The UTWT rolls on and Japan will host what will arguably be one of the most competitive 100-mile races we will see this year… certainly over a tough course (Hardrock excluded). I say a 100-miles but actually the course is 105 with approximately 10,000 meters of altitude gain. The fifth race in the UTWT (Ultra Trail World Tour) in reality, UTMF is a follow on race from Transgrancanaria as many of the big hitters will re-assemble in Japan, to do battle once again for key ranking points. Nuria Picas was always going to race on the clockwise loop around Mount Fuji, by contrast, Ryan Sandes after his success in the Canaries has shifted focus from Australia and placed his emphasis and efforts on this tough and challenging race.
Without doubt, at the stroke of 3pm (local time) on Friday 25th April a battle royal will unfold both in the ladies and men’s respective races. Dropout rates are usually around 30% to give an indication of how tough this race is.
‘The ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI is an unparalleled event that challenges the human spirit through the outdoor sport of trail running. By connecting mountain trails, local footpaths and forest roads around the foothills of Mt. Fuji, this 168km course allows participants to enjoy majestic 360 degree views of Mt. Fuji while experiencing the stunning natural beauty and culture of this region.’
Nuria Picas; would you want to bet against her? Nuria has transformed herself in the last 24-months into one of the most competitive and focused female mountain, trail and ultra runners in the world. Her skill, dedication and focused attitude has seen the Catalan excel over every distance and terrain. Her only nemesis has been her good friend, Emelie Forsberg. In 2013, Nuria raced TNFUTMB, her first 100-mile race and placed 2nd behind an unstoppable Rory Bosio. Earlier this year at Transgrancanaria we once again had a master class in how to prepare for, run and win a race! Without doubt, Nuria is a hot favourite for UTMF.
Francesca Canepa excels at tough, long and hilly races when the terrain is not too technical. To be honest; the longer, the better. A 100-km race is very much a warm up for Francesca as her impressive victories at Ronda dels Cims and Tor des Geants confirm in 2013. However, Francesca is no one trick pony. She has placed highly at shorter and faster races such as Speedgoat 50k and UROC. UTMF will without doubt suit Francesca’s running style and after her win at HK100 and second at Transgrancanaria earlier this year, Francesca will without doubt be looking for a consistently strong repeat performance and important UTWT points.
Nathalie Mauclair burst onto the scene in 2013 with a stunning top placing at Transvulcania La Palma. A relative unknown, Nathalie went on to impress her female competitors (especially Emelie Forsberg) and not only did she become IAU World Trail Champion that required pace, she also was crowned Raid de le Reunion (Diagonale des Fous) champion. Her diversity of pace, endurance and technical ability earmarks Nathalie as ‘one-to-watch’ at UTMF.
Shona Stephenson placed 2nd at UTMF last year but had a very mixed 2013. Shona dropped from TNFUTMB and Ice Trail Tarentaise and just recently placed 6th at Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon (also a UTWT race) where I expected her to place top-3, so, the jury is out. She will be in the game early on pushing at the front, let’s hope she can hold on and keep the momentum going.
Fernanda Maciel after a 3rd place at Transgrancanaria is looking for more UTWT points to boost her overall rankings. Her Everest Trail Race win in late November 2013 would appear to have boosted Fernanda’s running after a troubled 2013 season. Certainly Fernanda’s 7th at TNFUTMB and Transgrancanaria win in 2012 shows that she has all the required armory to compete with the best-of-the-best; she will just need a little luck!
Nerea Martinez like Francesca Canepa like races that are long and tough. Winner of the inaugural UTMF, Nerea won’t repeat that performance in 2014. She has all the required abilities but lacks the pace required that Picas, Mauclair and Canepa have in abundance. However, if it comes down to survival and pushing on through to the line, Nerea will be around and ready to mop up the places. Her 2nd place at the 2012 Tor des Geants proves that she cannot be ruled out in any race.
Julia Boettger had a solid start to 2013 placing 2nd behind Jo Meek at the tough multi day race, The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. However, she was DNS at Transgrancanaria due a potential niggling injury. Recently she has been working on and providing instruction on several training camps. If in form, UTMF will suit Julia’s skill set and we can expect a top-10 performance and if she has ‘one of those days’ we may well see her top-5.
Nora Senn placed 3rd at UTMF in 2012 behind Nerea Martinez. Taking into consideration that result and the ladies previously mentioned, Nora can hope for top-10.
Hitomi Ogawa along with Kumiko Amikura and Akemi Ban may well have the hopes of Japan in their legs, placing 3rd, 4th and 6th respectively in 2013; they all have the knowledge and understanding of what UTMF requires from a race and survival aspect. Top-10 is possible for all-3 and top-5 with this quality of field would be an incredible result.
Yoshikazu Hara gets the nod first as last years UTMF champ. One could arguably say it was a lucky day… but hold on a minute, you don’t beat Julien Chorier and Seb Chaigneau on luck alone! Had Hara excelled at the 2013 TNFUTMB I would be hailing him as a potential 2014 champ as he does seem able to use some seriously fast 100km speed (6:33) on long courses. However, Hara dropped from Tarawera with injury and this leaves some huge question marks in this quality of field.
Ryan Sandes is on a roll… having spent a great deal of time with him on Gran Canaria and getting a great understanding of the man, his training and his thought processes, I’d find it difficult to bet against Ryan at UTMF. As we are all aware, his 2013 season was one to forget but his 2012 season had moments of brilliance and his 2014 victory at Transgrancanaria and then subsequent FKT on the Drakensberg Traverse with Rhyno Griesel will either mean ‘Sandman’ will be in the form of his life or a little jaded. What do you think?
Seb Chaigneau placed 3rd at UTMF in 2013 so knows the course. A tough competitor with a unique and endearing view of our sport, he is a true champion. His win at Hardrock 100 and CR in 2013 was a popular result and without doubt he would be a popular champion in Japan. His recent drop from Transgrancanaria leaves a couple of question marks but I don’t have the answers… you see, dropping from a race whilst in the lead leaves the door wide open. I think we will see Seb pushing top-3.
Iker Karrera is understated and arguably one of the best ultra distance runners out there. His quiet, modest, no nonsense approach of arriving, winning and leaving a race often leaves a void in this media savvy world. However, you would have to have been in an ultra void not to notice his impressive victory at Grand Raid des Pyrenees in 2013 and then his follow on victory at Tor des Geants. Potential winner!
Francois D’Haene has a vineyard and that has taken a priority. His run season now evolves around seasons, grape picking and bottling, however, it hasn’t affected Francois’s performances. When Francois races, he races in top form. His 2nd at Ice Trail Tarentaise where he raced side-by-side with fellow teammate, Kilian Jornet shows he has all the skill and speed required to win any race. He proved this with a great victory at the tough and technical Raid de la Reunion (Diagonale des Fous). This race amongst all his experiences, even his victory over a shortened UTMB course, will put him in a great place for success at UTMF.
Nick Clark; enough said really! Tough as nails, really competitive and one of the best 100-mile runners out there; his consistent performance over the ‘Grand Slam’ in 2013 was a joy to behold. Nick kicked off 2014 with a tough outing at his first multi day race at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, a race that provided Nick with a new perspective on how tough running back-to-back, day-after-day can be. With some solid training behind him and experience on tough courses such as Hardrock 100, one has to give a nod to Nick and put him on the ‘hot’ list for this race.
Mike Foote has been super consistent at TNFUTMB with 3rd place at the shortened race when Francois D’Haene won and 5th place in 2013. Don’t expect to see him up front in the early stages… Mike has a canny knack of almost being out of the race and then in the latter third applying the afterburners and moving up through the field. In addition to great climbing ability, he also has speed. This natural speed will be extremely useful on the faster section of the UTMF course.
Gary Robbins 4th at UTMF in 2013 and recent winner at HURT100 will bring his adventure racing background, the love of the tough and gnarly and some pure old grit back to Japan and armed with knowledge, I can’t help but think that Gary will be a force this year. Of course, one must consider that this field is super stacked and to repeat 4th or move even in higher in 2014 will be a supreme effort, but Gary on his day can do it.
Thomas Lorblanchet looked to be about to break into the big time after winning Leadville 100 and placing highly at Transvulcania whilst running under Salomon colours. However, since moving to a new sponsor, Thomas appears to have been in a running wilderness. Surely a win at the highly competitive ‘Templiers’ was a great result in late 2013 but I have little else to go on… he may well surprise us.
Joe Grant recently won Alaska White Mountains 100 with a new CR; a great result! However, it is extremely difficult to say how this performance will set up Joe for UTMF. Post his impressive Iditarod performance in 2013, Joe struggled to find form (more due to fatigue) and even at his beloved Hardrock 100, he had to drop (whilst in 2nd place) with medical issues. Regularly training with Anton Krupicka, Joe is very much a new breed of ultra runner, inspired by Kilian Jornet, who combines running, climbing and time in the mountains to fulfill his passion. UTMF in principal will suit Joe 100% and if in form, we can expect him to be a main protagonist at the front of the race.
Brendan Davies 5th at UTMF in 2013 has plenty of speed but lacks true mountain experience. He openly said that the 2013 edition of the race was a shock to the system and the time he lost going up, he pulled back on the fast flatter sections. I am sure Brendan will come to UTMF with more vertical training. However, this field is stacked with out-and-out mountain men. It’s going to be a tough race to keep in touch with the top-5 and repeat his 2013 performance.
Antoine Guillon 4th at Reunion and 5th at Transgrancanaria will be hunting UTWT points. I think he will be in the mix but not top-5.
Dave Mackey was one of the first runners to embrace the UTWT and I am sure we will see his presence throughout the series. One of the most respected ultra runners out there, had this been a 100km race he would be a hot favourite. But over the 100-mile distance and on this terrain, I don’t see Dave making top-5 despite his success at Western States. But he is due a big performance…
John Tidd to many will be a complete unknown, I first met him at Transgrancanaria in 2013 when he went on to place 6th running a strong and consistent race. Later in the year he repeated this consistency with 6th at UTMF and then 10th at TNFUTMB. I very much doubt he will make top-5 but top-10 is a distinct possibility.
Emmanuel Gault recently won the Eco Trail de Paris in a quick 5:40, so, he’s in good shape. However, even dating back to 2007, I am not sure he has raced over 100km. So, he may be up front in the early stages but past 80km he may well fade. It’s an unknown? Without doubt, Emmanuel specialises in French races such as Templiers, SainteLyon, CCC and so on, his recent 22bd place at Transvulcania gives us little insight into what may be achieved at the tough UTMF.
Stone Tsang from Hong Kong will potentially be a ‘one-to-watch’ after solid UTMB and HK100 performances, but he will need a great day to break top-5.
And Shinsuke Isomura have all raced UTMF in the past and in reality it is about as much insight as I can provide.
If I had to pick one runner it would be Kenichi Yamamoto. Kenichi raced against Julien Chorier in 2013 and placed 2nd. A happy and talented guy (expect film crews following him) he has had success with a top-3 at UTMF in 2012 but not against a field of this quality.
The 2014 UTMF will be quite a race. In addition to all the above, several other notable runners are taking part and it almost feels rude not to mention the ever present Christophe Le Saux, Jeremy Ritcey or Timo Meyer. But I have tried to preview who will contend top-5.
UTMF website – http://www.ultratrailmtfuji.com/en/
Runner entry list – http://www.ultratrailmtfuji.com/en/about/entrylist/