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Elite trail runner Emily Schmitz, 41, used to refer to shorter ultra distances such as 50Ks as “baby ultras.” At the same time, those have been the distances she’s thrived on completing, naming the 50K distance as her favorite to race on the trails.
This weekend, Schmitz is gearing up to conquer 100K, or 62 miles, for the first time at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc’s CCC race through the Alps, from Courmayeur, Italy, to Champex, Switzerland and Chamonix, France. She’s somewhat familiar with the course, having completed the shorter, 56K (35-mile) OCC race twice before, in 2019 and 2021, where she finished in fifth and 11th place, respectively. She also spent some time running the entire course over the course of a few days in her final weeks of preparation for the race.
“That’s been a confidence booster, to know what the race is like,” she says. “I feel a little more mentally and physically prepared having done the shorter OCC race, which is basically the second half of the CCC race.”
Schmitz, who grew up in Wisconsin, didn’t get into trail running until she moved to Bogota, Colombia, where she lived for more than a decade. Despite being at high altitude, the region offers year-round comfortable training temperatures due to the fact that it’s right along the Equator. It also offers a diverse selection of terrain, as runners can head to the mountains or down to sea level to mix things up and run on flat ground.
“There’s a great running community there. As soon as I started running, I felt like I had 50 new friends and I’d met so many people,” she says. People are more into endurance sports like cycling and running more than we are in the U.S., [I would say],” she says.
However, Schmitz, who also works part-time for a nonprofit organization and coaches runners with Chaski Endurance Collective, ultimately relocated to Chamonix at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and has spent the last two summers there. She started running in the mountains and competing in trail races, which is ultimately what drew her to moving to Europe, to see what the running and racing scene was like there.
While she could have moved back to the U.S. to immerse herself in the trail and ultra scene, Schmitz was in search of more variety with regard to distance. She plans to continue to spend summers in France while also dividing her time between visiting Wisconsin and Colombia, which she describes as an important part of her life and home.
“I do 100-mile races, which I think is the focus that we have in the U.S. which is of these really long ultras and that’s not really what I was doing,” she explains. “In Europe, there’s a little more variety with distance and terrain and they’re all equally valued. If you don’t want to do super-long 100 or 200-mile races, Europe has so many races to choose from and they’re just as challenging even though they’re a lot shorter.”
Not having covered the 100K distance before (her longest race has been a 72K), Schmitz is mentally prepared for the challenges it may bring. The weather in Chamonix is ever-changing for one, and at the time of this interview, the region was experiencing a heat wave, which Schmitz expected to face during the race. Additionally, having done the OCC before, she knows the second half of the course will be tougher and possibly less runnable than the first.
“[I understand this will be] just much slower in the sense that there is much more elevation, more technical terrain, and it’ll be quite a bit longer than what I’ve done in the past,” she says. “It’s a new distance for me, so I want to feel good during the race. I think it’s a course that maybe allows you to run a little bit more in the first half, so I’m hoping to just pace myself to get to the second half and still have something to finish the race strong.”
Fueling during the CCC will also be a new challenge for Schmitz, as she found that she didn’t need to stop and use the aid stations much during the OCC in the past.
“I’ve heard they’ll have a mix of candy and European races sometimes have cheeses, meats and crackers, and I’m pretty good at eating in general, so I think I can find something that I’ll want,” she says. “During the race, I’ll do a combination of Gu Energy and NEVERSECOND gels, as well as Skratch chews and Superfuel drink mix.
As for gear, Schmitz, a HOKA-sponsored athlete, is eager to race in the brand’s new Speedgoat 5 shoe, and will be racing with poles for the first time, which she has surprisingly found to be more helpful than she expected in her training.
Aside from conquering this new distance, Schmitz is also looking forward to the UTMB events being back to some kind of normal since the COVID-19 pandemic began, noting the excitement that’s come with seeing Chamonix bustling with participants training and arriving in town.
“I think this is the first year since the pandemic that’s like a full year – last year not everyone could travel, and there were still so many things still up in the air. So this is the first year “back,” which I think makes it even more fun.”
While she doesn’t see a 100-mile in her future at the moment, Schmitz does suspect she will increase in distance from here after having done some longer races leading up to the CCC.
“I’m curious to see how I feel during these longer races and I think that’s also something cool about the sport, that there’s so much to choose from, there’s so many different styles of races,” she says. “Maybe someday I’ll get up to 100 miles, but right now I feel fine at these distances that are longer but not super long, and still pretty challenging and new for me. I think I still have a lot to learn in this distance. I’ve never been out there for as long as I will be at the CCC, so I’m not sure how the recovery process will go. After I feel recovered, then I’ll reassess to see what’s next.”