ULTRA TRAIL MONT BLANC, THE STORY OF PAOLO, HOW HE TRAINED TO HIT THE GOAL
Paolo Depaoli started to run in 2014 and he is finisher of several ultra trails. He had a dream: run the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc 170k on the occasion of his 50th birthday. In the interview he tells his story, how he prepared himself from the point of view of training and nutrition. He started with a great desire to arrive but also a certainty in his own means that allowed him to never question his ability to be a finisher.
Q. Your are an ultra trail addicted. How do you manage to combine training, professional life and family life?
First of all my Family supports me and allows me to train and compete, so I have to thank them. I plan everything and every day. I organize myself to train very early in the morning, especially during the week, going out to run even at 5 am or during lunchtime if the weather is good (but more rarely). Also on Saturdays and Sundays I start the running session early in the morning so as to be able to then spend free time with my Family during the day. All this organization works well and I am happy with it.
Q. Your participation in the UTMB comes from a special occasion, your 50th Birthday. Why did you choose this race?
I started running at the end of 2014 because I was overweight and that was the beginning of everything, the beginning of a succession of emotions. I quickly switched from road running to trail running and finally I thought that when I turned 50 I should have given myself an important goal: to run the World’s most important Ultra Trail, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. So I started collecting the necessary points in qualifying competitions to be able to enter the draw (2500 runners are admitted to the UTMB but 10,000 people who have the qualifying points participate in the draw).
Q. What were the emotions you felt when you learned you had been admitted?
This is a funny episode. I was in a meeting with my boss and other people and we were talking about very important things like budget and year turnover and I received an email from the UTMB organization which, of course, I opened immediately because I was very curious. I found written just a short but impressive message: “Yes”. I got up, I went to my boss, I asked him to stand up from his chair and I hugged him. It was a very emotional moment for me even though he didn’t understand what was happening. I made it!
Q. After being drawn and enrolled how did you decide to face the preparation?
I’m a member of the TRM Team Club and have always followed the Training Plans. However, at the beginning of 2019, I decided to do something different and to take part in some races not shared and approved by the TRM Coaches. I did a lot of mistakes and I experienced my first withdraw during a race in May, the Transvulcania Ultra Trail. This made me realize that I would have to go back to following a scientific method if I wanted to be sure of being able to run the UTMB. I completely trusted the TRM Coaches who correctly planned the training loads and the intermediate races. Thanks to the change of course, in three months I managed to recover that physical condition necessary to finish an Ultra Trail of 170K.
Q. Could you tell us your typical weekly training schedule during the peak Summer season before the UTMB?
Yes, of course. My week was organized as follows: Tuesday early morning fast run; Wednesday was a more intensive quality training, with by reps or technical ascents; Thursday rest. In the last 3 days of the week, starting from Friday, the training load was increasing. Saturdays and Sundays were focused on endurance. Saturday was preparatory to the very long run planned for Sunday.
Q. Do you follow a particular sports diet?
Yes, I started in May. After my withdraw at the Transvulcania I decided to rely on TRM also for the nutritional point of view. I adopted the TRM Nutrition Plan in order to control every detail that could help me to become a UTMB Finisher. After the UTMB I stopped following the diet in the same strict way but I still control my daily diet. At the moment I’m not preparing any race, so I’m just keeping myself in shape.
The greatest benefits of following the diet have been on achieving the ideal perfect weight and above all the increase my ability to maintain a good energy level during prolonged long efforts. Following the diet, I didn’t have any problem with training or competing.
Q. Could you define the key factors of your preparation in terms of training and nutrition?
The whole training plan has been the key of my success; every single workout was carefully studied to help my to hit my goal. In terms of nutrition instead, it was undoubtedly essential to replenish the vitamin component (in which I was found to be lacking in blood tests) and to establish the right caloric intake before and after training and competition. Nutrient balancing has also played a fundamental role both in the preparation and in the competition itself.
Q. How did you face the race? Regarding the equipment, the gear, the shoes, the backpack and the nutrition, what choices did you make?
After the mistake made in May, I shared everything, from the first to the last, with the TRM Coaches. Both in terms of clothing and in terms of nutrition. For the UTMB I had a Race Plan where was reported the time and average pace for each section of the race, the stops at the refreshment points and what I had to eat and drink (gels, bars, solid foods, etc.). I followed everything to the letter. I didn’t want to make any mistake, so I also shared with the Coaches everything related to the equipment. They helped me to reduce the backpack weight to the minimum but also not to forget important items. I didn’t want to take any risk.
Q. Did you experience difficult moments during the race? If yes, how did you solve them?
Luckily I didn’t have many difficulties. The only more, if I can define it this way, has been between km 25 and km 35 km. I had stomach problems but they were largely manageable also because I was very committed to arriving at the end of the race.
Q. Do you have some of the best memories of the race to share with us?
If you have time to stay here with me until tomorrow morning I can tell you every single step of the race, I remember them all. From the first to the last. Everything was fantastic, unique, because the UTMB for me was a dream. Many trail runners might think that my best moment has been the arrival, but in reality, it was one of many because it was all beautiful.
Q. What emotions did you feel when you realized that you would be a UTMB finisher?
I already knew that I would be a Finisher. I knew it before I started the race. The only thing that would have prevented me to finish would have been the unforeseen events that fortunately did not take happen. I had told my wife at what time I would arrive and so it was. On Friday, at the start, I knew I would finish the UTMB because I had awareness and confidence in my means. So I knew I could make it.
Q. What advice would you give to a trail runner who wants to run the UTMB 170k in terms of preparation, management, race track, etc?
The first piece of advice I would give him is to search for help, coaching, to get ready for the competition in the correct way. This will also put yourself in a position to have fun while running the UTMB and not to suffer terribly having a bad experience to remember.
The second piece of advice I would give him is, if possible, to do a reconnaissance in advance, taking the right time. I had the chance to do it during the 4-days Endurance Stage Mont Blanc organized by TRM. This allowed me to get to know many more aspects of the race track. I could test nutrition, define my pace and be more aware of how the race would have been.
Finally, in a similar race, like the UTMB, it is very easy to feel bad due to incorrect nutrition strategy and poor daily diet, so obviously, one piece of advice I would give everyone is to program every aspect of nutrition and integration. Before, during and after the race.
Thanks Paolo, we hope that your determination and advice would be of help and stimulus for all the trailer runners that will race the next editions.
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Digital Strategic Marketing Director – certified Innovation Manager – in multinational companies, she is still today the only Italian female athlete to have ran 900 km and 55,000m D+ in the mountains in a single stage race (Transpyrenea 2016, 3rd women overall). She counts numerous Podiums and international Victories on races over 100k. She holds a SNaQ CONI certification as a Trail Running Coach, Athletic Trainer and in Nutrition and Sports Supplementation. Since 2014 she is President and sports executive of innovative technology startups and companies, including Trail Running Movement and Digital Sport 360. She trains elite trail running athletes and she teaches in trail running coach certification courses. She is an author of sports articles on training, nutrition and supplementation in trail running and running, both in Italian and in English and Spanish. She manages relationships and collaborations with Federations and Race Organizers.