In addition to this article, you can find our full play-by-play of the race as well as a collection of our pre-race interviews and previews on our UTMB live-coverage page.
As usual, we’ll be updating this article with additional results as well as links to UTMB-related articles, photo galleries, and race reports. Check back!
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Let’s face it, we’re all a little speechless about what went down on that large loop around Mont Blanc this weekend. As our volunteers were staffed at more than a dozen places around the course, what we saw was a race that ran like an onion. Layer after layer peeled off as the kilometers clicked by, each new layer a seeming brand-new race. The men’s UTMB race is these days becoming one of significant attrition and a race where success is largely defined by smart racing and avoiding becoming a statistic. This year was no different. The reason for this year’s attrition must in be in large part due to the weather–the extra heat and humidity–as the men’s early pace was actually a bit more controlled as compared to previous years, slower than record pace for the race’s first third. In the end, it was a race which in some ways broke all the rules and in other ways abided by them. In the end, I still find the whole thing a bit inexplicable.
For 124 kilometers, American Zach Miller (pre-race and post-race interviews) led the race. He did so in the same Zach fashion we’ve seen him race 20k’s 50k’s, 50 milers, and 110k’s–unabashed rabbiting, the kid never looks back. His lead vascillated at times in that he occasionally shared it with others while at others he was quite a distance off the front. In the race’s middle third, however, his lead kept growing such that at Grand Col Ferret (102 kilometers) he had 26 minutes over the rest of the field. But his race quickly nose dived, not unlike the steep descent off the col. In the span of 22 kilometers, Zach bonked hard and gave up all 26 minutes of his lead, leaving Champex-Lac (124km) in second and a few seconds off the lead. He held pace with the leaders as long as it seems he could, but eventually his pace lapsed and he would go on to finish in a still-strong sixth place. It’s often said that high risk brings either high reward or high failure, and I’d still firmly stick his performance in the reward category. Zach finished sixth place in the world’s most competitive 100 miler for his first shot at the distance. At the finish, Zach’s eyes betrayed both deep fatigue and a deep hunger for more–I can’t help but think he’ll be back.
How Frenchman Ludovic Pommeret’s race played out was something of a marvel. Ludovic started out by running at the front of the men’s race. At a half marathon into the race, he shared the lead with Zach and Fabien Antolinos, who would DNF late in the race. But on the climb to the race’s marathon mark at Col du Bonhomme, Ludovic tanked, and fell back to 50th place. He suffered a low patch due to stomach problems that, as he said at the finish line, made him thinking about dropping more than once. He slowly crept back up into the top 10, but it took some 50 kilometers to do so. Even then, his battle was seemingly just beginning because he was still some 44 minutes off the lead. At Champex-Lac (124km), where most runners showed the effects of the terrain they’d already covered, Ludovic looked fresh. The game was on, and it wasn’t long before he took over the lead, broke from those desperately trying to keep contact, and built a 26-minute cushion by the finish. It seems simply not possible to win a race as competitive as this one in this style–it breaks all the rules! But those who understand this sport well know that we may not ever fully understand it. In 100 miles, anything can and does happen.
Good grief, if I were a dude, I’m not sure I could stand the pressure of Lithuania’s Gediminas Grinius (post-race interview) racing behind me. He has established his racing M.O.: conservative starts, rip-roaring finishes. And he’s one of the most internally focused racers I’ve seen, turned within and monitoring himself. Gediminus raced outside of the men’s top 10 for about the race’s first third, right around 10th place for the next third, and then he just hammered the race’s last 50 kilometers. Like Ludovic, he was something of an apparition when he moved like a steam train through Champex-Lac (124km) in fourth place. Twenty-five kilometers later, he’d passed the remaining carnage in front of him and made finishing second look like a walk in the park. When we saw him atop the last climb and descent at 160, 162, and 165 kilometers, he was simply floating. For a guy who races with such internal focus, he let it all loose at the finish, lifted a Lithuanian flag, and expressed jubilance.
American Tim Tollefson (post-race interview) debuted at 100 miles this weekend and he made doing so look really fun. I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous for the guy when I saw him run through Saint-Gervais, the race’s half-marathon point, in something like 40th place. I expected him to take things out a little harder, and I wondered if he was feeling off. At the race’s marathon point, he was hovering just outside the men’s top 10, a situation he maintained until after the 100-kilometer mark, where he moved into the men’s top 10. For a guy who has never raced this distance, he exhibited remarkable patience and poise. From an outside perspective, it looked like Tim spent about 50 kilometers of the race’s second half lying in wait–waiting for carnage to come back. Getting onto the podium at UTMB is a bucket-list item for a lot of fast trail-ultra folks, but doing so for Tim involved passing his friend and teammate Zach Miller late in the race. These guys had made it pretty clear pre-race, though, that even if they are friends, the game would be on during the race. On the race’s final climb, Tim climbed into third place, where he would finish. And then he seemingly threw away all the patience he previously possessed, and went on like a man possessed, hunting Gediminas in second place and trying to stay in front of a chasing David Laney in fourth.
In taking fourth, American David Laney (pre-race interview) put to bed anyone’s wonderings about whether the guy was a one-hit wonder here at UTMB. I felt the same way about David as I did Tim in the race’s early miles, a little nervous to see him running in 40th-some-odd place. As the race went on, however, I realized that David (and Tim for that matter) was actually running faster relative to the very front of field this year. It was actually that the men’s field was much more deep–there were more dudes than ever running within an hour of the lead at 100 kilometers. At 100 kilometers, David was in closer contact with the lead this year, it’s just that he passed much more carnage to get to the front. His late-race pushing is so fun to watch as a spectator, and it must be terrifying for the runners around him. You could see at the finish that he was spent, having given his fourth-place finish his all.
Spain’s Javi Dominguez was the men’s fifth-place finisher, and I’m not a bit surprised to see him there. His race results of late have been strong, so I expected him to contend for the men’s top 10, and I anticipated him doing so with the conservative-start/fast-finish style we saw him use to take third here three years ago.
Seventh place was France’s Sébastien Camus, who appeared to have several highs and lows, which would propel him in and out of the men’s top 10 throughout the race. He ultimately finished looking strong. Julien Chorier, who ran among podium position through 130 kilometers, slowed at the end to eighth. Italy’s Giulio Ornati came on strong late to move into the top 10 in ninth, and Spain’s Juan Maria Jimenez ran strong at the edge of the top 10 for much of the race.
[Watch videos of the top-three men finishing.]
The strategic highlight of the women’s race was the pressure France’s Caroline Chaverot and Switzerland’s Andrea Huser (pre-race and post-race interviews) put on each other for 170 kilometers. Caroline had run at the lead of last year’s UTMB for almost 150 kilometers before she succumbed to leg cramps. This year, believe it or not, Caroline’s race was mired by stomach issues and those same leg cramps. Though Caroline was moving well in the more than dozen times our team saw her out on the course, it appeared that she was working hard to achieve that movement. That is, it just didn’t look like the race was coming easy for her. Turns out, she suffered stomach pain on every single descent, which she said was uncomfortable and made it difficult to eat. Additionally, she was plagued by the same leg cramps as last year. It’s just that this year, she chose to push through them. Caroline’s lead over second place was never large–at it’s greatest it was something like 20 minutes. In the race’s final third, Andrea reduced her deficit by so much that Caroline caught sight of Andrea behind her, and was spurred to fight back and create a lead again. Her seven-minute gap at the finish wasn’t much, but it was plenty to crown her the 2016 UTMB champion.
Andrea Huser’s command over races with long distances and technical terrain is incredible–the woman was as strong at the finish after finishing second as she was at the start. Andrea is a quiet presence, which from a racing perspective is incredibly dangerous. She’s like the shadow you can’t shake, always right there. While the women’s podium positions swapped quite a lot in the race’s first half marathon, Andrea settled into second place by 20 miles in and she unwaveringly maintained that position through the finish. Her time gap over the rest of the women’s field increased strongly–third place was one hour and 50 minutes back at the finish. Very clearly, Caroline and Andrea were in a category of their own at this year’s UTMB. To be honest with you, when I saw Andrea running about 14 minutes behind Caroline at Champex-Lac (124km), I thought it was game over. Andrea bounced over the rocks on the trail with a big smile, while Caroline struggled through a powerhike. So late in a race to look so good! Andrea continued from there to cut into her gap to Caroline, making it a real race for the win in the final 20 miles. With only seven minutes separating the pair at the finish, this was the closest women’s one-two finish in UTMB history.
Spain’s Uxue Fraile (pre-race and post-race interviews) was last year’s fastest-returning finisher, having taken second. This year, she came back with the goal of running a faster time. A strong runner over long and technical races, UTMB is really the perfect scene for her. Turns out, Uxue’s stomach went bad at about 70 kilometers into the race, and she subsequently struggled with nutrition and energy levels. Sometimes, as a race observer, you just feel bad for runners, and I sympathized with Uxue’s sufferfest–nothing came easy for her. I find it notable, however, that on a day where Uxue felt bad for 120 kilometers, she still finished a solid third place at the prestigious UTMB. Goodness, if she can run third here on a rough day, I’d sure like to see what she could do at a race like this on a perfect-for-Uxue day.
France’s Juliette Blanchet, the U.S.’s Magda Boulet, and the U.K.’s Jasmin Paris (post-race interview) took fourth, fifth, and sixth places, respectively. At 92 kilometers into the race, at Refuge Bonatti, this trio ran into these positions, and would mostly stay in them for some 80 kilometers more to the finish. There was some late-race drama, however, between Magda and Jasmin when Jasmin caught Magda on the descent to Vallorcine (151km) and Magda was forced to hammer the final climb. And hammer she did, putting about 15 minutes on Jasmin, a gap she would maintain to the finish.
Hungary’s Ildikó Wermescher took seventh, Japan’s Kaori Niwa was eighth, Switzerland’s Denise Zimmermann was ninth, and the U.K.’s Sophie Grant 10th.
[Watch videos of the top-three women finishing.]
Articles and Photo Galleries
Wow! So many people helped bring iRunFar’s UTMB coverage to the world. We appreciate the field assistance of Tim Peeters, Marissa Harris, Kerry Suter, Ali Pottinger, Glenn Alverus, Francois Satier, Sergi Colome, Brian Lang, Margo Meyer, Lizzy Trower, Donielle Wolfe, and Stephane Ehrstrom. We’re also grateful for the office assistance of Mauri Pagliacci, Dani Torres, Franco Larooca, Travis Trampe, Eric Senseman, Ellie Greenwood, and Kim Wrinkle.
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