On the most challenging courses, with the most heavily-stacked fields, Mike Foote is one of the most consistently strong racers out there. Train and race like he does to excel at your next 100-miler
Foote at UTMB in 2013. Photo by Demiano Levati/The North Face
In a 100-mile trail race, anything can happen. The distance is too long, and the distance too variable, to count on consistent results.
Unless you’re Mike Foote, it seems.
The 31-year-old yurt dweller from Missoula, Montana doesn’t race the 100-mile distance very often, but when he does, he usually does it well, and he has a reputation for exceeding expectations in exceptionally challenging and talent-laden races.
Take the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), an approximately 100-mile (166-kilometer) race that runs through France, Italy and Switzerland around the base of Mount Blanc, in which Foote will be running this weekend. UTMB is considered one of the most grueling courses in ultrarunning, and is loaded with top European runners, many of whom are running on their home turf.
Foote surprised some people by being the first American across the line at UTMB in 2011, finishing 11th. In 2012, with the course shortened to 103 kilometers due to weather, he finished a third. Last year, he closed hard to finish fifth.
He’s not the most successful American runner at UTMB – unlike any of their male countrymen, Nikki Kimball, Krissy Moehl and Rory Bosio have all notched wins, including Bosio’s astounding course record in 2013 – but Foote has been arguably the most consistent since he started running the race in 2011.
So how does he do it? We caught up with Foote as he prepares for this weekend’s race to learn how he does it time and again at UTMB, and how those lessons can be applied to any 100-mile trail race.
Foote finished third at UTMB in 2012 on a weather-shortened course. Photo by David Clifford/The North Face
1. Run your own race.
UTMB, among other European races, is notorious for going out very fast the first 30K. Stay calm, don’t get caught in the current, and run your own intelligent pace. You’ll be happy you did.
2. Embrace the darkness.
Most people will see the sun set and rise at least once in a 100-miler. Invest in a good headlamp that gives you the confidence to run well in technical terrain. The extra couple ounces of weight is well worth it.
3. Eat food.
Lots of it. UTMB is a 100-mile race with almost 10,000 meters of climbing, so I’m going to need some fuel. I like to have variety of options available in my drop bags and brought by my crew. I never know exactly what I’m going to want to eat at mile 80.
4. Find race-specific terrain.
UTMB is a mountain race with long climbs and descents. Leading into the race I look to train and do workouts in terrain similar to the course to get both my body and my mind used to those stresses. This year I came to Chamonix five weeks early to train on the course and the surrounding trails to prepare. I highly recommend finding terrain similar to what you’ll be racing on, and training on that as much as possible!
5. Power-hike the steep climbs.
I hike most of the ascents on the UTMB course in order to keep my heart rate and breathing in control. I hike with purpose and push my pace, but it proves to be more efficient than running the steep ascents and often times is just as fast a pace. I rarely get passed in a race going uphill, even when I’m hiking.
6. Protect your feet.
Blisters are annoying in shorter races, but can end your race in a 100-miler. I’m the last person to talk to about blisters since I never get them, but I do know that a good pair of socks goes a long, long way.
7. Finish strong.
Some of the biggest climbs and some of the most fun terrain on the UTMB course are in the last 25 miles. It’s important to race the first 75 miles with this in mind, and with a commitment to finishing the race strong. UTMB is not an 80K race or a 130K race. It’s 166K. Pace yourself intelligently in the first half and you will be passing a lot of people all the way to the finish line.
8. Race with the right frequency for you.
I think each athlete needs to find the best approach to how much they race. I enjoy racing longer, more competitive and taxing races, and therefore feel as if I need to fully recover between the events to perform at my best. It’s a constant balance trying to find the right number of races and when and how to approach an “A” race vs. a “B” or “C” race.
I think sometimes folks race more in order to build confidence for key races. There is value in this, but I’m comfortable at this point building my confidence through smart training. This helps me to feel most prepared (and not burned out) on race day.
9. Celebrate and have fun.
A 100-mile race is special. For example, UTMB is one of the biggest and most-hyped ultras in the world, with thousands of runners and tens of thousands of spectators. It is truly a bucket-list experience. Whatever adventure you’re on, commit to enjoying it and you will likely perform at your best. That is my plan.