Pre-TNF UTMB Interviews with Lizzy Hawker and Helen Cospolich

Aug 23rd 2011

Many a fast femme will be running the 103-mile The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc this week. Five different ladies have won UTMB in the past. Three of them will face off at this year’s race: Lizzy Hawker (’05, ’08, ’10), Krissy Moehl (’03 & ’09), and Karine Herry (’06). They’ll be joined by the second, third, and fourth place finishers from last year’s race: Nerea Martinez, Agnes Herve, and Fernanda Maciel. Two strong Americans will be joining Moehl in representing the states: Darcy Africa and Helen Cospolich. We caught up with two women’s contenders for the 2011 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, Lizzy Hawker (post-2010 TNF UTMB win video interview) and Helen Cospolich.

Bonus iRunFar Contest
It’s time to predict the women’s winner and her time. We’ll be giving away an iRunFar hat, an iRunFar tee-shirt (see store for options), and a signed copy of Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons to the person who picks the women’s winner and then most closely predicts her time without going over the winning time. (Price Is Right rule, Americans) Hours and minutes ONLY. If there’s a tie based on picking the winner and her time, the prize goes to the first person to post a particular time and winner. (In other words, the first correct winner and time prediction gets priority over matching later entries.) To enter, just leave a comment below (emails and Facebook comments are not eligible!) prior to the start of the race. This prize pack is available to anyone world wide.

Lizzy Hawker

You have a lot of experience with UTMB. You won in 2005, 2008, and 2010. In addition, in 2009, you were second to Krissy Moehl. What’s it like returning to race that you know so well? What’s it like returning to a race as a defending champion, knowing that the women’s field is deep with talent?

Lizzy Hawker: The UTMB becomes something that is so much more than just the incredible challenge of the race itself. Every runner, every volunteer and every supporter becomes part of something truly special – the shared passion and dedication make this so much more than just a race – more a shared journey of exploration and endurance within the greater journey of our own life.  I’m just looking forward to the challenge of going deep within myself and making my own journey, while sharing the experience with so many.

iRF: How has your training been going this summer? Have you had any particular training days or trips that were really good or memorable? What kind of training do you do? Lots of days in the mountains? Speedwork? Some of everything?

Hawker: Training during the summer race season inevitably includes something of everything – and is specifically focused towards the races that I am next aiming for.  Thinking towards UTMB then two memorable training stints were a 2-day solo run over the route of the UTMB in June, and a 2-day solo run following the Tour de Monte Rosa just last week.  Each time, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the mountain environment and felt a deep joy in the freedom of being able to move …

iRF: We understand that you’ve raced this summer, most recently winning the 78km Swiss Alpine Davos in late July. For iRunFar’s readers who might not be familiar with this race, can you tell us about it? Can you also tell us about how you felt out there? Did winning that race instill in you some confidence for UTMB?

Hawker: The 78km Swiss Alpine is a beautiful and challenging race and it was a privilege to return for my third win.  Each race stands alone, but the end of one race is the beginning of the journey to the next (a week later I won a 2-day double mountain marathon). Each and every race is unique with its own challenges and demands – but each gives you something to learn and something to take forward to the next race.  These last two races gave me a deep joy and reminded me that if we dig deep in there to really ‘be in ourselves’ at every moment of the race – then surely we can reach beyond what we believe possible.

iRF: Krissy Moehl is returning to UTMB this year, as you know. Who else do you see as your competition out on the course? Are there any other runners with whom you’re looking forward to racing?

Hawker: It will be a privilege to be part of such a deep and talented women’s field, but for me the important thing is to focus on the race rather than to think about the competition.  I hope just to run the best that I can at each moment of the race, to give ‘all’ that I can, to feel joy in my run, and to share an incredible experience with so many people.

Helen Cospolich

We last saw you when you finished the Western States 100 in 20:44 back in June. After that, you went on to win the Silver Rush 50 in July. Have we missed any other summer races for you?

Helen Cospolich: This year I did most of my racing in the spring as preparation for WS100 in June, so my schedule was intentionally heavy then. I raced Way Too Cool 50K in March, Spring Desert 50 Mile in April, Miwok 100K in May, and then Dirty Thirty 50K in June leading up to Western. Because Western was a focus for me, I spent much of my training time on flat ground working on speed, and I think it paid off in my early season races as I PR’d in all of them.

iRF: How has your training been this summer? We imagine UTMB is a goal race. That said, how have you structured your training to lead up to this race?

Cospolich: UTMB is a goal race for sure, but it’s been an interesting season leading up to it this year. I think I’ve found that racing two 100s in one summer pushes my limit for training. Last year I focused solely on UTMB by running the mountains all summer, starting in June. This summer I was still training for WS100 in June, and there was too much snow up high to run the peaks until mid-July. So I feel a bit like I’ve had to cram my vertical training into a month or two. I’m not sure how it will work out for the race, but I do keep telling myself that the altitude shouldn’t be a problem because I live at about 10,000 feet. I’ve spent the last few weekends running 14ers and ski areas. On the weekdays, since I’m working, I’ve been leaving the house as early as 4:30 a.m. to put in some mountain trail running before work. I’ve seen a ton of bears this summer, too.

iRF: You’ve raced in Europe before, and you placed seventh at the 2010 UTMB. Is course knowledge and experience with the abroad racing culture important? That is, is this an advantage for you?

Cospolich: Yes, absolutely! While we didn’t see all of the course last year with the mudslide and reroute, I got a really good sense of the culture and the “scene” of the race, as well as the trails. I went into it last year expecting a course as technically difficult as the Hardrock 100, and was kindof shocked that it wasn’t at all like that. Yes, there’s a ton of vertical, but the trails are so well-used over hundreds of years that they are easily distinguishable, and pretty runable in most places. Last year I was so intimidated by the whole scene of the race, but this year I’m happy to be returning knowing what it’s like. And I think in some regards it’s easier to run your own race when there are so many people around you. I enjoyed being relatively anonymous last year and hope it will be that way again this year.

iRF: You must have a few goals for the race. Can you let us in on perhaps one of those goals?

Cospolich: Honestly, I haven’t yet pieced together my goals for this year’s race. I’m working on that now and should have a good sense of it after I study the other competitors and the course more. There are a lot of very fast American women running this year, but to my knowledge, few of them have done this event before. I’m actually more concerned about the Americans than the Europeans. I think we will have a great American showing there for both men and women! I came off of Western States a little burnt out, raced the Leadville Silver Rush 50, and then I got the stomach flu and spent a family vacation at the beach. When I returned to Colorado I jammed my leg pretty good on a scree face at 13,000 feet, but I’m feeling pretty good now and trying to enjoy the taper leading up to the race and gain motivation over this time. I figure maybe it’s a good thing that I’ve been really busy with work and getting my daughter ready for school and extracurricular activities, which start the week I’m away. But overall, I’m excited to run in the Alps and really looking forward to racing UTMB again.

Call for Comments

Which ladies do you think will run to the front of the pack at this year’s The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc? Who are the possible contenders other than women we named?