Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc: Inside the Grueling UTMB Race

At the end of August each year, thousands of runners descend on Chamonix, France, to participate in one of the most grueling ultramarathons known to mankind – The Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc, or UTMB for short. 

The UTMB is a grueling 106-mile trail run at a startling elevation of 33,000 feet. The UTMB is seen as the pinnacle of any ultra runner’s career, and with such a prestigious reputation, it is the goal of many to take on the challenge of the world’s biggest and most treacherous mountain trail race

Let’s look at this once-in-a-lifetime event in more detail by exploring why it is so popular, a bit more about the technicalities of taking part in the UTMB and learning more about the course, rules, and regulations.

UTMB: A Long Distance Trail Runners Dream

Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc

You get trail running, and then you get ultra-trail running. For some it is nothing more than a hobby that helps get them off the couch and into the fresh air, while for others, it is a serious business with one goal in mind – Completing the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc event

Held in late August/early September each year, the UTMB event was first held in 2003 and has grown significantly in the number of entrants and popularity each year. While it is not everyone’s cup of tea, many more-than-willing trail runners would sell their kidneys for a chance to participate. 

However, getting a ticket to the UTMB is not as simple as one would think, so let’s look at what it takes to get into this event. 

Tickets, Please!

Before we get into the important details of how to go about getting a ticket to the UTMB, it is important to note that the popular event has a total of seven events to choose from, including one specifically for the younger trail runners. 

Participants may choose from the following seven events:

1. Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)

This is the main train running event that sees highly-skilled trail runners tackle a grueling 106-mile course at an elevation of 33,000 feet. Tickets are issued on a lottery basis, which we will explain a little later on, and cost €355 each. 

2. Petit Trotte à Léon (PTL UTMB)

An event for teams, the Petit Trotte à Léon consists of a 186-mile course at an elevation of 82,999 feet. This event requires some serious orienteering, climbing, and trail running skills.

3. Sur Les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS UTMB)

A little less daunting than the previous two events, the TDS UTMB sees runners take on a 90-mile course at an elevation of 30,000f feet. Tickets for the TDS are available at €250 each and include an eco and membership fee.

4. Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC UTMB)

At only 63 miles at an elevation of 20,000 feet, the CCC event seems much more accessible to those who are serious about trail running but are looking to improve their skills. Tickets are priced at €220 each.

5. Orsieres-Champex-Chamonix (OCC UTMB)

Considered a good warm-up event for those who want to work their way up to the main event, the OCC is an easier 34-mile trail at an elevation of 11,500 feet. Tickets for the OCC are a cool €135.

6. De Martigny -Combe a Chamonox (MCC UTMB)

The MCC event is the “baby” of the adult group and features a 25-mile trail at an elevation of only 7,500 feet. This is a good event for those who want to compete in their first trail (almost) marathon, and tickets are only €85. 

7. Youth Chamonix Courmayeur (YCC UTMB)

Younger trail runners can whet their appetite for trail marathons when they take on the YCC UTMB. With an easy 2.5- to 9-mile trail at an elevation of between 600 and 1,400 feet, this is the perfect start for any trail runner. Tickets are sold at €45. 

Qualifying for the Ultra Trail Du Mont-Blanc

You’ve decided to take on one of the most daunting ultra marathons in the world. What’s next? And how can you secure yourself a ticket that is so hard to come by?

Tickets for the UTMB are available on a lottery system. While it is a paid-for event, organizers have ensured that only the fittest and most able trail runners may participate by adhering to a few strict guidelines for securing a ticket. 

Ultra runners who wish to compete in the UTMB must have “running stones.” No, not literal stones, but runs or events under their belt. Entry to the UTMB requires ten running stones. 

Running stones are achieved by completing several trail running events before the UTMB, with points allocated based on the difficulty or distance of the race. With trail running marathons held worldwide, participants can battle it out in events in their hometown to qualify for running stones. 

Running stones are valid for two years and are recorded on a UTMB index. This index must be up-to-date and include events from no more than two years prior. Sign-up is relatively easy and can be done by visiting the event website and registering for a place in the lottery. One running stone equals one entry. 

There are, of course, a few exceptions to the rule that sees elite runners being invited to participate in the event without having to qualify through the lottery system. 

Quick Facts and History of the UTMB

As we have mentioned before, the UTMB was first held in 2003. Now, more than 10,000 people descend on the charming French city of Chamonix to partake in the events of the week-long festivals that are held before the UTMB. 

Sadly, not all trail runners will make the course, with around 40% percent falling short of the cut-off time of 46 hours and 30 minutes. The event takes an average of 30 to 40 hours to finish, but record-breakers like Courtney Dauwalter, who clocked in at 22:30:54, and Kilian Jornet, who managed to finish the 2022 event in just 19 hours and 49 minutes. 

The Course

The UTMB takes trail runners on a 106-mile journey through France, Italy, and Switzerland as the course winds around the treacherous Alps. While the course may differ for each of the events we described earlier, there is one clear goal: Stick to the course and make it to the finish line before the time runs out. 

The trail starts in the square of Chamonix and extends up into the Alps, taking runners through Italy and Switzerland before looping back into Chamonix, France, for the finish. 

The route will often vary according to safety regulations that include extreme weather conditions, possible risks, and other occurrences that might be detrimental for runners. Trails are marked, and even the slightest veering off the marked course results in a penalty or disqualification, depending on the nature of the offense.

UTMB Route on Strava
Follow the UTMB Route on Strava

Rules and Regulations: The Nitty Gritty

Now that we know a bit more about the history, course, and events of the UTMB, let’s look at the rules and regulations regarding registration, entry fees, equipment, insurance, and penalties. 

#1: Registration

Registration for the UTMB opens roughly two months before the event and must be completed at least a month before. All participants are required to complete an online registration form and include the following:

  • A special medical clearance certificate. This certificate may be downloaded from the UTMB website and completed by a qualified doctor. The document must be in French and uploaded to the UTMB website. No other forms of entry are allowed. 
  • A declaration of honor. This is a document signed by the participant to ensure that all race rules have been read and understood and that they will be adhered to at all times. 
  • Other important information. This includes personal details, t-shirt size, shuttle bookings to the event, and information on where to collect the race bib and course pack. This document must be completed in full to complete registration. 

#2: Entry Fees

Entry fees differ according to the event, as listed above in an earlier section of our guide. 

Entry fees include a €1.50 eco fee to help cover the cost of maintenance, repairs, and upkeep of the course materials and layout and a €13 membership fee to the UTMB association. 

Entry fees are paid by credit card on the UTMB website, and an additional charge of an 8% bank fee is required upon payment. This amount is included in the ticket cost and depends on which bank your credit card is linked to. 

#3: Equipment

The equipment recommended for the UTMB can be classified into four categories. They are:

  • Basic Equipment, which includes clothing, blankets, torches, gloves, water supply, beakers, smartphones, and more. 
  • Hot Weather Kit, including sunglasses, a Saharan cap or similar that covers the head and neck, additional water supply, and SPF 50 sunscreen. 
  • Cold Weather Kit that includes eyewear to protect from the glare, closed running shoes, an additional third layer of clothes, and hiking poles. 
  • Other or Optional Extras, which consist of things like a knife or scissors, a reusable bowl, a GPS watch, and some cash for those just-in-case moments. 

Recommended equipment is mandatory, with regulations placed on the types of clothes, torches, layers of clothes, and more. Clothing must be a good fit and cannot be altered in any way once it has left the manufacturer. Making any changes to any items listed on the equipment list will result in penalties. These range from time penalties to disqualification. 

All running packs are to be tagged before the event and may not be tampered with in any way while on the trail. 

For more information on what is included in the equipment list, visit the UTMB website for a handy checklist. You can visit the page here.

#4: Insurance

Insurance is mandatory and necessary if you want to participate in the UTMB. But, standard travel insurance is not enough, and the insurance you choose needs to cover search and rescue and evacuation costs too. 

The UTMB has partnered with Assurinco to provide insurance plans to participants in any of the seven UTMB events. 

#5: Penalties

The organizers of the UTMB are big on safety and adhering to guidelines provided to each participant of the event. These rules and regulations ensure the safety and well-being of each participant while ensuring that no one trail runner has an unfair advantage over the other. 

One of the most important rules of the event is that each participant has a smartphone with the LiveRun mobile application downloaded. This can be used to track the runner’s whereabouts and to help locate them in the case of an emergency. 

The phone must be kept on at all times before, during, and after the event and may not be put into flight mode at any point during the race. Placing the phone in airplane mode will result in a 15-minute penalty on the runners’ overall race time. The smartphone must have international roaming features to ensure that participants are reachable at any point during the race. 

Runners are advised to carry an additional power supply to ensure the battery does not run out. 

Other penalty-facing offenses include the following:

  • Taking a shortcut or going off the trail – Penalty to be decided by race directors.
  • Not carrying the mandatory items while on the trail – Disqualification.
  • Refusing to have the mandatory equipment checked before participating in the event – Disqualification. 
  • Ignoring another participant in need of emergency or medical care – Disqualification.
  • Littering – A 1-hour penalty. Event organizers and directors are incredibly strict about leaving trials litter free and have ensured that there are enough bins and trash receptacles on marked trails. Leaving even one gel wrapper on the ground will increase your overall race time by 1-hour. 
  • Cheating while participating – Disqualification for life. No one likes a cheater, and event directors have established strict structures to prevent cheating. 

These are just a handful of the penalties that can be incurred while participating in the UTMB. A full list can be found in the race pack or on the event website. 

What Makes the UTMB So Unique?

Trail running is so different from the more casual styles of running like jogging or long-distance running in that it challenges more than just the body. From trail runs in the forest to more challenging trail runs like the UTMB, there is no greater adrenaline rush than completing a trail run successfully, 

The UTMB is an event that challenges the mind and physical aspects of the body by putting trail runners through various weather conditions and mountain trail conditions. And, of course, their mental abilities will be tested by the elevation, varied terrain, time of feet, and isolation. Ensuring your body and mind are strong and focused before the event will help you complete the trail run successfully and without injury. 

Only the strongest, fittest of trail runners will make it to the finish line. As we have mentioned before, a startling 30- to 40% of the participants will drop out before the end of the race. While many of these do not make it due to time constraints, some drop out because the terrain is too difficult, they do not have the stamina or focus to push on, or they are injured and need to be evacuated. 

No trail run event comes without risks, and only those with the mental and physical strength and fortitude to deal with Mother Nature and all she throws at these races will succeed. Failure is not an option when you are 33,000 feet and only 50 miles into the race, so preparation is key.

For passionate trail runners, the UTMB is bucket-list worthy and is what many spend their lives training for. Quite different from their weekend running excursions, the UTMB will push them to their limits, leaving them satisfied long after they have completed the event and crossed the Ultra Trail Du Mont-Blanc off their lists. 

Running the UTMB? Good Luck!

The UTMB is a grueling 106-mile trail run at a startling elevation of 33,000 feet. With more than 10,000 people attending the popular event each year, the race has grown in size and popularity since its inception in 2003. 

With several rules and regulations to follow and a tricky entry system, few trail runners will actually get to compete in this world-famous trail run that sees runners from all over the world battling it out and vying for a spot in the lottery. 

From extreme weather conditions to mental fatigue, there are many unknowns that trail runners are faced with. This, however, is in itself both a challenge and a drawcard for many as they face the giant that is Mont-Blanc. 

We have laid out the rules, regulations, and necessities and listed a few penalties that you should be aware of before you prepare our kit to head out on the UTMB. For more information on the event, you can visit the UTMB website.

We particularly recommend their YouTube channel for getting a taste of the action!

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

Photo of author
Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

Revel SPorts Contributor

Leave a Comment