Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mountain Ultra Trail Awards 2015

Occasionally people ask me what races I plan to run in the future. I often wonder the same thing.
Well I guess this is the best answer: Mountain Ultra Trail Awards (MUTA) 2015. As it happens, muta appropriately means mud in Finnish.

These ten races are IMHO the ultimate sine qua non mountain ultra trail running events for me. I have already finished the first five of them. And I'm already tempted to do all of them again.

The final five still remain on my bucket list. This task seems overwhelming and quite impossible. This Talebian uncertainty makes this all the more interesting. We wouldn't want it any other way, would we?

Best MUT-event Award: UTMB

The legendary 168km +9618m Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is my mountain ultra trail runner raison d'être - I started training for it back in 2007 inspired by 2-time champion Marco Olmo.

A nice trail in Italy during UTMB 2014.
For many years I didn't have enough points for the lottery. In 2012 I managed to get in CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix - the last half of UTMB) and finished it. Then I lost the lottery in 2013. I finally got in and finished UTMB 2014. I lost again in the 2015 draw. This means I'll get two tickets for the 2016 draw. You need nine points from three qualifying races to participate.

UTMB® 2014 - Beautiful landscapes by UltraTrailMontBlanc

The hype around this UTWT (Ultra Trail World Tour) event is incredible. It was a great experience to run around the Mont Blanc Massif in a weekend (46 hours time limit) with 2300 other runners. The Steepness Ratio (SR) is 'only' 57, but there are a few surprisingly challenging sections along the way in France, Italy and Switzerland. The highest point is Grand Col Ferret (2537m).

UTMB 2015 poster.

The weather tends to be unstable around Mont Blanc, so be prepared for anything. The race has been delayed or cancelled many times. Although on paper this course may seem easy-ish, it's a tough nut to crack in practice. Great support from the crowds and volunteers helps in times of trouble. The start and finish in Chamonix is fantastic.  

Best Challenger Award: TVSB

111km Trail Verbier St-Bernard has one of the toughest Alpine courses out there. Although I was in a great road-racing condition, I suffered a double-DNF in 2010 and 2011 both technically due to hypothermia. Truth be told, it was all entirely my own fault. It was kind of fun staying in a full-service mountain hut overnight though! ;)

I finally figured a few key things out and finished in 2012; the elevation gain was +7015m (SR 63) then.

The energetic organizers have since then renamed 'La Boucle' as 'X-Alpine' and made the first half of the course even more challenging, climbing up to Orny hut (2826m). The cumulative climb is now +8424m (SR 76). From La Fouly onwards the course remains the same - apparently it was impossible to make it any steeper!

Running downhill in TVSB 2012.
If you are a climber and steep-loving alps-head, this race is for you. The max cut-off time is 36h if you choose the early 1am start, but then you are expected to be slower than 26:30h. Faster runners will start 4am. Either way, it's always a challenge just to finish this Swiss gem.

Best Scenery Award: Lavaredo UT

LUT is a 119km +5850m UTWT event in a unique setting: a UNESCO natural site in the heart of Dolomites, Italy. When Anton Krupicka stated this is the most beautiful course he has ever run, everyone including yours truly agreed enthusiastically.

I did this race in 2014 (race report) and will be back in 2015. It's not the steepest course by any means (SR 49), but there are icy stream crossings and technical traverses to make it challenging enough for anyone. 30-hours cutoff allows you to relax and enjoy the scenery. The highest point is Forcella Lavaredo (2454m).

LUT course will blow your mind - can you see the runners in this pic?
LUT starts and finishes in Cortina, an exquisite mountain town only a couple hours from Venice airport by Cortina Express coach. There are about a 1000 competitors.

Best Winter-MUT Award: TransGC

This is another UTWT event that used to be tough, but is now even tougher. The new 126km +8500m TransGC is quite steep (SR 67). They have aded an extra 1.5km in order to move the finish line from the beach to the Maspalomas Expo. Some runners with a GPS have speculated that the true amount of climbing might be a bit less. Let's just say that this sort of a course is difficult to measure accurately. The highest point is at Pico de las Nieves (1938m).

I ran TransGC in 2012 from South (Playa del Ingles) to North (Las Palmas) - check out my race report.

In 2015 I'll attempt this new hardest ever TransGC course from North (Agaete) to South (Maspalomas). Actually it's this Friday, only five days to go! I guess all the main sights will be the same, just in different order.

In Europe I have seen all sorts of crazy items on the obligatory gear list, but only in TransGC have I found the following gem:
  • "Red rear light (runners shall wear it on their rear side and keep it on throughout the race)."
Gran Canaria from air.
The island of Gran Canaria is always a wonderful place to visit. The ideal weather makes TGC the world's favorite winter ultra trail. Also if you don't want to run in above 2000m altitudes but enjoy steep hills, this race is a match made in heaven for you.

Best 100K Award: Eiger UT

Eiger UT is another UTWT event that I like very much. Even when I suffered a DNF in the first edition in 2013 due to a thunderstorm at the wrong place and time I enjoyed the adventure and went on to finish the course on my own the next morning. And I returned in 2014 for a proper finish (race report).

The view from the highest peak of Eiger Ultra Trail: Faulhorn 2681m.
The 101km +6700m course is steep (SR 66) and technical especially around Schynige Platte, but there are also easy runnable sections. The highest peak is Faulhorn at 2681 meters, where you find one of the oldest and highest mountain hotels in Europe still in business.

I think the climb from Burglauenen to Wengen, Männlichen and Lauberhorn is the hardest part. Then traversing the majestic Eiger trail below the legendary North Face is trail running at its best.

See you in Grindelwald! Meanwhile, check out this video (feat. Trailplodder):

Best Newcomer Award: UTMR

Ultra Tour Monte Rosa is a new 150km +10000m (SR 67) race in Switzerland and Italy. The 1st Edition will be in August 2016.

There will also be a 'zero edition' 3-day 110km stage race in August 2015.

The highest point of UTMR will probably be Rifugio Teodulo at 3317m.

UTMR provides glorious views of Matterhorn and many other >4000m alpine peaks.
5-Time UTMB winner, Race Director Lizzy Hawker knows how to organize an ultra tour around a huge alpine massif. She is also familiar with the trails in Monte Rosa area.

I'd surely be interested in participating in UTMR 2016-18 as long as my race schedule allows.

Best 200K Award: Swiss Irontrail

Swiss Irontrail has an interesting new 'open category' concept for its longest race T201: "The idea is to fill the participant with courage to begin the magnificent and demanding T201". Instead of the usual DNF, T201 competitors will be rewarded with UTMB points and finisher souvenirs as long as they can finish one of the following three course options:
  • T201 Davos - Davos, 200km, +11440m, 4 UTMB points.
  • T139 Davos - Savognin, 135km, 4 UTMB points.
  • T99 Davos - Maloja, 96km, 3 UTMB points.
This sounds like an excellent idea. As published I will participate in Swiss Irontrail T201 in 2015. If I'm feeling great and the weather is good I'll attempt the whole T201. If not, I can choose to finish either T139 or T99 and travel back home with an accomplishment instead of a disappointment. Good thinking by these brilliant Swiss organizers, who are also responsible for popular Swiss Alpine events (I've participated five times) in Davos.

The view to Davos from Jakobshorn. 
The highest point is Fuorcla Surlej (2755m). So far there hasn't been a need for lottery. Any kind of escort of competitors along the course is prohibited.

All runners are required to carry a small lightweight GPS tracker with an emergency button. The system offers continuous online monitoring of all runners. Should you veer off the route, an alarm will alert race officials to contact you and guide you back to the right track. For navigation runners should rely on maps and markings, and perhaps their own GPS navigation device as well. 

Best 100-miler Award: Hardrock 100

Hardrock 100 is 'Wild & Tough' 100-mile (161km) race in Southern Colorado's San Juan Range with +10361m elevation gain (SR 64). The lowest point is Ouray 2341m and the highest Handies Peak 4282m. The course changes directions each year. The cut-off time for finishing the race is 48 hours. The start and finish is in Silverton.

From event description: "The course is designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness, and remoteness. Mountaineering, wilderness survival and wilderness navigation skills are as important in this event as your endurance."

From the rules: "1. No Whining."

Hardrock has a lottery with small but increasing chances of winning. They allow only about 152 competitors (and their pacers - this is the only race on this list where competitors are officially encouraged to have pacers to accompany them along the course) each year.

 To qualify for the rather complicated lottery process with several categories, you have to finish one of the qualifying races on their list (for example UTMB or Tor des Geants) in the past two years.

I participated in the 2015 lottery and lost. Instead of whining, I plan to try again in 2016. There is also an 8-hour pre-race service requirement for admission to run.

Best 200-miler Award: Tor des Geants

TDG is a 330km (205 miles) +24000m tour along Alta Via 1 and 2 trails in Valle d'Aosta, Italy. The race is in mid-September, and the word is out that it is certainly one of the best fall MUT-events.

The giants referred to are four >4000-meter Alpine peaks:
  • Gran Paradiso 4061m
  • Mont Blanc 4807m
  • Matterhorn 4478m
  • Monte Rosa 4634m
Don't worry, competitors won't have to climb any of these giant peaks. The highest point is Col Loson (3296m).

The start and finish is in Courmayeur. There are six additional 'life bases' dividing the journey into seven parts. Competitors can stop to eat, refresh and rest at bases, but the clock keeps on ticking. The max time is 150 hours. Sleep deprivation can't be helped and hallucinations are common as the video below shows.

While the rules of TDG say pacing (having personal assistants along the course) is not allowed, many competitors have allegedly had pacers - and race officials seem to have allowed this. It will be interesting to see how this confusing issue is handled in TDG 2015. In a such a long race it might be a good idea to allow pacers for safety. In 2013 a runner fell to his death at night. One practical solution many have successfully used would be to simply run together with another competitor with a similar pace to yours.

There has been talk about TDG providing competitors an obligatory GPS device to be carried in their pack for online tracking. PTL and Swiss Irontrail have been doing this for years. It seems to work well to improve safety and has the added benefit of preventing or exposing cheaters.

TDG has a lottery for those who have pre-registered for 5€. Only a Medical Certificate is required, there are no qualifying races. They can take 700 runners. However each nation has the right to two runners. So if there were only two people from your country in the lottery, an entry would be guaranteed. To ensure competitor turnover, 3-time competitors are ruled out - except Senators, those few hardcore runners who have finished all five editions of TDG. The entry fee was 500€ in 2015. I might consider TDG in 2016-18.

Best 300K Award: PTL

La Petite Trotte à Léon an extremely difficult, officially non-competitive trekking challenge around Mont Blanc for teams of 2-3 participants. The course varies each year. It's not marked. GPS tracks and maps are supplied. Each team has to carry a GPS beacon for online tracking, and another GPS for their navigation purposes. The route is not marked. The max time is 142 hours. The start and finish is in Chamonix.

In 2015 PTL will be about 300km +26000m (SR 87). The teams may use the existing infrastructure of mountain huts, cafes, shops and restaurants as they wish. The organizers provide three life bases only. The teams must progress together on foot in complete autonomy. Personal assistants or vehicles along the route are forbidden.

I'd probably be interested in PTL later on if I can find a suitable team. The entry fee was 670€ for the whole team in 2015. The team leader has to be a finisher of UTMB, Tor des Geants or PTL. Each team member must have their own Medical Certificate and accident insurance covering the expenses of search and rescue in France, Italy and Switzerland. The max number of runners is 250.

Finishers of PTL 2012 with their family, friends and PTL director Jean-Claude Marmier (who passed away in 2014).
So this is my ultimate Top 10 dream list. I hope you get inspired by these incredible mountain ultra trail races as well. Let's run them all - just not in one year!


Paul Wolff said...

TP, I was awaiting this best of from your side ;)
Thank you very much for sharing and the inherent inspiration (at least for the like-minded). I will re-visit this post for sure. In it's tenfold structure it's a bit like the passion of christ :D

As I stated before: If I had only one to choose it'd definitly PTL which I feel most attracted to. I guess it's the mix of non-competitive, self-supplied and team-powered adventure that got me hooked. As a complete newbie in ultra distance running one voice in my head says this is completelty silly and naive yet I am intrigued by the mental challenge an event like this poses. "Exposition" takes on a whole different meaning in this context and I do want to be prepared for this.
In this respect my participation in future events will be guided by the amount of "adventure" these events allow.

Thanks again for sharing!
Best form ice cold Berlin!

Trail Plodder said...

Hahah thanks Paul! I agree about PTL. The concept is like non-competitive alpine adventure racing and I like it. Helsinki is colder than Berlin, but to me this is kind of warm-ish. Canaria must feel real hot to me!