Read about the first edition HERE on Ultrarunning.com
Read about the first edition HERE on Ultrarunning.com
I was recently in Chamonix for the UTMB series of events. I have to be honest, I have avoided Chamonix at the end of August for the last few years… The whole UTMB extravaganza just feels too overwhelming, there is no escape. So, I have chose to either have a holiday or work on smaller races.
This year I was asked by adidas to work on the event, documenting the experience of their Terrex Team as they prepared to tackle all of the events the UTMB offer, the exception coming with the crazy long PTL.
Working for a brand brings a whole new perspective and experience to an event like UTMB. Instead of chasing multiple runners over multiple locations, my priority would be to follow the favourites within each of the respective races – OCC, CCC and TDS. The UTMB would also be raced and followed by the whole Terrex Team but due to a prior commitment, I would skip the big loop around France, Italy and Switzerland.
UTMB needs no introduction, the series of races have arguably become a flagship for the sport. As UTMB has grown, so has the demand for people to race and for media to cover the event. This brings a whole set of challenges, especially for media. As a brand, adidas were required to pay a fee to allow myself and the film crew access to certain areas of the race, for example aid stations and finish line, and thus we could capture certain required images and also have the license to use them. UTMB provide live coverage of the event and it must be said, they do an incredible job using a helicopter, runners and mountain bikes to cover much of all the race routes. It is quite an incredible logistical problem and in addition, they provide live commentary with an ever-changing group of people providing on the spot analysis of the race. You can pretty much follow every race, start to finish live.
The team arrived in Chamonix one week before the UTMB main event and I arrived on the Monday. This meant the YCC started Tuesday, TDS Wednesday, OCC Thursday, CCC and UTMB starting Friday. You can do the math, that means long days, early starts, late nights and little sleep.
As a team, adidas had rented one huge chalet that would host the whole team, the hashtag #oneteam being a very important motto and ethos not only during race week but it is a hashtag that the team is using to bring the whole Terrex ethos together. It is very much ‘all for one, one for all!’ The chalet had two chefs who provided meals for the entire team and in so doing, dietary needs could be looked after and the need to try to find a restaurant in Chamonix was removed.
A team physio, Dave, was literally ‘hands-on’ everyday from morning to evening to keep the whole team in top condition. In the words of Team Manager, Robert, ‘without his immense treatments, day and night, someone like Luis may well have not raced!’
I am fortunate, after years covering races, I was well acquainted with much of the team; Luis Alberto Hernando, Sheila Aviles, Dmitry Mityaev, Ekaterina Mityaeva, Tom Evans and so many more. This always makes my job easier as to work closely with athletes, particularly in race week, there has to be trust and respect.
I was working alongside the adidas film crew who have been working on the Terrex brand for some time. A great group of guys who know how to work hard, laugh hard and find the time for a beer at the end of the day, no matter how long it may be. Big shout for Rapha, Andy, Patrick, Yannick and then man stuck to an editing stool, Bene. We had a separate chalet as the hours we work are not ideal when athletes are trying to sleep. Meal times were a family affair though and the athlete house was our hub for the week starting with an 0800 breakfast as and when applicable.
Behind the scenes is always fascinating. Looking at apparel, shoes and new development it was clear to see that adidas’ commitment to trail and mountain running is huge. They had specifically designed waterproof jackets and trousers for the team that complied with UTMB rules while still being light and packing small.
Athletes such as Yngvild Kaspersen and Tom Evans (Yngvild 2nd at Pikes Peak and Tom 3rd at Western States) were flown into Chamonix to be part of #oneteam even though they would not race. It was clear that adidas’ commitment to bringing everyone together is a high priority.
A signing in the UTMB expo allowed fans to get close, chat and get a signed photo from Tom, Luis, Holly and Sheila. The buzz was incredible.
Post the signings, we took Tom in to the mountains for a photo shoot. The most ransom moment of the whole week… A couple just married saw Tom, recognized him and then came for a wedding photo! The groom was running UTMB.
Over the course of the week, racers and non-racers would each continually give up their time to crew, support, follow and cheer on the team. A prime example being Ekaterina crewing for Dmitry during TDS to a stunning 2nd place. Two days later, Ekaterina would run UTMB and place 4th while Dmitry crewed her.
Filming and photographing brings its own challenges of long drives, big hikes and a relentless pace that leaves one drained and exhausted by the end but high on emotion. It’s always a tough call on who to follow? Many of the races had more than one adidas runner participating but from a story and media perspective, we would have to make decisions in advance. The TDS for example, our emphasis was on Dmitry. For CCC, Luis Alberto Hernando was our primary story. Needless to say, it’s incredible when it all comes together, Dmitry placed 2nd and Luis won CCC. To be able to see the journey unfold at close quarters and tell the story is quite special.
While we raced around with cameras, the remaining crew would chase around providing aid and support. Tom Evan’s quite rightly said, ‘I have raced and won CCC, I have also crewed on big races – I know how hard and tiring crewing is.’
But despite the long hours, the short nights and the relentless fatigue, nobody complained. On the contrary. As the week went on and the results came in, everyone was becoming hyped by the experience and results. It was infectious.
But nothing is perfect. Racing is fickle. While racing went well for Dmitry and Luis for example, others had a tough time. It’s here when the #oneteam ethos kicks in. We are all human, sometimes we are ahead and all is going well, other times, things don’t click, for whatever reason. As an athlete, that can be very hard. It takes months to prepare for an event and then on the day, for it not to come together as expected can be hugely disappointing. As one runner said, ‘I have let the team down…’ But the response was unequivocal, ‘You have let no one down!’
Sheila Aviles had stomach issues in OCC, Timothy Olson struggled at UTMB and finally had to withdraw and all along, the support from adidas and the team was 100%.
Holly Page made a last minute decision to run CCC, battled through the first half of the race with terrible stomach problems only to come out of the other side and then race strongly over the latter stages for her first 100km finish. It was a story echoed throughout the whole week, ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Being ‘In the arena’ to quote Roosevelt is what the sport of trail and mountain running is all about, ‘ The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.’
Roosevelt in his quote sums up all adidas stand for with the Terrex Team.
Our day started with an early alarm, a quick breakfast and a drive to Courmayeur – the plan to climb to Refuge Bertone and capture early content with Mont Blanc providing a stunning backdrop.
Plans hit a problem from the off with a long wait to get through the Mont Blanc tunnel. Once in Courmayeur it was gps time to navigate a route to the trail head. This was a constant theme of the whole week… Great gps software and gpx route are essential – we could plan to meet the runners as much as possible during a race.
We started our climb later than we would have liked but we pushed the pace – not that easy with a 15kg camera bag! Once there, the weather was perfect, the scenery magical and we knew we were going to get some great content.
For Luis, we were aware we could capture him on the descent, chase after him and then capture him again after he had visited the aid station.
I positioned myself on the descent knowing that I would get a dynamic shot as Luis dropped in front of me taking a left turn with Mont Blanc behind him.
As Luis approached, disaster struck. A ‘runner’ who was spectating ran ahead of him ruining all my ‘pre’ shots. As I shouted for them to get out of the way, they then stopped directly ahead of me, right in the middle of my shot. I had to compromise… shit happens!
I then raced after Luis on the descent and then got to my second spot. This time all was good with clear shots and I then ran with him capturing more content before he raced off around the mountain.
Being early in the day, we decided to wait and capture the other adidas runners who were participating as the time gaps at this stage would not be too great. Later, it would be impossible if Luis ran the race we anticipated! Abi Hall, Macy were looking good but Holly Page was struggling with a bad stomach.
Dropping bag to the car via the twisty descent, we now had a 2-hour drive to Champex Lac. Luis was motoring and now in the lead. Race projections said he would arrive at 1425. Our navigator said we would arrive 1410.
Once again we used gps software to find an access point pre Champex Lac that would allow us to capture content on steep forest trails. Luis arrived like clockwork powering up the climb using poles to keep the momentum.
At Champex Lac he ran the footpath and roads around the lake allowing more opportunities before we went off-piste on a dirt road allowing for one last shot before we would then lose him only to re-connect at Trient.
Trient provided a shot before the aid station and then we drove out of Switzerland and back in to France before capturing Luis on the climb of the Col des Montets – our last opportunity before his arrival at the finish.
Now Luis was motoring and opening up a gap on the 2nd place.
At the finish, myself and Patrick (film crew) waited for Luis in the press area while the remaining adidas team watched the huge screens in the square.
Finally, Luis achieved his coveted UTMB victory. It was an emotional finish. His wife, Nieves, greeted him with open arms. The Terrex team mobbed him as soon as they could… A post-race drug test delaying that process for some time!
Back at the chalet it was time to download the day’s work and release the content.
There is no ‘I’ in team and that was personified during this intense UTMB experience. We all had roles but flexibility is key. Athletes became crew, office workers became car drivers and everyone became a supporter both in a physical and mental capacity.
It was a real pleasure to be immersed with a brand and follow closely the whole process that make a race and team come together. Certainly, the UTMB and Chamonix experience made team bonds stronger.
On a personal note, to leave on Saturday am while the UTMB was underway was hard, especially with Ekaterina running. I have witnessed her growth in skyrunning over the last year’s and then to see her rise to 4th at UTMB not only made me really proud but also a little jealous and envious that I wasn’t available to capture that journey in images…. Next time!
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UTMB is upon us and the hype just keeps on building and building. The 2018 edition looks set to be another great race and the year when the chances of an American at the top of the podium, have probably never been higher!
The 170km loop that starts in France, passes through Italy, then Switzerland and once again returns to France with 10,000m of vert is considered the pinnacle of 100-mile mountain running.
It is easy to look at UTMB and the presence of Kilian Jornet on the start line and say, ‘we know who has won!’ To be honest, I think Kilian is the odds-on favourite to win the 2018 edition, particularly with Francoise D’Haene missing the race. What Kilian has achieved in 2018 after a very serious injury has been quite remarkable. What is most impressive is the range of his skill, he can break an almost unbreakable FKT in the UK (Bob Graham Round), win a super-fast and competitive Sierre-Zinal and then win and set a course record at the most technical and pinnacle skyrunning event there is, Trofeo Kima, just 5-days before toeing the line at UTMB. Without doubt, Kilian is the one to beat, however, the one thing he has against him is the lack of specific 100-mile training. For anyone else, that would be a huge problem, for Kilian, no!
Many will say that Jim Walmsley is the prime contender to beat KJ but let’s give a nod and respect to Tim Tollefson who has placed 3rd twice and now knows the race like the back of his hand. He prepares specifically and respects the race and the distance. His form seems a little off based on results in 2018, but, I am sure Tim has only ever had his eye on one prize.
Luis Alberto Hernando is for me one of the greatest and most underrated mountain runners in the world. He is pure class. He is a multiple world champ, has placed 2nd at UTMB before and missed the race in 2017 because he knew he didn’t have the necessary form to win. He has been quiet this year which can only mean very specific training. He hasn’t run many 100’s and this has been his downfall in the past, he always races hard and from the front which can mean he blows up. This may be Luis’s year for the win, but everything will need to go right, and Kilian will need to be a little off. A Luis victory would be extremely popular!
Jim Walmsley finally fulfilled his dreams and ability with nailing Western States earlier this year and obliterating the course record. He has earned his 100-mile apprenticeship. Last year at UTMB it was all going well, and Jim was running a smarter race, it went wrong but he rallied and then finished in the top-10 closing hard. He has a tough decision to make at this year’s race, does he go on gut feeling and run at ‘his’ pace early on and hope he can take it to the line (think Zach Miller) or does he hand with Kilian, mark him, stay with him and then make a move late in the race where he then maybe can use his natural run speed to win? It’s important to note, that running and winning UTMB will be at least 20% more time on his feet than the WSER victory. I think Jim will make the podium this year and yes, he could be at the top of it, quite easily!
Xavier Thevenard has done it all at UTMB winning all the main distances over the past 4-years. He will no doubt be reeling from his DQ at Hardrock and that could work either way at UTMB. It may motivate a superb performance or put questions in his mind. Podium potential for sure but not a winner this year.
Alex Nichols is for me the greatest US potential for a win in years. However, it may take this year for him to fully understand the race before he can come back and win next year or the year after. I said many times in the last 18-months that Alex has the greatest potential and he proved it recently with his Nolans 14 FKT. He is one to watch and a dark horse.
The above are my prime podium contenders but as always, it’s a stacked field with the following toeing the line:
That is an A-list of contenders with Gediminas Grinius and Javi Dominguez as stand outs. It is UTMB, so anything can happen on the big loop. One person to watch is the UK’s Damian Hall. Over the past 3-years he has moved closer and closer to the top-10 and last year placed 11th. He is super motivated this year and although I don’t think he will make the top-5, the chances are high for him to fulfil his top-10 dream.
Mimmi Kotka for me is the 2018 UTMB champion. She has won CCC, TDS and has crushed mountain races such as Madeira Island Ultra Trail, Mont-Blanc 90km and the Maxi-Race in Annecy. She eats mountains and although this is her first 100, something just tells me she is ready for the big loop.
Caroline Chaverot of course should be the odds-on favourite but boy-oh-boy as she had a tough time of things after winning ‘everything’ and I mean ‘everything’ a year or so ago. Her form is a real question mark and she has openly discussed on social media that she has been very unwell. Caroline in form is of course podium potential, anything less and she would be disappointed.
Uxue Fraile has a 5th, 3rd and 2nd at UTMB and that alone sets her up as a prime podium contender. She always runs a savvy race, has loads of experience and for me, she may well match her 2015 2nd place.
Kaori Niwa has been 4th at UTMB and recently took 4th at Hardrock 100, so, we know she has endurance. That is super important here at UTMB and although victory is unlikely with Mimmi and Caroline in the race, the 3rd slot on the podium is possible.
Sephanie Violett was 15th last-year which seems a below par performance based on her experience and skill. But UTMB is not the US and Magdalena Boulet and Kaci Lickteig also placed out of the top-10. I have a feeling that these three women will change things around this year and impact on the top-10 with Stephanie my tip as the one who does the best of the trio.
Beth Pascall and Jo Meek are two Brits who I believe this year will turn heads. Beth gets the nod over Jo as she has much experience at the long game with success at races such as Lakeland 100, Dragons Back and the Spine. She dropped at UTMB last year after getting cold, this year I am putting my neck on the line and saying top-5! Jo has trained specifically and knows the UTMB mountains after placing 2nd at CCC. This is her first foray to 100-miles and this length of time on her feet. She has all the ability to do well, so, fingers crossed she makes the top-10.
Fernanda Maciel has buckets of experience at the long game, has excelled at UTMB time and time again and I have no reason not to think she will do the same again this year. A prime top-10 contender and for sure, 4th/ 5th is a distinct possibility; she has placed 4th twice before.
Juliette Blanchet was 4th last-year and has buckets of experience and results at long and tough races… She was 2nd at Raid de la Reunion after UTMB in 2017. She will be fighting for the podium and amongst the 2018 women’s field, she has a great chance.
Cat Bradley has won Western States but, in all honesty, I have no idea how she will fare on this monster 170km loop. You don’t win Western by accident which is why she gets a nod here, but let’s look at Kaci and Magdalena last-year, they were both outside the top-10.
Mariya Nikolova is not a name that many will have heard but she has been in the top-10 at UTMB previously and she has won in Turkey at Cappadocia. Her recent form is a little unknown but an improvement from 9th is to be expected.
Emilie Lecomte has been there and done it in long distances races but seems to be lacking the speed of her prime. Amy Sproston has been 8th before, she will be in the top-10 game but not a podium contender. The UK’s Sophie Grant is another real contender with Beth and Jo, she was 15th last-year. Teresa Nimes was just outside the top-10 placing 11th in 2017. Aliza Lapierre dnf’d last year but has loads of experience as does Ildiko Wermescher who has been 6th and 7th at UTMB previously… In all honesty, Ildiko should be in the list above. Francesca Canepa is a long-distance specialist. Katia Fori also one to watch after 5th at MIUT.
It is all to fight for. The big loop with all that distance, vertical gain and descending, variable weather and just the many, many hours on foot means nothing is guaranteed. So, expect some surprises!
Action stars Friday 31st August.
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I think it may well be a seminal edition and for many reasons.
I wrote about the men HERE.
The ladies race turned out to be far more unpredictable than the men’s with many of the pre-race favourites either having bad days and going slower than expected or dropping through illness or injury. This opened the doorway for an interesting top-10 and several unexpected names.
The TOP 10 Ladies
Nuria Picas 25:46:43 – Came into the race not a dark horse but with a question mark. Nobody doubted the ability of this lady, she has proven time and time again that she is a dominant force in mountain running over any distance. She dominated the UTWT rankings and has placed 2nd twice at UTMB. However, in the latter part of 2015 and pretty much throughout 2016 she was missing from racing. It appeared to me that a really tough calendar and race dominance had taken its toll. 2017 has been quiet and just recently I watched her race in Tromso at the Tromso SkyRace and she placed on the podium. It still left me with a question mark though on UTMB – would she have the endurance for 25-hours of running?Nuria set the pace in the ladies race and produced a dominant performance. She built a huge gap during the night and day and it was only in the latter 20% that the race took its toll forcing her to slow. The margin she had built up so important! At the end, this margin was reduced to less than 5-minutes! Nuria is back and like many long-term fans of the sport, Nuria’s victory is a welcome one. A seminal moment.
Andrea Huser 25:49:18 – Andrea races and races. She has a physical and mental strength un-matched. A race can start badly but she has the tenacity to push on and this year’s UTMB is no different. She started down the ranking, pushed on and with over half of the race covered took control and moved to 3rd and then second. She hunted Nuria Picas down as she slowed, almost a re-run of 2016 when she hunted Caroline Chaverot down. For two years running, 2nd at UTMB.
Christelle Bard 26:39:03 – Signifies the excitement and unpredictable nature of 100-miles. Although she has had success at CCC and TDS in past year’s, Bard was not really on my radar for a top-10. My fault, I should have done more research. Experience counts though and a steady start paid dividends as she slowly but surely moved through the field. In the final 80km’s or so she moved through the field from 10th to an eventual podium slot. A seminal year for this lady!
Kaori Niwa 27:31:39 – Was not a surprise after placing 8th last-year. The 100-mile distance is all about consistency and perseverance and this is how this lady excelled. As the distance and weather conditions took its toll, Niwa pushed on and reaped the rewards. A seminal year for this lady!
Kellie Emmerson 28:13:06 – Australian Emmerson was a surprise top-10 who I think (?) was running her first 100. She is proficient over the 100km distance and maybe the most significant indicator coming into the 2017 UTMB was her 4th at Tarawera earlier this year. Her race was well executed with patience and consistency and her 100km pace kicked in the latter stages to go past St Laurent.
Alissa St Laurent 28:13:43 – Had a tough race but persevered to finally have a strong and consistent race to place 6th. She certainly slowed as the race progressed and I am sure she will be frustrated with losing that 5th place in the closing stages.
Anna-Marie Watson 28:37:16 – What a breakthrough performance for Anne-Marie, last year we had Jasmin Paris from the UK in the top-10 and this year I was expecting Beth Pascall to step up to the mark but this was all surpassed by Watson. Her progress through the sport has been quite the surprise, go back to 2008 and she placed 124th lady at CCC – cut to the 2017 UTMB and she was 7th. Wow! That is some progress and the indicators are there, from 2015 she has a string of victories and top ranked places, 2nd at the 2015 MDS, 1st Cotswold Way Challenge, 1st at Cappadocia Ultra and most recently 1st at Gran Trail Courmayeur – a seminal performance.
Amy Sproston 28:44:08 – Has a running history the length of my arm and a string of notable runs, highlights coming over many varying distances. She has been top-10 at UTMB before – 8th in 2012. Notably she has also had great results at Western States, 2nd in 2016. So, matching her 2012 position is no surprise, it looks like she paced herself well with a slow first half and then making up ground in the second half. Notably, the USA’s top female finisher!
Mariya Nikolova 29:04:16 – This Bulgarian lady was 16th at UTMB in 2015 in almost 33-hours. 2017 is breakthrough year for her and her time of 29 hours a significant improvement even when one considers the shorter course.
Robyn Bruins 29:41:11 – So, the Australian ladies have a seminal year, just like the USA men. Bruin placed 10th and in doing so arguably has one of the best results of her career. She is known in the Southern Hemisphere, but in Europe, no, she is a newbie. This result will no doubt kickstart a renaissance not only in her own running but the running of Emmerson who placed 5th.
Pre-race favourite and I think many pundits odds-on for victory, Caroline Chaverot, had a tough race and dropped at midway. Chaverot, like Picas in her hey-day has been unstoppable with many races and a recent victory at Hardrock 100 may well have just taken its toll. It could be a seminal UTMB for this French lady as she decides her plans and calendar moving forward.
As often happens, many of the pre-race favourites had a tough night, day and night at the 2017 UTMB.
Magdalena Boulet, 5th last year had a bad day, Juliette Blanchett 4th last-year dropped early, long distance specialist Emelie Lecomte dropped at Courmayer, Fernanda Maciel withdrew with eye problems from the wind, snow and rain and Stephanie Violett (formerly Howe) battled on for a finish but was not in the top-10 as I and many others expected.
So, a seminal year without doubt.
The 2017 UTMB was billed as the ‘best ever’ and as the weather finally improves in and around Chamonix, life returns to normal for us all and we have an opportunity to step back and look at how important this years race actually was.
I think it may well be a seminal edition and for many reasons.
Yes, I think this years race may well be a great influencer in the later developments not only of ultra-trail but more importantly the runners who participate.
The men’s race featured a known top-10 and I think it’s fair to say there were few surprises. Unlike in previous editions, the main contenders battled throughout and few dropped or faltered resulting in a super exciting edition of the race.
Read about the Ladies race HERE
Francois D’Haene 19:01:32 – Francois is the best 100-mile mountain runner in the world. No question. Coming into the race, it was a coin toss if he or Kilian would win the race. I like everyone else went with Kilian – how can you bet against Kilian? But with reflection, Francois always should have been the hot-favourite for victory. He prepared meticulously for UTMB with victories in ‘warm-up’ races, he ran the UTMB route over 4-days with Salomon teammates and yes, he is the course record holder. He started at the front, closer than I had anticipated and he never relinquished a firm grasp of the race. Experience, fitness and endurance over the final third of the race saw him pull-away from Jim Walmsley and Kilian to confirm that he is the best in the world.
Kilian Jornet 19:16:38 – It’s tough being Kilian, so much pressure. But he shrugs it off on his own way… At the UTMB this year he interviewed runners on the start, filmed the start and continued to film over the opening miles. He surprised me by keeping with the front of the race, an unusual tactic for him. Maybe he thought that if he let Walmsley, D’Haene and the others go, he would never reel them back in. I expected Jornet to win, as did pretty much everyone else but a lack of running in 2017 and the early fast half of the race no doubt took its toll. He finished 2nd and that in itself is incredible, the fact he suffered so much is even more remarkable. He is an incredible ambassador and I know personally that he will be as happy with D’Haene’s victory as if it were his own. Let’s not forget he summited Everest twice in one week, won Hardrock 100 and won a fast Sierre-Zinal in the lead to UTMB.
Tim Tollefson 19:53:00 – Yep, Tollefson signifies why the 2017 UTMB is a seminal edition for US runners. He placed 3rd last-year and backed it up again with third this year. He started steady and let his experience, training and mental strength run a finely paced and well-judged race. It was impressive to follow how he meticulously worked his way through the race. With approximately 50km’s to go, he moved up into third and he remained in that place all the way to the line – impressive!
NO4 – Xavier Thevenard 20:03:14 – He’s won all the UTMB races (CCC, TDS, OCC and UTMB multiple times) and yes, of course, he was a favourite for the podium and or victory. Early on he raced with the front but I think he decided the pace was a little hot and he eased off. He knows how to run this loop though and experience counted. His fourth is no disappointment and confirms his ability over the 100-mile distance in the mountains.
NO5 – Jim Walmsley 20:11:38 – This was the seminal performance of the whole UTMB and yes, I have been vocal on Walmsley post his 2017 Western States. I have to say, he impressed the hell out of me at this year’s UTMB. He took the front as I and many expected but unlike Western, he understood the task at hand and who was behind him. A naturally fast runner, he obviously struggled to run slower but he restrained himself, often waiting for Jornet, D’Haene and others. I said before the race started that he would find the final 30% tough and he did. He is incredible over the 100km distance or running say 10-14 hours but beyond that is all new ground. From 100km he slowed and struggled dropping to seventh but then rallied to move back to fifth. This was THE learning curve that Walmsley needed and I am convinced that this IS the turning point in his 100-mile running career. He has already proven up to 100km he is incredible, now we will see him harness this learning curve not only in pacing and race management but also how to handle the mind games that this distance brings. I am convinced we will see Walmsley top UTMB and Western States podiums in years to come.
NO6 – Pau Capell 20:12:43 – He is a rising star of the sport, he has already had an incredible 2017 with a string of top-10 performances and now sixth at UTMB. He paced well-being a novice at the 100-mile distance but his Transgrancanaria run earlier this year no doubt helped. He was all set for fifth until a flying Walmsley found a late surge to grasp a place from him. A seminal performance.
NO7 – Dylan Bowman 20:19:48 – D’Bo nailed his first UTMB finish and confirms that the USA are finally understanding mountain running in Europe and in particular UTMB. I remember a few years back when he finished Transgrancanaria and he was blown away by how difficult and fast that race was. He’s slowly plugged away and learnt the craft.
NO8 – Gediminas Grinius 21:24:19 – He nails the 100-mile distance and his eighth place just proves how consistent he is. He will no doubt be disappointed with his placing after placing second last-year, but this year’s race was as stacked as stacked can be and this is a solid performance.
NO9 – Zach Miller 21:28:32 – Has been injured in 2017 and I think this no doubt impacted on his race and strategy. Last-year he ran off the front with what was either going to be a blazing victory or an incredible blow-up. It was the latter but he rallied for sixth. This year, he without doubt respected the distance but maybe he also realised he didn’t have the fitness and endurance to blaze a trail at the front. Either way, his 9th is solid, it confirms his ability for the distance and like Walmsley, he may well understand that a little patience will go a long way. A seminal performance.
NO10 – Jordi Gamito 21:44:31 – A revelation in 2017 and while I and others thought a solid race was possible, him rounding out the top-10 is a surprise. This will no doubt rally his enthusiasm and commitment for 2018 – a seminal performance.
The UK’s Damian Hall had an incredible race finishing 12th and top Brit. He only started racing a few years ago and he must be wishing he started earlier! David Laney was the USA’s prime contender for top-5 after two previous solid performances, he finished 14th. Other notable top-10 contenders such as Jeff Browning, Julien Chorier, Jason Schlarb, Tofol Castanyer, Sage Canaday and Miguel Heras all had mixed days. Most finished but Heras and Castanyer dropped. It is important to note that despite the weather and the high-level of competition, I consider the drop-out rate in the men’s race to be low.
Now we just need to wait one year to see how this year’s seminal race impacts on future editions.
It is a great time for the sport!
The 2017 UTMB is upon us and yes, it may well be the best line-up ever for this big loop of France, Italy and Switzerland which starts and finishes in the iconic mountain resort of Chamonix shadowed by the impressive and iconic Mont-Blanc.
The race for many has become the race to do and this is reflected in the growth of the main race, the UTMB and the growth of the sister events – TDS, CCC, PTL and the recent addition of OCC.
Departing at 1800 hrs on Sep 1st, the UTMB race goes in a loop via Les Contamines, La Balme, Les Chapieux, Lac Combal, Col Checrouit, Courmayer, Refuge Bertone, Refuge Bonati, Arnouvaz, La Fouly, Champex-Lac, Plan de L’au, Trient, Vallorcine, Col Des Montets, La Flegere and finally Chamonix.
The route is 171km in length with 10.000 mt of vertical gain and a maximum time limit of 46-hours and 30-minutes.
2300 runners will toe the line for the 2017 edition, it is part of the Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT).
The ladies race will once again be an interesting one with the return of the 2016 champion Caroline Chaverot, 2016 2nd place, Andrea Huser, 5th placed Magdalena Boulet, 8th placed Kaori Niwa and 10th placed Sophie Grant.
However, this only provides a small glimpse of the potential top-10 for the 2017 UTMB.
Nuria Picas, Stephanie Howe (now Violett), Emilie Lecomte, Fernanda Maciel, Kaci Lickteig, Gemma Arenas are without doubt contenders for the top positions and yes, victory.
Also keep an eye on a couple of dark horses, in particular Beth Pascall from the UK.
On 2016 and 2017 performances, Caroline Chaverot is the head and shoulders favourite for 2017 victory. Her recent win at Hardrock 100 was super impressive and although 2017 started with a glitch at Transgrancanaria, Chaverot is now back in winning ways and looks set to match her incredible 2016. For me, she is the best female ultra-runner in the world at the moment.
Andrea Huser just races and races and last year came very close to Chaverot, 25:15:40 to Huser’s 25:22:56. In all honesty and no disrespect to Huser, this closeness was due to Chaverot having problems and not Huser speeding up. In reality, I think Chaverot can (and possibly will) win the UTMB with a clear 1-hour margin. Can Huser place 2nd again? Yes for sure, however, she will have her hands full.
Nuria Picas has all the potential to win the race but I am not convinced that she has 25 hours of running in her at the moment? She just placed 3rd at Tromso SkyRace which was a great training day but UTMB is going to require a completely different strength.
Magdalena Boulet is going to know what she is in for this year and therefore may well have a better race. She placed 2nd at Western States and in the following weeks and months has recovered and prepared for the big dance in France. I think we may well see her on the podium this year!
Kaci Lickteig and Stephanie Howe Violett were hot favourites for Western States and they both had tough days. Lickteig has said in advance of this year’s UTMB that she is not here to race. Howe Violett though will be here to race and for me she is a hot favourite for the podium and should all things align, she is a potential winner. She was 8th in 2015.
The UK’s Beth Pascall may well be the surprise package of the 2017 race taking the American’s by surprise and yes, even the Europeans. She is a great long distance runner and loves mountain terrain. She is also a great 24-hour runner and that is a key feature for the UTMB – running 100-miles at UTMB is not the same as running 100-miles on another course. Jasmin Paris placed 6th last-year and I think Pascall can match this and potentially go top-5.
Emilie Lecomte, Fernanda Maciel, Kaori Niwa, Aliza Lapierre, Gemma Arenas, Yulia Baykova, Sophie Grant, Amanda Basham, Amy Sproston, and Joelle Vaught are all potential top-10 runners amongst a very competitive and stacked field.
Ludovic Pommeret took victory in 2016 in 22:00:22 and was followed by Gediminas Grinius, Tim Tollefson, David Laney, Javi Dominguez, Zach Miller, Sebastien Camus, Julien Chorier, Giulio Ornati and Juan Maria Jimenez. A stout top-10 of which we see many return.
The 2016 race was interesting one that saw Miller go off at a reckless pace, blow-up, recover and somehow manage to finish 6th. We also saw how pacing and patience is a key element for a successful UTMB, completely reflected in Pommeret’s victory – he was in the lead early on, he dropped to 50th about 25% in the race and then somehow came back!
With such a stacked field one if the biggest questions will be, ‘who will make it beyond Courmayer?’ As in previous years, many hot favourites will fall by the wayside with pressure on a pace that is too fast early on.
I said in the ladies preview that running 100-miles (more actually – 172km) at the UTMB is not the same as running 100-miles say on a typical US course. I think this can be clearly explained when one looks at say Anton Krupicka. He had success and results at 100-miles that took 14-16 hours, UTMB requires a minimum 20-hour effort and in reality a 20-24 hour effort if you are going to be top-10. This makes a huge difference and therefore, I will put my neck on the line now and say that Walmsley, Miller and Canaday will struggle in the final 25% of the race.
I am jumping ahead though.
With a certain Kilian Jornet returning to the race, I do believe that everyone else is running for 2nd. This is not something that I ever like to write but with all due respect to the rest of the competition, if Kilian is on form I just don’t see anyone coming close. I will also say, that if the weather conditions are good, we will see him not only win the race but I do think we have the potential of a 19-hour finish and a new course record. Jornet is coming back to this race for one reason – the race! He wants the competition, he wants to be pushed and he wants to be the best of the best. Victory will be a priority and then a CR if that is feasible and possible.
Jornet does have three teammates toeing the line and they are a formidable quartet of Francois d’Haene, Tofol Castanyer and Miguel Heras. All four of these guys can win the race and in particular, d’Haene is an odds on favourite to push Jornet and should the Catalan falter, he will be there to take over the reigns. In terms of strategy, I see the Salomon quartet running together in the first 50% of the race behind the front but close enough to pounce should they need to. Jornet will be chatting and looking for company before he and d’Haene pull away in pursuit of the front. In the latter 20/25% of the race, Jornet will pull away, catch any front protagonists and take the win. Castanyer and Heras may well be top-10 with d’Haene 2nd. They have all the potential to go 1,2,3 as in 2014.
I make it sound easy don’t I. It’s 100-miles and therefore of course it is not! Anything can happen.
Jim Walmsley and Zach Miller are no doubt going to head up the front of the race, however, if they have learnt from previous exploits it would make sense that they reign themselves in over the first half of the race. Their fans will want them to go hard or go home, but, if either of them want to win the race, patience will be key. I see Miller having the edge over Walmsley. We all know Walmsley can run fast – really fast. He proved this recently at Speedgoat 50k but that race is 50k and not 172k! Miller has been injured and of course this may well impact on his ability to have a good race in 2017?
The strongest potential for US success will come from Tim Tollefson (3rd in 2016), David Laney (4th in 2016), Jason Schlarb, Dylan Bowman, Jeff Browning, Sage Canaday and Western States 2016 champ, Andrew Miller.
That is one serious US line-up and if Jornet wasn’t running, I would have potentially said that 2017 was the year when we could see an American win the men’s race!
Tollefson missed 2nd last year by just 4-minutes and Laney 3rd by 11-minutes.
It is worth noting though that the winning time in 2016 was almost one hour slower than in 2015 when Xavier Thevenard ran 21:09. That is significant especially with Jornet and d’Haene racing!
BUT, think back to 2014 when d’Haene won in 20:11:44, Castanyer 2nd in 20:55:42, Iker Karrera 20:55:42 and Jason Schlarb 4th in 21:39:44. The top-3 (all Salomon) went under Thevenard’s 2015 winning time – that is a wake-up call for everyone racing the 2017 edition!
Remember too that the course has changed over the last few years!
On paper, based on times, Jason Schlarb has the best potential to impact the podium and his potential may well have increased evermore with his early withdrawal from Hardrock 100 with illness. He is going to be fresh!
Tollefson, Laney are the obvious contenders for top-5, they have done it before but Browning is an incredible force over 100-miles – he is patient, loves to climb and he gets the job done. Equally, Bowman is going to be raring to go for this year. We may well see the top-10 full of US runners – it is going to be a great year for them.
Luis Alberto Hernando would have been my tip for the podium but he has decided not to race – a real shame. He would have really had am impact on the front of the race if inform.
Therefore Xavier Thevenard has to be a key favourite. He is the only person to have won UTMB, TDS, CCC and OCC – impressive! He does blow hot and cold sometimes though, particularly if the pressure is on him. If he keeps a low-profile in the build up to the 2017 race I think will see him once again have a great race.
Gediminas Grinius nails the 100-mile distance and was 5th in 2014 and 2nd last year. He will be in the mix for sure but if it is a fast year, I don’t think he has the pace for a 20-hour finish.
Didrik Hermansen does have the pace but may not have the endurance, having said that, he won Transgrancanaria and was 2nd at Western States in 2016.
Pau Capell has been so consistent and is an exciting prospect at the 2017 UTMB, he won Transgrancanaria and placed 2nd at Madeira Island Ultra Trail – both races taking 13-hours. He is going to need to race for 30% (minimum) longer in Chamonix and that will be a huge learning curve.
The UK’s Andy Symonds ran the UTMB in 2016 and detonated, he will be back this year more focused. He has the potential for a great race.
Julien Chorier recently participated in Ironman Nice with a 10-hour 22-minute finish – very solid for a tough (bike) course. It’s interesting prep for UTMB but Chorier is a class act and he has been top-10 at UTMB before. He knows how to run the race. I don’t think he has the speed now to be top-3 but he has the staying power and he can pick of places and move up the ranking in the latter stages of the race.
Javier Dominguez, Vaidas Zlabys, Sebastien Camus, Yeray Duran, Scott Hawker, Carlos Sa, Sebastien Chaigneau, Yoshikazu Hara, are all potential top-10 runners… this distance and this race is so unpredictable and it rarely goes to plan or script.
From a UK perspective, Casey Morgan, Kim Collison, Damian Hall and Danny Kendall will toe the line. Hall in particular having consistently solid races.
What are your thoughts, who are going to be the surprises?
Here is the list of elite men:
UTMB Information HERE
Jason Schlarb is ‘the man!’ – Let’s face it, anyone who can go head-to-head with ‘KJ’ and finish alongside him at Hardrock 100 is doing something right. Jason just placed 3rd at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica and while we downed one or three ‘Imperials’ we discussed what 2017 has in store.
Read the article on IRUN4ULTRA HERE
On February 18th, Hayden Hawks will toe the line of Moab’s Red Hot 50k. If I was a betting man, I’d be having a punt and naming Hawks as the victor. Yes, this guy is on fire – he proved it in December when he pushed Zach Miller all the way to the line at San Francisco 50. Zach took the day and the $10.000 prize purse but the duo both went under the old course record, as Hawks says, “I broke the course record by over 10 minutes and did everything that I possibly could today but Zach just had a little more than me.”
But who is this 25-year old from Utah? In 2016 he burst on the scene with victory at Speedgoat 50K, sponsorship with Hoka One One followed and victory at Capstone 50K in November laid the foundations for that very memorable head-to-head with Miller.
“I am excited to get going this year. To be honest with you, right now, I’m ready to race and I’m just getting anxious, I want to race so bad and I want to travel so bad but for now I need to get a good base in training and then I’m going to go out there and be ready to go…!”
Read the full and in-depth interview with Hayden Hawks on IRUN4ULTRA HERE
‘Western States definitely was the race of my life. Everything came together so perfectly that day. I had a once in a lifetime race day experience. I had only dreamed of winning Western States and wanted some day for that to happen. All the stars aligned and I could win. To be among the winners list is surreal…I admire and respect all those women and men who have won. It’s such an honour to have my name listed as a winner of Western States 100.’
Kaci Lickteig ran her first ultra in 2012 aged 25-years. A small lady, she does pack a punch. It’s all wonderfully echoed by her nickname ‘Pixie Ninja’ – that sums up Kaci in a nutshell.
Some may say, 3rd time is a charm. It certainly is the case with Western States 100. The rise of this lady has been gradual but logical – 6th in 2014, 2nd in 2015 and yes, you’ve guessed it, top spot in 2016. The ‘WSER’ is rolling course, which begins in Squaw Valley, California. It climbs more than 5500m and descends nearly 7000m before reaching the finish in Auburn some 100-miles later. It’s the ‘Grail of Trail!’
Read the full article on IRUN4ULTRA HERE