Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc Race Report
By Stephen Turner
The UTMB is a 105 mile trail race, with a cumulative ascent of 10,000 meters. The route follows the Mont Blanc Trail and passes through three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland.
This is not a race you can turn up to unprepared so the last 12 months have involved lots of training and entering races to improve my strength and endurance. In May I ran the Grand Union Canal Race which is a 145 mile run along the canal form Birmingham to London. Then the final few training runs in July and August involved running 100 miles races on consecutive weekends, the first was 100 miles in the Lake District followed by 100 miles on the North Downs Way. Then it was time to drop the mileage with a 50k at the Salisbury 54321 and 32 miles along the Jurassic Coast. Then a few weeks tapering before race day.
It may seem extreme that 100 mile races are used as training runs but in the UK we don’t have mountains to train on or the altitude that you have taking part in the UTMB so you have to adapt your training and make do with what you’ve got, my training also included several runs on the Big Cheese route.
The race itself starts in Chamonix at 6pm. Standing on the start line with 2500 other runners there was a real buzz in the air and the streets were lined with people who had come out to support this iconic race. There’s not many sports when you can be in the same race as the elite athletes which included Kilian Jornet (who has run up Everest) and Damian Hall (UK runner who came 5th at this years UTMB).
The route is well marked and there are supporters from local villages all the way along the course, even in the early hours of the morning. The check points are about every 10 miles and are well stocked with food and drink to keep you fuelled. The weather is unpredictable in the Alps ranging from torrential rain, fog and sunshine, there was even some snow remaining on the high passes. Every runner also has to carry specific mandatory kit to ensure that you remain warm, dry and safe in all conditions.
The route goes along varied terrain, mountain passes, narrow tracks and some road. The views during the day were stunning but you had to be careful where you were placing your feet so as not to trip over so mostly running with you eyes focused on the terrain in front. I was lucky as didn’t feel the need to sleep during the race and also when I had access to my drop back at half way, nothing was rubbing or hurting so I decided to stick with the kit I had on and just grab a few more treats.
As you can imagine there wasn’t much flat terrain along the route and you were constantly climbing then descending, the only difference was how far the climb was. It was not so much the distance that slowed you down on the climb but how much altitude gain there was. Several of the climbs took you in excess of 2400m altitude and the biggest climb went from 810m to 2433m but you only covered 23km. This is a race that tests you both physically and mentally especially when you look up and see how far you have to climb to reach the peak, although at night the long stream of head torches is a spectacular sight.
I finished in 41hrs33mins (46hrs30mins cut off) and was pleased to cross the line as there was a 30% drop rate.
It’s a fantastic race and definitely one I’ll do again.