A previous champion of the CCC and TDS, Sweden’s Mimmi Kotka will start UTMB as a race favorite. In our first interview with her, Mimmi talks about how she got into trail running as an adult, how it took a while for her to discover she was quite talented, and why she thinks she’s now ready to step up to the 100-mile distance.
Read our women’s and men’s previews to see who else is racing before following our UTMB live coverage starting on Friday.
Mimmi Kotka Pre-UTMB 2018 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Mimmi Kotka. It’s a couple days before the 2018 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. Hi Mimmi!
Mimmi Kotka: Hi.
iRunFar: This is my first time meeting you. How are you?
Kotka: I’m good. It just started pouring here outside, but we just managed to get under a roof before that, so I’m really good.
iRunFar: Yeah, the promised weather for Wednesday before UTMB is literally arriving right now.
Kotka: Exactly. They had to re-route some courses due to bad weather and stuff.
iRunFar: Yes, the TDS runners are out in this right now, but they say it will clear by Friday for UTMB.
Kotka: I hope so. They had really bad weather last year and it was startling. Some rain is nice, but preferably not too much snow on the course.
iRunFar: Let’s hope not. This is your first time racing UTMB and your first time running 100 miles, but the UTMB festival is not unfamiliar to you. You are the previous champion of the CCC and the TDS.
Kotka: Yes, I started in 2016 to do longer ultra-trail races. I did CCC, thinking I might go for UTMB in 2017, but I just wasn’t ready. TDS seemed like a really nice course, too, because this week is really special and all the races are worth doing. I had a really good experience with that year. I kind of felt like, “well, it’s time.”
iRunFar: You’ve taken the incremental steps up from 100k to 120k and now 170k.
Kotka: Exactly, but it’s a big jump between 120 to 170 so we’ll see how it goes.
iRunFar: We will see. The ultra-trail world saw you arriving to the front of the scene at trail races a couple of years ago, but since this is our first time interviewing you, can you give us some background on how you got into ultra-trails and what you did before this?
Kotka: I have no athletic background. I wasn’t a runner. I started jogging when I was closing, getting close to turning 30. I started to panic that I need to stay in shape [laughs]. I decided that I wanted to run a 30k around Sweden at 29. I trained for that and just fell in love with trail running. I’ve always been an outdoor person that lived for the outdoors, so it was like the perfect sport for me because of the simplicity. So I just ran for fun and worked lots for a couple of years and had running as a side thing. Then in 2014, we decided as a family that we needed to do some more fun stuff, so I decided I wanted to run more because I loved it so much. I guess I decided that I wanted to be “a runner.” I entered some races in Sweden, some ultra races, and it went well. I got to race in MaXi-Racein Annecy in 2015 and it was my first real alpine race.
iRunFar: That’s a hard race, too.
Kotka: Yeah, you know the terrain around here. I just fell in love with it. Since that race, it’s been what I want to do.
iRunFar: So, when you did your first 30k at the age of 29, were you good? Were you at the front of the pack immediately?
Kotka: No. It’s a really competitive race. I wasn’t super-bad, I don’t remember the time, but I hadn’t been running for that long. I placed maybe 150th or something.
iRunFar: In 2014, when you decided to be a runner.
Kotka: Whatever that means!
iRunFar: Whatever that means… whatever this sport is… were you winning races then? Or was it after you started applying yourself?
Kotka: I trained for a race in 2014. It’s more like a mountain race or a fell race, because that’s how the mountains in Sweden look. So, it was a marathon in a fell environment and Emelie Forsberg was racing and, of course, she won,and it was super inspiring. I was third in that one in 2014. Then, I felt really good, so two weeks after that I entered a 90k race in Sweden. Then, I finished second and the balls started rolling, because that was like a good result.
iRunFar: Got it.
Kotka: That was August 2014.
iRunFar: So August 2014 was when you really started experiencing success. What’s your world like outside of trail running? You’re in your mid-thirties. Do you have a career? A family? What’s your life like?
Kotka: I have a family, but no kids. It’s my husband and pets. You know pets, they become like kids [laughs]. I’m a molecular nutritionist by trade. Now, I work in product development and also launching a brand together with Emelie and Ida Nilsson.
iRunFar: I’ve heard about this brand.
Kotka: It’s very interesting! We’re just starting up. For me, I’ve worked a lot in product development, mostly in supplements and stuff, but you always feel like you want to do your own thing. Those girls are really the ones to team up with. Now is a lot of focus on that, actually. There are some really nice supplement companies I work with.
iRunFar: So, having been the champion of CCC two years ago, the champion of TDS last year… do you feel any pressure – external or internal – going into UTMB on Friday?
Kotka: I don’t have any internal pressure because I think that would be… what’s the English word? Arrogant. A bit arrogant since 120k is the longest I’ve raced. I have to be humble about the next 50k, but I figure if I run 120 then I can crawl 50k and still make the cutoff [laughs].
iRunFar: So you will arrive to the finish, it’s a matter of when.
Kotka: I told my husband, “if I am too slow at the end, you don’t need to crew. I will stop and have pasta, chat with people.” But that is the way to approach it. It is a different beast and, I mean, it’s a long time to be out there. I’ve kind of felt that 16 hours is a long time to run, so we’ll see how it goes.
iRunFar: Here you are, thinking about another 10 hours or whatever.
Kotka: Yes, and I don’t care too much about external pressure at all.
iRunFar: You’ll ignore it.
Kotka: I have no trouble ignoring external pressure when it comes to running, because it’s not life-and-death.
iRunFar: Well, best of luck to you as you go around the mountain on Friday and Saturday. We look forward to chasing you around.