This Friday, thousands of ultrarunners will gather in Chamonix for the start of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB).
Over the next 46 hours, they’ll attempt to cover 103 miles of treacherous mountain running, starting in south-eastern France before venturing through Italy and Switzerland. The route takes in seven valleys, 71 glaciers and over 400 summits, with a total elevation gain of nearly 10,000metres.
Attracting more than 2,000 participants each year, the UTMB is one of the world’s largest ultramarathon’s – and arguably it’s most prestigious.
What makes it so good?
The UTMB is not just a race; it’s a three-day running festival attracting runners and supporters from all corners of the globe.
The atmosphere at the start and finish line in Chamonix is unlike any other ultra race in the world.
But don’t be fooled – this is no walk in the park. Six-hundred and fifty-five of the 722 runners that signed up the inaugural UTMB in 2003 failed to complete the course.
As a result of its difficulty, registration for the UTMB is only permitted to competitors who have already gained considerable ultrarunning experience.
To qualify, runners need to have acquired a minimum of eight points from a specific list of qualification races within a specified period.
These qualifying events are epic challenges of over 42K, and cannot be road races, triathlons or orienteering events.
Who’s going to win?
Three-time champion Kilian Jornet is the main absentee from this year’s line-up, meaning the field is wide open ahead of the 12th Ultra-Trail Mont du-Blanc on Friday.
Of the Europeans, France’s François D’Haene and Spain’s Luis Alberto Hernando will both Fancy their chances.
The US’s Timothy Olson is in contention after finishing fourth last year, despite crossing the line 13th at the Hardrock 100m race in Silverton, Colorado in mid-July.
The UK’s Jez Bragg is carrying our hopes in Chamonix after finishing in a highly respectable 10th place at the 2013 event. The Dorset ultramarathon runner won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc fours years ago, although the course had been halved in length due to adverse race conditions.
And lastly, we couldn’t forget the much-loved American Anton Krupikca (pictured, below).
The Bearded One is in great form going into Chamonix, having recently won the Lavaredo Ultra, and he’ll be hoping to improve on last year’s race, when injury forced him to drop out just 29K short of the finishing line.
What about the ladies?
Defending champion Rory Bosio (pictured, below) is the clear favourite, after the American set a new course record of 22hrs 37mins 26secs in 2013.
Meanwhile, Spain’s Nuria Picas will be hoping to go one better this year, after finishing a place behind Bosio in 2013.
Finally, the United Kingdom’s Elizabeth Barker and Penny Matkin will be determined to improve on their 14th and 15th place finishes last year.
What’s the course record?
Nepal’s Dawa Sherpa still holds the record of 20hrs 5mins 58secs, set during the inaugural race in 2003.
How can I follow the race?
Men’s Running will also be tweeting live from the UTMB, so be sure to check our Twitter feed regularly