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Europe’s toughest and most famous ultra, Columbia UTMB is less than a month away, so we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about this iconic race.
UTMB. The ultimate ultrarunning test, the pinnacle of the European trail running circuit. A single-stage mountain ultramarathon in the Alps, encompassing western Europe’s highest peaks. It’s a spectacle, a festival, like being in Paris when the final stage of the Tour de France comes pelting in. The buzz and beauty resonating through the streets, the sheer pain and beautiful torture that the athletes put themselves through as thousands toe the start line each year to compete in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
A 170km long course with over 10,000m of brutal ascent. The superhuman elites manage to inhale that distance in around 20 hours, while the mere mortals knock around it in around 40 hours. Combine this with heat, snow, rain and temperatures as low as -9°C, it really is a race worth following. This year’s edition will see superstars like Kilian Jornet and Núria Picas battle it out on the trails. While from Ireland, we’ve got the ultrarunning legend Eoin Keith, while Wexford’s Paddy O’Leary potentially is doing the TdS.
The UTMB is traditionally held on the last weekend of August. In 2018, it will be held on the 27 August to 2 September and in 2019, it will be 26 August to 1 September.
At the base of Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France.
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While the UTMB is the main attraction, there are several more races in the UTMB family that run alongside it.
UTMB uses a points system for qualification. You can earn between 1 and 6 qualification points at designated races. To register for the UTMB, you need to have a minimum of 15 points from a maximum of three races. Because of its popularity, athletes are then selected by a lottery.
The 2019 qualification races are TBC. Check out the UTMB website for the extensive list of qualifying. However, in the past few years, the Irish qualification races have included the following races:
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The route takes in Courmayer, Champex, and Les Chapeux, with the race starting and finishing in Chamonix.
We asked Irish ultrarunning extraordinaire Eoin Keith to answer a few of your questions about the UTMB:
“Lots and lots of running! You have to put in the hard work. In the month or two leading up to the UTMB I focus on getting in plenty of hill runs, as well as my usual back-to-back long training runs at the weekend. You have to get comfortable running for long distances in the hills carrying a backpack.
I try to simulate, as closely as possible, the conditions I will face in the race. I also try to ensure not to neglect speed work and do one or two speed sessions per week, usually a combination of interval training with my running club, and tempo runs on the road. Also, get in some hilly cycles too to build climbing strength. Of course, I’ll train in whatever conditions the weather throws up, as you don’t get to choose the weather on race day!”
“The quality of the field makes it very hard to stay competitive and to focus on running your own race. Huge numbers of runners set off at lunatic pace, and unlike most races, quite a large number of them can maintain that. It requires a lot of focus and patience to run your own optimal race.”
“Above all else, embrace the atmosphere and enjoy the whole experience. The atmosphere at the start is particularly awesome. The countdown to the start, with the race theme “1492 by Vangelis” blasting out, and then running through the streets of Chamonix jammed with cheering supporters is just superb. The other thing is to ensure to run your own race. Pace it too easy, if anything, in the first half to ensure that you make it through to the finish. And of course, keep looking around and taking in the amazing views, and remembering how lucky we are to be able to enjoy this incredible playground.
The toughest section was probably the top half of the second major climb to Col De Bonhomme and across to Croix De Bonhomme. I really felt the altitude kick in on the steep climb up, and we were met by an icy wind running along the top along with some nice thick mist. It was a good gear testing section! Despite my wish for bad weather, I was happy enough to descend into the calmness of the next valley and get some views back.”
Other recommended equipment (list non-exhaustive):
“I’ll bring two almost complete sets of gear to Chamonix to allow for the fact that the weather is so unpredictable.”
If the weather is good:
If the weather is bad:
In my pack:
Eoin Keith’s most valued piece of kit is his Columbia Outdry Extreme lightweight waterproof jacket. “It is my first and most important line of defence against inclement weather. It’s the most genuinely waterproof jacket I’ve ever used, but is also very breathable, and extremely resilient. The latest version I’m wearing is a great lightweight version… perfect for racing!”
Check out our full review of the Columbia OutDry™ Ex Tech Shell Jacket.
For more info: UTMB
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By Orla O'Muiri
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