In little under two weeks the first runners in the UTMB series of races will be heading off on a journey of 290km, as they embark on the Petite Trotte à Léon, the first of the UTMB races to take place.
From 22nd to 28th August Chamonix will be caught up in a whirl of trail running excitement. There are five races to follow, each a challenge in it’s own right, and all finishing in the centre of Chamonix.
The five races are:
- PTL Petite Trotte à Léon: 290km, 26 500m+, starts 22nd August at 9am in Chamonix centre
- TDS Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie: 117km, 7200m+, starts 24th August at 6am in Courmayeur, Italy
- OCC Orsiere Champex Chamonix: 55km, 3500m+, starts 25th August at 8:15am in Orsiere, Switzerland
- CCC Courmayeur Champex Chamonix: 101km, 6100m+, starts 26th August at 9am in Courmayeur, Italy
- UTMB Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc: 170km, 10 000m+, starts 26th August at 6pm in Chamonix
The UTMB is on the bucket list of most ultra runners and thousands of people come from all over the world each year to take part in this epic race that circumnavigates Mont Blanc, crossing the mountains passes of France, Switzerland and Italy along the way. The spirit of the race is not one of fierce competition but one of camaraderie, friendship and respect for the mountains. All of the races with a Chamonix start line set off from the centre of town in front of the tourist office. This is also the finish line and there's always a wonderful, if occasionally somewhat emotional, atmosphere there as people gather to cheer for friends and strangers alike who have pushed themselves to the limits of their endurance.
Even if you don’t relish the thought of running quite that far, you can still get involved thanks to one of this year’s sponsors, Strava. They’ve set the challenge of climbing the height of Mont Blanc during August and logging your results here. You can either beast it in one go, or break it down into manageable chunks; everyone who completes the challenge will be awarded a digital finisher’s badge to display in their Strava profile.
Trail runners may not be as famous as international footballers or Olympic champions but there are a few names that those who follow the sport will be looking out for this year. Tipped for a good race is Spanish runner Uxue Fraile, who had a great 2015 season and is currently ranked 5th on the Ultra Trail World Tour. Another speedy Spaniard to keep an eye on is Miguel Angel Heras, who has already entered the race 3 times and in 2013 managed to make it onto the podium in second place, could this be the year he bags the top spot? American athlete Rory Bosio will be returning to see if she can be the first woman over the finish line for the third time. The top spots seem to be dominated mostly by Spanish and American runners, with the odd French and Italian name cropping up. Representing the Brits we have Jasmin Paris who recently smashed the record for the women’s Bob Graham Round by running the famous 66 mile circuit over 42 of England’s highest summits in 15 hours and 24 minutes, and Andy Symonds who recently came 2nd in the “ultra” category at the Sky Running World Championships. You can find all the “favourites” on the UTMB website.
On a more sobering note, an athlete from last year’s UTMB was recently disqualified due to doping. Gonzalo Calisto from Ecuador tested positive for banned substances after having completed the UTMB 2015 and ranking in 5th place. He has been stripped of his result and ordered to return his trophy and finisher's jacket.
One of the things that makes the UTMB such a special experience is the volunteers who work tirelessly to make sure that every runner is given what they need; from handing out the race numbers at the start of the event, to dishing out cups of soup and good cheer at remote aid stations in the middle of the night. If you want to be an essential part of the UTMB then you can apply to be a volunteer here.
Every year brings new challenges to the UTMB, mainly in the form of pesky weather conditions. It’s too soon to say what this year’s weather will bring, conditions can change rapidly and drastically in the mountains, but there is certainly more snow on the higher terrain than is typical for August. Here’s hoping we gets lots more sunshine over the next couple of weeks to melt it away! You can check the Chamonix weather forecast here.
If you’re tempted to give one of the world’s most iconic races a try, then you can register for the 2017 UTMB from December 15th 2016 to January 4th 2017. Entry is by ballot, meaning that you are not guaranteed a place. You also need a minimum number of points gained through taking part in other races to qualify, you can find out more on the UTMB website.
The UTMB in numbers:
- 8000 runners from across the world
- 2000 volunteers from 15 different countries
- 16 000 supporters - if you’re supporting someone in particular you can follow their progress by entering either their name or their race number into the LiveTrail website http://utmb.livetrail.net/
- 50 000 spectators who will cheer the runners, visit the salon and enjoy the special atmosphere that the race brings
- 3 countries and 19 French, Italian and Swiss communes make up the various race routes
- 733 kilometres accumulated during all 5 races
- 53 300m of ascent climbed during all 5 races
We'll be posting any updates to the event as they happen, so watch this space for information over the next couple of weeks.