On April 6th, Chris Smith and Cécile Laurent, one of Melbourne’s most enthusiastic trail loving couples will tow the start line at the 70km race, Ultra Fiord in Patagonia, Chile. This event topped the list for exposure in the trail running world, when unfortunately a participant of the 2016 edition of the 100mile race, died.
When Chris and Cécile, mentioned their involvement in the race after blasting through a Saturday morning Park Run, I was shocked, inspired, scared and excited, about following their journey to Ultra Fiord. With such an epic event on the horizon, we will follow their journey and let them provide the details behind preparation, the experience and the aftermath.
What is Ultra Fiord, all about?
Chris – Ultra Fiord is an event across Patagonia. Crossing glaciers and mountains. There are races that range from 50km to 100 miles. We are doing the 70km option.
Cécile – Ultra Fiord is a race in Patagonia in Chile, for me, it’s all about running in the wild where not many people have been before.
What have you had to do differently in training for this event?
Chris – For this race, I have written a training plan which is more consistent incorporating speeds sessions as well as long runs and hills. In the past, I have been a bit hap hazard to racing and training not having a plan and just going for a run. The Alpine challenge was the first time I wrote a plan. The plan is based on 12 weeks with three blocks of 4 weeks. With each block increasing in distance and having 3 weeks increasing with distance and a 4th week being a recovery week. I learnt about this after attending the Salomon elevate session hosted by Majell and Lucy. For flexibility and strength, I have added yoga into my training plan. Also on the side, I have changed my diet having far more vegetarian dishes virtually turning vegetarian. Also cutting down on alcohol.
Cécile – Nothing in particular just a long build up since we’ve decided to sign up more than a year ago. We did Wilsons Prom 60km to qualify, it was also my first ultra, then Alpine challenge in November to gain a bit more experience. I think both events helped me gaining confidence as they are self-supported.
Chris – I have always wanted to travel to south America and I wanted to either go to Patagonia or to the Inca trail. We googled for races in south America and saw the ultra fiord. What stood out against other races was the fact we would get to run over a glacier and snow capped peaks. Looking at the race in more details it was clear for us to do this we would have to do at least the 70km option.
Cécile – Patagonia has been on my bucket list for a while and we were looking at incorporating a race in our holidays, Ultra Fiord seemed the right fit. The course goes off the beaten tracks and of course, it looks to be a great mental and physical challenge.
Is there anything you are nervous about?
Chris – Definitely, I get nervous about all races but there are 2 standout things I am nervous for on this one. The first is the cold, especially as we climb in the snow after a 1.5m deep river crossing. The second thing is keeping up with Cécile. She has improved so much over the last year capping it off with a victory at The Alpine Challenge and beating me by over an hour. As this is a holiday experience we want to run together.
Cécile – Hell yeah! There’s so much unknown but that’s what’s so exciting at the same time, until now every race I did I knew part of the course, here we just have a rough map and a profile. Plus there’s the cold, I’m not sure how we will cope coming from the Australian summer.
What strikes you as something different about this event?
Chris – Just how remote this event and how raw it is at this is the third edition of the event
Cécile – The location
How will you manage the change in culture and terrain, in the event?
Chris – I think the change in culture will be fine Cécile is French I am British and we now live in Australia so being in different environments is fine. The terrain could be a different thing. Watching a few youtube clips I think the trails will not be too different to what we have run on here or Europe the big thing will be the ice and snow that is a huge unknown but I am so excited to give it a go
Cécile – That’s part of the unknown I was talking above, but we did the Vietnam mountain marathon about 2 years ago so I guess we already know it feels like racing in a completely different environment.
Unfortunately, in the 2016 edition there were some issues with the death of a participant, how does this effect your thoughts and preparation for the event?
Chris – This has been a huge decision for us. We had pretty much made our mind up to do it before last year’s event and then we were trying to look at the results and saw the news. We then had lots of conversations and looked to see if there were any other similar races. Eventually, we said ‘stuff it’ let’s do it, we had fallen in love with the idea of the race and we will look after each other. We always carry at least the mandatory gear for events and so we reckon we will be fine
Cécile – We thought about it a lot before signing up trying to understand how it happened, we know that we will need to carry all the mandatory gear even a bit more as we’re likely to use all of these, I think what makes me more comfortable about it is that we’re running it together and we’ll look after each other.
Have you done anything like this before?
Chris – Not really. We ran Wilson prom 60km together to make sure we had the qualifying distance and then to get more experience did the alpine challenge 60km. Both these races are self-sufficient which means you have to think and plan the race more. Even though ultra fiord isn’t self-supporting we will have to plan the race and these races will help this
Cécile – Not really, we love going out to the mountains for training and we’ve done a few self-supported events which taught us to be out in the wild on our own and to listen to your own body but I guess ultra fiord will be very different
Will you be needing to get any unusual kit for the event?
Chris – I have bought running crampons which I hadn’t really heard of before this race. I also bought a Salomon mid layer top again. There were certain specifications suggested for the Mid layer so Lucy B approached Salomon for me to find which top would be best. It was actually hard to find in Australia but by pure chance, while doing the 4 peaks challenge I went into the sports shop in bright and they had the top
Cécile – Nothing very unusual apart for some crampons maybe but I feel like we need to be ready, we bought new mid layers as I’m very scared of the cold, new waterproof and thermal gloves… I’ll be packing my bag very carefully and it will be a full pack!
What aspects of the event are you really looking forward to?
Chris – I am really looking forward to being part of a race with a truly international field. The terrain and the views will be amazing. Also, the test that this will be it will be the longest run I have ever done in both distance and time. Obvious the big thing above all is sharing the experience with a person I love – )
Cécile – I’m looking forward to being out there in a completely different environment with I hope stunning scenery, also looking forward to sharing the experience with Chris as we’re usually racing each other it will be good to actually run together for once. It’s funny I don’t really think of it as a race but more as a life experience even though I’ve never trained that hard for a race before!
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Chris Smith and Cécile Laurent