He has eleven 100-milers under his ultra running belt, but Yassine Diboun now faces one of his toughest race challenges – the UTMB. A 105-mile classic around western Europe’s highest peak, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is a brutal mountain course notorious for chewing up and spitting out anyone unprepared, uncommitted or unwilling to push through the inevitable pain.
For 39-year-old Yassine (photographed above by @trailjunkiephotos) it will be a first time at the world’s biggest trail running race. We chatted to the Oregon-based US ultra runner ahead of his long-awaited UTMB bow.
There is so much excitement around this event and the competition is so incredibly stiff that I’m trying my best to not get caught up in the hype. I will run my race and give it my all. I’ve pushed in all my chips and everything that I’ve done in 2017 has led me to this event. I’m anxious to take part in this bucket-list race in the Alps and feel very fortunate for the opportunity. I expect to represent the Americans well and hopefully finish as high up the field as I can.
I’ve added some BIG weeks into my training. Not so much focused on super high mileage, but in the 60-90 mile per week range with upwards of 18,000-25,000 ft of elevation gain per week. I’ve also been practicing using hiking poles and working on efficient power hiking, as this will be a large part of the event. Luckily I live in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) – an area where I can get lots of practice on long, steep climbs and big downhills. I’ve been practicing both uphills and downhills at different intensity levels. I’ve also added some specific types of training runs – for example, completing the 100+ mile Angel’s to Alpine Course in the PNW in three separate outings and also running the Volcanic 50 as part of a 90-mile week.
I’ve never looked around the UTMB course. I would love to have checked it out in a relaxed manner and gained some insight on where to push the pace or where to be more careful for technical sections. Unfortunately, due to living in the US and my situation with my business and family, I’m not able to fly over until a few days before the race. The alternative has been to watch pretty much every YouTube video out there… in fact this became a tradition of mine while soaking in a cold bath!
Also, it’s kind of nice to have it be a BIG surprise waiting. I feel it’s enough of a well-traveled route that I’ll be able to pick up my head and look around, taking in the breathtaking beauty. I have some close friends in the Portland area that recently did the route as a 5-day hut-to-hut experience and they gave me some good insights into the course too.
I’ve completed eleven 100+ mile ultra events – hopefully UTMB will be number twelve! First off I would say what everyone says: Start slow. It’s such a difficult calibration in a 100-miler because you’re fit and full of adrenaline, only for the race to then lure you into running hard out of the gates. Another important tip is nutrition. Start drinking and eating early and often, instead of waiting until you are thirsty/hungry. I usually use the analogy of filling your car with fuel. Instead of waiting until the car is on empty to head to the station to refill, only let it go to half a tank and then refill. Keep your blood sugar up and keep the calories coming in too. Many times when people hit low points, both physically and mentally, it’s because they’re running a deficit on calories.
Also, there seems to be a point (or several points) in 100-milers where you get this feeling of being completely overwhelmed (especially at a race like the UTMB I’m guessing). Recognize when this happens, embrace it, and tell yourself you will get through it. Stay positive and break things down into smaller, more digestible chunks (i.e. just get to the next aid station to get some broth, etc). I used these same tips when running the 453-mile Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail last July with my friend Scott Loughney (check out the video below).
Feeding the good wolf
I often post about feeding the good wolf on social media. It’s a story I’ve always connected with and it’s so pertinent not just in endurance sports, but in life as well. What you focus on will become more prominent in your consciousness. The story goes like this:
A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside everyone that are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf, which represents things like kindness, bravery, love and positivity. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like negativity, greed, hatred and fear.
The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second, then looks up at his grandfather and asks, “Grandfather, which one wins?”
The grandfather quietly replies, “The one that you feed.”
The support of fellow runners
I’ve spoken to lots of fellow ultra runners about UTMB and they told me…… start slow! They also said to enjoy the scenery, take it all in, and to save some energy for the final three climbs. I’ve been lucky enough to talk to some legendary PNW runners such as Krissy Moehl (who is a past winner of the race) and Jeff Browning (who I think can do very well this year).
UTMB v classic USA 100-milers
In my brief experience of running in Europe, it seems they get straight to the point when creating a route up or down, whereas in America we build a lot of switchbacks. I raced in France a couple years ago and was amazed and humbled at the downhill and technical running ability of some of the Europeans. I also think that the aid station fare will be different, so that is something that I will plan for. In general, the great thing about ultra running and racing is that it’s pretty standard across the board.
UTMB shoe choice
I’ll very likely be starting the race in the TRAILROC 270 or the ROCLITE 290. Whichever one I choose will be a win-win! I will have the other pair at Courmayer in a drop bag in case I want to switch. They are both great choices and have excellent grip and protection. I feel very fortunate to have these as a tool to help me around the mountains this coming weekend.