Helen Cospolich has an office in the middle of an indoor track, which she jokes, never gives her an excuse to not go for a run. These days, she’s not logging miles inside, but heading straight up the mountains that surround her hometown of Breckenridge, Colorado, training for her next ultramarathon, the world-renowned Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a 103-mile race with roughly 30,840 feet of elevation gain.
Helen, no stranger to ultras, is the 2008 champion of the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run, took third at last year’s grueling Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run, holds the women’s record at the Collegiate Peaks 50 Mile Trail Run, and most recently won the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile Trail Race last month.
We caught up with Helen just one week before she heads to Chamonix.
The North Face: This is your first time running Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Have you always wanted to run this race?
Helen Cospolich: My goal was first to do Hardrock 100 in Colorado, which I did last year. I wanted to run something comparable and local to get a handle on what I was getting myself into. I have never raced internationally, so I am really excited.
TNF: What are you most looking forward to about UTMB?
HC: The whole entirely different scenery. I have never run there. The reason why I run is to be out there in the elements and for the views. The course should be spectacular.
TNF: How have you adjusted your training specific for UTMB?
HC: I’ve been trying to do a ton of vertical – lots of straight up and down. I’ve been summiting peaks every weekend in the TenMile Range [Colorado]. My current favorite is starting at my house and going up and over the top of Peak 8 at Breckenridge Ski Resort, down to Copper Mountain Ski Resort and back over again. It takes me about six hours.
TNF: Are you heading to Chamonix with any expectations?
HC: I expect it to be comparable to Hardrock 100. It has about the same amount of elevation gain, roughly 30,000 feet. However, I’ve heard it’s a little less technical, with less exposed sections than in Hardrock. The highest point of the course is at about 10,000 feet, and since I live at that elevation, I hope to have an altitude advantage.
TNF: Do you have a strategy for running UTMB?
HC: My strategy is to go out slowly enough that I have something left for the second half of the race. In a race where you need to be self-sufficient, and without a pacer, you need to be able to have enough in the tank to make it through the last 20 or so miles totally on your own. So knowing how to pace is really important.
TNF: What are you must-haves for this race?
HC: A really good rain jacket. The thing with these races that have so much elevation gain is that you have to anticipate extreme weather change. You can’t pack too light. If it starts to snow and you’re without a jacket, you’re screwed and your chances of finishing are so much less just from being unprepared.
TNF: Are you ready?
HC: I am. I just started getting a bit nervous this week. However, it’s a tad bittersweet. I leave Sunday and my daughter starts Kindergarten two days later. Although, maybe this is better – it keeps me from sobbing after dropping her off on her first day!
TNF: Anything else you would like to add?
HC: Ultrarunning is such an adventure every day, and that’s why I love the sport. It’s great being able to explore beautiful areas on foot every weekend and know that I can go out for 6 or 12 hours on my own and just enjoy nature. It’s a really special thing and I feel very lucky.
Helen Cospolich training in the Marin Headlands of California. (c)Tim Kemple