Montreal trail runner Mathieu Blanchard is proving to be a force
Second place at the UTWT stop in New Zealand a sign of things to come?
Although he's only been running ultra trail for three years, Mathieu Blanchard is already establishing himself as a runner to watch on the Ultra Trail World Tour. The Montreal-based runner competed at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in Rotorua, New Zealand over the weekend finished in second behind Tom Evans. We checked in with Blanchard after the event to get his take on how it all went down.
Congrats on your second-place finish. Did the race meet your expectations?
This result is far beyond my expectations. I still consider myself new in this sport since I started ultra trail in 2017. In addition, the level in Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) races is very high, with a deep field of elite and pro runners. Regarding the landscapes and the atmosphere of this race, that's what I was looking for. Varied terrains (jungle, lakes, forests, ...) and a culture of the Pacific and local peoples, the Maori, very present.
Tell me about this race, and what unique challenges it had for runners.
It is a race that I would consider easy in the 100K category. The trails are not super technical, the elevation is only 3,000 metres over 100 kilometres and fairly well distributed. That allows you to run almost everywhere. The only difficulty would be the heat. But a large part of this race is in the shade, under very dense trees protecting us from the sun.
Did your race go according to plan?
I trained hard for this race. My plan was to start strong in the lead group and not to waste a lot of time in the aid station. So I took a little more with me in terms of food and water, rather than my usual minimalist version. I think it was a good strategy since other elite runners like Sage Canaday suffered from dehydration. I knew that there was a fairly technical section with lots of roots and rocks. I had planned to accelerate there because I am very comfortable in these sections, and the Americans a little less because they are more used to running on less technical trails. The strategy worked well.
It looked like a very beautiful area for a race. Were you in the area for quite a while to get a chance to enjoy it before the race?
Yes, the Rotorua region is beautiful, it is the cradle of Maori culture here in New Zealand. They chose this place because it is full of energy with all these geothermal formations. Before the race, I don't move too much to save my energy. So I just went for jogs to shake out. During an ultra race, we cover a great distance and therefore go through most of the interesting areas. Running ultras is a great way to visit and enjoy.
Have you raced there in the past?
No, the first time.
Tell me about Tom Evans, from what I read, everything just fell into place for him.
Tom is one of the best ultra-trail runners in the world today. He had trained very hard for this race, and had even decided to come here three weeks before the race to acclimatize and prepare. We ran the first 30 km together, but then he started to push the pace very hard. I preferred to stay at my own pace from there.
How tough was this race when compared to other stops on the Ultra Trail World Tour?
I am new to this racing series, I have run UTMB, CCC and HongKong100 as UTWT races. Compared to the ones I ran, I would say it's the easiest. So a good way to get started on your first 100K.
What makes this race unique?
The diversity of landscapes: humid jungle, dry forests, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, volcanoes, geothermal formation. The quality of the organization, aid stations, race directions, everything is perfect. And finally the kindness and the big smiles of the organizers and volunteers.
Do you tend to stick to races on the Ultra Trail World Tour?
Yes, I decided to face races with a deep density of elite runners. So I have to participate in races like that. This year, in the UTWT series, I will be at Penyagolosa in Spain, Lavaredo in Italy, and UTMB in France.
Will you be doing the race in Canada, the Harricana, this year?
No, Harricana is only one week after UTMB.
You live in Montreal now, where are some of your favourite places to run near there?
Montreal is a great city for the atmosphere, the diversity, the culture, the art ... On the other hand, to train for trail running, it’s not the most relevant. We are lucky to have this little mountain in the city centre, Mont Royal, to do good training. I like to train in the Eastern Townships near Sutton and Orford mountains, and I also like going to the United States to run in the Adirondacks and the White Mountains.