The 10th The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc begins at 6:30 pm local (Central European) time on Friday evening August 31. (That’ll be 12:30 pm Eastern Time and 10:30 am Mountain Time for readers in North America.) This year, some 2,300 runners will blast off into the evening on a counter-clockwise circuit of the Mont Blanc Massif, the 4,800-meter, glacier and snow-capped peak forming a geographic boundary between France, Italy, and Switzerland. The cobblestones and history of downtown Chamonix serve as both the starting and finish lines. On their journey around the mountain, runners, or “trailers” as they are called here, will encounter 167.7K (104.2 miles) of terrain bearing 9,618 meters (31,500′) of climb in those three aforementioned countries.
At this point, Wednesday morning local time just two and a half days before the race, the weather looks like it could be a near-2011-repeat. A 60% chance of rain (for the course’s low points) and snow (for the course’s high points) exists for Friday, both day and night, with a 40% chance of scattered rain showers for Saturday daytime. Friday overnight lows in the lowlands should be in the low 40s F and several degrees below freezing on the mountain passes. The predicted high Saturday temperature for Chamonix is 55F and for Courmayeur is 60 F.
Unlike last year when the weather arrived with gusto on Friday evening and caused a four-hour race-start delay, the worst bout of weather this year is supposed to arrive overnight on Thursday and stay for twenty-four or more hours. What does this mean for this year’s trailers? At present, the race is scheduled to start as per normal and runners are advised to wear and carry appropriate clothing for a wet and cold Friday night.
Let’s get to our discussion of top female talent. [Note: We’ve also previewed the men’s UTMB field.]
The Ladies of the (American) Red, White, and Blue
Meghan Arbogast (Sunsweet) – In just the last year, Arbogast took 5th at the Women’s 2011 IAU 100K World Championships, 2nd at the JFK 50, 4th at the Women’s 2012 IAU 100K World Championships, and 10th at the 2012 Western States 100 mile. Arbogast is from Oregon, so we know she doesn’t mind the predicted precipitation, but we do know she doesn’t care much for the anticipated below-freezing temperatures. If she can stay warm and fueled through the night, we expect to see her make moves among the ladies come daytime.
Rory Bosio (The North Face) – We know her as the bedazzled and always-smiling star of the Western States 100. There, Bosio was 4th in 2010, 5th (but faster) in 2011, and 2nd (and really fast) in 2012. This California girl has proven her abilities on her home turf, but how will she do on the soil of foreign lands? Because of her “anything goes,” flexible approach to sport, we predict pretty darn well. Here’s our pre-UTMB interview with Rory Bosio.
Helen Cospolich (The North Face) – Cospolich is a prolific racer who can own anything from the win, to the podium, to the top ten of whatever race she enters. Finishing 6th at UTMB last year, we know Cospolich has been training her heiny off for this year’s UTMB. She lives above 9,000 feet in Colorado and regularly runs in the horrific weather of high altitude, so look for her to flourish as the weather worsens. Earlier this year, she came in 3rd at the stacked Miwok 100K, she won The North Face Ecuador 50-Mile Trail Race, and last month she placed 2nd at the Silver Rush 50 mile in Colorado.
Krissy Moehl (Patagonia/UltrAspire) – Moehl’s mountain manhandlings (Kidding! Sort of. ;) continue here in Les Alpes. In the summer of 2012, she’s taken on the Sierra Nevada with a 4th-place finish at the Western States 100 and the San Juan Mountains with another 4th-place finish at the Hardrock 100 mile. Oh, and this fair lady owns the UTMB course record, so we know she can run like heck here. If she’s on, look for her to race her own race from the get-go – not necessarily among the lead gals – and come on strong in the race’s second half.
Amy Sproston (Montrail) – Sproston is the Women’s 2012 IAU 100K World Champion and she has a pair of 8th-place finishes at the 2011 and 2012 Western States 100. She’s proven her ability to run burly mountain races with multiple victories at the Massanutten 100 mile and a win at the Hellgate 100K.
The International Contingent
Lizzy Hawker (The North Face / Switzerland, but from the UK) – What can we say about the dominant force among women in UTMB’s history (and ultramarathon-ing world-wide, for that matter)? Hawker championed last year’s UTMB (and she’s done so three times before that, too) and was barking down Moehl’s course record in the process, missing it by just four minutes. Hawker was impinged by hip pain during last year’s race, and she said she’s got unfinished business with the course this year. We know she’s been trying to get her body 100% healthy by not racing much, but we also know she’s been doing some wicked training in the last couple months, including a four-day circuit around Switzerland’s Monte Rosa, a win at Switzerland’s Trail Ticino 117K, a 9th-place finish at Sierre-Zinal (also in Switzerland), and a two-day run of the UTMB course. Look for her to run off the front all race and finish within the top 10 men if it’s her day.
Katia Fori (Tecnica / Italy) – Fori placed 7th at the 2011 UTMB. Earlier this year, she ran to 3rd at The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail and last year she finished 7th at the IAU Trail World Championships.
Fernanda Maciel (The North Face / Brazil) – Just this year, Maciel has won The North Face TransGranCanaria and the Shizuoka to Yamanashi 82K race in Japan, and she finished second at The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy. And, speaking of unfinished business, Maciel dropped from last year’s UTMB after running in 3rd for about three quarters of the race. We, thus, expect to her be hungry and more capable than ever for a strong showing in this year’s edition.
Nerea Martinez (Salomon / Spain) – Martinez was 2nd at last year’s UTMB, but she was just shy of three hours back of Lizzy Hawker. She’s the 2012 winner of the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji; she finished 2nd at the 2011 The North Face 100K- Australia; and she finished 2nd at the 2011 Ultra Cavalls del Vent. Like Hawker, she runs aggressively, so watch for her to go out hard and fast.
Emma Roca (Buff / Spain) – Roca is a multi-sport athlete who excels in running, triathlon, duathlon, adventure racing, ski mountaineering, and probably others. Her top running finishes include 2nd at the 2011 Marathon des Sables and a 3rd at the 2011 Ultra Cavalls del Vent.
The Dark Horses
Stephanie Case (Canada) – Case runs international stage races like it’s no one’s business, including victories at Racing the Planet’s Vietnam and Nepal races. In 2009, she ran an 18:38 at and won the Vermont 100 mile. What will her journey around Mont Blanc yield?
Xing Ruling (The North Face / China) – Ruling won the 2009 The North Face Beijing International Endurance Challenge 100K and the 2012 Annapurna 70K, and she has a slew of second place finishes in Asian ultramarathons. We’ve seen her twice racing in the US, at the 2009 and 2010 The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in San Francisco, where she’s finished a respective 9th and 15th.
Nicola Gildersleeve (La Sportiva / Canada) – Gildersleeve remains on the UTMB start list, but she’s not running. She just completed the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run in Colorado.
Ellie Greenwood (Montrail / Canada, but from Scotland) – Greenwood was originally signed up for the UTMB, but she’s now switched to the shorter CCC, which starts on Friday morning. We’re expecting a Win with a capital W and blazing dominance from her in the CCC.
Call for Comments
- Who do you think will take the women’s race at this year’s UTMB?
- Did we miss any top women’s contenders?