“My life revolves around the UTMB”, says trail runner Mathieu Blanchard

"My life revolves around the UTMB", says trail runner Mathieu Blanchard

We leave him on Saturday in Chamonix in a real sprint after 171 km of crazy racing. Heroic runner-up to the unbeatable Kilian Jornet in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, Mathieu Blanchard achieved the unprecedented feat, like the Catalan, of going under 20 hours during the world’s highest ultra. Two days later, this former engineer, who discovered trail running in 2016 after moving to Montreal, was still on cloud nine when he confided at length to 20 minutes.

Memories full of memories, such as the prologue of his next book successfully negotiated at the finish line with Kilian Jornet, the 35-year-old runner, former candidate for Koh Lantacome back to this hand to hand that kept the entire trail world in suspense, and even beyond, thanks to a historic live broadcast on television.

How do you really feel, two days after having traveled, during 19:54, this mythical tour of Mont-Blanc (171 km and 10,000 m of positive elevation gain)?

Like last year, I feel surprisingly good, with just a few minor aches and pains, which are nothing on the race intensity scale. For the rest, I completely lost control of all requests, between media and social networks. It’s silly, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this (smiles). In three days, when my endorphins kick in, I expect a backlash and a bit of depression.

Can the post-race be so disturbing?

Yes, because since August 2021 and my third place here (behind François D’Haene and Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz), I am looking forward to this UTMB 2022. It is a very intense year for me because every time I go to train since January, I have been thinking about the UTMB. My life revolves around this race, whether it’s through my podcast or the book I’m writing, which should come out in January. I decided to leave Montreal to purposely settle in the mountains in the spring. I am obsessed with this race, it is too limited. And there, it’s over, so I know I’m going to feel a void, a big hole in my life. I no longer have a performance goal, so I no longer have any reason to train hard. But I’m lucky enough to be a serial adventure entrepreneur, so I was able to get hooked on another project very quickly.

Can we imagine resorting to a day when we complete such a crazy deadline?

Yes, but it won’t really be for performance. In October, I have to take part in the 30th anniversary of the Diagonale des Fous in Réunion for a relay race (4 x 37 km) with a team of adventurers from Koh Lanta. I should be allowed to put on my shoes for the first time in the context of a race. I will then embark on the Half Marathon des Sables in Jordan (70-120 km) with my little brother Lucas, who had his leg amputated, for a project around inclusion. On the competition side, I plan to stay on top of the UTMB to focus on preparing for the upcoming season.

Third in 2021 and second on Saturday, Mathieu Blanchard could decide to try his luck again next year at the UTMB, the most prestigious ultra event in the world.
Third in 2021 and second on Saturday, Mathieu Blanchard could decide to try his luck again next year at the UTMB, the most prestigious ultra event in the world. -UTMB

We can already imagine that you are planning to aim for the only step of the podium that you are missing in Chamonix in August 2023, right?

It is still too early, but with the weather on Saturday, it is obvious that I have the ability to win the UTMB. It will be the 20th anniversary of the event in 2023. I want to sign up, and if neither Kilian (Jornet) nor François (D’Haene) is there, I would go. But if there is one of the two, it will be without me.

Could you now plan your goals for the season according to the program of the two favorites in the discipline?

Let’s say I’ve been to the UTMB three times and I’d also like to discover other very high-level races like the Western States and the Hardrock 100 (in the United States), or even the Diagonale des Fous. Even if it means going back to Chamonix, I would like to maximize my chances of victory. I have the humility to say that François and Kilian are better than me and always will be. Of course, I could beat them, as I almost did on Saturday, but my chances of victory are still limited when one of these two aliens is on the starting line. Other athletes are extraordinary, but they scare me less.

How could you improve your 2021 time by 1h17, and even 4 hours in 2018?

I really don’t have the answer yet. I have to try to analyze all this as best I can. For 19 years, UTMB experts and geeks had come to the conclusion that it was impossible to take less than 20 hours to complete the UTMB. So going through that barrier is totally unreal to me. The paradox is that I started my season quite late when I started running in March, with a fourth place in the MIUT of Madeira (115 km in April). I then finished 5th on the Lavaredo Ultra Trail (121km), at the end of June in Italy, with a weakened ankle from a sprain three weeks earlier. I felt a loss of confidence and not on top physically. I even thought about leaving the UTMB when I saw my cat’s preparation. From July 15th to August 15th I worked very hard in the Alps, but normally a block of one month is not enough. I wonder if there was something magical, a mental transcendence when I met with Kilian on Saturday.

Did you notice that he was considering giving up, due to Jim Walmsley being 15 minutes behind, before you caught up with him at 120km…

Yes, I arrived like a rocket and saw that it was quite reduced. It’s still a competition, so if it had been another rider, I would have told him “good luck” and then tied. But there was Kilian Jornet, the person who introduced me to trail running. My first trail movie, my first trail book, was him. It’s such an inspiration to me that I didn’t want to spend it saying “I’m getting ahead of you, too bad for you.” I have so much respect for this guy that I didn’t even dare to pass when I approached him. I asked if I could help him. He told me that he had a bit of slack and I encouraged him to stay behind me and then take stock at the next pit stop at Champex. Then we gave ourselves the common goal of going on a hunt for Jim. [Walmsley] whose advantage was diminishing. It started a new run for him when we caught up and immediately let go of Jim around 135km.

Could you imagine arriving together in Chamonix, then being a close duel with Kilian Jornet?

No, we wanted to live to the end. hand to hand which amused us. He was a few minutes ahead of me on the way up and I closed that gap on the way down. On the descent before the last refueling stop in Vallorcine (km 150), he disappeared behind me at one point. I don’t know what he did, but I thought it broke. I saw myself heading for victory in the UTMB. I was starting to think about my celebration upon arrival. My imagination was short lived because 5 minutes later, I was back on my feet, that one (smile). Then he gave everything for me to put a monumental mosaic out of ravito. I was afraid of exploding following him, so I let him go.

Mathieu Blanchard lived a special moment this Saturday at the finish line, together with Kilian Jornet, his main source of inspiration in trail running.
Mathieu Blanchard lived a special moment this Saturday at the finish line, together with Kilian Jornet, his main source of inspiration in trail running. -UTMB/Paul Brechu

Have you ever regretted having relaunched Kilian Jornet since Saturday, as he himself acknowledged?

No, I’m super proud of this moment. I see my ultratrailer career as a long-term project and I remain in my place, very humble. It shouldn’t be for me this time, that’s the way it is. I am progressing and I do not regret not being the first: in front of me is Kilian Jornet, he has an intelligence for the sport and an extraordinary connection with his body. So to be second, just 5 minutes after him, is like a victory for me.

This second place with a time under 20 hours allowed him to prove that his 2021 podium was not by chance, and that he should not look like a former “Koh-Lanta” candidate, right?

Since my third place finish last year, I was seen as a trail enthusiast and no longer a reality TV candidate. It is true that sometimes until then I was disappointed that people stopped me more on the street to Koh Lanta just for the trail. Then, in all sports, we often see athletes who are the authors of the coup of the century before disappearing. To establish its credibility you have to confirm it, and this UTMB allowed me to blow up my impostor syndrome that I had last year.

Mathieu Blanchard and the 10,000 participants in the eight races offered by the UTMB last week enjoyed themselves around Mont-Blanc.
Mathieu Blanchard and the 10,000 participants in the eight races offered by the UTMB last week enjoyed themselves around Mont-Blanc. – UTMB / Test4outside.com

Did this first broadcast on the L’Equipe channel, Friday and Saturday, change a lot of things for trail running in your opinion?

Yeah, it was huge because we touched people who didn’t know anything about trail running. Mr. and Mrs. Everyone met on their couch to zap and tumble into this unknown sport, and saw an incredible show. I must have received 50,000 messages in my Instagram box and many thank me for the great sporting moment we provide on television. It is the first trail running competition to be broadcast live on television, it is great for our sport.

And L’Equipe, like the UTMB, were very lucky that this scenario happened, because normally we get serious about the UTMB (laughs). In Champex, at km 100, mass is usually said, with 1 hour difference between all. There, there was suspense almost to the end. We did not make an actor’s play for television, be careful (smiles). In Chamonix, it seems that the world revolves around the trail because it is crazy there. But it is a niche sport and it allowed us to discover our passion to the general public. I think this is a turning point for our sport. It will have a great impact in the future.

#life #revolves #UTMB #trail #runner #Mathieu #Blanchard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.