Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) isn’t just one thing. It’s the Spandex Superbowl, wrapped in Gore-Tex Mardi Gras with a dash of Chafing World Cup. It’s a week-long festival of mountain running that attracts thousands of runners to Chamonix, France.
See our entire collection of UTMB stories here.
The petit French cobblestone streets will teem with compression-sock-clad competitors who will be competing in one of the six events throughout the week. The five smaller races (perhaps in prestige, rather than mileage, as in the case of PTL) lead up to UTMB, considered by many to be the sport’s crown jewel. This is our breakdown of the week’s events.
UTMB: The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc
The marquee and last event of the week-long series, UTMB completely circles its namesake summit in just over 100 miles with a whopping 32,808 feet of vertical gain—more than it would take to summit Everest from sea level. About 2,300 runners will attempt to traverse the course’s ten alpine summits in under 46 hours 30 minutes.
Though an American man has yet to cinch a UTMB win, U.S. women have taken home top honors. Krissy Moehl won the women’s inaugural event in 2003, and again in 2009. Rory Bosio racked up two consecutive victories in 2013 and 2014, and Nikki Kimball claimed the title in 2007. Courtney Dauwalter won’t be returning after her back-to-back victories, leaving the top female spot in hot contention.
Previously seen as the “little sister of the UTMB”, CCC has become a respected race in its own right with a demanding 62-mile course that ascends over 20,000 feet. It just about covers the last 60 miles of the UTMB course, which offers an in-depth preview for many runners with UTMB dreams. Historically, Americans have been successful at CCC, with notable victories by Clare Gallagher, Hayden Hawks and Zach Miller.
PTL: Petite Trotte à Léon
Perhaps UTMB’s most distinctive event, the PTL takes teams of two to three runners over 186 miles of rugged, unmarked terrain around Mont Blanc. Named for an adventurous French baker and hardcore volunteer, it takes many teams the allowed 152 hours 30 to complete.
The course changes every year and there is no official winner. The event is so challenging that finishing is judged as a win.
TDS: Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie
The extra-technical TDS is the “cool-kids” race, attracting a who’s who of mountain runners from around the world. 2019’s new-and-improved route is even more rugged than previous years. It traverses 90 miles from Courmayeur, Italy, to Chamonix around the Mont Blanc massif. This “mid-distance” (by UTMB standards) event hosts 1,600 runners, and has a 42-hour cutoff. No American has ever won TDS, but Hillary Allen ran a ferocious race for 2nd in 2019.
With the consolidation of the new series, we’re going to see increased competition at OCC, as UTMB looks to turn it into a world-championship-style event. For fans of “shorter” mountain races, this will be a must-watch. The route climbs over 11,000 feet as it winds through the Swiss Valais region with a 14-hour-30-minute cutoff.
The MCC is a 24-mile race for the “bénévoles” and “gens du pays,” the volunteers and locals who help with UTMB. The shortest of the races, it provides an accessible surprisingly challenging (7,500 feet of elevation gain) glimpse into the French Alps.