Dave Jack clocking 24:01:05 for his Bob Graham Round!
Due to the severity and popularity of the UTMB the organisers have specified a number of qualifying races which must be completed in the preceeding two calender years if a runners application is to be successful. The UTMB itself is limited to 2300 runners.
The qualifying standards have been set at 7 points from a maximum of 3 races in the last two calender years. The UTMB website has a long list of 800 events which have been awarded points based on their distance and the overall challenge. A third are based in France, another third in the US and the rest are spread widely across the world including the UK. I've detailed a small selection of the UK based races to demonstrate that even gaining a place in the UTMB is a huge achievement. Then it's a simple matter of 168km and 9600m of ascent and descent!
Based on my own experiences on the Tour du Mont Blanc earlier this summer the weather really can change in a few minutes. We regularly had rain, snow, and sunshine in a few hours. Initial forecasts have suggested snow falling down to 2000m during this years UTMB. The organisers insist on a minimum kit list for safety reasons although personally I'd be carrying a wee bit more than this for an event of this length.
Personal cup (150ml minimum)
1 litre of water
Two torches with spare batteries
Waterproof jacket with hood
Long running tights (or a combination of leggings and long socks which cover the legs completely)
Additional warm top (180g midlayer OR 110g midlayer & windproof)
Cap or bandana
Warm and waterproof gloves
Identity papers for border
Surprisingly there is no requirement to carry a map and compass as the route is well marked and marshaled. In addition to the list above many competitors will use trekking poles to help protect their legs and aid stability especially in the latter stages of the race.The organisers will also transport a bag of clothing to Courmayeur at just under half distance so runners can have a change of kit and resupply.
2012 sees the 10th edition of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a 168km trail non stop trail run involving 9600m of ascent and descent which circumnavigates the highest mountain in Western Europe and visits France, Italy and Switzerland.
Although there are slight variations in the route each year the fastest winning time of 20:05 was set by Dachhiri Dawa Sherpa in the inaugural race in 2003. Coming from a background of cross country skiing he'd previously represented Nepal in two winter Olympics.
In 2003 there were just 700 racers. By 2012 there are now four different events with a limit of 2300 competitors attempting the original UTMB. The huge operation which takes over Chamonix is supported by an army of 2000 volunteers.
In the last few years the event has been dominated by Kilian Jornet Burgada who has won the three of the four races he has started (2008, 2009 & 2011). The 2010 was cancelled due to horrendous weather conditions but then restarted from Courmayeur a few hours later. The North Face athlete Jez Bragg would seize this opportunity to take a significant victory.
Trail running and ultras are going from strength to strength and the UTMB organisers now feel that there are around 200 competitors who could challenge for a top twenty position.
The backdrop of Western Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc, means that the UTMB is a very scenic race especially when viewed from above. Here's some great footage of long crocodiles of runners snaking through a stunning landscape!
From around 11:30am today by text and through a press conference at 2.30pm the UTMB organisers have explained their decision to modify the race route in response to the serious conditions in the mountains. 15 cm of snow has now fallen at 2000m and the UTMB route crosses two passes of over 2500m. The weather is also continuing to worsen so there is not the option to delay as they did in 2010. This is now the third year in succession that bad weather has had a significant affect on the event. The organisers were at pains to emphasis that they still wanted to give everyone a adventurous experience but that in line with the event ethos respect for the mountains and safety came first
The new route was devised almost from scratch last night as the weather forecasts got continuously worse. It now comprises 100km and 6000m of ascent solely in France making it very similar to the CCC although on more sheltered terrain. Briefly the route now follows the original route as far as La Balme before retracing it's steps to Contamine. It then goes directly to Les Houches, follows the Bacon Sud along the northern side of the Chamonix valley as far as Argientiere before returning to Chamonix along the valley floor. The race will now start at 7pm with the winners expected around 5.30 am and a cut off of 9pm on Saturday night
As an illustration of the severity of the conditions the runners will face the CCC experienced a dropout rate of 56% before the race was more than 5 hours old.
To continue telling the story of the challenge of the UTMB I'm still planning to blog the original route descriptions and videos in predicted race time but will interspace this with news of Jez's progress on the new route.
North Face athlete Jez Bragg has been competing in Ultras for seven years with an enviable record of success despite an unusual background in rugby! A winning performance in his first ever event was followed by three more wins and a course record in his first season. He has continued to build on this with significant victories each year culminating in the 2010 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. This epic race comprised of a start in horrendous conditions, a cancellation and a restart on a shortened course. All very challenging for the competitors and some notable contenders fell by the wayside as Jez ran away to the biggest win of his career. (The ladies race was won by fellow North Face athlete Lizzy Hawker for her 3rd UTMB win). Illness put paid to Jez's chances in 2011 but watch this space for the 2012 race...2.5 hours until 2300 runners set out from Chamonix.
The UTMB is arguably the biggest event in Chamonix' calender with trail running enjoying a huge boom across Europe. Eurosport produced a full length feature on last years race which gives a great feel for the demands and pleasure of ultra running events.
Great footage of last years race which despite some challenging
conditions produced the second fastest winning time of 20:36. This was
Kilian Jornet's third win from four starts. He didn't complete the race
in 2010 dropping out while in the lead when the race was initially
cancelled. In the confusion Jez Bragg produced an amazing performance to
win over a shortened course in horrendous conditions.
The Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix race or CCC is the UTMB's baby brother covering 100km and 6000m of ascent. To the strains of Vangelis's UTMB anthem 1800 competitors set off at 10am this morning. Forecasts are predicting 15cm of snow above 2000m and very strong winds. Perfect conditions for those runners who have been training through a UK summer! However in light of this the organisers have taken the decision to shorten the route slightly missing out the initial Tete de la Tronche and the Tete aux Vents on the final run in.
The atmosphere at the start gave a foretaste for the main event tonight. Warming up was very continental comprising a strong coffee and plenty of dancing / air guitar to the music which was building a great atmosphere despite the frequent showers. A very important part of the UTMB tradition is the stunningly powerful anthem, Vangelis's Conquest of Paradise, which must have sent shivers down the spine of every single runner. Many hours later it should reduce many of them to tears as they approach the finish line! The track below is the original score until I can find the brass version the UTMB use!
The race traces a circuit of Courmayeur before heading north east towards the Col du Grand Ferret, the high point of todays race which will be fairly 'atmospheric' in todays snow. The leading runners are expected into Chamonix around 9pm tonight with the slowest having until midday tomorrow to complete the course
The timing mats at the start. As an additional safety feature in the poor conditions all competitors are now carrying a third chip on their rucksack
There are plenty of online resources to help you enjoy this years TNF Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc from the comfort of your own sofa or even to start planning next years attempt! For the first time in it's history the UTMB is being broadcast live on the internet as Ultra Trail TV.
Bad weather on Mont Blanc (photo not representative of the conditions today!)
The UTMB attracts a diverse bunch of individuals. As we drove towards Chamonix the stories behind their efforts to stand on the start line tomorrow diverted our attention from the torrential rain which was hammering down. There was the UN worker who'd done all her training on a treadmill in the heat of Afghanistan. A 53 year old Japanese gentleman just three years into his ultra career and traveling with his rice cooker. He was hoping his running companion had remembered the rice! There was a Jersey based race organiser who's final qualifying point had come from his own race and Gary who was hoping his experiences as one of only three finishers in the inaugural Spine Race would stand him in good stead for the forecast snowy conditions.
Chamonix was grey and every other person was dressed in lycra but the buzz was starting with less than 24 hours to the off.....
Running the TMB over a leisurely 6 days earlier this year
This weekend marks the 10th running of The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, one of the world's toughest and most iconic races. Two years ago Jez Bragg, a North Face athlete, won the race outright for the biggest win of his career and he's going again this year. I've been invited to follow Jez in his attempt and will be blogging and tweeting live throughout the event from 12 midday on Friday (31st Aug). Please log on to follow his progress and get a feel for the challenges and atmosphere of this epic alpine race. Who knows I might even see you on the start line in 2013!
For the second time in as many months I'm heading off to Greenland. This time I'm again working for Tangent Expeditions leading a small team from Eton College on a trekking and climbing trip across Liverpool Land.
Greenland style hot chocolate with added mosquitoes!