“The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc is a tough race, that is not in doubt. With 170km and 10,000m of up and down, it can reduce many to a crumbled heap – and the best ultra and mountain runners in the world have fallen at Mont Blanc’s feet.” – Robbie Britton, Team GB Ultra-marathon runner and coach.

(Photo: Ooinn V. Arnason/Flickr)

On August 27th 2018, the Ultra Trail Mount Blanc (UTMB) will kick off in the town of Chamonix, high up in the French Alps and in the shadow of Europe’s highest mountain.

This gruelling trail running event that has welcomed big ultra running names like Michael Wardian and Krissy Moehl over the years, covers approximately 166km and climbs over 10,000m, spanning France, Italy and Switzerland.

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What is UTMB?

From beautiful valleys to forest paths, imposing rock faces and snowy peaks, the trail provides everything needed to feed the human obsession with pushing limitscrossing seven valleys, over 70 glaciers and 400 summits.

Starting at 6pm, runners toil through the night.

Elite men coming in at around 22-23 hours, and elite women taking 23-25 hours.

(Photo: Marc Cuenot/Flickr)

As cow bells ring through the night and 100,000 spectators shout encouragement, competitors run, walk and pole their way along in their quest to beat the cut off time of 46 hours and 30 minutes. And with more than 2000 starters, it is not only one of the largest foot races in the world, but one of the most challenging

British ultra runner Damian Hall says, “On top of the distance, the 10,300 meters of ascent – and more painfully, the descent – make it the equivalent of 10 Snowdons.”

Of the 2,537 competitors who started the UTMB in 2017, just 1,686 managed to cross the finish line, with 851 DNF’s.

But more people are rising to the challenge.

The event started in 2003 with 722 runners, when only 67 finished. Now, in the region of 40% of participants complete the course. But even getting a place in the field is a competition of sorts…

How to get involved

The UTMB has strict entry requirements, designed to show that you have what it takes to participate. If you are an elite runner – a man with an International Trail Running Association (ITRA) performance index of more than 770, or a woman with more than 670 – you could be eligible to qualify automatically.

For mere mortals, entering the draw is your best bet, but you still need to have amassed 15 points within two years (from a maximum of three other races) to be eligible for the UTMB.

Check out in which races you can earn points, and how many are on offer (six points for ridiculously long hilly routes, one for shorter, flatter routes).

Always be prepared

Once you get a place, the hard work really begins.

Runners will already be competent distance runners, having met the qualifying criteria, but there are still some firm lessons to take on board from those who have been there and done it.

US ultra runner, David Laney, who finished third at the 2015 UTMB, urges competitors to learn to power hike well: “If you complete the UTMB in 24 hours that is an average pace of 13 minutes and 42 seconds per mile… with 10,000 meters (over 30,000 feet) of climbing and descending, hiking well is key to finishing.”

The 2017 winner, Frenchman Francois d’Haene fought through rain, snow and fog to finish the 2017 race in 19 hours and one minute, claiming his third UTMB title.

British runner, Lizzie Hawker, one of the world’s best ultra athletes and five time winner of the UTMB, also has a word of advice: “For a race like the UTMB, just being out for long hours on your feet is half the battle.”

In other words, put the hours in.

Running in the dark will also help to prepare you: “Get a great headlamp and use it during your race training.” says Laney. “[Being] comfortable at night and having some experience and tools to get you through will help.”

What happens on race day?

The atmosphere is building, the spectators are in place, the runners are nervously limbering up, and there is a host of stalls selling everything you could possibly on the day.

Pick up your race bib early (at midday if possible) to avoid the queues. Organisers will check your race kit thoroughly, kit you up with your UTMB bracelet and hand you a race goodie bag, not to mention reminding you of the many race rules (for example, there is a one hour penalty for not immediately assisting another runner who is in need).

In the know – five top tips for competitors

  • The registration period for UTMB is a three week period in December/January.
  • The registration fee for the UTMB is 250 Euros.
  • Book accommodation in Chamonix as early as possible, and arrive 4-5 days before the UTMB to soak up the atmosphere and witness the other events taking place.
  • You must supply UTMB with a medical certificate from your local GP before the end of May.
  • Check the extensive required kit list for the event (this includes waterproofs, a torch and a whistle).

Check out the official website for more information.

As you line up at the start line you will hear UTMB’s signature tune, Vangelis’ stirring Conquest of Paradise. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps and get the adrenaline pumping, nothing ever will…

[WATCH] The start of the 2016 edition of UTMB.

*In 2019, the UTMB® will take place from August 26th to September 1st. Visit utmbmontblanc.com

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