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UTMB, Where does the race start?

Some analysis of my own race, but mainly a look at the shift in how this race is being won, or top 10'd & 20'd this year (2023) vs the historical data (2008-2021).


It starts in Chamonix, Duh! Photo @ Robbie Britton

Trail runner (Outside magazine) released an interesting article before the 2022 UTMB, making a number of statements about the race:

Outside statement 1. " The density of top-end competition is increasing rapidly."

I agree.


This is largely down to the professionalisation of the sport. Runners are getting faster, but fields are also getting deeper. 2022 had 172 men with an index score of over 800 (considered elite), with the average score of the top 10 being 891.88 according to ITRA. The average index score from 2023 of the top ten is 918.2 (unfortunately slightly skewed by the UTMB results themselves), but this makes it the most competitive trail race ever run, based on the ITRA system.

Outside statement 2. "The early part of the race is about setting up for the 2nd half of the race. The 2nd half of the race is about going for glory."

I would say "You've got to be in it, to win it!" is now more accurate.


Gone are the days where you can ease into the race, be someway back at Courmayeur and storm through to claim the win. The last time this feat was achieved was by Ludovic Pommeret in 2016, reaching Les Chapieux in 50th, 12th by Courmayeur, and winning by 26 minutes in a time of 22 hours. (My time would have come 2nd that year...just saying). Case in point, Ludo ran a similar strategy this year coming through Chapieux in 51st, 21st leaving Courmayeur, finishing an hour faster than in 2016, but this was only good enough for 5th this year! It might be fair to give credit to Pau Cappel here, who in 2019 lead the race from start to finish in a record time (for the "established" course in 20hrs and 19mins). Was it Pau's strategy in 2019, and attempt at sub 20 hrs in 2020, that caused the shift in how the race is won?


2021 Top 50 & 20 finishers race positions

Even as early back as 2021 you could still finish in the top 20 from 85th position (Camille Bruyas) at Saint Gervais (in 2hrs:03mins)! Compare this with my beautiful graph below (data below below), and the furthest person back at Saint Gervais to finish in the top 20 was Joaquin Lopez in 57th (in a much faster split of 1hr:55mins).


2023 Top 20 finishers race positions
2023 Top 20 finishers race positions

When you look at the positional data from 2008 to 2021 the trend becomes even more apparent.



If you look at this years positional data, the podium (1st-3rd) also left in that exact order out of Courmayeur. Mathieu Blanchard who finished in 4th left Courmayeur in 6th. It's fiercely competitive to get in the top 10, but trying to get on the podium now requires you to "throw down, wire to wire" as the Americans would say. For those that don't speak yank, this means you have to put yourself in contention for the win from early on, and can't allow sizeable gaps to open. For athletes with podium ambition, this means taking risks early, and as such the number and scale of "blow ups" is probably bigger than any other race. Notable mentions have to go to Rod Farvard who was in 8th at Les Chapieux (50km in) obviously started having a tough time, but managed to hang on for another 120km to finish 17th. Equally to Scotty Hawker who was in 6th place at Arnouvaz (100km in) before a catastrophic blow up on the final climb going from 8th to 15th!

"I'm given her all she's got captain ". Photo @scotty_hawker

Outside statement 3: "The second half makes the race".


Again, not untrue, but it lacks nuance.

It's more accurate to say that the 3rd quarter makes the race( Zach attack and Germain "poking the bear"), and the winning move will come in the last quarter. This was true in 2022 with Killian making the winning move, and Tom Evans passing Jim for 3rd.

Equally this year, both Zach and Germain had equal splits from Champex-Lac to Chamonix of 5hrs 50 mins (which is impressive), but Jim was an incredible 33 minutes faster than them in the last quarter!


My race splits vs the top 20 (Red means I was slower, Green I was faster)

The race starts here!


There's a saying at UTMB that " The race starts in .....",however the location varies depending on who you talk to.

You can hear Zach Millers' crew on the livestream saying "the race starts here", at Champex-Lac (which for him was true, trying to hold on for the win) but the reality is that positions don't change much after Champex-Lac.

David Laney did a post, recounting about an old, Italian man saying “you do not go hard at Courmayeur… you wait. You hit the NOS at Grand Col Ferret.”

My crew posted "They say the race begins here" at Courmayeur, but as we've established already, if you aren't in the "front pack " (under 9 hrs at Courmayeur) you are too far back already, for the win at least.

From my experience this year I'd now say "The race starts in Les Houches!", which interestingly is where the actual Tour de Mont Blanc route starts.


My Race


I wasn't as fit as I would have liked, after suffering for most of the summer from a dairy/lactose intolerance. Turns out eating milk chocolate and milk based protein shakes to gain weight was a poor choice!

Otherwise the race went pretty well. I think my crew had a harder time getting round the mountain than I did. I stuck almost perfectly to my nutrition plan (100g of carbs/hr). The only big issue was going out a little hard (classic) in the heat, and getting dehydrated by Les Contamines. Putting a long sleeve on right before the climb up Notre Dam de la Gorge made it worse, and it took a long time drinking extra water from streams for the headache and "weak legs feeling" to go. I felt ok again by Courmayeur, and started to take time back as you can see from my red/green splits. I was horribly slow from la Fouly to Champex-Lac (stopped to take shirt off, and again to refill water). I nearly blew up on the climb out of Trient, then shuffled in to the finish. 16th and not far off my 22 hour target time, a solid 1st outing!

Assuming I requalify for next year (TransLantau 140), I plan on running an easier effort until Les Contamines (not necessarily slower), start pushing from there to be at Courmayeur in 9hrs-9hrs:15mins, continue pushing to Champex-Lac in 15hrs-15hrs:15mins, then try not to blow up. Target time 21 hrs.



I am smiling, I promise







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