There's one thing everyone agrees on, and that's the vital importance of support in ultra trail running. Assistance is often characterised by a duo, a pairing where there is the athlete, the runner, the tip of the iceberg, and then there is the submerged part, which is more difficult to define because its role and actions are so diverse and varied. We often forget to mention the importance of this behind-the-scenes support, without which an ultra trail would be much more complicated for the athlete to manage. Everything would be much less comfortable, both materially and psychologically.
Assistance, the art of support
Some race organisers provide dropbags into which you can put equipment to change or refuel, and which you will find at locations indicated beforehand. Depending on the length of the race or if you want to perform well, assistance will be essential.
Getting assistance requires a certain amount of preparation to make the transition to the refreshment points as smooth and efficient as possible. For some races or riders, the refuelling zone resembles a Formula 1 pit stop, while for others it is essential for recharging batteries over the long term.
Is ultra trail an individual sport?
Mickaël Berthon, who is used to races with dizzying mileage and vertical drops, is one of the finishers of the Chartreuse Terminorum 2023 and has just completed the legendary Tor des Géants. A long 330km ride with 24,000 D+ in Italy's Aosta Valley. Familiar with very long distances, Mickael can count on the unfailing support of his partner Fiona.
A true Swiss Army knife, Fiona plays many roles. Much more than a moral or logistical support, she is a multi-tasker.
Hydration, nutrition, motivation.
The race started at 10am for Mickaël, but also for Fiona, who had a very precise route map. For the TOR des Géants, there are 6 rest areas where assistance is available and where Fiona had planned to meet up with Mickaël. Between the refreshment points, the objective is clear: to organise, prepare and anticipate.
Fiona, a real Wonder Woman in charge of Michael's supplies.
Before meeting up with Mickael at the various refreshment posts, Fiona has many roles. She prepares all the nutrition according to his needs, the race strategy, the weather, his wishes, whether it's day or night, etc. Hot or cold drinks, cookies, cakes, shakes, everything has to be ready for the athlete's arrival.
During this phase, the key word is anticipation. Fiona has to think of everything and anticipate Mickaël's needs: nutrition, hydration, a change of clothes, anti-chafing cream, etc. The organisation beforehand is important. Upstream organisation is important. That's why they've put in place some simple but very effective measures, such as alternating between two trail bags, allowing Fiona to prepare the hydration bag between two refreshment posts, so as not to waste time or risk forgetting anything. If there's one thing that Fiona (and most of the assistants) dread, it's forgetting something. During the race, the support team has to be able to think for themselves, especially when the runner arrives at the refreshment posts.
Once there, they have to eat, clean up, change, and recharge the batteries in their watches, headlamps and phones. Apart from the logistical aspects, this is also the time for Fiona to listen to him, to motivate him and to get him going again, with all the gentleness that characterises her.
As soon as he leaves, she has to tidy everything up and start all over again with the preparations for the next meeting zone. Between journeys, checking the weather, following the race and managing the refreshments, Fiona takes the time to post on social networks to tell us all about Mickaël's adventures.ël.
Companion, cook, driver, logistician and community manager are all roles that Fiona juggles during Mickaël's ultra trail.
We can't wait to meet up with the power duo again on their next adventure 😉