August 24, 2016
By Alice Hunter Morrison
Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, a writer for IRun4Ultra, author of “Dodging Elephants: 8000 Miles Across Africa by Bike” and Special Correspondent for IRUN4ULTRA.
Ester Sofia Alves is a Top 10 female UTMB finisher. She is in Chamonix for her third Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc race and is running for Salomon Portugal. This year she is hoping to break her personal record and finish the 170-kilometer course in 28 hours. We caught up with her just after she had collected her race bib and asked her to talk us through the course.
Start date: Friday, August 26 at 18:00
Start and finish: Chamonix, French Alps
Distance: 170 kilometers
Elevation: 10,000 meters
Number of Runners: 1900
UTMB in the words of Ester Sofia Alves
“UTMB is like the Mecca of trails. Everyone wants to run around Mont Blanc. It is SO hard. It has nine tough climbs and you get cold at the top of the passes and hot while in the lowest valleys. The heat this year is going to make it a hard race. We have the best runners in the world gathered here, so although it is beautiful – gorgeous in fact – it is also very competitive.
In my experience, everyone wants to try and win this race before the 10-kilometer mark, so they set off quickly and then the real crunch point comes at Champex-Lac. That is the point where many elites blew up last year. It is also the point where you can tell who is going to win.
So, the course starts off with a fast, flat 8 kilometer to the first climb, Le Delevret, to which you can also power up. Then the next climb up, the Croix du Bonhomme, is more technical, as are the next three climbs. They tire you out.
The front of the pack will pass through Courmayeur (78 kilometers) while it is still dark. But, for most racers, they get to that stage as day breaks or during full daylight. That is when you get a new battery. It is a great vibe. Some people start passing and the race goes on.
Then, you need to get into your rhythm for the next section. It brings you up the Grand col Ferret, which is the highest part of the course at 2525 meters. Then, it is down to the lake…
For the last three climbs after the lake, you don’t use your legs, you use your soul. You have to put your trust in your ambition.”
For many runners, UTMB is the dream race and the buzz in Chamonix during race week is palpable. The fastest runners are expected to complete the course in approximately 21 hours. The cut-off point is 46 hours 30 minutes.
The sheer size of the organization is astounding with over 2000 volunteers working the five races and competitions for young people and children that comprise the entire event. UTMB is the jewel in the crown and is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour.
We wish Ester and all the other runners the best of luck as they take on the ultimate mountain race. We will be following live with updates on Facebook and Twitter, so please join us!