Lizzy Hawker is an endurance athlete whose enduring passion is for the mountains and wild places. She won the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc an unprecedented five times, held the world record for 24 hours (road), and was the 100 km Women’s World Champion (2006). An innate endurance and natural affinity with the mountains led Lizzy to set a new world record running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu in Nepal. Her intrepid spirit was recognised in 2013 when she was a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. The Ultra Tour Monte Rosa is born of her motivation to share the joy running has given her with others. Read more articles like this in Totally Active Magazine.
The Ultra Tour Monte Rosa is a wild and exciting 115 km mountain ultra marathon encircling the 4,634 m Monte Rosa. It offers two unique races in one of the world’s fastest growing sports; a stage race for those who like to savour the experience and a one-stage ultra for the seasoned runner looking for a serious challenge. Bold, beautiful and brutal the route takes the runner in a journey from Cervinia, Italy to Grachen, Switzerland passing beneath a host of 4,000 m summits including the iconic and awe-inspiring Matterhorn. This unique and challenging race provides an opportunity for runners, volunteers, communities and supporters to unite together in an experience that is so much more than just a race. From 2017 the route will follow the full 100 mile circumnavigation of the Monte Rosa passing also through the world renowned alpine village of Zermatt. Conceived and directed by endurance athlete, Lizzy Hawker, the race embodies her philosophy of running simply for the joy it gives.
Ultra Tour Monte Rosa 2015
One Thursday morning in the August of 2015 I stood on the wrong side of a start line. Years as an endurance athlete have given me plenty of opportunities to stand at the start of a race waiting in anticipation and nervous. But I have stood there knowing that the challenge before me was simply a test of my own ability to deal with whatever the race conditions, environment and my own body, mind and emotions would throw at me. This time was different. This was my race and I was responsible.
In the pre-dawn darkness I looked into the faces of the runners standing before me. They were at the start of a three day journey that would take them on wild trails through diverse mountain landscapes and across high alpine passes, from Cervinia in Italy to Grachen in Switzerland. It was a journey of my making. I felt the weight of responsibility. Everything was in place, the hard work had been done, but what would actually happen? Would the runners enjoy the experience, would they have fun?
But just as for any runner the race started and everything else fell away. Just as when racing I became subsumed in the moment to moment effort. There was a simplicity and purity in that, the race took on a momentum of its own. I realised I could trust my worthy band of volunteers to rally to the call of duty and far beyond. The runners created their own experiences, and they smiled. The runners and the volunteers together created something special – everybody gave their effort wholeheartedly, and shared the enjoyment.
For this inaugural edition we had 119 runners from 17 different countries giving a wonderful mix of experience, language and culture. The men’s race saw close competition between Matthias Ihler from Germany and the Austrian Martin Gansterer. At the end of the three days the latter won by over 30 minutes. The women’s race was won by Katie Roby from the UK, with an outstanding sixth place overall.
Over 30% of the entrants were women, which is unusually high for a long distance trail race. Equality of participation is something that we want to encourage so this was a great start. We will look to find ways to support this, whether through running camps specifically targeted at women or inspiring talks from women of all abilities – and I would love to see women’s participation grow over the coming years.
The race route is tough. But from 2016 the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa will include both a three day stage race and a one stage ultramarathon. The stage race format makes this kind of a journey accessible to people who like to savour the experience, while the one stage race offers a tough challenge for seasoned mountain runners. Come and join us!
Female winner of the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, Katie Roby (UK)
How did you hear about the UTMR and what was your reason or goal in entering the race?
Word of mouth. I was intrigued by the route and thought it would be a great excuse to combine a bit of running with a summer holiday.
What, if anything, made this race different to others you have competed in?
It really felt that Lizzy was taking us on a journey, and a pretty interesting one at that. As well as being blown away by view after view the race organisers gave us opportunities to get an appreciation of the trails history and flora and fauna. The knowledge that Lizzy knew the route like the back of her hand and was still able to get excited about the next bit of the trail meant the whole thing became a bit more personal.
What three words would you use to describe your experience of the race, and did you enjoy it?
Breathtaking. Intimate. Tough! Yes I loved it, especially the long weaving descents that led you from the dramatic, snow capped mountains, down through wooded valleys into the mountain villages. They went on for ever and left me with a grin on my face for the rest of the day!
Would you encourage others to return?
Definitely. It was a superb way of exploring an exceptionally beautiful trail. The mountains are on a different scale to what we get in the UK and it felt a real privilege that Lizzy Hawker has shared one of her favourite training grounds with us all. The atmosphere throughout the race felt relaxed and it was a lovely setting to meet other runners and listen to everyone sharing their tales of past and future ultra marathons.
Did you expect to take 1st place?
Absolutely not!!! This was my first attempt at an official multi-day race and my experience in the “big” mountains was pretty minimal so I had no idea how I would fare. I think it helped that I enjoyed the route so much. Running becomes a lot easier when you are constantly entertained by what is around you.
What would be your advice to someone hoping to complete the 2016 edition?
I’m not sure I’m the best person to be giving advice but make sure you have what is on the kit list – the kit checkers are strict! I wish I had spent a bit more time running in the bigger stuff beforehand. My legs had no idea how to cope with the long ascents and descents, rather than the rolling hills I normally train on. Most of all though – look up and enjoy!
Lizzy’s Top Tips for mountain ultras
Time on feet: For long ultra marathons one of the most important parts of training is simply time on your feet. This doesn’t necessarily need to only be running – also hiking, mountaineering – whatever gets you outside and used to being on your feet for long hours. Back-to-back days are also useful as training both for ultra marathons and stage races.
Scale: Remember the scales involved! It is one thing to run on hills, it is another to have 1,000m ascents and descents one after another after another. Make sure that you are prepared both mentally and physically for the terrain on which your race takes place.
Presence: Stay in the moment. When things get hard, as they do, take it moment by moment. Break it down to small manageable goals – reaching the next checkpoint, making it to the top of the next ascent. Eat, drink and give yourself the chance to get a second wind, and a third and fourth if necessary!
Know yourself: Learn to know yourself, know what works for you in training and in racing – it won’t necessarily be the same as for somebody else. During a stage race knowing what helps you to recover will make the subsequent days feel much easier – good food, good sleep etc.
Keep it fun: Set your intention before the race and let it fuel your motivation. You run because you love to run, let that be at the heart of your racing too. Keep happy before and during your race!
Run one yourself
1. The next edition of ULTRA TOUR MONTE ROSA will take place on
1/2/3 September 2016.
Pre-registration opens on January 15th 2016.
2. ULTRA TRAIL DU MONT BLANC
26th August 2016
Covering 170 km around Mont Blanc and with 10000 m of ascent, the UTMB is widely recognised as a pinnacle race on the mountain ultra calendar.
3. MUSTANG MOUNTAIN TRAIL RACE
16th to 28th April 2016
An eight stage high altitude trail race through the wild, spiritually rich landscape of Upper Mustang in Nepal. On the National Geographic Ultimate Adventure Bucket List it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
All images credit to: © Lloyd Belcher, Ultra Tour Monte Rosa
This article is a feature piece from Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.