If doing five intervals up and down Bozeman’s Mount Baldy isn’t your thing, hanging out with Mike Wolfe on the weekends probably wouldn’t be a good idea.
The Helena resident and world-class ultramarathoner has being doing exactly that to prepare for this weekend’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in Europe. Wolfe did most of his weekly training in and around Helena and estimated he runs about 26 hours per week, but 7,100-foot Mount Baldy provides the necessary elevation change he needed to prepare for the grueling 100-mile footrace that begins Friday in Chamonix, France.
“During the week, I am constantly running in the hills around Helena, but for this race, Mount Ascension and Mount Helena feel small,” said Wolfe, a 33-year-old attorney who is sponsored by The North Face. “I had to get out of town and get more elevation change — 5,000 feet of uninterrupted climbing and descending five times.
“For mountain races like this, it’s all about your legs being able to climb steep climbs when you’re tired, while having enough juice left for the downhill portions.”
The UTMB — Wolfe’s sixth 100-miler — is among the most difficult foot races in the world, featuring more than 31,000 feet of positive altitude change. Hikers traditionally complete the route, which circles the Mont Blanc massif through France, Italy and Switzerland, in a little more than a week. Wolfe hopes to navigate the Tour du Mont Blanc hiking path in about 20 hours.
He’ll have to if he hopes to finish with the leaders, a group that will feature two-time champion Kilian Jornet of Spain and defending champion Jez Bragg of the UK.
Wolfe was second to Bragg in last year’s UTMB, but the 2010 version was shortened to 62 miles and restarted because of poor weather and a landslide that destroyed part of the trail. Of the original 2,500 runners who showed up to compete last year, 1,500 showed up for the restart of the race.
“One of the reasons I wanted to go back to France was certainly to run the full distance, but the main reason I want to go back is because I think it’s hands down the most amazing ultrarunning race in the world,” Wolfe said. “The setting, the event, the competition, it’s all there. It’s the deepest field of any race this year other than Western States.”
Despite the thinned field and shorter distance, Wolfe still ranked the finish as his career highlight. But that all changed earlier this summer when he placed a close second behind Jornet at the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Wolfe finished in 15 hours, 38 minutes, just 4 minutes behind Jornet.
The 23-year-old Jornet is developing quite a reputation in the world of ultrarunning, and Wolfe learned first-hand what he’s up against at Western States.
“Everything I heard about him was certainly confirmed at Western States,” Wolfe said. “He’s the top mountain runner in the world, one of the most incredible athletes I’ve ever competed against. The mountains are his strong point and there are a lot of mountains in this race. He floats up the hills and he can run the downhills as fast as anyone. He’s certainly the guy to beat, but it’s going to take a perfect race to beat Kilian.”
Jornet also has great knowledge of the course, Wolfe said, because he is living and training in Chamonix.
“He’s going out there planning to win,” said Wolfe, who added that cracking top 10 would be something to celebrate at this year’s star-studded event. “I’m excited to compete against this deep of a field.”
Wolfe grew up in Bozeman and said he played some soccer as a youngster, but didn’t run competitively in high school. He graduated from Bozeman High, studied political science at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, then studied law at the University of Montana before moving to Helena to work for the Indian Country Crime Unit.
He said he didn’t get too serious about racing until he was in his mid-20s. He ran his first 100-miler in 2006 and didn’t disappoint, completing the Grand Teton 100-mile in Alta, Wyo., in 24:12 — breaking the old course record by more than two hours.
Five years later, he’s prepared for his biggest test yet.
“I feel good right now and I feel like I’m in great shape, but you never know what will happen in these long races,” said Wolfe, who like all racers will be required to wear a pack stocked with a rain jacket, a long sleeve shirt, a hat, rain pants, leggings, waterproof gloves, an emergency blanket, two headlamps, and a cell phone that works in France, Italy and Switzerland. “… That’s a lot of stuff to carry, but you have to be ready for anything.”
The race begins at 10 a.m. Friday MDT and Wolfe should finish around 6 a.m. Saturday. Follow the event online at www.ultratrailmb.com.