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Everything You Need to Know About the UTMB

Runner in a mountain setting
BY: Rachel Boswell
01 September 2023

Regarded as one of the most challenging and prestigious ultramarathons in the world, the UTMB sees elite and amateur runners alike traverse an extraordinary 100-mile plus course around Mont Blanc. The annual race returns this weekend – but what’s the story of the UTMB challenge, and who is expected to win this year’s contest?

The road to the UTMB

Let’s put it out there now – the UTMB isn’t your regular run round the block. And as for taking part? You can’t simply rock up and race. Just getting to the start line is a feat in itself, and then you’ve got the small matter of covering more than 170km along beautiful but brutal mountain terrain. 

Created in 2003, the then-titled Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is an unforgettable race around the Alps spanning three countries (France, Italy and Switzerland), an elevation of around 10,000m and a distance of 171km (106 miles). It takes place once a year on either the final weekend of August or the first weekend of September – starting and finishing in the stunning French commune of Chamonix – and can take competitors anywhere from less than 20 to 46 hours to complete. In short, it is a race for those who are mentally tough and in it for the long haul. 

The peak of ultrarunning

Due to its soaring popularity over the past 20 years, the UTMB is now one of eight trail races held during a week-long festival in Chamonix:

  • UTMB – the jewel in the crown of the annual festival
    • Start: Chamonix, France
    • Distance: 171km
    • Elevation: 9,963m+
  • CCC – the iconic ‘little sister’ of the UTMB
    • Start: Courmayeur, Italy
    • Distance: 100km
    • Elevation: 6,156m+
  • OCC – a mighty challenge for middle distance ultrarunners
    • Start: Orsières, Switzerland
    • Distance: 55km
    • Elevation: 3,425m+
  • TDS – a breathtaking event just shy of the UTMB distance
    • Start: Courmayeur, Italy
    • Distance: 145km
    • Elevation: 9,176m+
  • PTL – a demanding mountain challenge for teams of two or three
    • Start: Chamonix, France
    • Distance: 300km
    • Elevation: 25,000m+
  • ETC – a shorter race set in the heart of the Italian Alps
    • Start: Courmayeur, Italy
    • Distance: 15km
    • Elevation: 1,200m+
  • MCC – a unique race for UTMB volunteers, partners and local residents
    • Start: Martigny-Combe, Switzerland
    • Distance: 40km
    • Elevation: 2,300m+
  • YCC – a chance for youth runners to experience a slice of the UTMB
    • Start: Courmayeur, Italy
    • Distance: 15km 
    • Elevation: 1,100m+

In 2021, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc was renamed the UTMB World Series Finals, setting itself as the flagship trail race in the UTMB World Series, which was also launched that year. 

From 2024, the UTMB World Series will include 38 intense trail races across Asia, Oceania, Europe, Africa and the Americas, with the UTMB World Series Finals in Chamonix – as the name suggests – being the last and most legendary. 

Qualifying for the UTMB

To enter the ballot for a coveted place in the UTMB World Series Finals, runners must have covered a significant amount of ground already.

As of 2023, ballot entrants must have collected at least one Running Stone within the past 24 months. Running Stones are awarded to runners when they complete 20km, 50km, 100km or 100 mile races in the UTMB World Series. The more Running Stones they garner from qualifying races, the greater their chance of getting a place in the ballot. 

But that’s not all. To enter the ballot, runners must also have achieved a valid UTMB Index – an assessment of a trail runner’s performance – in the relevant category within the past 24 months. So, for the UTMB, that’s the 100km or 100 mile category. It’s not the easiest of application processes, but for ultramarathon aficionados, it could well be worth it!

At the race itself, all runners – no matter what their speed or experience level – must then carry mandatory kit ranging from a mobile phone and ID to food and a litre of water, not to mention a survival blanket, bandages, a base layer and much more. Forget an item and that could be your UTMB experience over before it’s even started.

Who is tipped to win in 2023?

The 2023 UTMB is set to be a thrilling showdown between the elite runners.

In the men’s race, the injury-induced absence of defending and four-time champion Kilian Jornet – who also set the course record in 2022 with his winning time of 19:49:30 – opens the door for another hungry hopeful. 

British force Tom Evans looks promising for the win, having clinched victory at the Western States 100 ultramarathon in June. Mathieu Blanchard, who finished second at the 2022 UTMB in 19:54:50 – the second fastest time ever for the course – is also hoping to step up to the win this year, while American Jim Walmsley, who takes on the UTMB for the fifth time in 2023, is another strong contender for first place. 

While Spaniard Jornet is out, defending women’s champion Courtney Dauwalter is back to retain her title in 2023. Hailed as the quickest woman to cover the UTMB course, the American set the current record of 22:30:55 in 2021 – a year which also saw her finish seventh overall. 

Among the strong female contenders fighting Dauwalter for the win are New Zealand’s Ruth Croft, who broke the tape at the Western States 100 in 2022, as well as Germany’s Katharina Hartmuth and Italy’s Martina Valmassoi, who have also both won big trail ultramarathons within the past 18 months. 

Let the epic UTMB commence

For most runners, the UTMB is many, many literal steps too far. But for those aiming high in the ultramarathon world, nothing compares to the irresistible allure and unmatchable experience of that one-of-a-kind race.

Image credit: Dacia UTMB Mont-Blanc



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