2013 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) Women’s Preview

Ultra-Trail du Mont-BlancThe 2013 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is finally upon us and the ladies are just about ready to rumble ’round the mountain. While perhaps not as deep as the men’s field (which we detailed in our men’s preview), there remain a host of ladies who’ll will be fighting for the much coveted top-ten placings at this, one of the world’s top ultramarathons. Also, it’s interesting to note that only half of the women’s top ten from last year are returning, which opens things wide for other women! Let’s see who’s running this Friday.

Last Year’s Top 10

Lizzy Hawker - 2012 TNF UTMB

Lizzy Hawker

Let’s begin with the gals from last year’s top ten who aren’t racing. First things first, the UTMB defending champion, the UK’s Lizzy Hawker, learned in recent days that she has a stress fracture in her femur and will not be starting the race. This leaves things wide open not only for a new champion but also for a different kind of women’s race. Last year’s ninth place, Frenchwoman Emilie Lecomte, was also on the docket for this year but has withdrawn to care for a physical issue. Brazilian Fernanda Maciel is trying out the CCC, a UTMB sister race, this year. Additionally, last year’s sixth place, Poland’s Magdalena Laczak, and tenth place, Spain’s Nerea Martinez, aren’t racing.

2nd – Francesca Canepa (Vibram/Italy) – Francesca could very well win this year’s UTMB. She was runner-up at the 2012 UTMB (though almost 45 minutes behind Lizzy Hawker). Apparently that race wasn’t enough for her, though, because Francesca won without challenge the 303k Tor des Geants just a week or so later. Her 2013 has been loaded with success: a win at the Trail de Vulcain Ultra, a win at Ronda dels Cims, third at Ice Trail Tarantaise, and a win at the Eiger Ultra Trail 101k. She also has a couple marks to her name that I don’t think are representative of her ability, a 27th place at the 2013 IAU Trail World Championships and a tenth at the 2013 Speedgoat 50k. (Our pre-race interview with Francesca Canepa.)

Emma Roca

Emma Roca

3rd – Emma Roca (Hoka One One/Spain) – Emma was third at the 2012 UTMB (and knocking on Francesca Canepa’s door during the race’s second half), second at the 2013 El Cruce stage race in South America, and fourth at 2013 Speedgoat 50k. Otherwise in 2012, Emma won the Highland Fling 52 Mile and was fourth at Cavalls del Vent. She was also second at the 2011 Marathon des Sables, and her front-of-the-pack race results go years beyond this. iRunFar just saw her hanging out at the Leadville 100, and she was excited about racing UTMB. We think spending time at altitude might have given her an advantage over UTMB’s cols, too! It’s easy to see Emma among the top-five women this year with a win a real possibility. (Our pre-race interview with Emma Roca.)

4th – Rory Bosio (The North Face/USA) – Rory was last year’s top US performer. Since then, she’s gone on to take second at the 2013 Way Too Cool 50k, fourth at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and fifth at the 2013 Western States 100. A couple weeks after finishing Western States, she jumped North American ship to spend the summer in the Alps. Rory’s gained herself a massive advantage in doing so as she’s adjusted to the Alps’ trail style, time zone, climate, and food. Can she find her way onto the UTMB podium this year? (Our pre-race interview with Rory Bosio.)

5th – Katia Fori (Tecnica/Italy) – Katia has finished UTMB two times, finishing fifth in 2012 and seventh in 2011. Katia is used to finishing on the women’s podium at European long-distance trail races, and her top finishes over the years outside of UTMB include third at the 2012 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, seventh at the 2011 IAU Trail World Championships, and fourth at the 2010 Tor des Geants.

Fernanda Maciel

Fernanda Maciel

8th – Amy Sproston (Montrail/USA) – Is it okay if I call Amy Ms. Consistent? Due to the organization, cancellation, reorganization, second cancellation, and second reorganization of the 2013 IAU 100k World Championships to this December, Amy remains the reigning world 100k champion, a title she earned in the April 2012 edition of the race. This year, Amy’s won the Ray Miller 50 Mile, placed third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (one spot ahead of Rory Bosio), won the Orhangazi 80k in Turkey, finished second at Japan’s Shibamata 100k, and finished third at the 2013 Western States 100 (two spots ahead of Rory Bosio) (pre-race and post-race interviews). Eighth place is not Amy’s potential at UTMB, I don’t think, and she says she “wants a cowbell” this year, meaning she wants to be awarded the large cowbell that’s bestowed to women finishing in the top five.

Other Top Women Contenders

Nuria Picas - 2012 Zegama Marathon

Nuria Picas

Núria Picas (FEEC, BUFF/Catalonia) – It seems that there’s only one woman on the Euro mountain-running scene who can beat Núria and that’s Emelie Forsberg. Fortunately for her, Emelie isn’t racing UTMB (or any 100-mile races, just yet). Núria is an absolute sensation in European long-distance trail races. In 2013 alone, she was second at Transvulcania, second at the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon, and second at Trans d’Havet (all behind Emelie Forsberg). Last year, she was the Ultra SkyMarathon champ and the SkyRunner runner-up (again, behind Emelie Forsberg) in Skyrunning series competitions. She championed several major races in 2012, too, including Trofeo Kima, Cavalls del Vent (several spots ahead of Emma Roca), and Grande Course des Templiers. She’s stated that UTMB is her goal race, that she’s been tailoring her training specifically for it, and that she arrived in Chamonix about two weeks early for on-site preparations. She hasn’t run UTMB before, but she’s the easy pick for the newbie with the best chance of winning this weekend. [Our pre-race interview with Nuria Picas.]

Laurence Klein (Adidas/France) – On paper, Laurence should be a UTMB podium favorite, as her running resume is thick. She’s a three-time champion of the Marathon des Sables (2007, 2011 ahead of Emma Roca, 2012), a two-time winner of the Éco-Trail de Paris Île-de-France (2010 and 2013), a runner-up (2009) and a fourth-place finisher (2010) at Grande Course des Templiers, and a sixth-place finisher at the 2011 IAU Trail World Championships. Laurence is also a former European 100k champion with a 100k PR of 7:26:44, and a former French masters marathon champion with a marathon PR of 2:37:36. In April, she told iRunFar that UTMB was one of her goal races for 2013. That said, Laurence has had a rough go in 2013; she DNFed the 2013 Marathon des Sables and suffered an Achilles injury in May. She’s since been quietly cross training, so does any one know how ready Laurence is for the 2013 UTMB?

Meghan Arbogast - 2012 UTMB

Meghan Arbogast

Meghan Arbogast (SCOTT/USA) – The last time we previewed Meghan before a race was prior to the 2013 Western States 100. We said, “On an off-the-charts day for The Queen, she’s inside the top five.” Well, Meghan had a fantastic run and finished fourth. In 2013, she’s also run to second place at the White River 50, a win at the Shibamata 100k in Japan (though she finished with Amy Sproston, she was categorized as the winner), a win at Ice Age 50k, fifth at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (behind Amy Sproston and Rory Bosio), and a win at Way Too Cool 50k (ahead of Rory Bosio). Meghan finished twelfth at last year’s UTMB, and I think her potential is well within the top ten.

More Women to Watch

Shona Stephenson (Inov-8/Australia) – Shona makes her first appearance at UTMB and its associated races, bringing with her strong racing credentials from Australasia and Asia. In 2013, she’s won the Tarawera 85k (though she dropped down from the 100k midway through the race), won the Northburn Station 100 Mile, placed second at the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, and placed third at The North Face 100k Australia.

Helen Cospolich (The North Face/USA) – Helen loves the UTMB scene. She’s finished this race three previous times: seventh in 2010, sixth in 2011, and 17th in 2012. Since last year, Helen’s finished sixth at the competitive Moab Red Hot 55k, third at the Miwok 60k (usually a 100k but shortened due to fire danger), and second at the Silver Rush 50 Mile. Helen thought she had a bad race last year, and we think a superior day for her would mean squeaking back inside the top ten.

Nora Senn (Switzerland, living in Hong Kong) – Nora dropped from the 2012 UTMB, so we wonder if she’s back for a little revenge? In the last couple of years, Nora has won the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in 2012, finished third at the 2012 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, won the Lantau 100k, and placed second at the 2013 STY (the UTMF sister race). With this year’s competition, I think Nora’s potential might be around top fifteen.

Gill Fowler (Australia) – Another strong runner from the land down under, Gill won the 2012 Great North Walk 100 Mile and placed fifth at The North Face 100k Australia in 2013 (two places behind Shona Stephenson).

Maria Semerjian (France) – Maria finished eighth at the 2011 UTMB. She also won the 2012 Grand Raid des Pyrénées and a number of other smaller, Euro ultras.

Meaghen Brown (USA) – While Meaghen was at UTMB last year as a journalist, this is her first time competing in an international-level ultra. She’s a strong, new ultrarunner back in the USA, however, and her best finishes so far are a second at the 2012 Bighorn 50 Mile, fourth at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k in San Francisco in 2012, and third place at the 2013 Bighorn 100 Mile.

Ligia Madrigal (Costa Rica) – Ligia has finished second (2007) and won (2009) The Coastal Challenge, an expedition-length stage race in Costa Rica. She’s also a regular winner of Central and South American ultramarathons. In her biggest exposure to international-level competition, she finished 23rd at the 2012 TNF EC 50 Mile in San Francisco.

Ru-Ling Xing (The North Face/China) – She finished 23rd at the 2012 UTMB, and since then, she’s placed seventh at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k and third at The North Face 100k China.

Beverley Redfern (UK)Beverley was the 1990 World Mountain Running Champion and the 1993 Sierre-Zinal winner. Though she’s in the 50-and-up category now, she races several times a year and might be able to land herself in the top-twenty women.

We’d include Ildiko Wermescher (Mammut/Hungary, but living somewhere else in central Europe) in this section as she’s on the registrant list, but have learned from the folks at UltraValo.hu that she’s running the GORE-TEX TransAlpine Run instead.

Call for Comments

  • Who do you think will win this year’s UTMB? Who’ll give the winner a run for their money?
  • Who do you think is most likely to surprise the world with their performance at this year’s race?
  • Can you tell us more about the racing pedigrees of the gals we list above?
  • Have we missed any contenders? If so, please let us know. With over 2,000 entrants, we’re sure to have missed someone!
  • Did we mention someone who’s definitely not running? Let us know and we’ll update the article.
Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com’s Senior Editor, the author of ‘Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,’ and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world’s wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

There are 10 comments

  1. MD

    Where you refer to The North Face Hong Kong 100 a few times, this should be the Vibram HK100. The North Face Hong Kong 100 will have its inaugural race this december and has not been held before.

  2. J Wasatch

    Meaghen Brown has the added advantage of growing up in Missoula, Montana, and eating lots of Big Dipper ice cream. Go Meaghen Go!

    1. Ken ya

      Johnny Wasatch knows all about Missoula and the advantages of eating Big Dipper ice cream. If he says it, it is so! Go Meaghen!!

  3. David A

    I think the scope of the names on this review highlights how open the women's race could be this year. A great pity that Lizzy Hawker won't be able to run, one of the stellar athlete's on the current ultra scene.

    1. KenZ

      Agreed. And… a stress fracture in her FEMUR? I know this is a high risk sport, but unless I've been living under a rock, that's not all that common, is it? Here's to fast and complete healing Lizzy.

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