Shiva Zanoli and Coach Collin van Almkerk Share Their Top Ten Tips to Conquering the UTMB

The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is no ordinary race—it's a true test of endurance for even the most experienced runners. This year's race, which took place on the 28th of August, was a grand stage for our newest sponsored athlete, Shiva Zanoli, who competed in the event for the first time.  But she isn’t taking on the journey alone; her coach, Collin van Almkerk, helped her sculpt a winning strategy to take on the rocky terrain Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc - Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (UTMB TDS).

We recently had a chance to catch up with Shiva and Collin and get their insights and training tips to take on endurance events like the UTMB. Sound intriguing? Read on to discover their top ten training tips. 

1. Push your limits physically and mentally, but don’t overdo it. 

When training for endurance events like the UTMB, a balanced approach is paramount. Intensity with caution – that's the mantra Shiva swears by. She explains, “The trick is to train lots without getting overly fatigued or injured. It's a balance of endurance and self-awareness." Her training routine includes a medley of sports - from cycling to swimming to CrossFit all thoughtfully incorporated to keep her feeling strong and avoid injury. 


Shiva gets much of her training inspiration and guidance from Collin van Almkerk, her coach. He explains, “For us, the most important aspect was to gradually build up the hours without increasing the injury potential.” He also highlights the importance of acclimatising to heat, recalling a training stint in Belgium where Shiva had to train in “temperatures reaching well into the 30 degrees Celsius.”


When asked about mental preparation, Collin explained that the real preparation stems from the confidence built through consistent practice. “Athletic prowess is as much a mental game as it is physical. When Shiva runs, she's not just leaning on her physical training; she draws from every drop of confidence she's built over time."

Pro tips

  • Train extensively, pushing your limits. But beware of overexertion, which can lead to injuries. 

  • Varied Workouts: Engage in various sports like cycling, swimming, and strength training, tailoring especially for mountainous terrains. 

  • Gradually increase your training hours, ensuring acclimatisation to heat and understanding the value of nutrition and hydration. 

  • The challenges you've overcome become the tools that will strengthen your mental resolve. 

2. Get the right fuel at the right time, in the right amount. 

Nutrition isn't just about what you eat but when and how you eat it - especially when preparing for a gruelling race like the UTMB. Collin emphasises the importance of understanding an athlete’s existing nutrition habits. “You can design a perfect program, but if it doesn't align with the athlete's usual habits, it won't work,” he points out. His primary focus? Teaching athletes how to eat during training and races. He believes athletes who can refuel effectively during endurance events do better.


As for Shiva, her journey to optimal nutrition for the UTMB was more about refining rather than revamping. “We did slight tweaks to my regular diet – increased protein intake, emphasised post-workout meals, and upped my hydration levels,” she explains. While she was already doing a lot right, the tweaks, according to her, made a difference. 


A significant challenge is determining which food products to consume during the race. Both Shiva and Collin recommend looking into what's available at the race's aid stations. Whether it's solid bars, soups, or other nutritious products, the trick lies in personal preferences and strategising based on the available resources. 

Pro tips

  • Understand your body, mix up your fuel, and always be prepared. 

  • Learn the art of eating during the race; it's as crucial as what you eat. 

  • Mix it up. Variety is crucial, both for palatability and nutrition. 

  • Familiarise yourself with race aid stations and strategise your refuelling stops.

3. Hydration isn’t just about water. 

Collin’s first advice is straightforward but immensely impactful: train yourself to drink during shorter runs. Adapting to regular fluid intake can be challenging for those unaccustomed to it. Depending on the conditions, especially in intense heat, an athlete can lose up to three-quarters of a litre of sweat per hour. Such rapid fluid loss can be detrimental – a mere 5% reduction in body fluid can halt even the most seasoned runners. For an athlete weighing 75 kg, this translates to a loss of about three litres over 40 hours.


Collin goes on to explain that it's not just about the quantity but also the quality of the hydration. For example, considering carbohydrate content in the drinks is important. The human stomach typically processes around six to eight grams of carbohydrates for every 100 meters of fluid. Coupled with the food intake during the race, the aim should be to maintain a consistent consumption of 60-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. This balance ensures the body remains efficient in handling the heat and sustains the required energy levels.


Brands matter, too. Not in terms of allegiance but in terms of familiarity and trust. Shiva, leans toward Maurten for her hydration needs. However, she's also trained with NÄAK and CamelBak, both sponsors for the UTMB race, ensuring their products are available at aid stations.

Pro tips

  • Train to drink during shorter runs to accustom your body to regular hydration.

  • Monitor fluid loss and adjust your intake accordingly.

  • Familiarise yourself with brands available at race aid stations. 

  • Remember: Staying hydrated isn’t just quantity but also quality. 

4. Get the right vitamins and minerals to keep you going.

Vitamins and minerals play a pivotal role in optimising an athlete’s performance and overall health. Among these, magnesium is a key player because it aids muscle function and is crucial for energy production. 


Collin explains that its role in preventing muscle cramps is arguably the most recognised benefit among athletes. Magnesium, in combination with vitamin B6 – found in supplements like XTRACT – is pivotal in energy extraction from carbohydrates, making it readily available for the mitochondria, the powerhouse of our cells. This process fuels our muscles and aids in the production of ATP, the primary molecule that stores and transfers energy in our cells.


For those considering supplementing with magnesium, the form matters. Collin recommends magnesium carbonate, emphasising its superior absorption rate in the body. It's the go-to form for many aiming to maximise their athletic capabilities.


Shiva chimed in with her personal experience, validating the importance of magnesium in her routine, especially in preventing muscle cramps. She also mentions using magnesium oils in the past. While Collin may be sceptical about the efficacy of oils, Shiva believes it may offer benefits – even if it’s just a placebo effect.

Pro tips

  • Magnesium is vital for muscle function and energy production.

  • Combined with vitamin B6, it optimises carbohydrate energy utilisation.

  • Magnesium carbonate is recommended for optimal absorption. 

  • Electrolyte balance, including calcium and potassium, is crucial to prevent muscle cramps.

5. Ensure your body has what it needs to refuel and recover.

How you approach your recovery phase can be as crucial as the workout itself. Collin explains that the duration and nature of your workout, be it strength training or an endurance activity like running or cycling, should determine your nutritional intake after. Longer workouts require more carbohydrates, whereas more intense activities necessitate increased protein consumption. A ballpark figure to aim for is around 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, translating to 25-30 grams of protein within an hour after exercising for an average athlete.


But what's the ideal way to recover? Is a post-workout meal better than a recovery shake? According to Collin, the choice between a shake or a meal largely depends on individual preferences. While some might be ravenous post-exercise, others may not have an appetite for the first couple of hours. For the latter group, a recovery shake or shot can be a perfect alternative.


When it comes to carbohydrates, aiming for 1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight is advisable. Using an 80-kilogram athlete as an example, that would mean around 220 grams of carbohydrates, preferably consumed in the first hour after working out.


Shiva prefers indulging in a treat she enjoys, like a pizza, which acts as both a reward and a recovery strategy. However, everyone's recovery journey is unique, and what works for one might not work for another.

Pro tips

  • Refuelling is crucial, with a focus on both carbohydrates and proteins.

  • Around 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is a good rule of thumb.

  • Recovery shakes or shots can be ideal for those who don’t feel like eating immediately after a workout.

  • Everyone's post-workout eating habits vary; it's essential to find what suits you best.

Unlock your body’s natural potential

XTRACT is a patented pre-exercise shot specifically designed to help endurance athletes boost their natural potential, support muscle function and reduce fatigue.


6. Supplement smart to boost your body’s performance and endurance.

One of the primary challenges for athletes in demanding endurance events like the UTMB is keeping their energy levels stable. According to Collin, the key is ensuring a steady supply of carbohydrates. These carbs act as fuel, ensuring that an athlete doesn't "hit a wall" or "run on empty." Maintaining adequate carbohydrate stores helps sustain one's pace throughout the race, and it also plays a crucial role in post-race recovery.


However, carbohydrates aren't the only supplements worth considering. Collin elaborates, "Many endurance athletes don't realise the benefits of supplements like creatine for short, intense intervals. It’s these insights that give you the edge."


Electrolytes are equally crucial. Especially Potassium, given its role in muscle function and preventing cramps. An imbalance can be detrimental, leading to muscle fatigue and reduced performance. Similarly, sodium plays a pivotal role in fluid balance, ensuring athletes stay hydrated and reducing the risk of conditions like hyponatremia.

Pro tips

  • Carbohydrates are fundamental for sustained energy levels throughout a long race.

  • Balancing electrolytes, especially potassium and sodium, is vital for muscle function and hydration.

  • Magnesium plays a pivotal role in muscle longevity and intensity maintenance.

7. Build resilience through varied training and shared experiences.

When training for endurance events, athletes often hit training plateaus or face moments of doubt, questioning if they can push through another intense session or finish that long run. For Collin, the secret lies in knowing your “why”. Your why could be personal growth, proving your resilience, or perhaps a promise made to a loved one. Essentially, it's all about finding that intrinsic motivator that keeps you going.


But it's not just about internal motivation. Training can and should, be diversified to prevent monotony. Just as the body needs varied stimuli to adapt and grow, the mind thrives on variety. Collin's advice is to incorporate a mix of short, high-intensity workouts with longer, steadier ones. The surprise element keeps things interesting and ensures that the body and mind are always alert and adapting.


Shiva, on the other hand, advocates for the importance of joy in the process. Whether it's experimenting with new training environments, like bouldering, getting a training buddy or switching routes to provide a change of scenery, the key lies in making the journey enjoyable.

Pro tips

  • Understand and remind yourself of your “why.”

  • Diversify your training regimen to introduce novelty and avoid hitting plateaus.

  • Whether it's through trying new training methods or exploring different environments, ensure you're enjoying the journey.

  • Buddy up! Training with friends can provide the added motivation and shared commitment required to push through challenging moments.

8. Tailor your training to your unique needs.

It's a widely accepted notion that no two athletes are the same, and when designing training plans, this becomes a pivotal point of focus. Collin emphasised this aspect when discussing how he tailors his training programs to meet the individual requirements of his athletes.


The process begins with an in-depth analysis session to uncover key aspects like their past achievements, years of experience, distances covered in races, weekly running km, and the terrains they are most accustomed to. This creates a baseline that gives Collin an idea of the athlete's strengths, areas for improvement, speed, endurance, and more. 


From this foundational knowledge, a tailored program is crafted. This program specifically addresses muscle imbalances and zeroes in on the training aspects that align with the event they are prepping for. For instance, an athlete gearing up for a fast 10k race, having a history of mostly mountainous terrains, would need to focus on speed. On the other hand, if endurance has been a challenge, the training will incorporate more extended, slower runs.


Trail running presents its own unique challenges unlike road running, where each step is more or less predictable, trail running demands adaptability. The terrain is unstable, with each step varying from the last – sometimes it's uphill, other times downhill. To prepare for this unpredictable nature, specific strength training is integrated. Collin is a fan of tools like water bags that train the body to stabilise itself, replicating the changing dynamics of trail terrains.

Pro tips

  • Comprehensive athlete analysis is the first step to a tailored training plan.

  • Understand the specific event requirements and align training goals accordingly.

  • For trail runners, focus on stability and adaptability training to tackle varied terrains.

9. Avoid common preparation mistakes.

Beginner athletes often fall into the wrong training patterns, inadvertently hindering their progress. Collin shared some of the most common training mistakes below:

  • Pacing Issues: Avoid starting races too aggressively; prioritise sustainability over immediate speed.

  • Overtraining syndrome: Remember, more training isn't always better. Excessive training can lead to burnout and injuries.

  • Balancing training and recovery: It's not about training harder, but smarter. Ensure adequate recovery between intense sessions.

  • Neglecting muscle care: Incorporate activities like yoga and foam rolling. Use a daily vitamin shot and pay attention to diet and hydration for muscle health.

  • Skipping Recovery Techniques: Even young athletes benefit from recovery practices like stretching, saunas, and massages.

  • Rapid Volume Increase: Limit training volume increase to 10% per week. Structure your training for gradual growth and recovery periods.

Pro tips

  • Always start races at a sustainable pace and adjust as needed.

  • Avoid the trap of overtraining; more isn't always better.

  • Embrace recovery techniques early in your athletic journey.

  • A holistic approach, which includes taking care of muscles and consistent training volume increases, can yield more sustainable results.

10. Tap into the expertise and guidance of a coach.

Endurance challenges, like the UTMB, demand more than sheer physical prowess; they require strategic planning, emotional resilience, and expert guidance. Collin explains, "Even when you think you know your body, having a second set of eyes – particularly expert ones – can be a lifesaver". The key is striking the right balance between pushing oneself and ensuring well-being. A coach, in this regard, can be both a reality check and a motivational boost.


Shiva's experience underscores the benefits of having a sounding board during training. “I always thought I knew what was best for my body, but having someone to reflect with, especially during challenging times, made all the difference,” she shares. Whether she was on the verge of heatstroke or faced dilemmas about continuing a race, reaching out to her coach provided clarity. This external perspective often reinforces what the athlete already feels, acting as a validation.


Besides offering real-time guidance, coaches often open doors to strategic collaborations, enhancing an athlete's performance. From providing access to state-of-the-art training equipment to introducing essential nutritional supplements, these partnerships play a pivotal role. “Working with brands like Nike Sports helps us optimise our training at every step,” Collin adds.

Pro tips

  • Recognise the value of an external perspective; a coach offers both expertise and emotional support.

  • Validate your feelings and decisions through expert advice; sometimes, it's just about hearing you're on the right track.

  • Leverage the coach's network and expertise for strategic collaborations and training enhancements.

  • Don't overlook nuanced training tips; sometimes, it's the small changes that bring about big results.

Final thoughts

We hope you were able to join us in cheering on Shiva during her epic journey at this year's UTMB, where she covered an awe-inspiring 103km of rugged terrain. Although she narrowly missed the cutoff time to advance further, all of us at XTRACT couldn't be prouder of her representation and the immense effort she showcased. 


Stay tuned online for more videos, details and updates on Shiva’s adventure at the UTMB.  

Unlock your body’s natural potential

XTRACT is a patented pre-exercise shot specifically designed to help endurance athletes boost their natural potential, support muscle function and reduce fatigue.