Mont Blanc Ultra Marathon | The world’s most famous trail race

For most people, the very idea of running 106 miles non-stop is enough to send chills down the spine. Now imagine those 106 miles are spread across three different countries and the highest mountain range in Europe, with the total elevation gained over 30,000 feet.

The views might be beautiful, but the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is not for the faint of heart.

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc
Runners set off in wet conditions for the UTMB (Getty Images)

Despite the fearsome challenge, the UTMB is one of the most popular ultra marathons in the world, with roughly 2,500 runners starting the race each year. There is massive variation in ability and experience in the field, a fact the race celebrates, with competitors finishing in anywhere from under 20 hours to up to 48. For most, the course takes well over 30 hours to complete, meaning they run through two nights, while many, of course, are unable to finish the race. 

The UTMB consists of a 106-mile loop beginning and ending in Chamonix, France. It passes through Italy and Switzerland, going up and down throughout the Alps mountain range in the Mont Blanc valley. The highest point in the course comes in the second half of the course. Known as the Grand Col Ferret (8,323 feet), it also marks the border where runners cross from Italy into Switzerland.

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc
A runner passes through a checkpoint in La Fouly. (Getty Images)

As well as being one of, if not the most famous ultramarathon going, the UTMB is also now the final leg and climax of the UTMB World Series, a global competition that started in 2021. The 106-mile race is also part of a larger, week-long event, in which some 10,000 runners take part over various distances. There are three different main races – the titular UTMB, the CCC, and the OCC – and each of them is the culmination of their respective competitions in the World Series. The UTMB typically takes place on the last weekend of August or the first weekend of September. 

Read More: Badwater 135 Ultramarathon | The world’s toughest foot race

The male and female winners in the 2023 editions of the race were both Americans. Jim Walmsley won the men’s in a time of 19 hours and 37 minutes, and Courtney Dewalter took the women’s title, crossing the finish line after 23 and a half hours. This gave Walmsley the course record in the men’s event, while Dewalter already held the women’s record, setting a time of 22:30:54 back in 2021.

utmb mont blanc marathon
It’s a rather crowded affair at the start, but the field soon thins out. (Wikimedia)

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe and the course snakes up and down throughout the sweeping valley. The first UTMB was run in 2003, and it has been held every year since, with the exception of 2020 due to the pandemic.

Each year, to ensure the event runs smoothly, UTMB organizers rely on some 2,000 volunteers as well as the cooperation of 18 different municipalities throughout the Mont Blanc region. They support runners along the route, which is lined by more than 50,000 spectators. There are a series of festivities taking place in Chamonix and other towns and plenty going on after the race to celebrate another year.

Registration for 2024 is now open…

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