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What is the UTMB Race? All You Need To Know About This Epic Ultramarathon

Chamonix really does become the trail running mecca once a year thanks to this epic mountain race.

What is the UTMB race?

So you’re thinking about running UTMB, or are curious to learn what this famous European trail race is all about? You’ve come to the right place!

In simplest terms, the UTMB, or Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is a famous destination ultramarathon running race in Europe, starting and finishing in Chamonix, in the French Alps. The UTMB race involves around 106 miles (170km) of running and a circumnavigation of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe.

How many people run the UTMB?

Around 2,300 people run the UTMB race itself. However, In addition to the headline UTMB race, the event also includes six other endurance races, most of which are also ultramarathons ranging in distance from 53km (the OCC) to 300km (the PTL).

UTMB OCC trail running trail and kale wm 2
Alastair running UTMB OCC in 2019 – this is a race we will both definitely run again! 🙂

In total, around 10,000 people run over the course of the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc event week.

When does UTMB take place?

The UTMB race is held around the last week of August / first week of September each year.

Chamonix - Trail & Kale - Photography by Alastair Dixon

What are the other UTMB races?

The other UTMB ultramarathon races held during the UTMB race week are:

  • TDS – “Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie” – 145km and 9,100m ascent – point-to-point from Italy to France
  • CCC – Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix – 101km and 6,100m ascent – point-to-point from Italy to France, via Switzerland
  • OCC – Orsieres-Champex-Chamonix – 55km and 3,500m ascent, point to point from Switzerland to France
  • PTL – Petit Trotte a Leon – 300km and 25,000m of ascent, this is a non-competitive event, in teams of 2-3 people who are self-supported

Whichever race you run, you’ll be sure to experience THE MOST epic of finish line runs in the world.

Alastair finishing UTMB OCC 1

The town of Chamonix really does come alive and it’s truly fantastic feeling the atmosphere as you run through the town spurred on by so many people applauding you for the epic journey you just completed. It doesn’t get better than this – truly!

There are also two other races, YCC and MCC, which are shorter races for youngsters and volunteers/local community members respectively.

Why is the UTMB race so famous?

The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc ultra marathon is famous because it is a huge challenge, held in the trail running mecca of Chamonix along a well-known hiking route which circumnavigates a huge mountain.

As it is recognized as one of the toughest foot races in the World, each year we see it gaining in popularity, especially with runners traveling from overseas.

What is the elevation gain at UTMB?

During the 106 miles / 170km of running that participants will need to complete, UTMB runners also travel through high elevation passes (2,500m+ / 8,200ft+) and need to be able to manage themselves in changeable mountain conditions.

These conditions range from scorching summer heat to freezing high-altitude precipitation and even potentially snow.

Elevation gain during the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc covers more than 10,000m (c.33,000ft) of climbing and the same descending.

Trail running in Chamonix

How long does the UTMB race take to complete?

In addition to time barrier cut-offs during the UTMB race, runners have up to 46h30 to complete it.

Most people can expect to be out on the UTMB course over two nights, as the race starts at 6pm on the first night. The fastest finishers can complete the course in less than 21 hours!

It’s also worth noting that due to the level of difficulty, the drop-out rate (percentage of people not finishing) at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc can be up to around 40% of starters.

This rate is particularly high in years with bad weather (cold, wet and stormy) and really hot years, when runners can struggle with more challenging terrain and exposure during cold and wet / stormy weather, or with dehydration and gut issues when attempting the race in hot summer conditions.

Can I have a pacer at UTMB?

Pacers are not permitted for the UTMB. In general, ultra marathon pacers are pretty uncommon in European races, unlike in the US where pacers are often permitted on 100 mile race courses.

How do I run the UTMB race?

Hold your horses! Due to the size of the challenge and the number of people wanting to run the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (whether the headline UTMB Race or one of the other races such as TDS, CCC or OCC).

In order to qualify for the UTMB you need to earn yourself a precious Running Stone, and complete a certain number of challenging ‘qualifying races’ to accumulate sufficient Index points and experience before being able to apply for a place via UTMB’s lottery system.

UTMB’s organizers refer to the lottery tickets as ‘running stones’, and their website is updated each year to reflect how many stones you need to enter each race. Read on to learn more about how to qualify for the races.

How does the UTMB points system and lottery work?

Ever heard of UTMB Running Stones and find yourself scratching your head? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The UTMB has a unique qualification system for you to be able to participate in either of the main events including UTMB, CCC, and OCC.

This system involves collecting what they call ‘Running Stones’ to improve your odds in the entry lottery. These precious stones aren’t picked up off the trail but earned by completing races in the UTMB World Series.

The more you earn, the better your chances of toeing the start line in Chamonix!”

But wait, there’s another layer to this trail-race qualification onion: the UTMB Index. This index categorizes you based on your performance in UTMB World Series races or other ‘UTMB Index recognized events’.

Depending on the distance and difficulty of the race you complete, you’ll receive a UTMB Index that makes you eligible for specific UTMB races, be it the OCC, CCC, or the main event, the UTMB itself.

It’s like your trail-running GPA, constantly updated to reflect your latest achievements!

Feeling intrigued but slightly overwhelmed? Don’t sweat it! Our comprehensive guide on ‘How To Qualify For UTMB‘ dives deep into the nitty-gritty of Running Stones, the UTMB Index, and even special categories like Elite Entries and Group Registrations.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss this easy-to-follow guide on how to get your foot in the UTMB door and tow the start line of the most epic and iconic trail race in the world!

What are the UTMB qualifying races?

So you’re wondering where you can earn those all-important UTMB Index points, huh? Good news: it’s not just UTMB World Series races that can boost your “trail-running GPA”.

There are also UTMB Index Races, a whole catalog of events officially recognized by UTMB for dishing out those index points.

These could range from local trail runs to large international events, and each contributes to your UTMB Index in the 20K, 50K, 100K, or 100M category depending on the race distance.

The best part? These races can be all around the world, giving you the freedom to explore new trails while setting your sights on the UTMB. Completing these races within 24 months before your desired UTMB event will keep your index valid and up-to-date.

So not only do you get to explore, but you’re also racking up valuable points that bring you one step closer to Chamonix!

For a complete list of these races, check out UTMB’s official site or better yet, read our ultimate easy to follow guide on how to qualify for the UTMB to get a full overview of the process and the races that are eligible for qualification in the UTMB Index system.

What do I need to wear and carry for UTMB?

The UTMB race has a list of mandatory kit. The list of requirements may change between years and even on race-day, depending on anticipated weather conditions, but we definitely recommend you invest in a good hydration pack, headlamp, waterproof jacket, hiking poles and of some great trail running shoes.

You’ll probably need this ultra running gear anyway during the months leading up to the race, while you build up your training.

If you want to get the best trail and ultra running gear for this race (or another similar race) check out our Ultimate Trail Running Gear Guide.

Other challenging European Destination Trail Races and Ultramarathons like UTMB

If you like the sound of the UTMB but would prefer a race that is a little different (and less famous) without spending a couple of years accumulating points for the lottery, then have a read of our post on ‘Alternatives to UTMB‘ for some ideas and suggestions for other destination trail races in Europe. Also browse our Events & Races category for loads more trail race inspiration!

Helen
Helenhttps://www.trailandkale.com/
One of Trail & Kale's co-founders, a mom, and guardian of our resident trail dog, Kepler, Helen can be found trail running with Kepler and enjoying road runs with her mini in a jogging stroller, all while testing out the latest running gear for our readers.

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What is the UTMB race? So you're thinking about running UTMB, or are curious to learn what this famous European trail race is all about? You've come to the right place! In simplest terms, the UTMB, or Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is a famous destination...What is the UTMB Race? All You Need To Know About This Epic Ultramarathon