The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is renowned to be one of the toughest races in the world. There are longer distance races to be found, and there are higher elevations to conquer. Some races go for days more than the UTMB, and others offer more challenging weather conditions. But none compare to the much feared and revered UTMB.
In order to qualify for the UTMB, racers must collect 9 points by completing a maximum of three other long distance running events. The more challenging races may award four points; the tamer races one or two. Entrants must have already proven their running pedigree before they line up to begin.
The UTMB spans over 166km (103mi), with a total elevation gain of 9600 metres. Competitors scale 10 summits, run through 3 countries and often witness 2 sunrises over the majestic Mont Blanc, as the cut off for completion is 46 hours. Running through the night is a standard, as the race begins at 6pm. Faster runners will be done in around 21 hours, but most need a lot longer. The difficult terrain and unpredictable weather can slow competitors further.
The town of Chamonix hosts the start/finish line for the race. The town becomes festive and a carnival atmosphere celebrates all things Ultra. Locals will cheer racers on by ringing cowbells as they cross the finish to the sound of ‘Conquest of Paradise’ by Vangelis.
The race began in 2003. It is a well organised and supported race. There are hundreds of volunteers, support crews and refreshment stations along the track, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the support makes this easy. From the original 722 competitors, only 67 made it across the finish line. The odds improved as the race became more well known, but still only 40% of runners complete the race.
The UTMB is so challenging and requires such endurance that often runners work together for encouragement and support. Racers have been known to slow down so they can have company along the trail, or pair up to get each other across the line. This race is against the mountain, and against yourself.
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