This week starts the infamous UTMB race (Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc), gathering thousands of skilled trail runners in Chamonix. A good opportunity to understand more about this mythical race.
UTMB 101: what is it?
The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is one of the most expected and toughest trail-running events in the world and in Europe. The race takes place each year the last weekend of August between Italy, Switzerland and France.
The main race is 171-km long, following the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc between the three countries, with a total elevation gain of 10,040m. It is known that runners have to face a very technical terrain, high altitude and changing weather conditions. While the elite pack will run it in a bit more than 20 hours, most runners have to run through two nights to complete the race within 32 to 46 hours.
But the 106-mile race is not the only UTMB race. The whole week, Chamonix hosts many other races, none for the faint-hearted runner:
- CCC: 101km and +6,100m
- TDS: 145km and +9,100m
- OCC: 56km and +3,460m
- MCC: 40km and +2,300m
- YCC (for juniors): 15km and +1,100m
- ETC: 15km and +1,300m
During the week, La Petite Trotte à Léon (known as PTL) also takes place. This specific race is also a mountaineering challenge in which teams of 2-3 athletes have to complete a 300km footrace in less than 152 hours, in complete autonomy.
How to get in
This race is tough on foot, but also tough to enter. The entry process is evolving many year to only select the best ultra runners around the world and spaces are highly demanded. As of 2022, aspiring runners must collect running stones and have a valid UTMB index. But collecting Running Stones is not as an easy task as you might think. They are hidden in specific races approved by UTMB around the world, as well as UTMB World Series races (such as Ultra Trail Snowdonia or Istria 100 for example).
After a successful stone chase and checking their UTMB index, runners can apply for a spot in the ballot. Depending on the stones collected and index, they will only be able to apply to a certain race within the UTMB series of races we mentioned previously. This means for example that if you’ll only have the opportunity to race the full 106-mile UTMB race if you’ve previously completed one of the approved 100-mile-long distances beforehand. Running stones also come in handy in the ballot selection because each stone will get you an entry in the pool. So if you managed to collect 9 stones, it means your name will be written 9 times in the ballot.
Facts about UTMB
- The route is a famous hiking path, that hikers usually complete within 10 to 12 days navigating between refuges and the official path.
- The route is usually run and hiked anticlockwise.
- 1/3 of the participants DNF the UTMB (it means they “do not finish”).
- The cut-off time is of 46 hours and 30 minutes.
A fast and furious course
The UTMB race is very famous around the world and in ultra-trail running, which has also raised the stakes for sponsorships and athletes. To put it in perspective, it is like the Wimbledon of ultras or the peace Nobel Prize. A lot of runners will only ever dream of finishing it, but those who cross the final arch and hear the infamous traditional finisher song of Conquest of Paradise in record time, this could lead to a grand future in the sport.
Despite the appearances, being the UTMB winner is a very desired title. In comparison to other sports, ultra-trail running remains under funded for athletes, who cannot rely on competitions like the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc to fund a professional career. For reference, in 2021, the following prize money applies:
- The winner receives a bonus of €2,000, the second €1,500 and the third gets €1,000.
- Also, the 4th and 5th finishers receive €700.
- Eventually, the other top 10 finishers will earn a prize of €500.
If you want to learn more, follow the live event or visit https://utmbmontblanc.com/en/UTMB.