THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR PREPARING FOR UTMB
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Disclaimer: You should always consult with the official UTMB website and race rules. This guide is simply my experience put in a blog post!
Table of Contents
What is the UTMB race?
The UTMB is a dream trail race. It is one of my dream races. It starts in Chamonix, France and runs around the glorious Mont Blanc massif. It crosses through 3 different countries. There are seven different races that are part of the UTMB: PTL, UTMB, YCC, OCC, TDS, CCC, and the MCC.
UTMB: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (171 km +10,040 m)
CCC: Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (101 km +6,100 m)
TDS: Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (121 km +7,300 m)
OCC: Orsières – Champex – Chamonix (56 km +3,460 m)
PTL: La Petite Trotte à Léon (approx. 300 km +30,000 m)
MCC: De Martigny-Combe à Chamonix (40 km +2,300 m)
YCC: Youth Chamonix Courmayeur (15 km +1,100 m)– Wikipedia
What does UTMB stand for?
UTMB stands for: Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. And to break it up for you: it is literally an Ultra that is a Trail race that runs around Mont Blanc.
When is the race held?
The race starts around the last week of August and to the first week of September. It’s about a week long event.
Can I have a crew? Can I have a drop bag at an aid station?
Yes. You can have a crew. The crew can follow ultrarunners to different checkpoints. Bear in mind that there are also buses that will transport your crew. The UTMB organization has made a big effort to reduce the impact on the region. Your crew must register for the bus in advance. The bus will most likely get your crew there in time, but of course anything can happen. I do recommend to use buses though because of the environmental impact that this race does create!
Your Drop Bag
Yes. UTMB provides official drop bags and encourages you to place items you may need in them.
Depending on the weather I added different items to this recommended list. Be sure to check the forecast days prior to the race, night of the race, and day of the race.
Recommended items to put in your drop bag (I’ve linked all of my favorite items for you below!):
- Dry socks
- Clean Shirt
- Shorts or Pants
- Sun hat
- Phone Charger
- Rain Pants
How long does it take to complete the UTMB race itself?
The UTMB 171 km race, takes most runners 30-46 hours to complete. It takes the fastest runners around 20-25 hours. The cut off is 46 hours and 30 minutes. Not to discourage you, but rather to fuel you, the percentage of people who drop out of the race is 40%! – it certainly differs every year, but when it’s bad weather the number of people who drop is a lot higher.
I don’t speak French or Italian. Will this be a problem?
Not too much. I definitely recommend learning a few words in both languages though, to show that you are trying. For example, “yes”, “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, and “goodbye”.
In Chamonix, almost everyone speaks at least a little bit of English.
Can I have a pacer?
It’s interesting because most races in Europe, if not all, you aren’t allowed to pace someone, or people just don’t do that type of thing here. Now, if you’re in the USA it’s pretty common to pace your fellow buddy in a 100 mile race or a 50 mile race.
What’s the difference between TMB and UTMB?
TMB stands for Tour du Mont Blanc. (French love their acronyms, haha). The difference between the two is that UTMB is a running race that takes place once per year while the TMB you can do at anytime of the year. Most do the TMB as a hike, and you either camp in a tent or stay in a gîte.
Originally, and the reason why the UTMB is so famous is because of the TMB route. It’s also a route that is gaining popularity every year.
How big is the race?
It’s big. It’s like the Disney World for ultrarunners. But to be specific, there are about 2,300 people who run just the UTMB race, and then including the 6 other races, in total it’s about 10,000 runners. Of course, these racers aren’t all running on the same day, they are racing throughout the UTMB week.
Scared of running at night?
Like I just mentioned above, this race is big. There are so many runners, so many hikers (who are either day hiking or hiking the TMB), so many spectators, and so many aid stations. If you’re scared running at night and you’ve only ever run with a pacer during the night and scared to run on your own, no need to stress any further! This is absolutely the race I would recommend for you. You’ll be lucky if you get even a minute or two alone!
Another thing to keep in mind is that there aren’t any super dangerous animals…especially on this trail. The only dangers would be dogs, cats, wild boars
How do I enter the race?!
Are you convinced? Let’s go!
- First, you need to decide what race you want to do.
- Second, you need to figure out if you have enough ITRA points to eligible for the race
- Third, you can sign up! The only catch is because the UTMB is so big they do a lottery, so there’s a chance you might not get in
- Lastly, you train and prepare
*WARNING: I have heard that for the 2022 edition of the UTMB races that the organization will start doing a different entry process*
What gear do I need? 10 Gear Items you MUST HAVE
Gear! One of my favorite topics! I do recommend looking at the required gear list on the UTMB website as you will need to run with those things. Keep in mind that the required gear list changes every year!
I really want to break down everything for you and give you full detail about the gear that you need and DON’T need, so let’s dive in!
Disclaimer: the gear I’m going to list may or may not be on the required gear list for UTMB, but this is just gear that I absolutely recommend bringing with you
Of course I’m a big fan of the Salomon hydration vests. But there are tons of other vests out there too. You’re going to want a hydration vest because you may not come to an aid station for awhile, or the weather may become miserable.
A must have because the UTMB race starts at 6pm(18h)! Crazy! It’s also recommended and it may be on the mandatory gear list on the official UTMB website, but carrying extra batteries with you is definitely recommended.
Poles. The front pack, the middle pack, the back of the pack of runners all run with poles. The terrian on this
These are the poles that I recommend! They are light, foldable, comfortable, and I’ve them found super reliable.
I think investing in a good rain jacket is really critical, and I love my Outdoor Research rain jacket. Learn more about my favorite rain jackets that I’ve reviewed: THE PERFECT WINDPROOF & WATERPROOF JACKETS – RUNNING GEAR. I definitely recommend this one to UTMB runners or any runner, as I know lots of people who use this jacket while racing the UTMB; and the conditions can be nasty!
Gloves are essential because the nights are going to be cold, and the wind can really pickup.
You’re going to want a fleece or some sort of jacket because just like the gloves, it get COLD. Be prepared.
It’s always a good idea to carry socks with you while racing something long, especially if you don’t have a crew or your crew can’t make it to you in time. Or you want to be in and out of the aid station.
Altra or Salomon? Which do you prefer? Or do you have a different taste? I’ve been going back and forth between the two. I love both, and they both work… it just depends on the distance and elevation!
Totally depends on the weather, but you should carry a buff or warm hat with you at all times. You may also want to carry a visor because it can be very hot and very sunny.
10. Emergency Kit
The emergency kit includes: your phone, RoadID, emergency blanket, a snack/gel, and a first aid kit. I carry these things regularly with me, but I recommend bringing most, if not all of these things with you into the Alps.
4 Tips & Recommendations on Preparing for the Race
The UTMB is one of the biggest trail races in the world. So, how do you prepare?
Days leading up to this race I will be eating good food, breathing, meeting other athletes, previewing the course, and getting to know the beautiful village, Chamonix.
READ MORE: Grab a Copy of this Highly Reviewed Book by the Famous Kilian Jornet, and UTMB Winner, to Boost your Training Training for the Uphill Athlete: A Manual for Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers
Here are 4 recommendations and tips on how to prepare for a UTMB race.
1. Your Environment
Getting used to your environment is a huge advantage. Sometimes people arrive at this race a day before expecting it not to be the biggest deal.
There are SO many events going on during the week of the UTMB. There are expos, running groups, talks…etc. This is a great way to feel more settled and calm about the race by getting to know people and the area of Chamonix.
3. The French Food
You probably don’t want to be that person who arrives the day before the race, and doesn’t eat any food from the area until the night before the race, and then ends up barfing it all up the next day. Getting to know some restaurants in advance may be useful to make sure your stomach can handle a change in food.
If you can, some racers bring their own food from their country for the week, or until they know what they can eat in the area.
4. Talking to Professionals
The UTMB attracts the best athletes in the world. Seeing them out on the trails or walking around town is so common. Talk to these athletes, ask them how they are feeling. Are they feeling nervous like you? Are they super stoked like you?
I hope you enjoyed reading about ways on how to prepare yourself for the UTMB. Good luck if you are racing this incredible race! Maybe I’ll see you there! 😉
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below!