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US ultra-trail runner shares fun and pain of winning Mont Blanc race

We spoke to the American who lives and trains in Mercantour national park in the south of France about how a geologist becomes an ultra runner

Ultra runner Katie Schide, 30, takes part in the UTMB. She says hiking with poles is a key skill for uphill parts of the race Pic: Mike McMonagle

Champion runner Katie Schide has spoken of the fun and the pain of competing in this year’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), one of the toughest races in the world. 

She won the women’s section of the 171km – and 10km of elevation – annual race in 23 hours and 15 minutes. 

The race is held in late summer and follows the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc walk around the Mont-Blanc massif – that hikers usually take over a week to complete.

Read more: 170km Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc marathon begins in French Alps

Ms Schide, 30, an American who lives in the Mercantour national park in Alpes-Mari­times, discovered her love of the outdoors hiking and sledding with her father in her home state of Maine and on holidays in New Hamp­shire’s White Mountains. 

She went on to study geology, recently completing a PhD in Switzerland. 

Thinks about rocks as she runs

Speaking from La Réunion, where she was supporting her French partner in the Grand Raid ultramarathon race*, she said she discovered geology at university.

“A lot of the classes were in the mountains walking around looking at rocks. It combined my passion with my interest in science. But now I’m pursuing my career as a professional athlete full-time because you only have so many years, and so many opportunities, that make that possible, so it makes sense to focus on that. 

“It’s something to cherish, and I’ll see what happens after that.”

She thinks about the landscape formations as she runs. “It gives you a different kind of appreciation, but I’m not doing any calculations while I run!”

She usually trains at home in the national park, where she enjoys the remote, unspoilt setting. “There are more animals than people, and the weather is always good,” she said.

UTMB most competitive 100-mile race in the world

She had dreamt of doing the UTMB for six years since seeing it on a visit to Cha­monix. 

Read more: Mountain life: 200 years of guiding us at Chamonix in the Alps

“It’s more or less the world championship of mountain ultra-running and the most competitive 100-mile race in the world – the best place to test yourself.”

She said any race is “painful at some point” and “it’s really hard, especially at the end and the beginning when you know how much is left, but there are fun moments when there are a lot of people supporting you.”

She added: “I got into doing this because I really like to be outside in the mountains and really like to challenge myself and am competitive, so it ticked all the boxes for me.”

Practise walking fast with poles

Asked for running tips, she said people do not realise you need to hike in many uphill parts, so it is important to practise walking fast with poles. 

For amateur runners, she recommends finding what you enjoy: “Some people like to run in groups, some people like to do it alone, some run to work or at lunchtime. 

Read more: Walking group helps French heart patients live a normal life again

“See what works for you, and don’t be too stressed about it – if it doesn’t feel like fun, maybe find something else to do.”

She will compete in ski mountaineering this winter and her plans for 2023 include the Western States trail race, a 100-mile race in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. 

* American female athlete Courtney Dauwalter, 37, made history by arriving fourth in this 165km mixed-sex race.

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