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Rickey Gates Friday, 18 November 2011 08:25 TWEET COMMENTS 0

The UTMB Fun Run - Page 2

With all five of the former male winners and a majority of the top-five finishers from the past several years scheduled to start the race, on paper, the 2010 UTMB was slated to be the most deeply competitive race in the event's history. Add to the mix the likes of America's most decorated ultrarunner, Scott Jurek, North Face athlete Mike Wolfe, a Japanese duo, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki and Kenichi Yamamoto, complete with their own film crew, on the women's side, Canadian Tracy Garneau (the 2010 women's Western States winner), former UTMB winner from England, Elisabeth Hawker, and a couple dozen other ultrarunners from around the globe vying for a top spot, and you were looking at the most competitive ultramarathon in the sport's young but rapidly maturing history.

"I'm not going to feel like I tarnished my title by finishing fifth," said Roes in reference to a nearly unprecedented, perfect winning record in his eight ultra races. "I want it to be a real organic experience, and let it unfold how it may." Being pulled from the course only 20 miles into the 104-mile race, however, is not what he had in mind.

That Mont Blanc, at 15,782 feet, is the highest mountain in Western Europe is reason enough to stage a competitive tour (French for turn) around the mountain's base. That a long-established and stunning hiking route—the Tour du Mont Blanc—has existed to accommodate such a tour is another reason. That Chamonix is arguably the birthplace and heart of European alpinism and mountaineering is reason enough to start and finish the race amidst the churches, cafes and boulangeries in the town center. That the Chamonix Valley is widely considered to be, as Mark Twain called it, "the death-sport capital of the world," is reason enough to wonder why the UTMB is only on its eighth year compared to other ultras that are approaching their 40th and 50th years.

Introduced in 2003, by Catherine Poletti and a group of outdoor enthusiasts, Les Trailers du Mont-Blanc, the inaugural UTMB welcomed over 700 runners to the starting line and saw less than 10 percent of them finish before the 46-hour cut off. The list of entrants nearly doubled for each of the next three years until it reached its capacity of 2500 runners (now down to 2300). "The UTMB is the Tour de France of ultrarunning," says Wolfe. "The Euro Super Bowl," says the Wasatch "Speed Goat" Karl Meltzer. On American soil, Roes compares its significance to the Boston or New York marathons, four of them, back-to-back, that is.

To accommodate the growing interest, in 2006, Poletti added a 60-mile "little sister to the UTMB"—the Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC). The course eliminates the first 48 miles of the UTMB by starting in the Italian town of Courmayeur, where it follows a slightly modified course for the first 12 miles before meeting up with the UTMB course, where it then crosses into Switzerland and through the town of Champex before returning to Chamonix. In 2008 the non-competitive, 152-mile Petite Trotte à  Léon (PTL) was added for two- and three-person teams. A final race, Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS), was concocted in 2008. Though the four races combined accommodate over 5000 runners from nearly 60 countries, a start number is, still, so coveted that a point system has been introduced to ensure that lottery entrants have at least completed an ultramarathon prior ... preferably several.


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