We have arrived to UTMB time! It’s a bit hard to compare the women’s race to the absolute star power of the men’s race this year, but in terms of both depth and breadth, the women’s race has everything a trail running fan needs for a day’s worth of entertainment. You’ve got the two top long-distance mountain ultrarunners in the world right now–Caroline Chaverot and Andrea Huser–who also went one-two at UTMB last year in the closest women’s race in UTMB history. You’ve got six of last year’s UTMB top 10. You’ve got a hefty group of ladies who have, for years, put up great performances at some of the world’s toughest mountain ultras. You have some strong women who’ve given UTMB or its sister races a go previously and are now primed to run to their potential here. And you’ve got about 20 women with national-level prowess who could break out internationally at UTMB. This is going to be good.
The 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, while 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. Keep in mind that the race increased in length by a couple (difficult) kilometers since these two records were set, so someone will have to have the race of their life to get under these times. But, this is 21st century ultrarunning and someday in the not-too-distant future a runner will. And it could very well be this year.
A special thanks to Camelbak for making our coverage of UTMB possible!
As you’d expect, we’ll be covering UTMB live starting at 6 p.m. CEST (10 a.m. MDT in the U.S.) on Friday, September 1.
We’ve also previewed the men’s race. Be sure to read it!
Most Likely Podium Contenders
I’m not going to bet against France’s Caroline Chaverot (pre-race interview), are you? If you’ve been paying attention to mountain ultrarunning over the last couple of years, you’ll surely agree with the statement that she’s currently the best long-distance mountain ultrarunner out there. The reign of Caroline began in earnest in 2015, but her 2016 was off the charts. This was the year that she won the Skyrunning World Championships in the Ultra category at the BUFF Epic Trail, the IAU Trail World Championships, and UTMB… in addition to at least five other ultramarathons. She’s somehow still escaped the supernova explosion then fizzle that so many athletes experience–though we know she’s faced and overcome some health issues this year–as, since May this year, she’s won the MaXi-Race Annecy, Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and the Hardrock 100. We should mention that, in addition to her UTMB win last year, she won the 2013 CCC and she was leading late in the 2015 UTMB race when a sudden-onset injury forced a DNF.
I honestly don’t know how women like Switzerland’s Andrea Huser (pre-race interview) and Caroline Chaverot race ultras as prolifically as they do. Last year, Andrea raced at least 13 long ultramarathons, including a second place at UTMB and a win at Diagonale des Fous. This year, she’s at least nine ultras in to date. In 2016, Andrea finished second to Caroline three times, I believe, at Transgrancanaria, Madeira Island Ultra Ultra (MIUT), and UTMB. This year, I think they’ve faced off twice, at Transgrancanaria, where Andrea was second and Caroline dropped with those previously mentioned health issues, and MaXi-Race Annecy, where Caroline won and Andrea was a distant second. That said, Andrea’s won plenty of races yet this year, including MIUT and the Eiger Ultra-Trail. That also said, Andrea gave Caroline a run for her money last year in the closest women’s race in UTMB history, finishing just seven minutes back.
France’s Juliette Blanchet is one of those women who I should have been paying much closer attention to before her fourth place at UTMB last year, which she followed shortly up with a second place at Diagonale des Fous. Prior to last year’s UTMB, she had three previous finishes at the UTMB festival races, second at the 2012 TDS, ninth at the 2013 UTMB, and third at the 2015 TDS. Juliette has plenty of other accolades to her name, including second place at the 2015 MaXi-Race Annecy, fourth place at the 2016 MIUT, and a win of the 2017 Grossglockner Ultra-Trail.
I’m going to call it now, there will be (at least) one USA woman on this year’s UTMB podium. I think it could be Magda Boulet. This will be her third year participating in the UTMB festival of races: in 2015 she was second at the CCC and last year she was fifth in the UTMB. Thusly, she’s got previous experience on her side. Also, she’s an impeccable student of the sport, so I think she went home from UTMB last year hungry for a faster finish and knowing what she had to do to move up from that fifth place. So far this year, she’s been second at the Tarawera Ultramathon, the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (tieing with Kaci Lickteig), and the Western States 100. Last week, she also won the TransRockies Run six-day individual stage race. This last performance is her only UTMB red flag: 120 miles of focused running in the high-altitude Colorado Rockies finishing less than two weeks before the UTMB start is a lot to ask the body to bounce back from.
The USA’s Stephanie Violett (pre-race interview) has been to UTMB before, finishing eighth in 2015 when she was nursing a bum Achilles tendon. If I remember correctly, it was the race that caused her to pull the plug and get surgery on that chronic injury. In her return to health and fitness, we’ve seen her take ninth at the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships (TNF 50), outright win the 2017 Bandera 100k, and suffer to a 12th-place finish at the 2017 Western States. She’s among a number of women who are looking to double back after running Western States in June, and she’s already in Europe, clearly taking UTMB seriously. If I were a betting woman, I’d put money on Stephanie and the UTMB podium.
If Caroline Chaverot is today’s top mountain ultrarunner, then Catalana Núria Picas (pre-race interview) was the previous one. From 2013 through 2015, the woman was virtually unstoppable. Among her accolades from those days are two second places at UTMB (2013 interview and 2014 interview) as well as four Ultra Pirineu wins (though it was called Cavalls del Vents for several of those, before the race’s renaming), two wins of Les Templiers (2014 interview), two wins of Transgrancanaria (2014 interview and 2015 interview), a win of Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji, a win of Diagonale des Fous… need I go on? Núria got burned out, though, and both her body and her mind required a break. She tried to race UTMB last year, but was a last-minute DNS due to an ankle injury. She’s raced sparingly this year, winning the Hong Kong 100k and taking third at the Tromsø Skyrace just a few weekends ago. Honestly, I’m excited to see Núria race and I don’t think we know what we’re going to get with her. If the circa 2015 Núria is back, watch out.
A Brazilian who lives in Spain and ever the professional when it comes to trail ultrarunning, Fernanda Maciel (pre-race interview) brings three previous UTMB finishes with her to this year’s race: a fourth in 2010, seventh in 2012, and fourth again in 2014. She was the 2009 winner of the TDS, too. Last year, she was a last-minute DNS due to health issues, but this year she seems like she’s back, healthier than ever, and ready to roll. Her top finishes of the recent couple years have been third at the two most recent editions of the Marathon des Sables and a fifth place at the 2016 BUFF Epic Trail, the Skyrunning World Championships in the Ultra category.
Gemma Arenas (Spain) had a wicked 2016. Though she dropped early in the 2016 UTMB due to stomach issues, the rest of her 2016 results were stellar: sixth at Transvulcania, a win at the Ultra Skymarathon Madeira, a win of Ultra Pirineu, and fifth at the IAU Trail World Championships among them. She’s been a little more hot-cold in 2017, with her best result being a win of the Penyagolosa CSP. I’m guessing she would like to avenge whatever happened to her stomach last year. I don’t believe Gemma has a 100-mile finish to her name yet.
More Top Women
With her prior racing cred, Spain’s Teresa Nimes should easily run herself into the women’s top 10. Let’s first look at her previous best performances in the UTMB festival of races: winner of the 2014 TDS and third at last year’s CCC. In IAU Trail World Championships, she’s got a pair of 10th places in both 2015 and 2016. So far this year, she took second at the Patagonia Run 145k.
France’s Emilie Lecomte has wins and top finishes at some of the toughest ultramarathons around. She’s won some of the mountain classics like Diagonale des Fous (twice, actually) and Tor des Géants, and finished on the podium of other tough races like Ronda dels Cims and MIUT. She has one previous UTMB finish to her name, a ninth place in 2012.
Even though she’s a Nebraska flatlander, I’d have normally ranked Kaci Lickteig (USA) higher on this list. However, she’s had personal issues which have taken precedent to her summer training. She recently said on social media that, despite training less than normal, she plans to still run and have fun with UTMB. So far this year, Kaci took second (tieing with Magda Boulet) at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, took second again at the Quad Rock 50 Mile, and gutted out a slog to finish Western States. What does this mean for the 2016 UltraRunning magazine (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year? It’s hard to say as this is also a long mountainous run that’s part of her first time traveling and racing abroad, but I still think she could run into the top 10.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Japan’s Kaori Niwa race several times over the years, and I just love that she quietly and methodically runs her butt off with no drama and no hype. Last year, Kaori took eighth at UTMB, and she did so by starting conservatively and moving her way up through the typically self-destructing field that goes out too fast at UTMB. She seems in form for a long race at present, given that she took second at the Ronda dels Cims this past July.
In the last three UTMB editions, Sophie Grant (U.K.) has finished 44th, 12th, and 10th. Upward trajectory much? Ladies, watch out for her. Some of her other strong performances of recent years include a sixth place at the 2015 Diagonale des Fous, sixth again at the 2016 Transgrancanaria, and 10th at the 2017 Tarawera.
Manu Vilaseca (Brazil but lives in Spain) has twice run into the UTMB top 10, finishing 10th in 2015 and and eighth back in 2013. Among her recent top finishes were a 10th and ninth, respectively, at Transgrancanaria and MIUT earlier this year. While she’s generally a strong and consistent mountain ultrarunner in general, her UTMB performances have exceeded her other results by a lot. What I’m trying to say is that I give her a high upside potential at UTMB.
The U.K.’s Beth Pascall came onto our radar when she ran into the top 10 at the 2016 IAU Trail World Championships, taking eighth. Before that, however, she’d had years of success largely racing in U.K. ultras. She was the 2015 winner of the Spine Race, the 2016 winner of the Highland Fling 53 Mile, and she took second at the 2017 MIUT. I believe this is her first time racing in the UTMB festival of races.
Say the name ‘Aliza Lapierre‘ around her home country of the USA, and you will be met with responses regarding both her speed and strength. Around the U.S. over the recent years, her top races have been finishing in the top 10 of Western States four times, winning the 2016 Miwok 100k, and winning the 2017 Georgia Death Race. Since 2015, she’s been taking her racing overseas with mixed results, including a tie for second at the 2015 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji (with Fernanda Maciel), a 23rd at last year’s UTMB, and a seventh at this year’s Lavaredo Ultra Trail. I objectively think she’s top-five material at this year’s UTMB.
Amy Sproston (USA) has one previous UTMB finish, eighth in 2012. But that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t tried this race multiple other times. On paper, this is a race at which Amy could run quite well. In actuality, she hasn’t reached her potential here yet. Last year, Amy dropped after an epic through the mountains as a result of chronic hamstring issues. Also last year, Amy took second at Western States. This year she’s raced relatively sparingly, and she had a DNF at Western States due to her hamstrings. Expectations on her? Honestly, I have no idea, but she’s already in the Alps and taking her preparations seriously, I believe.
I think we realistically have no idea of the absolute potential of a woman like Alissa St Laurent (Canada) at a race like UTMB. Past indicators–namely her overall win of the 2015 Canadian Death Race, her blazing 19:25 course record at the Cascade Crest 100 Mile (which is hours faster than any other woman has managed to do), and her fifth place at the 2016 Western States–have shown her capability well within UTMB’s top 10. Alissa’s had a tough go of a couple races this year, though, dropping from both Tarawera and Western States.
France’s Maria Semerjian has two previous finishes inside the UTMB top 10, in 2011 when she was eighth and 2013 when she finished seventh. In 2014, she took third at the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji. Last year, she was third also at the Tor de Géants.
Amanda Basham (USA) has all the talent to fire off a strong UTMB performance, as shown by the several big ones she’s popped off in the past, namely a 10th at the 2015 TNF 50 and a fourth place at the 2016 Western States. Like Magda Boulet, she just got done running 120 miles through the Colorado Rockies at the TransRockies Run, where she and her partner Keely Henninger won the six-day women’s team competition. Is a full recovery from that possible in less than two weeks?
More Fast Women to Watch
- Ester Alves (Portugal) — 3rd 2017 The Coastal Challenge; 8th 2014 UTMB
- Christelle Bard (France) — 3rd 2016 TDS; 4th 2015 CCC
- Yulia Baykova (Russia but lives in Italy) — 6th 2016 CCC
- Tara Berry (Canada) — 7th 2017 Broken Arrow Skyrace
- Cristina Bes (Spain) — Dropped from the 2016 UTMB mid-race after running near the lead; 2nd 2015 TDS; 2nd 2014 CCC
- Melanie Bos (Canada) — 4th 2016 Ultra Tour Monte Rosa 116k
- Veronica Bravo (Chile) — 6th and 1st, respectively, at the 2017 and 2015 The Coastal Challenge
- Robyn Bruins (Australia) — 4th 2017 Ultra-Trail Australia
- Noelia Camacho (Spain) — 12th 2017 Transvulcania
- Martina Chialvo (Italy) — 10th 2016 CCC
- Wyan Chow (Hong Kong) — 1st and 2nd, respectively, at the 2015 and 2014 Hong Kong 100k
- Lee Conner (USA) — 3rd 2017 High Lonesome 100 Mile; 2nd 2017 Bighorn 100 Mile
- Laia Diez (Spain) — 8th 2017 Marathon des Sables; 7th 2016 Ultra Pirineu
- Meredith Edwards (USA) — 2nd 2016 TDS; 10th 2015 CCC
- Kellie Emmerson (Australia) — 4th 2017 Tarawera
- Basilia Förster (Italy but lives in Germany, I believe) — 3rd at both 2017 Swiss Irontrail and 2017 Zugspitz Ultratrail
- Leslie Howlett (USA) — 15th and 8th, respectively, at 2017 and 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
- Ewa Majer (Poland) — 5th 2017 Lavaredo Ultra Trail
- Sally McRae (USA) — 11th, 7th, and 10th, respectively, at the 2016, 2015, and 2014 Western States
- Lisa Mehl (Germany) — Winner 2017 Zugspitz Ultratrail
- Maria Nikolova (Bulgaria) – 16th 2015 UTMB
- Lucinda Santos (Portugal) — 8th 2017 Transgrancanaria
- Adriana Vargas (Argentina) — 1st 2017 Patagonia Run; 5th 2016 Transgrancanaria
- Sabrina Verjee (U.K.) — 1st 2017 Lakeland 100 Mile; 2nd 2017 Dragons Back Race
Entered, But Not Running
- Mimmi Kotka (Sweden) – Switched to TDS [Added August 26]
- Joelle Vaught (USA) – Injury recovery
Call for Comments
- Who will win the women’s race this year?
- And 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 you think someone else should be here? Let us know! We’ll keep updating this preview until ‘game day.’