Word from long-time trail runners is that the course is very tough. To start, there’s 4,680 meters (over 15,000 feet) of climbing and an equal amount of descent on the 85-kilometer (53-mile) point-to-point course. The first 30 kilometers has the potential to be faster, while the final 50k offers a larger proportion of difficult terrain.
The race has both individual and team competitions with the latter based off the combined time of each country’s top-three designated members. Below, we take a look at both sides of the competition. The individual competition is wide open while the team winner is likely to come from one of two teams. We’ve laid out the full squads of the countries most likely to finish up front with other top runners further down the article.
The race starts at 5 a.m. on Saturday, October 29th, which is 10 p.m. MDT on Friday, October 28th in the United States. As you’d expect, we’ll be reporting on the race live.
Be sure to also read our in-depth men’s IAU Trail World Championships preview to learn about who is in the men’s race.
The French squad returns to the Trail World Championships as the defending champs. To repeat atop the podium, they’ll have to do so on foreign ground this time. Their cause will be helped by the fact that two of the world’s top trail ultrarunners of the past two years are on their team: Nathalie Mauclair and Caroline Chaverot.
Nathalie Mauclair had a strong 2014, taking third at both the Western States 100 Mile and UTMB… and, then, 2015 happened. Last year, she won both UTMB and the Trail World Championships. Aside from her placing second at the Marathon des Sables in April, we’ve not seen much from Nathalie on the world stage this year. It’s worth noting that Mauclair is actually the two-time defending champ, as she also won in 2013.
On the other hand, Caroline Chaverot just won UTMB in August… along with the Buff Epic Trail, Mont Blanc 80k, Madeira Island Ultra Trail, and Transgrancanaria. Yeah, not a bad year so far. Last year, she was runner up to Mauclair at the Trail World Championships in addition to winning the Lavaredo and Eiger Ultra Trails and placing second at Transgrancanaria.
Anne-Lise Rousset may not be as well known as Mauclair or Chaverot, but she did finish fourth at last year’s Trail World Championships before placing third at Les Templiers later in the year. This year, she’s been runner up at Transvulcania and The Rut 50k. Maud Gobert won the Trail World Championships five years ago before placing 16th in 2013 and seventh in 2015. Gobert was fourth at the Skyrunning World Championships at the Buff Epic Trail in July. Aurélia Truel was runner up to Mauclair at the 2013 Trail World Championships before placing 17th at last year’s edition. She was fourth at the Tecnica MaXi-Race in May. Sophie Gagnon rounds out the French squad having placed second at this year’s MaXi Race. Gagnon has taken sixth at the past two French Trail National Championships.
Basque runner Uxue Fraile has had an even stronger past two years than Maiora outside of placing sixth at last year’s Trail World Championships. Fraile’s been second and third the past two runnings of UTMB, was third at Transgrancanaria in March, second at this year’s Lavaredo Ultra Trail, won last year’s Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, and so on.
Azara García has high upside potential despite not being as well known internationally as some of her Spanish teammates. Azara won last year’s Zegama Marathon while taking second in the Sky division at this year’s Skyrunning World Championships.
Gemma Arenas races relatively frequently, regularly with solid results. This year, she’s been sixth at Transvulcania and ninth at the Skyrunning World Championships along with her win at Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira and Ultra Pirineu. Teresa Nimes was 10th at last year’s Trail World Championships while she was third at CCC back in late August. Raquel Martínez, who was fifth at CCC and 12th at Transvulcania this year, is also on the team. Rounding out the team is Laia Cañes, who was third at last year’s CCC to go with numerous podium finishes in Spain the past few years.
On the roads, Jo Zakrzewski has taken second (’11), third (’14), and fifth (’15) at the IAU 100k World Championships while she was second at the IAU 50k World Championships in 2014. She was fourth at the Trail World Championships in 2013.
In the past year, Jo Meek (pre-race interview) has placed eighth at the 2015 TNF EC 50-Mile Championships, 11th at Transvulcania, and was runner up at the CCC. She was fourth at the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships on the roads after placing fifth at the Comrades Marathon earlier in the year.
After placing second at the Zugspitz Ultratrail last year, Sophie Grant has been sixth at both Transgrancanaria and Lavaredo before coming in 10th at UTMB. In addition to taking 27th at last year’s Trail World Championships, Sally Fawcett has won this year’s Lakeland 50 mile and been runner up at the Hoka Highland Fling in 2014 and 2016. As far as we can tell, Beth Pascall’s trail ultrarunning highlight came this April when she won the 53-mile Highland Fling. She also ran 230km (143 miles) in a 24-hour event last September.
The American women’s squad suffers for having two of its five designated runners–Devon Yanko and Sabrina Little–sidelined with injuries without any designated replacements. Now, one misstep or a bad race from even one team member could result in a poor team performance.
YiOu Wang had quite the start to her season. She won the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April after taking second at the Way Too Cool 50k a month earlier. In May, she broke the long-standing course record of the Quicksilver 50k in California. Then, she had a rough go at the Western States 100 Mile in June, when she took 13th.
Maybe it’s my faulty memory, but I feel like I’ve seen Larisa Dannis’s name on a number of entrants lists for prominent races this year while she’s not raced. This year, she has won one shorter NorCal trail race as well as the Ice Age 50 Mile, but that’s all she’s raced as far as I can find. That said, if Larisa is healthy and ready, she’s got the wheels to run way into the top 10, as shown by her second place at Western States in 2014, a 5:59 50 miler at Door County in late 2014, and third at last December’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships.
Although it’s her first year focused on ultras, Corrine Malcolm has been running consistently enough that I’d not be surprised to see her round out the scoring members of the American squad. This year, she’s been fifth at the Chuckanut 50k, fourth at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, first at the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile, and sixth at The Rut 50k.
[Updated 10/24: Ruth Croft won’t be racing.]
Ruth Croft (New Zealand) — In the past two years, she’s won the CCC (’15), been second at Tarawera (’15) and Trofeo Kima (’16), third at Transvulcania (’16), and fourth at the TNF EC 50-Mile Championships (’15). That’s quite a diversity of top performances. After Emelie Forsberg, Ruth is the top contender outside of the top teams.
Emelie Forsberg (Sweden) (pre-race interview) — Prior to her skiing injury over last winter, she won Transvulcania, Mount Marathon, Ice Trail Tarentaise, Tromsø Skyrace, The Rut 50k, Glen Coe Skyline, and Ultra Pirineu in the year prior. Even coming back from injury, Emelie is a contender for the win.
Joe Uhan writes about the hip-hinge position for efficient running.
Results from the 2020 Western States 100 lottery.
An essay about how good and bad days are natural in a lifetime of running.