2016 UTMB Women’s Preview

UTMB logoIt’s UTMB time! Each year, the pointy end of the women’s UTMB field gets more competitive, and this year’s edition is not an exception. We’ve got two-time champ and course-record-holder Rory Bosio back after a year’s hiatus, we have last year’s second and third places, Uxue Fraile and Denise Zimmermann, and we have Núria Picas, who has twice finished second at UTMB. Add to these standouts even more women who’ve had plenty of success at this race and other international-level long mountain races and we have the most competitive 100 miler we’re likely to see for women in 2016.

Altra Lone Peak 3 - 200-x-167The UTMB is 170 kilometers (105.5 miles) long with 10,000 meters (32,800 feet) of climbing, and it encircles the famed Mont Blanc, starting and finishing in Chamonix, France, but traveling through Italy and Switzerland in the process.

The course records are held by Rory Bosio at 22:37:26, set at the 2013 race, and François D’haene at 20:11:44, set in 2014.

The 2016 race gets started on Friday, August 26 at 6:00 p.m. CEST (10:00 a.m. MDT in the U.S.). Stay tuned because, for the seventh year in a row, iRunFar is covering the race live!

GU EnergyThank you to Altra for making our live race coverage possible.

Thanks also to GU for sponsoring our coverage.

We’ve also previewed the men’s race. Check it out!

The Headline Acts

Which woman will win UTMB? Your guess is as good as mine, but I think it’s likely to come from this short list of ‘headline acts.’

Rory Bosio - 2013 TNF 50 Mile

Rory Bosio

She’s a two-time winner and the course-record-holder. She’s a reality TV star. She’s perhaps the happiest person to ever hit ultrarunning. She’s Rory Bosio (pre-race interview) of the US. This is the woman who rocked the trail-ultra world in 2013 when she marched onto the UTMB stage, ran 22-and-a-half hours, and finished in the top-10 overall, looking pretty much nonchalant in doing so. The course has since been lengthened by a climb, so I’m not sure we’ll see a woman finish with a time starting in the 22’s again, but I don’t think Rory is any less able of crushing whatever terrain lies between her and the win. That said, in the two years she won UTMB (2013 and 2014), it was clearly a focus. She lived and trained in the Alps pre-race. She spent the majority of 2015 filming a reality TV show and finished off her potential at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail this past June, so we’ll see how much focus Rory brings to this year’s race.

Spain’s Uxue Fraile (pre-race interview) is the top returning women’s finisher from last year, having taken second. Uxue has a second UTMB finish to her name, too, a fifth place in 2014. Since UTMB last year, she won the 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, took third at the 2016 Transgrancanaria, ninth at the 2016 Transvulcania, and second at the 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail. One hundred tough mountain miles lie precisely in this woman’s wheelhouse, however, and her incremental improvement between 2014 and 2015 here at UTMB leaves me wondering what potential she’s yet to discover here.

Denise Zimmermann (Switzerland) is one of those women who quietly goes around crushing while staying off most people’s radars. She’s got four UTMB finishes, including an off-potential 15th place, a pair of fourth places, and last year’s third place. A prolific racer, she’s completed more ultras in this calendar year than months that have so far passed. Among her races have been a 10th at the 2016 Transgrancanaria and a sixth place at the 2016 EcoTrail de Paris.

Nuria Picas - 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

Núria Picas

Núria Picas won’t be racing due to an ankle injury. [Update August 24] Núria Picas (Spain) has all the credentials to win UTMB at this point in her career. She’s twice finished second, in 2013 and 2014, both times behind winner Rory Bosio. She’s won Diagonale des Fous (2015), Transgrancanaria (2014 and 2015), Trofeo Kima (2012), UTMF (2014), and so many more races. She’s the ultimate professional when she steps up to the line, taking her race preparations and strategies seriously. That said, there are some blips on her recent radar: she dropped from the race fairly early last year after not having been in it from the get go and she’s not raced among international competition since last fall at Diagonale des Fous. What kind of Núria will we find on this year’s starting line?

Caroline Chaverot (pre-race interview) is the French sensation who arrived on the international trail-ultra scene in 2013 and really hit it big in 2015. Last year, she was running around the front of the race here until late, when she suddenly dropped with a leg injury. Her 2016 hasn’t seemed too affected by that injury, as she’s won Transgrancanaria, the Trail du Ventoux, the Mont Blanc 80k, and the Buff Epic Trail, which served as this year’s Skyrunning World Championships. The latter of those was 105k and just a month ago, but with how often Caroline races, I’m guessing she’ll be recovered and ready to roll.

2016 Western States 100 - Magda Boulet

Magda Boulet

The Olympic marathoner turned mountain ultrarunner Magda Boulet (pre-race interview) of the US is giving UTMB her first shot! She took in all things Chamonix last year when she ran and took second at the CCC, a couple months following her win of the 2015 Western States 100. Things haven’t been as smooth sailing for Magda since then as they seemingly were before, as she dropped from the 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships and the 2016 Western States, and battled an injury, too. It will be fascinating to see how well she converts her foot speed and the trail talent she’s acquired from training on the San Francisco Bay Area trails to the steeper terrain of the Alps.

I believe that Switzerland’s Andrea Huser (pre-race interview) has one previous UTMB finish, a seventh place in 2014. Since then, Andrea has grown into an incredibly talented runner. Among this frequent racer’s strongest finishes in the last year or so have been a fifth at the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships, a win of the 2015 TDS, third place at the 2015 Diagonale des Fous behind winner Núria Picas, second place at the 2016 Transgrancanaria behind winner Caroline Chaverot, and a win of the 2016 Eiger Ultra Trail.

Top-10 Potential

Here’s our list of women who we think have the greatest potential to finish in the top 10:

Emilie Lecomte (France) has won and finished near the top of some of the toughest and longest mountain ultras out there. Cases in point: She’s finished Diagonale des Fous three times, winning it twice (2009 and 2012) and finishing second last year, just a few minutes behind winner Núria Picas and 30 minutes clear of third place Andrea Huser. She’s a two-time Ronda del Cims finisher, having taken third in 2013 and second in 2014. She was the 2014 winner of the Tor des Géants. Emilie has finished UTMB once, taking ninth during the weather-shortened 2012 race–which only lasted half a day for the lead women. With more vertical and horizontal distance on the regular race course, Emilie should finish well inside the top-10 women.

Fernanda Maciel

Fernanda Maciel

Fernanda Maciel won’t be racing due to health problems. [Update August 23] Fernanda Maciel (from Brazil but lives in Spain) has three UTMB finishes, including a pair of fourth places from 2010 and 2014, and a seventh place in the shortened-by-weather 2012. In the last year, Fernanda has been all about finishing on the podiums of big races, doing so by taking third at both the 2015 and 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trails, second at the 2015 UTMF, and third at the 2016 Marathon des Sables. Finishing on the podium within this field would be a big ask, but Fernanda trains and focuses hard on her goal races, and I do believe a UTMB podium is within her wheelhouse on a perfect-for-Fernanda day.

France’s Juliette Blanchet is another woman who runs around kicking butt while generally staying under the radar in doing so. I think Juliette has one UTMB finish, ninth in 2013. But she’s also finished twice on the podium of the TDS, in 2012 and last year. In 2014, Juliette took second at Diagonale des Fous, beating Uxue Fraile to the line by an epic eight seconds in their 34-hour-long duel. Last year, her third place at TDS brought her in behind winner Andrea Huser. And her third place at the Eiger Ultra Trail earlier this year put her behind winner Andrea Huser and ahead of the likes of Ildiko Wermescher, Helene Ogi, and Francesca Canepa, who are all racing UTMB this year.

Amy Sproston

Amy Sproston

I’m just gonna’ put it out there: the U.S.’s Amy Sproston does not have a great relationship with the UTMB finish line. She’s a three-time starter and a one-time finisher, having taken eighth in 2012, the edition which was shortened by weather. In 2013 and 2015, Amy DNFed the race late in the game each time. In the last 1.5 years or so, we’ve seen Amy win the 2015 HURT 100 Mile, finish ninth at the 2015 UTMF, and take second at the 2016 Western States. And as long as we’re being honest, Amy made taking second at Western States look easy. I’m eager to see if she can put away her UTMB past and make new personal history here.

If you haven’t heard of Jasmin Paris (U.K.), you better pay attention. The fell runner has been lighting up the international mountain-running scene in the last couple years. Most notably, earlier this year, she carved a huge chunk of time out of the women’s Bob Graham Round record, a legendary 66-ish-mile route over 42 peaks in England’s Lake District. She was also the winner of and second overall at the 2015 Dragon’s Back Race, a five-day stage race in Wales that travels 186-ish miles over 52,500-ish feet of climb. A month ago, she took third at the Buff Epic Trail, the Skyrunning World Championships, behind winner Caroline Chaverot and ahead of Fernanda Maciel. She’s definitely in the category of ‘rising star,’ and I’m not sure we can yet predict her full potential on a competitive stage like UTMB.

Aliza Lapierre

Aliza Lapierre

Let’s just review Aliza Lapierre’s (U.S.) trail resume from the last couple years: fourth at the 2013 TNFEC 50 Mile, fifth at the 2014 Les Templiers, eighth at the 2015 Transgrancanaria, winner of the 2015 Bandera 100k, fourth at the 2015 Western States, and second at the 2015 UTMF. That is, she’s won national-class competitions in the U.S. and has barked down the door of the podium at an international-level competition held within the U.S. She’s traveled abroad to experience the mountainous trails of Asia and Europe, and encountered racing highs and lows in the process. She has enormous talent on both runnable and big-mountain terrain. All the pieces are there for a UTMB top-five finish.

When I think of European women who can hang for the longest and toughest ultras out there, Hungary’s Ildiko Wermescher comes to mind. Ildiko has finished UTMB once, taking sixth in 2014. I don’t expect to see her running up front early, but I’d caution those ladies who trend toward fast starts to keep an eye out for an approaching Ildiko in the final 50k. In 2016, she’s taken ninth at Ultra Trail Australia, second at the Zugspitz Ultratrail, and fourth at the Eiger Ultra Trail.

I believe Italy’s Francesca Canepa has one UTMB finish, a second place in the weather-shortened 2012 edition. Though she has remained a frequent racer, we haven’t recently seen her participate in the high-level international competitions that we did in 2014 and prior. Earlier this year, she took sixth at the Eiger Ultra Trail behind winner Andrea Huser, third place Juliette Blanchet, and fourth place Ildiko Wermescher.

When the going gets tough, it’s Luciana Moretti (Argentina) who seems to shine. Luciana was 13th at UTMB in 2014 and sixth in 2015. Last year’s sixth place includes a 2.5-hour time improvement on a course that was made longer with an additional climb. This tells me that I don’t think we don’t know Luciana’s potential here.

Manu Vilaseca is no longer planning to race UTMB. She’s in Chamonix and crewing another runner instead. [Update August 25] Twice a UTMB finisher and twice in the top 10, it’s Brazil’s Manu Vilaseca. She’s gone eighth and 10th in 2013 and 2015, respectively. So far this year we’ve seen her finish 15th at Transvulcania and seventh at Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships - Larisa Dannis

Larisa Dannis

Larisa Dannis is no longer on the UTMB entrants list. [Update August 25] Now here’s an interesting entrant: Larisa Dannis (U.S.). This is the woman who was absolutely on fire in 2014, taking second at the 2014 Western States and going 5:59 for 50 miles on the road at the 2014 USATF 50-Mile Road National Championships. 2015 brought bouts of injury, but out of that she managed to heal and take third place at the 2015 TNFEC 50 Mile. UTMB’s got loads more vert than we’re used to seeing Larisa race, but she came to our sport with history in mountainous hiking, so I think she’s got some baseline knowledge of what she’s getting herself into.

Canada’s Alissa St. Laurent should play well at UTMB. She’s twice won the Canadian Death Race, including the overall win in 2015. She was also the 2015 Cascade Crest 100 Mile winner. At Western States a few months back, she ran to fifth place.

A competitor on the Skyrunning circuit the last two years, I believe Gemma Arenas (Spain) is going for her first 100-mile finish with this race. Among her standout performances in 2015 and this year have been fourth place at last year’s Ultra Pirineu, about 38 minutes back of third place Núria Picas, sixth place at the 2016 Transvulcania, ahead of ninth place Uxue Fraile, and ninth place at the Buff Epic Trail just last month, which was the Skyrunning World Championships. Gemma will certainly be fun to watch as she tries to apply her mountain-running talent at this longer distance.

Joelle Vaught won’t be racing due to a hamstring injury. However, she’s in Chamonix supporting other runners. [Update August 22We’re keeping the U.S.’s Joelle Vaught in our preview for the moment, though she has a torn hamstring. She’s been resting, and plans to travel to Chamonix and make a last-minute decision on whether to start the race or not. A prolific and successful runner in the U.S., especially at around the 50-mile distance, we’ve seen her take her talents abroad only a couple times, including finishing second at the 2014 Ultra Trail Australia and eighth at the 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon. Other recent races have been a second at the 2015 Gorge Waterfalls 100k and a 14th at the 2015 Western States.

More Fast Women to Watch

You’ll want to keep your eyes on this long list of talented ladies, as I think a number of them are primed for breakout races and possibly top-10 finishes.

  • Ester Alves sq

    Ester Alves

    Ester Alves (Portugal) — 13th 2016 Buff Epic Trail (the Skyrunning World Championships), 6th 2015 Transgrancanaria, 8th 2014 UTMB

  • Cristina Bes Ginesta (Spain) — 2nd 2015 TDS behind winner Andrea Huser and ahead of third place Juliette Blanchet, 2nd 2014 CCC, looks like she’s seeking her first 100-mile finish
  • Federica Boifava (Italy) — 2-time Dolomiti Sky Run winner (2015 and 2014)
  • Pui-Yan ‘Wyan’ Chow (Hong Kong) — Winner 2015 Vibram Hong Kong 100k
  • Sophie Grant (U.K.) — 6th 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, 6th 2016 Transgrancanaria, 5th 2015 Diagonale des Fous, 12th 2015 UTMB, some of the highest upside potential among this list
  • Silke Koester (U.S.) — 3rd 2016 Bighorn 100 Mile, 8th 2016 Gorge Waterfalls 100k, winner 2015 Bighorn 100 Mile
  • Dong Li (China) — 9th 2016 Transgrancanaria, winner 2016 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, 4th 2015 Mont Blanc 80k, winner 2015 Ultra Trail Australia, 3rd 2015 Transgrancanaria, had a heckuva 2015 but has been a bit quieter this year internationally [Update August 17: Dong Li will not be racing.]
  • Angels Llobera Vicens (Spain) — 12th 2015 Transvulcania, 3rd 2014 Ultra Pirineu
  • Marie McNaughton (New Zealand but lives in Hong Kong) — 7th 2016 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, 6th 2016 Ultra Trail Australia, 5th 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, looking for her first 100-mile finish I think
  • Sally McRae (U.S.) — 25th 2015 UTMB, 3-time Western States 100 finisher including 10th in 2014, 7th in 2015, and 11th this year
  • Kaori Niwa (Japan) — 12th 2016 Buff Epic Trail (the Skyrunning World Championships), 4th 2015 UTMF, 8th 2015 Transvulcania
  • Becky Nixon (U.K. but lives in New Zealand) — 2nd 2015 and 2014 Northburn Station 100 Mile
  • Helene Ogi (Switzerland) — 5th 2016 Eiger Ultra Trail, 6th 2015 Eiger Ultra Trail, 3rd 2015 Zugspitz Ultratrail
  • Amy Rusiecki (U.S.) — Winner 2015 Grindstone 100 Mile
  • Lucinda Sousa (Portgual) — 8th 2016 Transgrancanaria, 20th 2015 UTMB
  • Nicky Spinks (U.K.) — Double Bob Graham Round finisher in 2016, 16th 2014 UTMB
  • Janessa Taylor (U.S.) — 2nd 2016 Bandera 100k
  • Jone Urkizu Mendiola (Spain) — 24th 2015 UTMB
  • Sarah Willis (U.S. but lives in Switzerland) — 10th 2016 Eiger Ultra Trail, 5th 2016 Mont Blanc 80k, 3rd 2015 Swiss Irontrail
  • Kerrie Wlad (U.S.) — 7th and 4th in 2016 and 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, respectively

Call for Comments

  • Who do you think will emerge as the women’s champion?
  • Who do you think will round out the women’s podium?
  • Who will surprise us with a breakout performance on this international stage?
  • Anyone in this preview not racing? Or, did we miss someone you think should be here? Let us know!
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 25 comments

  1. Ingo

    Some more credentials: Marie McNaughton – winner TransLantau Hong Kong 100k 2016, winner The North Face 100k Hong Kong 2015

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Ingo,

      Thanks, I appreciate it. We can’t possibly list all the recent finishes of every runner, so we try to list credentials that are recent and relevant to the race at hand. (In UTMB’s case: long, steep, and competitive.) Thanks again!

  2. Jess

    Jasmin Paris is on fire, first lady at Tromso a couple of weeks ago, bronze in the sky world champs, a BG record (and 5th overall), followed quickly by an overall Ramsey round record. So excited to see her at UTMB!

    1. Max

      Agreed. Jasmin is no ‘rising star’. She’s been winning UK hill and fell races for years, as well as breaking records. UTMB is relatively non-technical though, which will play into the hands of the speed merchants.

      1. Meghan Hicks

        Max,

        In the context of the women among whom she’ll be racing next weekend, I’ll have to respectfully disagree and stand by my statement that I think Jasmin is a rising star. Yes, Jasmin has been running her brains out in the U.K. for several years, but in 2016 she’s seemingly turned her sights to international-level competitions. She’s clearly doing well with them so far, but I don’t think we’ll see her top out on her potential on this sort of platform for a couple years if she keeps at international-level racing. I look forward to seeing her give UTMB a go!

        1. Max

          Personally I don’t think UTMB-type races are necessarily any more competitive than a hard-fought British champs fell race. I’ve done both, and placed similarly. Just because an event takes place overseas it doesn’t make it much more competitive. A large number of UK fell runners, for whatever reason, don’t travel to European mountain races.

          The two are certainly different beasts — fell running more technical and often shorter — which may explain the relative lack of crossover (fell running is also wonderfully low-key and its practitioners don’t shout from the rooftops). To some extent any attempt at comparison is a question of apples and pears.

          But I don’t think a skyrace podium or Tromso win, for example, is as impressive as the UK fell champs series, overall Ramsey record or women’s Bob Graham record. Jasmin’s star has already risen — it’s just that people in other countries are only just beginning to hear of her.

            1. Chris C.

              If you need somewhere to stay just give me a shout Megan! ……I’ll put a tent in the garden for you and Bryon! :-)

      2. Jess

        I agree Max, she’s a skilled technical runner, which may not be an edge here. However, we aren’t alone, Ian Corless tipped her as the wild card for the podium way back in March!

        1. Ally

          Jasmin herself reckons UTMB isn’t technical enough to suit her and really all she’s after is a PTL qualifier. So she’ll probably win.

  3. Mathieu Van Vyve

    To me Chaverot is THE big favourite for the women race. All the others have either had subpar performances during the last 12 months (Picas, Bosio, Boulet), or are most probably in shape but are clearly a notch or two below these four at their full potential (Huser, Fraile, Zimmermann).

    1. nevtrik

      The most amazing thing about Rory is that she never looks like a favorite for the UTMB win, but she just keeps crushing it. I would not bet against her. Not after last two times ;)

  4. Alex

    Andrea Huser also won Lavaredo Ultra Trail this year as well as the Irontrail on the 201k distance and the MaXi Race in Annecy. The girl’s on fire…

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