Training advice from UTMB winner, Pau Capell on taking the podium top spot

Kit, nutrition, recovery and what's next for the world-class ultra-runner
Pau Capell on winning the UTMB

This week we speak to Spanish ultrarunner and The North Face athlete, Pau Capell, winner of this year’s iconic Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) – a race that includes 171K of trail and 10,000+m of climbing.

Setting a fast pace from the off, the 28-year-old Spaniard ran this year’s UTMB alone for all but the first 3K, following a pacing strategy based on checkpoint arrival times. He finished in 20:19:07 – more than 45 minutes ahead of defending champion, Xavier Thevenard, who came second.

Congratulations on your 2019 UTMB win! Lining up in Chamonix did you think winning was possible or were you just focusing on performing well?

It was a dream to win UTMB because it is such a special race, but I knew I just had to focus on performing well and stick to the plan that my team and I had worked on before – then anything was possible.

How did you prepare for the UTMB?

Because I had been focused on the UTMB for so long, as it has always been a goal of mine, myself and my team had planned well for it. Mainly we trained towards [achieving set] times on each [course] section, and obviously, given the sheer physical challenge of the race, I worked hard to get in the best possible shape I could be in.

What did a typical week of pre-UTMB training look like – was it all on mountainous terrain?

I train mostly in the mountains, but I try to be smart with how and when I run. I listen to my body and will always rotate my training, so my mind stays active. I would never want to repeat the same runs over and over again because it’s as much about the mind as the body.

Tell us about your race strategy and how you decided on the splits to follow?

I ran the course in sections over a period of a few days before race day and I felt I had a good idea of when to push, when to ease off and when to refuel. I had an idea of the times for each section and I just kept working towards those times.

Checklist: Pau Capell, ultra-trail runner
Credit: The North Face

You led the race from 3km in, running alone. Mentally, is it difficult to race without other athletes?

It is tough when you’re running alone as something can always go wrong. At 3km I was alone as the other two athletes running at the front with me, Scotty Hawker and Min Qi, stopped to go for a pee. I didn’t have much choice but to carry on alone, so I just thought, ‘I’ll see what happens!’

You had planned timings for reaching checkpoints. Did meeting them give you confidence that you were racing well?

I tried not to focus on how the race was going or where I would finish, I was just trying to think about the timings only – but obviously your team always encourage you and you try to take the energy they give you.

Which part of the course did you enjoy the most?

Crossing the finish line was the highlight! However, when I crossed Trient with only 30km to go I was joined by many kids, and having this feeling of being part of a group of runners again was amazing and very unique.

Checklist: Pau Capell, ultra-trail runner
Credit: The North Face

Were there any stages of the race you found particularly challenging?

I had some hard moments, but that is natural in UTMB. The uphill at Grand Col was very tough and the next checkpoint at La Fouly was also difficult but I dug deep and I’m proud of that.

What mental strategies do you use to help you get through low points?

I always visualise my races before running them and try to plan as much as possible, so this helps me keep focused and stay strong through low points as I know the route as well as possible. I also try to be present and enjoy the amazing scenery when I’m racing, so this focus on having fun and making the most of my race helps me pull through the low points of a race.

What did you eat and how often did you take on nutrition during the race?

I kind of let my body tell me as and when I needed to take anything on. For example, I did a big [push] uphill on the Grand Col Ferret because I felt so good, but when I got to the top I obviously needed to take on something so I could keep going.

Checklist: Pau Capell, ultra-trail runner
Credit: The North Face

At what point in the race did you realise you could take the win?

I realised quite early on in the race that I was leading, however, I didn’t let myself think that I could win because in ultra-running there is always the chance you can have a fall and injure yourself.

However, when I finished the climb at the Col des Montets I knew that Xavier was at the bottom of the climb around 30 minutes behind me - so at this point I thought I could win.

After the race what was your recovery plan and how much rest from running did you have?

I didn’t really have a recovery plan, I just knew I wanted to rest my body and enjoy the moment as much as possible. I am still planning on running maybe two races in October just for fun, so I guess my recovery plan is to still keep running but ease off on the intense training.

Checklist: Pau Capell, ultra-trail runner
Credit: The North Face

What kit did you use for the UTMB?

I used The North Face Futurelight Flight Series Jacket ($280), the Ultra Endurance II shoes ($120), the Flight Series Better than Naked Shorts ($60, the Flight Trail Vest/backpack ($150) and the Ultra Flight Series Better than Naked T-shirt ($50).

Training advice from Pau Capell, the winner of the UTMB

What’s next on the horizon for you?

For now, I would just like to enjoy the moment after my win and hopefully rest up a little bit. I may run a couple of races in October for enjoyment to close the year, and I may have a project in November with The North Face. Other than this I’m just wanting to enjoy the victory with my team and spend time with my friends and family to celebrate.

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