I don’t like hyperbole. Period. With that in mind, I think it’s entirely fair to say that this year’s men’s field at UTMB will be the best field ever assembled for a trail ultramarathon. Full stop.
For some years now, UTMB has been the world’s most competitive trail ultra, and this year’s race will feature three men who’ve combined to win seven of the previous nine UTMBs. You’ve also got runners who’ve filled many of the race’s previous podiums and an American contingent that represents the strongest U.S. men’s field we’ll see anywhere in the world this year along with the usual stellar global cast. In short, this year’s UTMB promises to be spectacular!
Not only is the talent at the very front of the field unlike anything I’ve seen before, the field’s depth is remarkable. The International Trail Running Association’s (ITRA’s) recent ranking show 120 men with ITRA scores at or above 750. Those rankings aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough and they show something special. With that in mind, below I’ll try to highlight those who have the best chance to finish in the top 15 or 20. That means, I’ll leave some tremendous runners out of this preview. That’s not meant as a slight of anyone in particular, but, instead, should be seen as a testament to this tremendous field. It’ll also be a blast to see who surprises the world by rising from relative anonymity to a top finish at UTMB.
A special thanks to Camelbak for making our coverage of UTMB possible!
As you’d expect, we’ll be covering the UTMB live starting at 6 p.m. CEST (10 a.m. MDT in the U.S.) on Friday, September 1.
Read our in-depth women’s preview to learn about the race’s other exciting field!
Recent UTMB Champions
Until someone beats him, I’m convinced every trail race he runs is Kilian Jornet’s race to lose. I don’t believe he’s lost a trail race since post-Himalaya stomach issues hit him at Zegama in May 2015. Since then, he’s won the Hardrock 100 three times (2015, 2016, 2017), Sierre-Zinal twice (including this August), Ultra Pirineu in 2015, and the Marathon du Mont-Blanc this June. Years ago, he won UTMB in 2008, 2009, and 2011. (Kilian was also leading UTMB in 2010 when it was canceled for weather, and he opted to race elsewhere later that weekend rather than to resume the race.) Despite a late start to his running season following his standard skimo season and, then, his double ascent of Everest, Kilian’s win at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc, Hardrock, and Sierre-Zinal this summer show he’s still the man to beat.
While there are far flashier folks in trail running, the most likely threat to Kilian’s dominance is France’s François D’haene (pre-race interview). François is simply amazing when it comes to mountainous races longer than 100k. Let’s take a look at his performances in this realm since he won UTMB in 2012: 1st 2013 Diagonale des Fous, 1st 2014 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, 1st 2014 UTMB, 1st 2014 Diagonale des Fous, 1st 2016 Diagonale des Fous, 1st 2017 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail (MIUT), and 1st 2017 MaxiRace. (He was 14th at the Western States 100 in 2015, but that’s not mountainous to the degree of which I speak with regard to D’haene’s sweet spot.) Now that I’m looking at his compiled results, there’s no doubt that François is the most accomplished mountain 100-mile runner of the past half decade.
France’s Xavier Thévenard (pre-race interview) has won all of the solo races that make up the UTMB festival. (He’s not run the PTL.) In order, he’s won CCC in 2010, UTMB in 2013, TDS in 2014, UTMB in 2015, and OCC in 2016. Xavier has plenty of strong results elsewhere. Just in the past three years, he was eighth at the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships, second at the 2016 Marathon du Mont-Blanc, third at the 2016 Hardrock 100, eighth at Les Templiers, third at MIUT, and first at the Mont-Blanc 80k. However, these results all highlight Xavier’s particular and peculiar success specifically at the UTMB family of races in comparison to his other results. Whatever his Chamonix secret is, it’s a good one!
Recent UTMB Podium Finishers
Behind the three recent winners, we’ve got six guys who’ve who’ve been on the podium over the past four UTMBs. (Add to that the three wins in the past four years from Thévenard and D’haene and nine of the past 12 UTMB podium spots will be represented. Only Luis Alberto Hernando, Ludovic Pommeret, and Iker Karrera are missing.)
Gediminas Grinius (pre-race interview) of Lithuania will be back after finishing runner-up at last year’s UTMB, just two years after placing fifth in his breakout ultra performance. Later in 2014, he took fourth at Diagonale des Fous before winning both Transgrancanaria and Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji along with placing fourth at Western States in 2015. Last year, he was second at Transgrancanaria and Lavaredo in addition to taking second at UTMB and third at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k. Grinius hasn’t put up the same level of results in 2017 as he did the two previous years, with a fifth at Tarawera, fourth at MIUT, 12th at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and eighth at the Eiger Ultra-Trail.
Two years ago, the U.S.’s David Laney (pre-race interview) put on a clinic in patience when he surged through the field to take third at UTMB. He showed that result was no fluke when he took fourth at the race last year. Truthfully, no American male aside from Mike Foote has seen that level of success at UTMB this decade. Since last year’s UTMB, Laney has taken third at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships (TNF 50) 2016, sixth at Chuckanut 50k 2017 , and second at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 2017. Each of the previous two years, Laney raced Western States prior to UTMB, but he didn’t race States this year.
When thinking about American Tim Tollefson (pre-race interview), you’ve got to remember that his third place at last year’s UTMB… was in his 100-mile debut. In fact, he’d only run two races of at least 100k at that point, his second-place finish at CCC in 2015 and his slog at Transgrancanaria 2016, where he earned his requisite points to run UTMB. So far this year, Tollefson’s been fifth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in January, won Ultra-Trail Australia in May, and taken second at the Speedgoat 50k in July. He did stumble with a DNF at the American River 50 Mile in April, but all other signs show him ready to roll.
Javi Dominguez is passing on running UTMB in favor of running the Tor des Geants. [Updated August 29]
Ultrarunning is full of likable people, but Basque runner Javi Dominguez has got to be one of my favorites. He shocked many by taking third at UTMB in 2013 and, then, showed that was no fluke by taking fifth at the race last year. Why is he one of my favorites? Because Javi’s run the Zegama Marathon each of the past six years and has never finished better than 24th with results evenly spread down to 58th. Despite his lack of top-end speed, he’s an unassuming beast in longer ultras. Aside from UTMB, the past two years he’s been third at Lavaredo and the BUFF Epic Trail in 2016 (when it was the Skyrunning World Championships), won the most important 100 miler in Basque Country at Ehunmilak in 2016 and 2017, and taken third at Diagonale des Fous last year.
Tòfol Canstanyer tied with Iker Karrera for second at UTMB in 2014. Since then, he’s followed up with his fair share of top finishes including fourth at the TNF 50 in 2014, third at Les Templiers in 2015, second at MIUT in 2016, and eighth at the 2016 IAU Trail World Championships. On the other hand, he’s had two rough goes at Western States in the same span, finishing 12th last year and 11th this year and he did drop out of last year’s UTMB.
I feel like I always write the same thing about Miguel Heras: basically, he’s either really on or really off at any race. While I don’t have a good log of his possible DNFs, it looks like Miguel has had a consistent on phase over the past year. Last autumn, he won both Ultra Pirineu and Les Templiers, while he’s taken first or second at a handful of races in Spain so far this year. At his best, Miguel has been second at UTMB (2013), has twice won Transvulcania (2010 and 2011), and has twice won the TNF 50 (2010 and 2012). With his recent wins at Ultra Pirineu and Les Templiers, there’s no reason to think that he couldn’t pop another top performance at UTMB.
The Rest of the Top Americans
I admittedly feel awkward in writing an American-centric section in a UTMB preview, as we rarely include country-specific sections outside of world-championship events. Here, I do so for a few reasons. First, regardless of how the American men fair at this year’s UTMB, it’s quite likely the strongest assembly of American ultrarunners anywhere this year, i.e., you could consider it the de facto American championship… that just happens to be the in the Alps. Second, with Luis Alberto Hernando out and Jason Schlarb in, ITRA rankings show six Americans in the top-11 spots. (Notably, with three of the top-11 spots and four runners already listed above, Spain would be the next logical candidate for its own section, but, well, I’ve already listed four of the five runners ranked in ITRA’s top 20.)
For better and worse, Zach Miller goes dang hard from ‘go.’ When he keeps himself together, he wins big races like he did at the TNF 50 in 2015 and 2016 and the CCC in 2015. Other times, he blows up like at last year’s UTMB or Transvulcania a year earlier. That said, when Zach does blow up, he tends to fight on to a respectable finish such as sixth at last year’s UTMB or fifth at that Transvulcania I just mentioned. I suspect that once again this year, Zach won’t hold back. It’s hard to tell if he’ll be fit enough to pull off the perfect day given that an early season slip and fall has kept him away from racing.
Just three years ago, Jason Schlarb took fourth at UTMB. That’s sandwiched by wins of the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile in 2013 and 2015 and followed up by a win alongside Kilian Jornet at Hardrock in 2016. That means Schlarb’s put down a top performance at a 10o-mile race each of the previous four years. He DNFed at Hardrock in July and immediately shifted from the TDS into UTMB, which means he’ll have another crack at a top 100-mile finish this year. Schlarb did drop from last year’s UTMB.
Dear Jim Walmsley, you’ve shown that you can blow course records at races up to 100k in length out of the water. That’s awesome. You are capable of winning the biggest races in the world. That’s awesome, too. Now, do it. When you do, no one can ever take that away from you. Sit with whomever of Kilian or François or Xavier is closer to the front until Champex-Lac. If that means you’re in the lead group, stay there until Trient or, better yet, Vallorcine. Then, try to win the most competitive trail ultramarathon ever. Sincerely, Bryon.
I think of Dylan Bowman first and foremost as a 100-mile runner. That said, he’s finished exactly one since he took third at Western States back in 2014. Since then, he dropped out of Western States in 2015, saw last year’s Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji shortened to 47k due to weather (he won), and won the Istria 100 Mile this April. Bowman’s raced sparingly this year, taking fourth at Speedgoat in late July in addition to his win at Istria. He’s been crushing his training out of Aspen, Colorado this summer.
Sage Canaday made his first attempt at 100 miles at UTMB 2015. He took a bad fall in the first half of the race and later withdrew. Last year, he ran Western States and finished off his potential in 11th. So far in 2017, he’s had a reasonably strong year. He won the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile back in April, but was later seventh at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc. Surrounding those finishes are a trio of third places at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k, Chuckanut 50k, and Speedgoat 50k. I don’t think Sage would benefit from going out in the lead group in this year’s race. Instead, I think he might earn his best finish from going out with someone like…
Jeff Browning is a brilliant racer. Why? Because he runs his own damn race, and a smart, even one at that. Every time. He’s run five 100 milers since the start of last year and, in order, won the HURT 100 2016, took third at Western States 2016, fourth at Hardrock 2016 three weeks later, fourth at Run Rabbit Run 2016, and fourth at Western States 2017. That last one was a master class in patient racing. Do I think Browning will finish on the podium on September 2nd? No. Could I see him coming into Les Contamines at 31k outside the top 50 and, then, finishing inside the top 10? Yup!
We’ve confirmed that Andrew Miller isn’t running UTMB this year. [Updated August 31]
While it’s true that you’ll never know if aggressive racers like Zach Miller or Jim Walmsley will nail it or blow up, I’d consider Andrew Miller to be the biggest mystery of the American men’s contingent. Last year, he jumped from running very well at more regional races to winning at Georgia Death Race to get an entry into Western States, which he then won. Being cognizant not to over race, he didn’t jump into anything right after States. This year, injuries caused him to miss some spring racing and, then, Western States, although he did take second to Mike Foote at the Old Gabe 50k in mid-June. He’s been running, but another injury kept him from running the Bridger Ridge Run in mid-August. How he’ll do at UTMB is anyone’s guess.
The Rest of the Favorites
Since the start of 2016, Catalan runner Pau Capell has been one of the best trail ultrarunners on the planet. In 2016, he was fourth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k, third at Transgrancanaria, first at Ultra-Trail Australia, was sixth at Lavaredo, won TDS, was 11th at the IAU Trail World Championships. This year, he won Transgrancanaria and was second to D’haene at MIUT. The lone down spot I can recall is his DNF at Lavaredo this year. Capell only has one 100-mile-or-longer race to his credit, a third at the 183k Cami de Cavalls in 2014, but he certainly has the potential to run in the top five and maybe onto the podium.
Last year, I included Norway’s Didrik Hermansen among the ‘headline acts’ of UTMB on the outstanding strength and upward trend of his 2015 and early 2016. However, that must be tempered a bit now, as he dropped out of last year’s UTMB and this year’s 117km Penyagolosa CSP and is running well but slightly behind his previous results in taking fourth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100 in January, third at Transgrancanaria in February, and sixth at Lavaredo in June.
An Englishman living in France, Andy Symonds made a generally successful step up in distance last year, winning Laveredo as well as taking second at the Skyrunning World Championships in the Ultra category at the BUFF Epic Trail, fourth at Transvulcania, and fifth at Transgrancanaria. He made his first attempt at 100 miles at UTMB last year, but dropped out late in the race. Since then he’s placed ninth… at last year’s IAU Trail World Championships and, this year, at Transgrancanaria and the Marathon des Sables. Anyone know how Andy’s faired over the past five months?
Diego Pazos of Switzerland had an enviable 2016, when he won the Mont-Blanc 80k and Eiger Ultra-Trail, was third at Transgrancanaria, and was sixth at the IAU Trail World Championships. His performances haven’t been quite as strong this year with his best performance being perhaps his eighth at Transgrancanaria in February. He’s already seen success at the UTMB festival races with an 11th-place finish at UTMB in 2014 and a fourth at CCC in 2015.
When I first started covering UTMB at the start of the decade, I would have talked about France’s Julien Chorier as a possible champion. That’s just not going to happen today. Going back some years, he was third (2008) and fourth (2010) at UTMB, won CCC (2007), won Diagonale des Fous (2009 and 2011), won the Hardrock 100 (2011), won Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (2012), and so on. Now, Chorier is the smart, experienced racer who can will himself into the top 10. Over the past two years, he’s been seventh at Transgrancanaria 2016, 10th at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k 2017, and 10th at Lavaredo 2017… yet, he was eighth at last year’s UTMB. He was also sixth at UTMB in 2013.
I don’t think we know what Vaidas Žlabys’s potential is yet. Only back in 2015, he was 33rd at Transgrancanaria and 60th at the IAU Trail World Championships. In 2016, he was improved to 20th at the IAU Trail World Championships and was eighth at Transgrancanaria. This year, he was second at Transgrancanaria, but also only 15th at MIUT and dropped out of Lavaredo. It’ll be interesting to see how this Lithuanian performs against this strong a field in what I believe will be his first 100-mile race.
Spain’s Jordi Gamito has consistently improved over the past few years, and that’s from, say, 2015 when he was 11th at Transgrancanaria, 12th at UTMB, and sixth at Diagonale des Fous. From just 2016 to this year, he went from 10th at Transgrancanaria and 12th at MIUT to fourth and fifth, respectively, at those events. Aside from his strong UTMB in 2015, he was fifth at TDS in 2014 and 2016, so he’s plenty familiar with the terrain. Jordi was third at the Eiger Ultra-Trail last month.
Skimming through his results, at first glance, France’s Sébastien Camus seems to be an inconsistent racer. Last year, he was seventh at UTMB just a year after finishing 43rd at the race. At CCC, he’s been second (2013), fourth (2012), seventh (2011), and 21st (2010). Ah, but look at it another way… Seb consistently improves when he repeats major races. See also his seventh at Diagonale des Fous in 2013 and second in 2015. So far this year, Camus has taken 18th at Trail du Ventoux, 16th at MIUT, and 16th at the Broken Arrow Skyrace.
Giulio Ornati of Italy ran far above and beyond his other results in taking ninth at UTMB last year. At major events in 2017, he’s been 17th at Transgrancanaria, eighth at MIUT, and 18th at Lavaredo, which are on par with many of his results from past years. Still, course-specific performances count, and Giulio’s great UTMB last year followed his fifth place at CCC in 2014.
Catalan runner Francesc Solé’s seventh place at UTMB in 2015 is certainly his standout performance on a world stage, but he’s had great success in Iberia. For example, he’s twice won Andorra’s Ronda dels Cims (2014 and 2015) and taken second (2014) and sixth (2015) at Ultra Pirineu. So far in 2017, his results aren’t up to his high standard.
Over the past three years, the biggest performance we’ve seen from Portugal’s Carlos Sá (other than organizing last year’s IAU Trail World Championships) was his eighth place at last year’s Marathon des Sables. Still, it’s hard to discount a man who was eighth at UTMB in 2014, as well as fourth in 2012 and fifth in 2011.
Other Top Runners to Watch
- Manuel Anguita (Spain) — 10th Transvulcania 2017; 4th BUFF Epic Trail 2016 (Skyrunning World Champs in the Ultra category)
- Majell Backhausen (Australia) — 6th TDS 2016; 21st UTMB 2015
- Victor Bernad (Spain) — 13th UTMB 2016; 6th, 3rd, 1st Penyagolosa CSP 2017, 2016, 2015; 23rd UTMB 2014
- Jordi Bes (Spain) — 13th UTMB 2012; 3rd TDS 2014; 1st CCC 2013
- Stéphane Brogniart (France) — 10th UTMB 2014; 7th TDS 2015; 13th UTMB 2013
- Sebastien Chaigneau (France) — 8th Lavaredo 2017; 9th Mont-Blanc 80k 2016; 1st Hardrock 2013; 3rd UTMB 2011; 2nd UTMB 2009
- Kim Collison (U.K.) — 9th BUFF Epic Trail 2016 (Skyrunning World Champs in Ultra category); 24th UTMB 2015; 20th IAU Trail World Championships 2015
- Takashi Doi (Japan) — 11th UTMB 2015
- Yeray Duran (Spain) — 2nd Penyagolosa CSP 2017; 2nd TDS 2016; 6th BUFF Epic Trail 2016 (Skyrunning World Champs in Ultra category); 3rd Lavaredo 2015
- Luís Fernandes (Portugal) — 11th, 7th, 1st MIUT 2017, 2016, 2015; 3rd Ultra Skymarathon Madeira 2016; 13th Transgrancanaria 2017; 8th BUFF Epic Trail 2016 (Skyrunning World Champs in Ultra category)
- Anthony Gay (France) — 6th Transgrancanaria 2017; 9th Lavaredo 2016; 3rd CCC 2014
- Ryan Ghelfi (U.S.) — 7th Istria 100 Mile 2017; 9th Broken Arrow Skyrace 2017; 1st Pine to Palm 100 Mile 2016
- Robert Hajnal (Romania) — 5th Lavaredo 2017; 8th CCC 2015
- Damian Hall (U.K.) — 7th Lavaredo 2017; 13th Marathon des Sables 2017; 19th UTMB 2016
- Yoshikazu Hara (Japan) — 4th Tarawera Ultramarathon 2016; 3rd Tarawera 2015; 1st Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji 2013; 285.366k (177.318 miles) 24-hour best (2014); 6:33 road 100k (2012)
- Scott Hawker (New Zealand) — 5th Eiger Ultra-Trail 2017; 5th Lavaredo 2016; 4th Lavaredo 2015; 2nd Ultra-Trail Australia 2015
- Nate Jaqua (U.S.) — 7th Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile 2016; 1st San Diego 100 Mile 2016; 1st Pine to Palm 100 Mile 2015
- Zednek Kriz (Czech Republic) — 5th BUFF Epic Trail 2016 (Skyrunning World Champs in Ultra category); 12th Lavaredo 2015; 12th CCC 2014
- Juan-Jose Larrotcha (Spain) — 15th UTMB 2016; 10th TDS 2015
- Mikaël Pasero (France) — 12th Diagonale des Fous 2016; 5th Mont-Blanc 80k 2015; 2nd CCC 2012
- Petter Restorp (Sweden, living in France) — 6th CCC 2016
- René Rovera (France) — 12th Trail du Ventoux 2016; 5th Lavaredo 2015; 4th CCC 2014
- Sebas Sanchez (Spain) — 12th Transgrancanaria 2017; 1st Penyagolosa CSP 2016; 6th Ultra Pirineu 2016; 7th BUFF Epic Trail 2016 (Skyrunning World Champs in Ultra category); 1st BUFF Epic Trail 2015
- Andrew Skurka (U.S.) — Tie for 1st Bighorn 100 Mile 2017; 3rd Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile 2016; 2nd Leadville 100 Mile 2008
Entered, But Not Running
- Patrick Bohard (France)
- Luis Alberto Hernando (Spain) — Two-time defending IAU Trail World Champ and 2015 UTMB runner up will pass on UTMB to run The Rut and Ultra Pirineu.
- Dani Jung (Italy) — Switched from UTMB to CCC.
- Chris Mocko (U.S.) — Regrouping after Western States and before the TNF 50 in November.
Call for Comments
- Is this the best trail ultramarathon men’s field you’ve ever seen? If not, what’s your pick?
- Who’ll win this one, and who else will end up on the podium?
- Which runner do you think my be the biggest surprise in this year’s UTMB?
- Care to give a shout out to a possible top contender that didn’t make our preview?
- Know of anyone in our preview who’s definitely not racing? Leave a comment to let us know.