If you are a trail runner or are interested in trail running, you probably know the UTMB race. It is among the most important, thrilling, competitive and challenging ultramarathon trail events worldwide.
The UTMB race takes place during the last weekend of August, when the summer season is at its peak. However, most participating runners usually show up a few days earlier to explore the area and get comfortable with the weather.
Chamonix in France hosts thousands of runners and onlookers during the Ultra Trail Mont- Blanc. Chamonix is located at the base of Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. Mont-Blanc has numerous trails and tracks where runners compete during the trail running competition.
The first Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc race took place in 2003 with only 700 runners. In the subsequent years, the number kept growing tremendously, with the highest number of runners being 6,000 in 2006. After that, the organisers have become stricter with the qualifying conditions to give equal and fair chances to all runners. Currently, the qualifying criterion is solely based on a runner’s experience, and the number of runners per year is capped at 2,500.
Mont-Blanc is the highest mountain among all the Alps found in Italy and France. It is a dream destination for most nature lovers, mountain climbers, and hikers, with beautiful valleys, icy summits, numerous glaciers and breathtaking granite pinnacles on its edges.
The perfect time to visit Mont-Blanc and experience its glory is during the summer, from June to September. The Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc happens during the peak of the summer in the last week of August. Mont-Blanc has numerous trails and tracks with beautiful scenery, although the terrain varies depending on a particular route. Some running tracks are smooth, while others are rough and rocky.
Numerous other races occur during the UTMB week, although the Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc race attracts the most runners and spectators. Some of the different modalities include Petite Trotte à Lèon (PTL), Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS), Orsières-Champex-Chamonix (OCC), Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC) and UTMB.
The world-famous Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc covers 170km and has a cut-off time of 46:30 hours. It is one of the hardest ultra-marathons in the world, with an ascent of over 10,000m. Therefore, it is only open to experienced runners who can survive extremely tough terrains and weather conditions.
The Petite Trotte à Léon is considered the most challenging race because it covers tough terrain and is mentally and physically demanding. It consists of a team of 2 or 3 runners who need to complete a 290 km distance and an ascent of 26,500 m. It has a fixed cut-off time of 151:30 hours.
The Traces des Ducs de Savoie needs a lot of mountain experience as it covers 119 km and an ascent of about 7,250m. Runners begin at Courmayeur, following the Grande Randonnée trail and finish at Chamonix in 33 hours.
The Orsières-Champex-Chamonix is a beginner-friendly race and covers about 55 km and an ascent of 3,500 m. It starts at the Orsières, and the maximum running time is capped at 14:30 hours.
This 100 km race, also known as Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix, begins at Courmayeur through Champex-Lac and ends at Chamonix. It has a cut-off time of 26:30 hours and an ascent of 6,100 m.
The UTMB route is a 170km distance that involves climbing the Mont Blanc in France, Italy and Switzerland. Runners begin at Chamonix, France and go anticlockwise to Saint Gervais, Les Contamines and La Balme before reaching Mount Blanc. Runners then proceed to Les Chapieux and Lac Combal, after which they begin climbing Mont Blanc. They are required to follow the route through Arnouvaz, La Fouly and Trieste and return to Chamonix on time.
The first stage is 31km with an elevation gain of about 1500 m. From Chamonix, runners trail run smoothly, and then the terrain goes downhill until Les Contamines Montjoie, Les Houches, Col de Voza and Saint-Gervais, where runners can get some race food. From Saint-Gervais, there is a broad, slow climb leading to Les Contamines.
Les Contamines is the first aid station where runners are permitted to have assistants. This stage is 49.6km with an elevation gain of 3020 m. Runners have to endure long climbs, from Contamines to Refuge de la Croix Du Bonhomme, then to Col de La Seigne and a less stressful climb to Arête du Mont-Favre before trailing down to Courmayeur.
This part of the race is 45.9km with an elevation of 2720 m. Racers must go through a sharp climb to get out of Courmayeur into Refuge Bertone, Arnouvaz, Grand Col Ferret and descend to La Fouly. From La Fouly, racers travel downhill on the road and then climb uphill to Champex.
The Champex-Lac to Trient stage is 16.2 km long with an elevation gain of 914 m. From Champex-Lac, runners have about three challenging ascents and descents to Trient and Vallorcine.
It is an 8.9km section with an elevation of 830 m and is the least technical stage where runners can increase their momentum.
The last stage of the UTMB race is an 18.5 km trail run on flat terrain which gets uphill slowly with an elevation gain of 972 m. From Vallorcine, racers go through La Tête aux Vents and climb to La Flégère and the final descent to Chamonix, awaiting spectators cheering.
The Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc begins in Chamonix, which is in the French section of Mont Blanc. This section of the trail is the best and most accessible, with stunning valleys, outstanding vegetation and clear forest paths.
The Italian circuit has a balcony-like trail with dangerous dark rock surfaces and sharp peaks. The Italian circuit leads to the Swiss course, which is also friendlier to runners and has stunning views of the mountains.
All runners must be members of the International Trail Running Association (ITRA) to get a ranking after completing their race.
2022: Kilian Jornet (Spain) 19:49:30
2021: Francois D’Haene (France) 20:46:00
2020: Race not held due to COVID-19
2019: Pau Capell (Spain) 20:19:07
2018: Xavier Thevenard (France) 20:44:16
2022: Katie Schide (USA) 23:15:12
2021: Courtney Dauwalter (USA) 22:30:55
2020: Race not held due to COVID-19
2019: Courtney Dauwalter (USA) 24:34:26
2018: Francesca Canepa (Italy) 26:03:48
The Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc race is always a fun trail and ultra-running event whether you are a runner or a spectator. If you want to take part in this spectacular race, book a trip to the famous town of Chamonix in France during the last week of August.
Photography: Nick Danielson
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