There are trail runs—and then there are trail runs, those that never seem to end, taking you through treacherous and unbelievably technical terrain, that wind their ways through three different countries and that can take nearly two days to complete, that you train for your whole life, seeking out that sense of accomplishment that, quite simply, is like no other. Trail runs like this are few and far between, but the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (also known as UTMB) is one of the few that ticks all of the boxes. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime race for many good reasons. Here are just a few of them.
It’s an Incredible Hike on Fast Forward
The 105-mile long Tour du Mont Blanc hiking path is one of the most popular long distance walks in Europe. Most people complete the trek in anywhere from 7 to 10 days, stopping off in villages for a nightly rest and some hot food to refuel. The runners of the UTMB, on the other hand, complete this very same route in just over 20 hours. That’s for the elite runners—most take 30 to 45 hours to complete the race. Think about it: a 10-day trek concentrated into a 20 hour run. That’s something.
One Race, Three Countries
Not many races can boast a route that travels through three different countries, but the UTMB can. Runners take off in Chamonix, France, and after climbing more than 4,500 feet, find themselves in Italy. From there, it’s a journey with lots of ups and downs (quite literally) to the border of Switzerland. Finally, runners make their way right back to where they started in Chamonix.
There is only room for 2,300 participants in the main UTMB race, and despite very tough qualification requirements (points must be accumulated by finishing races from the qualifying list), the number of applicants still exceeds the number of spots available. Race organizers have implemented a draw component to narrow down the field.
Oh, the Views!
Just imagine the views that runners get to experience as they make their way across seven valleys, 71 glaciers, and 400—yes, four hundred—summits. The surroundings are stunning and meaningful from both a geological and historical perspective.
The Prize is Priceless
You’re probably wondering what the winner of one of the toughest, most elite ultramarathons in the world gets when he or she crosses the finish line in just over 20 hours. The answer: nada. There’s no official prize for the first place finisher (or for any other participant, for that matter)—just a lifetime of bragging rights.
It’s a Real Party
There’s no other way to describe the start of the UTMB than to call it like it is: a massive party. Crowds are huge, music is blaring, and the dance moves are enthusiastic, to say the least. After all, making it to the UTMB is an accomplishment worth celebrating in itself. The finish line is lots of fun, too—though most of the athletes are too exhausted to do much partying, lots of supporters, fans, and locals gather to recognize the runners’ hard work and effort.