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Athlete Interviews

Meredith June

Meredith June Edwards: Elite Athlete Interview

Meredith June Edwards: Elite Athlete Interview
By Alice Hunter Morrison
Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, writer for RunUltra, author of “Dodging Elephants: 8000 Miles Across Africa by Bike,” and Special Correspondent for IRUN4ULTRA, a subsidiary of Hope So Bright.
 

Meredith June Edwards

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

Meredith June Edwards, Mere June, or Night Mere, as she says her friends like to call her, is an elite trail and ultra runner and ski mountaineer. She is from Jackson, Wyoming and says Wyoming is exactly where she wants to be in the world, “Love me some Tetons!” is her favorite phrase.
She took second place in the TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie) in August, one of the races at the great mountain festival of running,  UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) in Chamonix, and came in 35th. The race is 119 kilometers long with a huge 7,250 meters of ascent. This was a real triumph for the talented American. We caught up with her just after the race.
Q: Congratulations on your fantastic run, Meredith, did you think you would be on the podium?
A:  I was shocked! Last year I came in 10th at CCC. This year I thought, top five. Never did I think I would go out and lead the race and then come in second place. I didn’t know where I was in the placings until 52 kilometers when my support crew said I was number one. Then I had to tell myself, “Don’t freak out. Head down. There is a lot of race left, and a lot can happen.”
Q: Didn’t you actually led the race for a lot of the way – ahead of the eventual winner, Delphine Avenier?
A: She wasn’t far off for most of the day. I would see her at the aid stations. We were neck and neck. We swapped leads. The longest climb of the race was after 51 kilometers and we were together that whole climb. It was so hot that I was saying, “Tres Chaud,” and she kept saying, “Go slow.”
Q: How did you feel when she passed you?
A: It is a humbling experience. I don’t like to get passed.
Q: It was incredibly hot out there. How did that impact your nutrition and hydration?
A: I was really worried on that long climb as it was the hottest part of the day. I tried to eat lots of food. I didn’t have enough salt in me nor did I take salt tablets. That was a mistake! Last year, I got through the CCC by just eating the soup at the aid stations. But this year it was super hot.
Q: The whole course is tricky, but was there anything that stood out?
A: The climb down from the Col de Tricot was the steepest stretch I have ever done. It was HEINOUS! But the hardest place to run was coming out of Cormet de Roselend. We had to run through a cow pasture. It was uneven and all mud. Kind of frustrating! I don’t think I have cursed so much in my life.
Q: How did TDS compare to some of the U.S. races you do? Many American athletes tell us running in Europe is different.
A: I do sky running in the U.S. and we try to mimic European sky running. I would say that CCC is comparable to that. But TDS was a whole different thing. At times it didn’t even feel like I was on a trail. It was extremely rocky and steep. I am from Jackson and the Tetons are technical but this terrain was very hard, steep, and unique.
Q: Tell us about your training for this event.
A: I am strong on the uphill and can hold a good gear, but last year at CCC, my speed wasn’t there. Eric Orton, my coach, sat me down and said we needed to improve my speed. I went back to the track and did interval work with repeats every Monday. This really paid off as it made my race pace easier. I made great time in the flat sections when I could run hard and it helped on the uphills.  I find that ski mountaineering racing (skimo) strengthens my uphill capability. I also weight train. I have worked with the same trainer, Chris Butler, for two years. I can now deadlift almost double my bodyweight.
Q: What’s next for you, now that you have this big achievement under your belt?
A: I want to do the Everest Base Camp marathon in May. A personal ambition of mine is to climb up Denali. I really want to go over there and experience the culture.

Meredith June Edwards

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

FIVE THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT MEREDITH
 

  • She likes hard dates (the fruit…).
  • She dated a Frenchman for a year and a half and his mom came out to support her during TDS, which almost made her cry.
  • She has beat men and women alike to become first and has set the course record for running around a volcano in the Philippines.
  • She has a dog called Mo who is a “Chug,” which a cross between a Chihuahua and a Pug.
  • The favorite song on her playlist is “Broken Arrow.”

 
Thanks for talking to us at IRun4Ultra Meredith, and good luck with your next challenge!
 
Follow @merejune and @IRun4Ultra on Instagram 

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UTMB

An American in Paris (well, Chamonix): USA triumph at UTMB

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

The slogan for this year’s legendary UTMB race should have been, “The Americans are coming…”
The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) has mythic status. Its extreme difficulty coupled with its extreme beauty make it irresistible to ultra runners, and the draw is always heavily oversubscribed. It was first held in 2003 and the route takes you around the stunning scenery of Mont Blanc and the encircling peaks. The festival includes five races between 22nd and 28th August. The race center is in Chamonix in the French Alps.

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

© UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

The five races are:

  • UTMB: Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (170 km +10,000 m)
  • CCC: Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (101 km +6,100 m)
  • TDS: Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (119 km +7,250 m)
  • OCC: Orsières – Champex – Chamonix (55 km +3,300 m)
  • PTL: La Petite Trotte à Léon (approx. 290 km +26,500 m)

UTMB is a single-stage race and passes through three different countries as it follows the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc across France, Italy and Switzerland. The race varies very slightly in different years and in this edition, it was 170km with 10,000m of ascent. 2500 starters set off but there was a heavy drop out rate.
This year a couple of the big names dropped early including two of the favorites – Rory Bosio of the USA and  Luis Hernando of Spain.  
Before the race, Anton Krupicka had picked Hernando as a favorite.

“It is hard to bet against Luis Hernando and Zach Miller has the fire for it. For the women, Caroline Chaverot has had a great season and also Magdalena Boulet”

Jason Schlarb, who is one of our IRUN4ULTRA  ambassadors was also a casualty. On his Facebook page, he posted this moving note about how it felt to have to DNF (did not finish) and what it meant for his son, Felix.

It was a real disappointment to drop today. I felt really good training in August but the body was a wreck today. The hardest part was the massive disappointment Felix had from my drop. He was crushed. He cried and told me he wanted me to do UTMB. We have been in Europe for 6 weeks getting ready for UTMB, he has a UTMB t-shirt, he did the kids race, UTMB was his world this month. I am Felix’s hero. We run together on trails every day together. My drop was almost like having Christmas canceled. My heart is broken.”

RACE LEADERS

Photo Credit: © UTMB® - photo : Pascal Tournaire

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

But for those who stayed the course, it was to be a magnificent race. Zach Miller of the USA was in the lead for a large part of the race, proving that he did have that fire. In the end, though he was unable to hold onto first place and Ludovic Pommeret of France chased him, passed him and took the win with 25 minutes to spare. Gediminas Grinius from Lithuania put in a very impressive performance to come in second. Then there was a late contender. Tim Tollefson from the USA had been behind but clawed his way up, clicking past the other competitors to come in at third, to his own, and everyone else’s delight.
Speaking after the race, he told us what it felt like.


There was not long to wait until there was more great news for America. Tim was followed in by David Laney (third last year) who had also run an astounding race. He crossed the finishing line and had clearly given it all he had, as he collapsed, showing just how much these athletes sacrifice of themselves to be the best.

Zach Miller, who was given the accolade   “most aggressive runner” by the UTMB TV crew, completed the trio, making it in 6th place.

After the race, one of his sponsors, Brent Hollowell, Vice President of Marketing for NATHAN said:
“ The first 85 miles were nothing short of amazing and the last twenty miles were heroic. You can’t watch that kid and not been inspired by the way he goes out at 100% and let’s what happens happen.”
The USA may not have taken first or second place, but the men’s gutsy performances and sheer charm won over the Chamonix crowd. 
The women’s race went to Caroline Chaverot, giving France the one/two. The French flags were out in force in town this evening and deservedly so.  

Photo Credit: © UTMB® - photo : Pascal Tournaire

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

But don’t forget for the main body of the field, they still have a long night and day ahead of them and a thunderstorm has just broken over the mountains. The cut off time is 46 hours which will bring us to 4pm tomorrow evening local time.

FINAL RANKINGS

  1. Ludovic POMMERET, France 22:00:02
  2. Gediminas GRINIUS, Lithuania 22:26.05
  3. Tim TOLLEFSON, USA, 22:30.38

WOMEN’S RANKINGS

  1. Caroline CHAVEROT, France, 25:15:40
  2. Andrea HUSER, Switzerland, 25:22:56
  3. Uxue FRAILE AZPEITIA, Spain, 26:15:18

Keep across our Twitter feed for live updates, our Facebook page for new videos and our Instagram feed for the best pictures from the course @IRUN4ULTRA
Read more inspiration from the stars of UTMB past and present https://irun4ultra.com/2016/08/26/thoughts-on-utmb/

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The UTMB Course: An Expert Preview

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UTMB

Arête du Mont Favre © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

August 24, 2016
By Alice Hunter Morrison
Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, a writer for IRun4Ultra, author of “Dodging Elephants: 8000 Miles Across Africa by Bike” and Special Correspondent for IRUN4ULTRA.
Ester Sofia Alves is a Top 10 female UTMB finisher. She is in Chamonix for her third Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc race and is running for Salomon Portugal. This year she is hoping to break her personal record and finish the 170-kilometer course in 28 hours. We caught up with her just after she had collected her race bib and asked her to talk us through the course.

UTMB

Arête du Mont Favre © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

The Facts
Start date: Friday, August 26 at 18:00
Start and finish: Chamonix, French Alps
Distance: 170 kilometers
Elevation: 10,000 meters
Number of Runners: 1900
UTMB in the words of Ester Sofia Alves
 

Mont Blanc

PTL © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

“UTMB is like the Mecca of trails. Everyone wants to run around Mont Blanc. It is SO hard. It has nine tough climbs and you get cold at the top of the passes and hot while in the lowest valleys. The heat this year is going to make it a hard race. We have the best runners in the world gathered here, so although it is beautiful – gorgeous in fact – it is also very competitive.
In my experience, everyone wants to try and win this race before the 10-kilometer mark, so they set off quickly and then the real crunch point comes at Champex-Lac. That is the point where many elites blew up last year. It is also the point where you can tell who is going to win.
So, the course starts off with a fast, flat 8 kilometer to the first climb, Le Delevret, to which you can also power up. Then the next climb up, the Croix du Bonhomme, is more technical, as are the next three climbs. They tire you out.
The front of the pack will pass through Courmayeur (78 kilometers) while it is still dark. But, for most racers, they get to that stage as day breaks or during full daylight. That is when you get a new battery. It is a great vibe. Some people start passing and the race goes on.
Then, you need to get into your rhythm for the next section. It brings you up the Grand col Ferret, which is the highest part of the course at 2525 meters. Then, it is down to the lake…
For the last three climbs after the lake, you don’t use your legs, you use your soul. You have to put your trust in your ambition.”
The UTMB Dream
For many runners, UTMB is the dream race and the buzz in Chamonix during race week is palpable. The fastest runners are expected to complete the course in approximately 21 hours. The cut-off point is 46 hours 30 minutes.
The sheer size of the organization is astounding with over 2000 volunteers working the five races and competitions for young people and children that comprise the entire event. UTMB is the jewel in the crown and is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour.
We wish Ester and all the other runners the best of luck as they take on the ultimate mountain race. We will be following live with updates on Facebook and Twitter, so please join us!
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Mohamad Ahansal

Mohamad Ahansal Interview

Mohamad Ahansal Interview

By Alice Hunter Morrison, Moroccan-based Journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, RunUltra, and Special Correspondent to Hope So Bright

Mohamad Ahansal is a hero in his home country of Morocco and a superstar amongst trail runners. He has run the Marathon des Sables, the toughest race on earth, which takes place annually in the Sahara Desert 21 times.  It is a six-day trail race covering over 250 kilometers in the most hostile environment on earth. Of those twenty-one runs, Ahansal has won the race five times and been runner-up ten times.  That is an extraordinary feat.

Now, Ahansal is taking on the legendary Badwater ultra marathon. Badwater is a 135-mile (217 km) course starting at 279 feet (85 m) below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California’s Death Valley, and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet (2548 m) at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney. It takes place in mid-July when the weather conditions are horrific and temperatures are more than 120 °F (49 °C), even in the shade.

Competitors have 48 hours to finish the race. You can only compete if you are invited, and only the elites are invited.

Ahansal will be running as an Ambassador for Hope So Bright to raise awareness about children who struggle with autism. One out of ten children are diagnosed with the disorder in the United States and Hope So Bright, through their elite running team and “I Run 4 Ultra” campaign, are publicizing the issue and looking at different ways to treat the symptoms of autism.

Ahansal didn’t start running competitively until he was in his late teens.  As a child growing up near Zagora, in the desert regions south of Morocco, he had a very active life. “My school was seven kilometers away,“ he says, “so, I ran there and back and that was my early conditioning.”

When he was 17, Ahansal entered his first competition. “It was Eid Al Arsh, the festival of the coronation, on the third of March, and there were lots of festivities to celebrate, including races. All the boys and young men in the area signed up. I wore green plastic, heavy football boots. I saw that everyone else was wearing trainers so, I took my boots off, left them at the start and I ran barefoot. I ran over the sand and the stones as fast as I could and I finished second. It was the first time I realized I could do it and it was completely natural. I didn’t need preparation or training.”

However, Ahansal will be training for Badwater.  “I am focusing on three types of training,“ he said. “Heat, mountains, and altitude. The heat should be no problem as it regularly reaches these kinds of temperatures in Zagora, my home. As for the mountains, I am going to be running the route of the trail marathon that is in Morocco at the end of May, the Trans Atlas Marathon.  To prepare for the altitude I will spend some time running in the High Atlas and go up Mount Toubkal, which is 4,167 m.
For someone who has triumphed so often at the Marathon des Sables, will Badwater still pose a challenge? I asked.
“Yes! In a way it was a crazy decision to sign up,“ says Ahansal. “It is almost the same distance but Marathon des Sables takes six days and Badwater is non-stop.  I have never run this far in one race.  Yes, the temperature will be the same, but the quality of the sun will be different.  The altitude, the humidity and the difference between the desert plain and the mountains are all factors. At the start, it is going to be very dry with lots of heat coming up from the ground, and then by the end of the race, you’re at high altitude. This is the difficulty!”
Ahansal is running to support children who suffer from autism. I asked him if that was a problem in Morocco also. “It never used to be,” he said. “Before, children walked to school and ate dates, bread, and oil. They moved around a lot. But now, we go everywhere in cars and it is all about fast food – kids are always asking to eat at McDonald’s.”
For the race itself, Ahansal’s aim is to try and win the race. It will be very difficult he acknowledges as the competition is tough, but he hopes that his experiences in the desert with the Marathon des Sables and in the mountains with the Trans Atlas Marathon will stand him in good stead.

Ahsanal wants to win that place on the podium for team “I Run 4 Ultra” and Hope So Bright. “I am so proud to be running for Hope So Bright. I want to do as much as I can to publicize the problems that children face when diagnosed with autism. I dedicate my race and performance to these children.”

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