6 Things to Know About the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc start­ing line. pho­to by Arsine, license CC by 2.5

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.

It’s Exclu­sive
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.