The last three weeks have been a whirlwind for the French-born Montreal-based ultra-marathoner, Mathieu Blanchard, who is fresh off his first podium finish at an ultratrail race. He finished third in a personal best time of 21 hours and 12 minutes, two and a half hours faster than his time in 2018. Blanchard finished behind four-time UTMB champion Francois D’haene.
We sat down with Blanchard to discuss what went into his training for this race, his experience at UTMB and Canada.
Q: First off, congratulations, Mathieu. What is a memory from UTMB that you’ll never forget?
A: When I moved into third place with 30km to go, I was very motivated to get to the finish line in Chamonix. Thousands of people were in the town screaming my name. My body was feeling many emotions. I tried my best to savour the moment.
Q: You were not a race favourite going in, but you were among the elite field. How did you stay composed?
A: I was very nervous and stressed the night before. I did not sleep well. When I got to the start line, I was lined up behind my idol and four-time UTMB champion D’haene. It was hard to tell myself I belonged there among the elites. As the race began, I stayed relaxed and just trusted my training. That’s all you can do on race day.
Q: What was your goal going into the race?
A: I wanted to improve on my previous performance. In 2018, I finished in 13th place in 23 hours and 53 minutes, but the conditions were poor. I knew I had more to give. I did not know that my time was going to be this fast this year. [Blanchard’s time was only 5 per cent off the course record.] But I feel that I could cut down on this time next time I do UTMB.
Q: Where did you train leading up to UTMB?
A: I was going to come back to Canada eight months prior to UTMB, but I couldn’t afford to take time off training with Canada’s quarantine policies. Therefore, I remained in France. My main training block began six months before, where I trained at altitude, doing 30 hours a week of running (often 5 to 6 hours per day). I spent some time in my hometown of Cavaillon, France and in the Alps.
Q: What brought you to Canada? and what is your status?
A: I was living in Paris but I wanted a change of scenery, so I began an engineering job in Montreal. A year later, I began a business venture with a few colleagues of mine. In 2017 I decided to take a shot at professional ultrarunning. Right now, I am a permanent resident of Canada and currently pending citizenship, as the process has been delayed due to the pandemic.
Q: Will you return to UTMB next year?
A: I am not sure yet. There are many races that are still on my bucket list. By placing third, I received an automatic spot for Western States in 2022. I will definitely do that. It is difficult to do the (Western States to UTMB) double as both races are only two months apart.
Q: You were on the television show Survivor Koh Lanta. How was that experience?
A: It was crazy. They dropped me on the island without anything. I had to train to survive and every day we were given challenges to win things. Unfortunately, I was voted off by a fellow contestant who had an immunity necklace. It was an amazing experience, and I gained lots of popularity on social media.
Q: What’s next for Mathieu Blanchard?
A: I am heading back to Canada in mid-September to attend my film premiere for my 650 km FKT of the International des Appalaches-Québec in 2020. The film is called CONFINÉ and it will be airing for two nights, Sept. 16 and 19, at a cinema in Montreal. This film embarks on a special journey for me and the challenge kept me motivated during quarantine last summer. My next race will be at the historic Marathon des Sables in Morocco in October. It is the 35th anniversary of the race, and it’s a special race for me. I will try to give it my best.
You can check out Blanchard’s CONFINÉ film trailer, here.