The Road to the North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc: Meghan Hicks Q&A

Gail Edmans

Lhoucine Akhdar and Meghan Hicks 300x199 The Road to the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc: Meghan Hicks Q&AOne of the best things about ultra-marathon running is the people you share the experience with. And when I took part in the 2012 Marathon des Sables (MdS) – a multi-day, 153-mile event across the Sahara desert – I was thrilled to discover I was in the same race as the fantastic Meghan Hicks, albeit at opposite ends of the final result standings.

Meghan is one of the best in the business. She went back to Morocco to run this year’s MdS and won it in the incredible cumulative time of 24 hours. (My 2012 time was over 52 hours, so we’re not even on the same planet ultra-marathon-wise). Meghan is a 35-year-old American who is not just a great athlete.

On her website and in various magazines, she writes brilliantly about her running career and about the world of running. She’s an adventurer, an environmentalist, and she loves the outdoors. To me she is a total inspiration. There’s no one who understands better what ultra marathoning is all about, so ahead of Friday’s UTMB, I asked Meghan if we could have an email chat about her life, and the amazing things she has done. I also figured she might be able to offer some all-important advice. We sat down and got emailing and this is the result. Thanks Meghan!

Tell me how you got started

I have been a runner since high school, about age 14. I did road races after university and then started trail running in my mid-20s. I did the Grand Teton Trail Marathon in Idaho as my first real trail race in 2006, loved it, and ran a 50k trail race in Utah a few months later. Now I rarely run on roads because I love trails so much.

What was the appeal of ultra marathon running for you?

Being on trails, hands down, is the greatest appeal. I might not be able to live without time in a wild space every day.

How do you fit it round the rest of your life?

Like I said, I’m literally not sure I can live (or at least live healthfully) without time in the wild, so I centre my lifestyle around it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be running that takes me there, as backpacking, hiking, and fastpacking are outlets I enjoy.

What was it like to win the Marathon des Sables and will you be back again next year to defend your title?

Winning the Marathon des Sables is the highlight of my racing career, so far. You never know what you are capable of until you test yourself, right? I pushed myself hard with my training and other preparations, and pushed myself even harder during the race. I do plan to race the 2014 Marathon des Sables and I’m really excited to return. The MdS is my favourite race!

What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make to get to where you are now?

Honestly, almost nothing because it’s so fun to train and race on trails. I give up alcohol for spells of my training, and sometimes I just want a beer! Sometimes I also have to trade in a social event for training, but this is rare.

How much training do you do each week to keep at the level you’re at?

This depends on what phase my training is in. During the three months of peak training for MdS in 2013, I was training about 20 hours a week. Right now, what I consider my off/fun season, I am doing maybe eight or 10 hours a week of running. But I’m also doing some long races and multi-day backpacking and fastpacking adventures that bump up the volume/intensity for spells before coming back down to a base level.

What’s been your best/worst experience?

This one is hard, so I’m choosing not to answer it. I hope that’s okay.

Are there any ‘bucket-list’ races you want to add to your career races?

So many races! I’d love to race in Asia, maybe Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. I’d love to race Tor des Geants in the Alps. I also have several non-racing running adventures I’d like to tackle in the next five years or so, both at home and abroad.

What advice would you give me ahead of the UTMB?

The UTMB is a long race, in distance travelled, amount of vertical climb, and time on feet. Whenever I’m in a long race, I ask myself the question, “Am I doing what I need to right now to ensure that I can do this same thing in 20 and 40 miles?” This could be more simply phrased, “Am I living within myself right now?” The answer should always be yes! Your pace as well as your calorie, fluid, and electrolyte consumption should always be monitored for sustainability through the finish line.

Why do you think ultra marathons have grown so popular?

I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect that the increase in popularity is two-pronged. First, I can’t help but think that the same folks and types of folks who were drawn to marathons are looking for the next hardest thing, ultra marathons. Second, with our progressively sedentary, indoor lifestyles, people are feeling the urge to get outdoors, move, and get dirty more than ever before and ultra marathons are a great avenue for this.

Do you have a pre-race song or a playlist you listen to and if so, what is it?

I rarely listen to music when I run. Very occasionally, I’ll use it as a distraction tool for when I’m feeling tired during a run or a race. I choose songs based upon their beat and whether it matches my running cadence. I also choose songs with catchy lyrics that make me think about something other than my discomfort.

If readers are thinking of getting into ultra marathon running, what’s the best piece of advice you can give them?

Ultramarathons aren’t going anywhere but you just have one body. Don’t force the miles in training or racing; take a couple years to build up to the longer ultras. This way, you give your body’s bones and soft tissues a chance to adapt to the progressive loading and your body learns its most economical gait for long-distance running.

Follow Gail on Twitter @Norsemouse

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