Next Stop on the UTMB World Series: Northeastern France

Trail Alsace Grand Est by UTMB includes four races that end in Obernai

Photo: Getty Images

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There will be about 4,700 runners trekking through France’s eastern countryside on the weekend of May 20 for the first edition of Trail Alsace Grand Est by UTMB.

The event is the brainchild of race director Mathieu Pettinotti and others from the region who wanted to have a race that explored the vineyards, mountains, and medieval castles of the Alsace region and Vosges Mountain range. For the inaugural event, there will be four races, all concluding in the town square of Obernai.

“This event is first and foremost a story of friendship, passion, encounters, values and dreams,” Pettinotti said. “A passion for running but also for our region and our heritage. This project was born from a desire of a group of friends to run from Mont St Odile to the castle of Haut-Koenigsbourg, through both departments of Alsace and crossing as many fortified castles as possible. Our dream to become part of the UTMB World Series has now come true, ensuring runners from all over the world can discover our playground.”

As part of the UTMB World Series, the event offers runners a chance to qualify for the series championship races August 27-September 3 in Chamonix, France.

Who to Watch

Of the four major events, the 100-miler has the strongest fields. Spain’s Maite Maiora, 43 brings in the highest UTMB index. It’s been a few years since she’s completed a 100-mile race, but her third-place finish at  UTMB in 2019 is legit and she’s coming off a third-place effort in the 100K at Istria by UTMB in mid-April. Right up there with Maiora are Canada’s Alissa St Laurent, 38, who won the Kodiak Ultra 100K in 2022, France’s Marie Helene Posta, 33, who won the Trail de Haute Provence last May, and Sweden’s Jenny Josefsson, 48, who was fourth in the Kullamannen by UTMB last November.  

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For the men’s field, Great Britain’s Andy Symonds and France’s Maxime Grenot bring the highest UTMB indexes into the race. Symonds, 42, comes in the French countryside after a strong 2022 with top 10 finishes in all four races and just outside the top 10 in 11th at 2022 UTMB. Grenot, 33, is racing for the first time since his 2022 UTMB race where he placed 26th. Otherwise, with them at the top are Switzerland’s Fabrice Fauser, 36, who took 13th at Transgrancanaria in February, France’s Jerome Ferris, 44, who won the Tuscany Crossing 100-miler in April, and Italy’s Stefano Ruzza, 40, who is coming off a fifth-place finish in the 50K at the Istria by UTMB on April 15.

Course Descriptions

All four point-to-point courses of the Trail Alsace Grand Est by UTMB share almost entirely the same routes before finishing in Obernai, a small city that dates back to the mid-13th century. The 100-miler runs into the 100K course before both of those courses link up with the 50K course. The 34K course shares three-quarters of its course with the remaining races, but finishes on a separate trail into Obernai. .

While the four courses vary in size and distance, they each possess very similar terrains and features. For starters, you’ll start in historic French towns and cities along the German border in the Vosges Mountain Range. Only the 100K starts in a castle (Haut-Koenigsbourg), but don’t worry if you’re doing another distance. If you do the 100 mile or 100K, you’ll pass around 20 castles along the route in addition to vineyards and other countryside and mountain towns along the way. There are a few along the 50K and 34K routes as well. You’ll also experience a lot of elevation with races offering 20,300 feet (100 mile), 12,500 feet (100K), 6,500 feet (50K), and 4,200 feet (34K).

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Where to Stay

The four races start within an hour’s drive of each other in three separate towns. While you can stay in any, race directors recommend these. First, we have Barr, which hosts the Trail des Celtes 50K and Trail des Pélerins 34K start lines. Sitting at the foot of the Vosges Mountains and on the Alsace wine route, you’ll find vineyards, historic architecture, forests, and medieval castle ruins of Châteaux Haut-Andlau, Spesbourg and Landsberg.

Next up is Colard, which is the start of the Ultra-Trail des Chevaliers 100 miler. Known as the capital of Alsatian wines, this enchanting country town offers a glimpse of 1,000 years of European history. The town has prioritized restoration over two decades to preserve its treasures like the Collegiate Church of St. Martin, the Dominican Church, la Maison des Têtes, the Maison Pfister, and the famous Batholdi Museum.

Finally, organizers recommend Obernai, which is nestled in the French countryside on the Alsace and Mont Sainte-Odile wine route. As the finish location for all races, this medieval city, famous for its dynamism, festivals and remarkable architectural heritage, offers excellent cuisine and character. Definitely stop by the Église Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul church, famous ramparts, and historic central square.

Where to Go

In addition to the above towns, race organizers also recommend visiting:

  • Château du Hohlandsbourg, the ruins of a castle near Colmar;
  • Kayersberg, historical town and former commune in the mountains;
  • Ribeauvillé, an 8th century commune at the base of the Vosges Mountains;
  • Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, a medieval castle on a hill located in the commune of Orschwiller, where the 100K starts;
  • Kintzheim, a town you should stop at for the eagles and birds at The Eagle Park and the community of macaques monkeys on La Montagne des Singes (Monkey Mountain).
  • The Witches’ Tower of Châtenois, a Gothic doorway dating from the 15th century;
  • Mont Sainte-Odile, home to the Hohenburg Abbey, a monastery/convent located on the peak of a mountain outside Barr and notable for its stone fortifications called “the Pagan Wall,” a mysterious stone structure that is 10 kilometers long.


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