Every now and then we find that there is an ultra-marathon event where Camino has around a dozen or so athletes and close running friends involved.
This weekend we set up a WhatsApp group for a bunch of those legends heading to the UTS - Ultra-Trail Snowdonia.
We had a few athletes in the 100 miler last year but this year it was a bunch in the 50Km and 100Km. These WhatsApp groups mean everything to us. An opportunity to help calm the athletes nerves (it's great hearing advice from your coach but it means everything to hear it from someone who is actually going to be on the start-line with you), to swap some kit, to ask 'silly questions' (we all know there are no silly questions but a private group eases this one) and sort some things out last minute.
The UTS is definitely a stellar event. It's under the UTMB umbrella which means that it has the budget to put on a lot of razzmatazz. When you follow the race on their website you have live streams coming out of every pore - it's wonderful but it's also overwhelming at times.
So we wanted this blog to be specific.
It's the Monday after the weekends racing and we suspect that there are quite a few runners considering doing one of their four events next year (there is also the 25Km and the ultimate 100 mile). So we asked our Camino runners what were their highlights and what advice they would give you. (if you have any other questions do get in touch and we will scoop up some more).
One thing to note.
This year there was an unusually (let's be VERY CLEAR - the new normal is weird weather!) warm conditions and we were reading a lot of stories about dehydrated runners. So we specifically asked our runners to comment about this. As Camino Race Directors we support that ultramarathon events are NOT like big city marathons. Yes there is a need to provide some water for athletes BUT it is essential that sign-ups to events like UTS take personal responsibility for 'reading the conditions'/building their own levels of resilience'.
UTS had a high level of DNFs this year and with a 100% success rate from our Camino Tribe we are especially proud of them all.
100KM: Starters 618 DNFS: 221 Finishers: 397
Over to the Camino Legends:
Camino Superstar Teresa finished 65th in 50Km:
Highlights: "... was the whole experience, it was everything and more with the extreme and the views I was blown away"
Advice would be to carry more fluid than recommended. I filled up at every aid station, plus three brooks and even stole a bottle of hubby at top of Snowdonia on 2nd climb.. weather didn’t help.
Very disappointed in aid stations. It was like market day so many people. First station only allowed bread roll! Other food was for other distances.
A friend shared that they were only allowed one cup of electrolyte on 2nd aid station! I didn’t need electrolyte as carried own tabs. So there was some rationing going on! I get the impression they were quite on it with prep/organisation. When I registered Fri evening they had run out of women’s T-shirts! Could only offer me a men’s medium which was a tent! So I ended up without a race T-shirt.
My only other advise is to prepare for the queues, I didn’t realise quite how congested it would be or consider the amount of single file running there would be."
As Romain shared (who bossed the epic 100Km format) about the water situation: 'Even the non-French runners were complaining!!'
"We had 4 DNF out of 7 runners in our group. 2 on the 100 miler after a hellish downhill from Moel Siabod I think - They said they did not expect that hard of a terrain, 1 on 100k due to heat stroke dropped at km51 - as you say it was lack of fluids, and another one on the 50k.
It seems the cut off times on the 100 miler were very tight and you needed to be a very fast runner to just pass them, so it was hard to get some sleep at all."
So what were the key bit's of advice/lessons learnt from Romain:
- We were incredibly lucky with the weather this year. This meant we needed to put sunscreen every 2 hours during the day, drinking lots and lots, having that 3rd flask handy and filled up every aid station. I re-filled on various streams along the way as well.
- Make a plan for everything - cold, hot, wind, night - and be ready to change it. It’s particularly relevant when you’re planning what to put in your drop bag.
- The aid stations are very well stocked (cheese and pickle sandwiches were great). For me the key to nutrition is diversity and having the choice on the go but here you don’t really need to carry 12 hours of food with you other than what you know you really fancy.
- Train for downhills, and do more of it! it’s really the only way to get faster overall (and your quads will thank you the day after)
- Probably the most important for last: Doing a recce is of tremendous help to visualise the course and get mentally ready, and you can even train as you do it. On this race specifically doing the watkin path by night was daunting.
For Exhale Coffee's Alex this event was tough. There were plenty of times when the doubt demons were floating above but resilience shone through and a brilliant 50KM finish. For Alex all the lessons were with hydration:
"I learnt that you need a hydration strategy and that it needs to be planned separately to your nutrition strategy. Despite everything saying 'with electrolytes' on the packaging there isn't enough to make a tangible difference on its own. And it needs to be personalised - just like race nutrition, race hydration is not a one size fits all.
I now can understand the reason for the brand Precision Hydration! I've never used their stuff before but perhaps I'll look them up now" (Al go to XMiles for 10% off all Precision Hydration products use this link)
Many of our Camino followers know about Anson and his legendary big runs (see Arc of Attrition blog) but he also experienced the wilds of UTS and share these wonderful tips:
Now having time to reflect on a few things about the UTS50, and on comments given on the FB message board, here are a few things future runners should consider...
1. each of four UTS races requires experience of endurance running, and I’d ideally recommend experience in a race longer than the distance you are applying for. For example, while I have experience of running both 100km and 100 miles, I thought that the 50km race was the ideal entry point for me to a mountain ultra. If you only have experience of running 50k, apply for the ERYRI 25km race, with a view to gaining experience for one of the longer races in future years.
2. mandatory kit items should not be seen as all you should take – they are the absolute minimum. I checked weather forecasts every day for the week before the race so that I could plan accordingly and took kit with me to Wales for every eventuality in case the weather turned at short notice. This year it was really hot, and although a hot-weather warning was not given, I still packed as though it had been. The DNF rate was much higher this year than previous years, in part down to weather conditions.
3. I don’t think that you need to have trained specifically on mountains to be UTS-ready, but you should try and find the time to build in strength conditioning as part of your running prep in the months beforehand. I found doing loads of squats and lunges every week strengthened my legs and glutes massively to take on the stress of the uphill.
4. Having said that, what goes up must come done and I personally think you need to put in as much work to conditioning your body (especially knees) for going downhill as well, whether walking or running. For me, I also did lots of knee flexibility exercises (i.e. quad stretches, and exercises that condition your knees to comfortably go over your feet). Even just simple squatting on your haunches will help with the down-hill running – this very simple exercise is actually challenging and quickly reveals if your knees could let you down on the race.
5. running a mountain ultra means that you will be walking a fair part of the race, especially the steeper inclines at the start, and to be honest *any* incline later on in the race! So learning how to walk / march efficiently is I think as important as perfecting your running technique. First, in the months before the race, use strength and conditioning exercises to strengthen your core. Second, I used poles for the first time, and I will now consider them an essential part of kit whenever there is serious altitude gains on a race.
6. Use the environment around you. While I personally wasn’t going to risk drinking from streams, I did soak my cap in every stream we passed, which kept my head massively cool for long periods of timel minimising bad effects from the extreme heat on the day.
Above is the Camino Legend Marie - Another impressive finish again 11 hours 26 in the 50KM - It was MUCH LONGER THAN 50KM!!!!
489 / 1126 overall
- It was everything that you’d expect from an ultra-trail race: stunning views, great atmosphere, wildlife (sheep, cow, etc.), technical uphills and downhills, etc. Big plus as a woman: there were toilets for women only at each aid station, with tampons and pads, something I had not seen on any race before!
- The weather was absolutely (and surprisingly!) stunning all day long, with really high temperatures, which to be honest we didn’t expect, so I think it’s important to come prepared for any weather (e.g. take an extra flask of water and sunscreen with you even if the hot weather mandatory equipment is not required).
- Test your nutrition plan in advance so you know what works best for you and have a few different options (e.g. gel, fruit purée, sandwich, Snickers, M&Ms, etc.). Do not entirely rely on aid stations for food.
- Before the race I didn’t think I’d be able to finish in less than 12 hours (vs 13h40 for Nice by UTMB 50k) but I did! I had great sensations until the finish line and was able to run even downhill until the very end. So I am very happy with the results - I challenged myself and was happy to see that all the hard work paid off! Lessons learned: Always trust yourself, your coach and your training.
John is currently on a wild sabbatical - travelling from Thailand to the four corners of Europe. Even making the start line in any form was impressive. Taking on many smart lessons learnt from previous big ultras John came through in a wonderful 28 hours in the 100KM:
"Taking on the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia (UTS) 100k 2023, 103km and 6400m of elevation gain
Still absolutely buzzing right now! Considering this was my first race post my first DNF and that it took on mountains which I’m not so familiar with, just so proud to have come through and in a time I’m so chuffed with. The route that sees you summit seven Welsh mountains is stunning and a definite highlight was watching the sun rise as I left the last aid station and headed up Moel Eilio. Watching this beautiful spectacle having known I’d conquered six peaks, including Snowdon, and that the glorious finish line was just a short number of kilometres away, reminded me why I put myself through the various challenges that one entails whilst out ultra running. My top tip, which could apply to any race, is to eat solid as much as you can. Alongside energy gels, I managed to eat solid food pre-race and at every aid station and this gave me the best nutritional base I’ve ever had for a race."
Big thank you to long-time Camino friend Katya who was taking on this distance for the very first time. What a race to do it in! Katya aced her first UTS in just over 30 hours. Amazing. Check out her Night time pic on the mountain - who wouldn't want to drink that all in x
"1) highlight : getting to the top of Snowden at 4am after a super technical climb in the dark- you could see the stars and the headlamps of people still climbing and the huge silhouettes of the mountains as the sky was starting to get light.
2) advice: be ready for some very technical sections both ascending and descending- it would have been useful to get out in the mountains beforehand- normal hill training (a couple trips to Box hill in my case) definitely isn’t enough".
Another handsome chap who is often to be found wrapped in a Camino Buff is none other than legend Adrian Yache Miller.
Adrian always trains hard, smart and is often the one out there covering each inch of a course before an event.
No surprise to see Adrian complete another tremendous big ultra x
Adrian shared these wonderful nuggets:
"Having signed up for UTS100 a year ago a lot of training and research has gone into this race to ensure it would be the best experience ever and I think my favourite section was leaving aid station 5 Gwastadannas towards Yr Wyddfa at night reaching the summit with a completely exhausted mind and body yet forced to be attentive and focused.
For a race like UTS100 by UTMB I would definitely recommend to learn and understand everything about the Welsh mountains, the weather and most importantly of all is to Recce the route so on race day all your focus is on the race not on what direction or turn you have to make I believe knowing this before gives you extra confidence that “I got this”.
Like many others I got a bit over excited having just reached the summit of Yr Wyddfa the 1st time and picked up speed going down Pyg Track when the heel of my shoe got caught in a stone sent me flying down past the tourist I had to run/limp to Pen-y-pass aid station saw the medics that checked me over confirming a likely micro-fracture in both hand and kneecap suggesting I DNF but gave me the option to continue to next aid station where I had to be checked again and this was only at 12K out of 104K I am lucky I have a very high pain threshold yet I also understand the importance of health at each aid station I re-assessed the risk and knew I could continue.
Do not underestimate this race the 50K is tough and the 100K and 100Miler is just brutal and vicious perfectly designed to break you both physically and mentally."
HUGE CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THESE CAMINOS AND EVERYONE WHO TOOK PART IN THIS EPIC ULTRA. Without doubt we will be back x