka Post-2021 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar, here with Mimmi Kotka after her third place finish at the 2020… 2021 UTMB. How are you Mimmi?
Mimmi Kotka: I’m good, a bit sore.
iRunFar: I wonder why. Before we jump into yesterday I want to talk to a little bit about your long-term health because for a few years you had some significant issues.
Kotka: Yeah, so basically it feels like I told the story a couple times that I had some really good races in 2017 and 2018, but also some injuries and I was really, probably not over trained, but under fueled and so after Mont Blanc and mononucleosis and Epstein-Barr and, no immune response. And I think that pushed me into a physical vortex, it took a long time to get out of it. With anemia, yeah. And I just kind of continued to race, put the blinders on and just felt worse and worse and can kind of handle shorter training. But you know, in ultra it’s funny, when you do long stuff is when the deeper reserves reveal themselves and I just, I was just empty.
iRunFar: So how did you turn the corner? What made you finally realize and change?
Kotka: So I started actually last summer, I kind of just pulled the plug on everything and like, this isn’t working, I’m really not healthy, I need to stop. And I’m a nutritionist, but I haven’t worked within the specifically with endurance athletes so I started reading up on the science and realize that I probably was in a caloric, I’ve been a caloric deficiency for many years, because I don’t have an elite athlete background. I came in as a normal training person, you know training 10 hours a week or whatever. And then it’s just fine to eat like normal person but then the mileage, this is something that people forget the toughness of this terrain, I think it’s more of your body as well. So I think I was just, injuries didn’t heal and yeah. So I changed my routines around training and refueling and taking more an approach of taking care of the hormones. And stuff, and it worked really well.
iRunFar: So in terms of, what will be the major change in terms of fueling and recovery?
Kotka: Just making sure you eat more calories. That’s number one. Because it’s fine for, I think that this is super, super common among ultrarunners. That you kind of think you’re eating enough, but you’re just not eating enough so that’s the basic thing and it’s fine for a period. But when the year starts to roll on you in this constant deficit, your performance declines and you have a harder time healing from injuries.
iRunFar: It was just bad it sounds like. So that leaves me up to, go ahead.
Kotka: But you know ultrarunners, we love to feel like shit. It’s such a bad… We kind of love the suffering, feeling tired to your bones, so tough so.
iRunFar: And also the concept of more is better. Both in terms like the race distance. There’s a culture.
Kotka: Be tough and push through and we have that kind of personality.
iRunFar: It’s very easy to go from 10 hours a week of training to, I’m sure you are doing 20 or 30.
Kotka: I mean if you double up you need to eat differently and stuff. That’s the difference. And I took a break, I didn’t train at all for four months, just reset and so started training in February.
iRunFar: As you are coming to the end of that break, did you take hormonal tests or any nutrition testing?
Kotka: I actually worked with a super good endocrinologist in the UK, from a distance. She just checked the tests and did it the real way, because you have all the symptoms, you’re anemic, you have low immune response. It’s this and this, you have stomach problems, you have whatever, you can feel sad you have hormone problems. Both guys and girls.
iRunFar: Being in the complex of RED-S?
Kotka: Exactly. But then you can sort of fix one thing with whatever, but the problem is that it makes the other worse you have to take a more comprehensive approach.
iRunFar: And you are sort of cleared and you’ve also felt it internally?
Kotka: We made a six-month plan that I stuck to it, because I’m a nutritionist I could sort of plan so I actually… This is super boring but I actually measured like what I was supposed to eat just for a few weeks, just to get like a mindset in my head about the amount of food you need to eat.
iRunFar: So you’d have a gram scale out for portions, not to eat less but to…
Kotka: No, no, to get a new set point because if you’re going to the sport, you need to perhaps eat twice as big portions and stuff.
iRunFar: I can do that.
Kotka: Me, too. She’s like, how are you going to rest, okay I don’t like to rest and then you’re going to eat. Because the thing is I’ve always eaten a lot but it means for a big person, I mean I’m tall and I have a lot of muscle, it’s just all this training you have to eat a lot, a lot.
iRunFar: So after the race you talked a little bit about how your training wasn’t how you would have done before?
iRunFar: Your preparation wasn’t as good, but what did it look like?
Kotka: No, what I meant was that first of all I’m not super experienced with 100-mile distance. This is actually the first time I’ve ran a whole race without falling. I mean I’ve done two other 100 milers, but then I’m kind of broken down and because of logistics and health and stuff. No, I just think that I didn’t have, I have done racing and ultra training of course but this long…
iRunFar: So it’s the experience that was…
Kotka: Yeah, and maybe preparation, I don’t know how people prepare for 100 milers, but maybe if you run 10 of them, then you probably have, you figure it out.
iRunFar: But you had good training?
Kotka: Yeah, I’ve had a really good training and I’ve done some races as well and I’ve had the goal has been to finish strong in the races I’ve done. To have this feeling that you could go longer. Did not have that feeling yesterday.
iRunFar: Before UTMB you did. Like all the steps are in the right direction and I assume along the way you’re checking in to see if you’re feeling strong?
Kotka: I mean this long races like you have this energy reserve that you need to take when it’s really, really long and I haven’t had that and I kind of felt that it’s back. So I felt good in that sense but then because I took a long break you don’t have several years of consistent training and you have, you’re a bit nervous because you’ve had problems in the past and stuff, so well.
iRunFar: We haven’t even touched on really your race. No, I think it’s great, I think it super important to talk about picture…
Kotka: Because it’s so common.
iRunFar: And it’s correctable, too.
Kotka: Yeah, it’s definitely correctable and I’ve seen so many talented ultrarunners just disappeared into nothing.
iRunFar: And sometimes that’s life choices and changes in life, but other times it’s been in that hole.
Kotka: Might be over training or under fueling.
iRunFar: So the first half of the race yesterday, through Courmayeur, you and Courtney [Dauwalter] are sort of, not going back and forth, you’re not together but you’re close the whole time.
Kotka: No. But I was talking to Courtney about it today, because we didn’t know that. Because I was so set on not racing, because I just wanted to finish.
iRunFar: Not being competitive?
Kotka: Exactly. So I decided because it was such a great women’s field, you have to chitchat with everyone but I set the limit, I can only chitchat until Les Houches, and then you do you. So I decided that I wouldn’t run with anyone, I just wanted to do, follow my pace and stuff. I felt good, but I mean I don’t have the…Courtney was a few minutes ahead of me but then she was one hour ahead, and then she was two hours ahead.
iRunFar: At Courmayeur you are in the aid station together. And in Les Contamines you were together.
Kotka: Yeah, I just didn’t see her on the trails.
iRunFar: In terms of not talking or sort of doing your own thing, is there a mental…
Kotka: Not racing is what I mean.
iRunFar: But also is there a difficulty, you’re not running with a bunch of Swedish people. You literally have to, I mean you’re fluent but…
Kotka: I’ve said that when I run with Americans too, that it takes more energy out of me because I have to translate in my head. It is easier to run with Swedes, but you can imagine if you had to speak French.
iRunFar: Or for me with Spanish, I can have a small conversation on the trail, but it would be a challenge and I wouldn’t be thinking about my nutrition.
Kotka: That’s what I mean, I just wanted to do, and because I knew there were so many great women there and I just wanted to have my race, for me. I mean I’ve had this UTMB project a long time.
iRunFar: Finally completed.
Kotka: Yes. Check.
iRunFar: So after Courmayeur, you do start falling back, were you having a really difficult patch?
Kotka: No. Energy wise, I felt good during the whole race and for the uphill parts I felt good. No, I just ran according to my feeling, but then I had, after hitting the Trient climb on my way down to Vallorcine, just my legs, to start to stop working. Which is, I guess that’s where it comes in, you need this long period of just doing the really hard stuff I guess. So it was more mechanical. It looked really sad. Someone showed me a clip I’m like, this is, no.
iRunFar: I was with some of the journalists at the finish line we were watching the finish but were watching a live video, and we were like, can we change the channel this is so hard to watch.
Kotka: I was in so much pain. Because I was so happy to do the race I probably, it’s not that I pushed myself too much, as a race but I was probably not feeling…
iRunFar: You didn’t blow up because you pushed too hard.
Kotka: No, I just blew up because I’m stupid.
iRunFar: The wheels came off, you just didn’t have that mechanical component, wasn’t prepared quite enough.
Kotka: I had a great time.
iRunFar: Even if you were running 10 hours slower that would have still happen. Even though your legs, your quads gave out. And you are in a lot of pain, and you did drop back to third, are you happy with your… ?
Kotka: With my position you mean?
iRunFar: Or your whole experience?
Kotka: Yeah, I’m super happy about the experience and I was not expecting to finish third at all so that’s a nice surprise. And I’m super happy, I mean obviously Courtney’s insane race, I mean she was changing the game. Now everyone has to run like and 23 hours. But she is fantastic so that was super cool to be on the scene for that. And then also Camille [Bruyas] that came in second, she’s had a super strong year, so they are both really lovely people.
iRunFar: Do you have a favorite moment or memory coming out of the race?
Kotka: I really like the downhill in the Pyramides. Which no one else likes.
iRunFar: I haven’t even run it and I don’t like it in concept.
Kotka: It’s very technical but I kind of like technical downhill running. When it’s not 10,000m of it, the air is still fresh at the Pyramides. And then you see Lac Combal and it’s this little tent, I actually like night running.
iRunFar: It seems pretty spectacular.
Kotka: And also maybe that’s for the, the race, I mean I like running through the night. But I’m definitely not the most experienced in long running or probably not the fastest one either but I like night running.
iRunFar: So now having had a fairly successful 100-mile effort, I mean a positive, good 100-mile effort, do you want to do it again or?
Kotka: Yeah. But not in a few weeks.
iRunFar: Not in a few weeks but anything left in your season?
Kotka: Yes. I think I will go to Madeira [Island Ultra-Trail] in November. For me, because that’s one of my favorite races.
iRunFar: It’s a pretty spectacular island.
Kotka: It is, and I have a lot of friends in Madeira. I just love that organization, as well.
iRunFar: Well congratulations on a great run here and I wish you a good recovery.
Kotka: Thank you, much needed.
iRunFar: Time for some gelato, yeah.