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Okay kids, after enough days of Col-de-comedown i feel ready to throw it back to the UTMB week just gone. As always the annual biggest event in the trail world was a doozie of a whirlwind and to keep my mind in check lets hit things chronologically, starting with the all new TDS.
TDS, 145 km / 9100 m
Already considered the race to hit the difficulty bar the highest during UTMB week it soon became clear that this new course with an added 20 k and 2000 m of climbing had turned TDS into a real beast. Being in the midst of it myself I was surprised by how much space I had out on the alpine single track and the reason for my empty trails soon turned out to be a significant drop out rate of over 40 % as the brutal course chewed up runner after runner who were not prepared for relentless climbs and technical descents on repeat.
Audrey Tanguy and Hillary Allen had both spent the summer out recceing the route and came well prepared for what was in store so it’s no surprise that in contrast to many others they both executed perfect races which made for very exciting preceedings.
Last years winner Tanguy took the lead from the first climb out of Courmayeure. Wanting a revenge on what in her own words was a bad race at Lavaredo (where she placed second ... ) she set out with a determined face and fast pace up to Lac Combal. Closely behind in her first start at a UTMB race was Hillary Allen who entered the first aid stations just as Audrey was leaving making sure that Tanguy knew she was being chased. The two were swapping places through out the day and there was never more than 5 minutes between them making for great entertainment for everyone tuned into the live stream. It is not every day you get a served such a tight competitive race on a 90 miler in the mountains! From the second to last aid station in Contamines the TDS course reaches a long climb up to Col de Tricot and it was on this that Audrey Tanguy found an extra mountain goat gear. Over the 15 k to the last timing mat in Les Houches she managed to get 15 minutes on Allen. With that incredible last push she secured a repeat of her victory from last year and when crossing the finish line in Chamonix after nearly 22 hours of running you could see the emotional cocktail of a long day out on the trails in her eyes; relief, joy, exhaustion and disbelief in what you have just done. Hillary looked similarly touched when she completed her longest race so far a quarter of an hour behind Tanguy and with the injury set backs she endured earlier in the year this really was quiet the comeback.
The third pre race favourite Kathrin Götz was running close to the duo up front for the first 60 k but as the course took a more technical turn on the new loop out of Gittaz a gap quickly opened up between her and the leaders. Behind Götz Sweden’s Anna Karlsson was steadily moving up the field after a conservative start and though she picked up many runners over the second half she never got close enough to threaten Kathrin to a podium finish. Still a great first race on the international trails from Karlsson who finished fourth in 24:15 after having overtaken Manuela Vilaseca on the last km into Chamonix.
Best Brit was Sophie Grant who similarly to Karlsson started out easy but moved her way up the rankings over the second half of the race and finished in a very respectable 11th!
1. Audrey Tanguy (FRA), 21:36:15
2. Hillary Allen (USA), 21:52:46.
3. Kathrin Götz (SUI), 23:46:37
4. Anna Karlsson (SWE), 24:15:57
5. Manuela Vilaseca (BRA), 24:19:13
6. Elisabeth Borgersen (SWE), 25:01:09
7. Sandrine Beranger (FRA), 25:22:48
8. Sabrina Solana (AND), 25:53:28
9. Laetitia Pibis (FRA), 26:08:25
10. Lucinda Santos (POR), 26:26:22
As the finishing times and high DNF rate hints there is little to nothing separating the new TDS from the main event of the week and it will be interesting to see how it develops. The new added loop is gorgeous but it is only the elites and the front of the mid pack who gets to enjoy it in daylight! Hopefully it will continue to attract both sky runners and 100 mile gritters ready to put on a show like Audrey and Hillary in the coming years!
Right on to the second race of the week which I also missed out on as I had some serious catching up on zzz’s and crewing to do!
OCC 55 km / 3500 m
Starting in Orsière this shortest of the main races follows an especially steep part of Tour de Mont Blanc between picturesque Swiss and French villages before taking runners back to the party in Chamonix. With it’s ultra sky race-ish profile it’s not strange that the start list was thick with names from recent sky series round ups! Just like at TDS it was the previous years champion who set the pace from the start, Ruth Croft closely followed by Sheila Avilez took the race out fast. The two experienced runners who are well used to chasing each other up and down mountains kept the first half of the race very exciting as they entered and exited timing points within a minute of each other and not far off the OA top 10. Somewhere around the 30 k mark Croft started to pull away and at the aid station in Vallorcine she had ran herself to a 7 minute lead. Sheila Avilez sadly dropped out as she reached the check point and left her fellow Spaniard Azara Garcia with the mission of trying to hunt Croft down. It was a little too late though as by this time Croft was well on her way to a repeat victory and when she ran into the streets of Chamonix it was in a time 5 minutes faster than last year and as 15th runner OA. Garcia managed to hold off Yuri Yoshizumi from Japan who climbed her way up the field during the second half of the race and took a surprising second place, 18 minutes behind Croft and 8 minutes ahead of Yuri. Anna Comet took fourth and yet another top 5 place for Spain who had quiet the week at UTMB this year and 5th was America’s Emily Schmitz.
1. Ruth Croft (NZE) 05:50:14 (15oa)
2. Azara Garcia (ESP) 06:08:04
3. Yuri Yoshizumi (JPN) 06:16:31
4. Anna Comet (ESP) 06:23:43
5. Emily Schmitz (USA) 06:29:21
Onwards to the first race that I actually managed to follow from start to finish (as a spectator that is, i did somehow get my legs around that TDS course as a participant)
CCC 101 km / 6100 m
Whilst OCC started out being exciting but finished with a clear winner CCC delivered a tight and very entertaining race through out the day. After Emelie Forsberg took what she later explained was an accidental lead on the climb out of Courmayeure Amanda Basham was first woman to reach the aid station at Refugio Bertoni. Not far behind her was this years Transvulcania champ Ragna Debats and in third at her first race postpartum was Forsberg with her signature flower attached to her hair. At the 30 k mark at Bonatti Debats had overtaken the lead but she was still running with Amanda and Emelie close in tow and behind them Camille Bruyas from France was catching up. For the following 30 k the top four ran very close to each other and it looked like CCC would turn into a real thriller but at the 80 k mark Emelie Forsberg suddenly decided to call it quits (read her reason here; https://www.instagram.com/p/B1y7t9fIRpw/?igshid=135nyy9llczp9 ) and as Bruyas moved into third Ragna started to slowly pull away. On the last big climb from Vallorcine to Flegere Debats’s ascending strengths really started to show and she gradually gained a bigger and bigger gap to Amanda. With a final kick on the last long descent down from La Floria to Chamonix the half Spanish half Dutch Debats ran herself to an impressive 17 minute victory. Early leader Basham held on to second place finishing seven minutes ahead of Camille Bruyas who took a surprise third well ahead of Stephanie Howe in fourth and Maryline Nakache in fifth. UK’s Holly Page suffered from a stomach virus but still managed a place on the top ten which was dominated by the American runners.
1. Ragna Debats (NL), 12:10:33
2. Amanda Basham (USA), 12:27:06
3. Camille Bruyas (FRA), 12:34:26
4. Stephanie Howe (USA), 12:56:16
5. Maryline Nakache (FRA), 12:57:25
6. Alisa MacDonald (CAN), 13:24:41
7. Rachel Drake (USA), 13:26:52
8. Abby Hall (USA), 13:44:38
9. Holly Page (GBR), 13:56:57
10. Ines Marques (POR), 14:06:14
Right on to the grande finale, the full lap around the white mountain, the real ting.
UTMB 171 km / 10.000 m
On paper this was probably the most stacked women’s field we’ve seen in the race’s 16 year history. The only thing that spoke against a real show down was the uncertainty around some of the big names. Had Courtney Dauwalter’s hip healed, was Mimmi Kotka back to her old self, what was Miao Yao’s race shape like and was Núria Picas actually going to toe the line?
Just as the runners began to gather for the 18 o clock start in the centre of Chamonix the traditional soundtrack of Vangelis “Conquest of Paradise” was over voiced by Thor and his Hammer and big thunder clouds rolled into the valley making for another wet and dramatic start! The gore-tex layers soon came off though as Miao Yao took the race out HOT. The young Chinese runner (and last years CCC champion) covered the 8 km from Chamonix to the first aid station in Les Houches in less than 35 minutes. Sure you want to beat the crowds before the initial tarmac and dirt road turns into single track but still ... The change of underfoot might have slowed Yao down a tiny bit but she still ran considerably faster than her competitors and at the 20 km mark she had nearly 10 minutes on the rest of the field. Traditionally a fast start at UTMB does not make for great longevity (Zach Miller and Jim Walmsley have both learned this the hard way) but just like Pau Capell in the men’s race Yao looked comfortable and untouched by the pace she’d set herself for the first marathon. Behind her the race was tighter with a big chasing group of ten women led by Mimmi Kotka and Courtney Dauwalter all entering and exiting the aid stations within 15 minutes of each other.
During the first night when the runners face not only a big climb across to the Italian side but also a long distance to cover without aid is usually when things starts to change up at UTMB, cold weather slowing unacclimatised runners down and others being struck out by the first signs of nutritional issues as the body clock starts to rebel against high sugar intakes. This year the temperatures stayed mild during the small hours and the rain made way for clear skies so there was less signs of carnage than usual as the race leaders started to approach the 80 k mark in Courmayeure. The same trio of women were still in the top three but during the dark hours Dauwalter had pulled away from the rest of the chase pack and was now just 3 minutes behind Miao Yao, maybe the Chinese runner had gone out too fast after all ... On the traverse from Bertoni to Refugio Bonatti Courtney passed the now visibly struggling Yao and took control of the race. Energised by finally being able to see the majestic landscapes she’d been running though during the night Dauwalter ran her fastest splits compared to the rest of the field on the 30k stretch from Courmayeure to La Fouly and though you could tell at the livestream that things turned tough for her from there on she had gained such a substantial lead that it seemed very unlikely that anyone would be able to catch up. Even though Courtney, in her own words; death marched it from Champex Lac to the end her gap down to the runners behind did not shrink, in fact she gained a few minutes on the last 20 k from Vallorcine to the finish in Chamonix and had plenty of time to soak up the celebration that awaited her in town. And what a party it was, I’ve never seen a UTMB finish line buzzing like that before, there is no question about it, the trail community loves their Courtney Dauwalter.
Whilst Dewey was busy curtsying high fives the fight for the podium places continued out on the trails. Miao Yao struggled with vision problems and pulled out at La Fouly, Mimmi Kotka took a fall on the Italian traverse and began slipping down the rankings meanwhile her fellow Swede Kristin Berglund was charging from behind, picking up the late mile carnage and gaining ground on Beth Pascall up front. Berglund wasn’t the only one with a strong finish left in the tank, having not even been in the top 20 for the first quarter Maite Maiora stormed through the last quarter of the race and into a podium position. Kristin managed to hold off Maite and ran into Chamonix as second fastest woman, an hour behind Courtney and with seven minutes to spare down to Maiora in third. Behind her Ekaterina Mityaeva who had been in top ten throughout the race held on to fourth in her first 100 miler and in fifth was Beth Pascall who although she came fourth last year improved on her 2018 time. Just like Pascall and Mityaeva American runner and my pre race favourite Katie Schide ran in the top ten through out the race and finished in 6th place twenty minutes ahead of Elise Delannoy who in her turn held off Rory Bosio who battled her way up the field over the race’s second half.
It all started excitingly and the early tight train of Kotka Dauwalter and Pascall chasing a roaring Yao was giving me hope of a great race ahead but in the end it was a women’s race lacking a bit on the competitive side. As great as it was to see Dewey back running she clearly did not have her best day out there and for her to still win with over an hour is either telling us that the rest of the field was similarly suffering or that the competition was not quiet up there where it should be. A hundred mile race in the mountains is admittedly different from a runnable one like WS100. There is so much more room for error when you have to pace your self for big climbs and the lack of aid stations and pacers that in particular the American runners are used to makes for a tough mental game. Even the multiple 200 mile champ Courtney said she reached some new pain cave territory out on the UTMB course and I’m thinking that it probably all came down to her grit and experience in breaking through those walls rather than the rest of the field not being up to scratch!
1. Courtney Dauwalter (USA) 24:34:26
2. Kristin Berglund (SWE) 25:34:12
3. Maite Maiora (ESP) 25:41:30
4. Ekaterina Mityaeva (RUS) 25:53:26
5. Beth Pascall (GBR) 26:26:48
6. Katie Schide (USA) 27:22:56
7. Elise Delannoy (FRA) 27:48:32
8. Rory Bosio (USA) 27:59:45
9. Ildiko Wermescher (SUI) 28:13:32
10. Delphine Avenier (FRA) 28:35:23
NOT IN CHAMONIX
Even if it feels like it, at least for one week of the year, the valley of Chamonix and its surrounding summits isn’t the only place in the world where one can go trail running in late summer so lets recap some neglected ‘B-races’ from the past couple of weeks.
Johanna Åstrom continued her incredible season on the sky running series by following up her win at Tromso with another victory at the new MATTERHORN ULRTRAKS EXTREME. Hilary Gerardi was in the lead at the top of the last descent into the finish but a determined Åstrom found an extra gear and managed to squeeze out a 2 minute gap down to the American over the last kilometres of the race.
ULTRA TRAIL MONTE ROSA is frequently described as UTMB for people who wants to level up. The 100 mile race was created by talented ultra runner Lizzie Hawker who wanted to introduce what she considers some of the most stunning and untouched trails in Europe. I’d say that the 170 km course sounds more like an extended version of TDS rather than a harder UTMB as it runs across very rugged terrain, features some scrambling and leaves runners exposed with some of the aid stations are far apart. Last years winning times were 33 hours for men (Matthieu Girard) and 37 hours for the women (Nicky Spinks) compare that to the ten hour quicker fastest times at UTMB and you get an idea of the difficulty level. This year the race was made even harder as the weather took a sharp turn towards winter conditions. With sub zero temperatures and a fresh layer of snow as low as 2000 m the race had to be halted on Thursday. By that time 5 women had reached the 50 mile mark, in first place with over two hours to spare was Corine Kagerer from Switzerland. Kagerer has heaps of experience from long races in the mountains and started her 2019 with a 7th place at Transgrancanaria. UK’s Lizzie Wrath was second lady to the checkpoint in Gressoney just ten minutes ahead of American runner Sarah Hansel. The 4 day stage race suffered the same faith as the main race and was cut short with two days and the 100 k race hopefuls did not get to start at all.
In Canada the 125 k long ULTRA TRAIL HARRICANA played host for the UTWT discovery series and Emily Hawgood crushed the women’s race with a three hour victory. Hawgood usually frequents the ‘shorter’ sky ultra series and it’s good to see her being equally successful on a long back country course!
If UTMR is UTMB level up then TOR DES GEANTS is BOSS LEVEL. This 205 mile beast of mountain a race started from Courmayeure this weekend in similar conditions to those at Monte Rosa but over the last couple of days the weather appears to have improved and so has the pace of the race. Last years champion Silvia Trigueros from Spain is currently leading the women’s race and steadily making her way up the OA rankings. Behind her Pauly Jocelyn and Sonia Furtado are running close in second and third.
We will be back with a full recap and the final results next week, until then keep track of the live standings here;
For more UTMB analysis and post race interviews with some of the top placing women head over to;
And if you want even more Courtney Dauwalter screen time then tune in for the next episode of Salomon’s TV series featuring everyone’s favourite baggy champ that is due to drop tonight (Tuesday).
Back to recovery mode and post mountain blues, see you in seven shredders!