Last updated: 01-Sep-16
The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is one of the highlights of the ultra racing calendar and is arguably THE highlight of the ultra mountain races. The festival includes five races between 22nd and 28th August. The race centre is in Chamonix in the French Alps.
The five races are:
• UTMB: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (166 km +9,600 m)
• CCC: Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (101 km +6,100 m)
• TDS: Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (119 km +7,250 m)
• OCC: Orsières – Champex – Chamonix (53 km +3,300 m)
• PTL: La Petite Trotte à Léon (approx. 300 km +28,000 m)
There are also mini events for children to participate in and the YCC (Youth Chamonix Courmayeur) which is open to 16-22 year olds.
UTMB is a single-stage race and passes through three different countries as it follows the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc through France, Italy and Switzerland. It has a distance of approximately 166 kilometres (103 miles), and a total elevation gain of around 9,600 m. It has over two thousand starters, and you have to get points throughout the year to qualify. The combined participation in all of the events is around eight thousand runners.
This is one that you do for the glory rather than the cash as there is no prize money. The lead racers complete the loop in slightly more than 20 hours, but most runners take 30 to 45 hours to reach the finish line. To put this into context, hikers usually take 7 – 9 days to complete the loop. Runners have to carry all the basic equipment but there are food and drink points along the route, every 10 to 15 km. There are also four gloriously-named “life bases” where you can get a hot meal, bed and massage – definitely something to look forward to. They are in Chamonix (France), Les Chapieux (France), Courmayeur (Italy) and Champex (Switzerland).
The festival itself brings together thousands of people from the ultra running community including over 2000 volunteers and a whopping estimate of 16,000 supporters.
The race starts from Chamonix (1,035 m) and goes up to the Col de Voza (1,653 m) to reach Les Contamines (1,150 m). It then climbs to the Croix du Bonhomme (2,479 m) before going back down to Les Chapieux (1,549 m), which is the first life base. The path then runs up to the Col de la Seigne (2,516 m) to enter Italy, and then follows the ridge of Mont-Favre (2,435 m) before descending to Courmayeur (1,190 m), the second life base. It climbs up to the Refuge Bertone (1,989 m) and Arnuva (1,769 m) before reaching its highest point, the Grand Col Ferret (2537 m), on the border with Switzerland. The path descends to Praz de Fort (1,151 m) via La Fouly (1,593 m) before reaching the third life base, Champex d’en Bas (1,391m). The last part includes Bovine (1,987 m) and Les Tseppes (1932 m), separated by Trient (1,300 m). On the descent to Vallorcine (1,260 m), the route goes back into France and crosses Argentière (1,260 m) before the triumphant finish at Chamonix, its starting point.
The route does vary slightly every year.
Winning the race gives you ultra runner superstar status and past champions have included Marco Olmo, Nikki Kimball, Kilian Jornet, Elizabeth Hawker, Francois D’Haene, Nathalie Mauclair, Rory Bosio and Xavier Thevenard.
For more info (and a great personal story and review by @ultralynch): http://www.runultra.co.uk/Events/UTMB