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UTMB® (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®) UTMB® 166k (24 Aug 2007)

The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc is a 163km race that circumnavigates the entire Mont Blanc massif, starting in Chamonix, France and passing through Courmayeur in Italy, then Champex-Lac in Switzerland and finally back into Chamonix. It involves 8900m of ascent and descent and competitors have 46 hours to complete the course. I had been to Chamonix before and loved the mountain scenery and so was drawn to the challenge of the race.
I lined up at 6.30pm on Friday August 24 with 2319 other athletes who dared to think they could complete this race. Last year only 40% of the field managed to make it back into Chamonix so the odds aren’t good. We left the town to the cheers of the large crowd and I set a comfortable pace of just over 8 minutes per mile. After an undulating 8km I passed through the small town of Les Houches and set up the first big climb of the race the to La Charme. Everybody walks the climbs – they are just too long and steep to be able to run up. Most people including me use lightweight trekking poles, they help you go faster up the climbs and help take the stress of the quads on the descents. The views across the valley to Mt Blanc as the suns sets, alighting the clouds a fiery pink and red are breathtaking. One of the best reasons for doing this race is the scenery – it is simply awesome. The first descent is down a skislope and is very steep. I lack the technical skills to run quickly down something this steep – even the steepest hills in Hampstead heath where I did endless hill repeats in training is nothing compared to this. I decide to make sure I don’t fall on the really steep bits and stride out on the not so steep bits. This strategy preserved my quads and I was able to pass most of the people who passed me on the technical parts of the course.

The next 10 hours is spent ascending three more major climbs – the Croix de Bonhomme at 2479m, the Col de la Seigne at 2516, the and the Arete du Mont-Favre at 2435m with of course the large descents between them and passing through a few small villages along the way. The villages are great to run through even at 2 in the morning – large crowds all enthusiastically yelling out calls of “allez, allez, allez”. This is another feature of this race – the support from volunteers and spectators is amazing – everyone is so friendly and encouraging, it really does lift you.
Running at night in the mountains is a surreal experience. The sight of a windy trail of headlights reaching up to a nearby summit, then looking down and seeing there is a trail of headlights stretching far down the mountain as far as the eye can see is unforgettable.
The moon was almost full and illuminated the enormous bulk of the Mont Blanc massif. It is an awesome sight. The glaciers could still be seen under the reflection of the moonlight and on any normal night I could have sat and stared for hours taking in the majestic scene.

UTMB® (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®) UTMB® 166k (26 Aug 2016)

This year the organiser's website says - around 170km with about 10,000 metres of height gain