Here we are, entering late summer and UTMB time. For years, UTMB has served as a who’s who of trail ultramarathoning… at least for those who can make it unscathed and still full of energy to summer’s end. The event’s timing in the racing and climactic year—eat your heart out European Alps fall storms—terrain and vertical—some 10,000 meters/33,000 feet of climbing over 170 kilometers/105.6 miles around Mont Blanc—and, let’s face it, hype—the pressure of it all is really something to see—together make this one of the most fascinating ‘shows’ of the year.
This year’s women’s race is what I’d call, in large part, a familiar field. Many of the women whom we’ll watch race have done this UTMB thing a time or two. We have two past champions, winners of other UTMB festival races, numerous previous top-10 finishers, and some ladies who have plenty of talent but haven’t put it all together at UTMB just yet. And, we have a couple ladies who are debuting at UTMB who, by the looks of things, could add a lot of snap-crackle-pop to the women’s race. Let’s do our deep dive into the women’s field.
A special thanks to Camelbak for making our coverage of UTMB possible!
Thanks also to Jaybird and Altra for their support of our UTMB coverage.
Of course we’re covering UTMB live starting at 6 p.m. CEST (10 a.m. MDT in the U.S.) on Friday, August 31.
We’ve also published our men’s preview. Be sure to read it, too!
Most Likely Winners
Given their racing resumes, if there is anyone we could expect to win, it would be one of these women. But each of them bring a little baggage that’ll keep this storyline spicy.
Due to injury, the defending women’s champion, Spain’s Núria Picas, will not start UTMB [Updated August 24]
Spain’s Núria Picas returns to UTMB as the defending women’s champion. Not only that, but she has a pair of second places at UTMB, in 2014 and 2013, to her name. Last year, her win signaled her return to international competition after choosing to take time away. Since then, she’s competed in a few small races, and earlier this month she said she’d been been suffering a foot injury since June, but that she’s been biking to keep her fitness up in the hopes of running UTMB again. Núria is as fierce as it gets, and if she can race, she certainly will.
From the outside looking in, France’s Caroline Chaverot (pre-race interview) appears to have struggled since her win of last year’s Hardrock 100. She DNFed midway through UTMB last year, citing fatigue and poor physical feelings. Poor physical feelings have kept her out of a number of races this year, too. A few months ago, she said on social media that she’d been diagnosed with and was being treated for Lyme disease. All that said, in June, she won the Zugspitz Ultratrail, and she also said on social media about a month ago that she was feeling and training well again. But then most recently on social media, she said she’s still trying to decide if she’ll start UTMB or not. If she does, we all know how good being fresh can be for a race as long and grueling as UTMB.
Following up our previous UTMB champions, we also have two women who won one of last year’s UTMB festival of races. Let’s start with Sweden’s Mimmi Kotka (pre-race interview), who is simply on fire with her mountainous ultrarunning the last couple years. Not only was she the 2017 TDS champion, but in 2016 she won the CCC, too. So far this year, she’s won the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT), MaXi-Race Annecy, and Mont-Blanc 90km. With all these accomplishments, I believe there is yet one significant feather she hasn’t put in her cap: she’s debuting at the 100-mile distance! Despite this distance question mark, if I were a betting woman, I’d probably put my money on Mimmi to emerge as this year’s UTMB champ.
I’m not sure when the USA’sClare Gallagher (pre-race interview) put her name on the UTMB entrants list, but it wasn’t right away. It seems she made this decision sometime over this summer? Last year, Clare handed it to the rest of the women’s field and won CCC in commanding fashion. She’s followed that up with a second place at the 2017 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships (TNF EC 50 Mile) and an eighth place at the 2018 Trail World Championships, among other performances. Clare has one 100-mile finish to her name, a win of the 2016 Leadville Trail 100 Mile, in what is the second-fastest time a woman’s ever run on that course. It was her debut 100 miler—let that sink in. Clare could certainly win UTMB.
The Charging Field
The women’s field is thick with heavy hitters, some of whom will certainly charge the front of the field and perhaps even win or fill out the podium.
Third place last year, Christelle Bard will not start UTMB due to injury. [Updated August 24]
I love a good surprise story and that’s what I got last year in Christelle Bard’s third-place finish. The Frenchwoman was not new to the UTMB festival of events, though, having taken third at TDS in 2016 and fourth at CCC in 2015. It appears she’s raced less in 2018 than the previous several years, her one notable result a sixth place at the Trail du Ventoux 46km, a competitive early season race in France. Can anyone fill us in on how Christelle is doing ahead of UTMB?
I feel like I just saw a lot of Japan’s Kaori Niwa… Oh wait, that’s because I did, as she just took fourth at the 2018 Hardrock 100. Going backward in history, she’s been fourth and eighth, respectively, at the 2017 and 2016 UTMB. I should also mention that she took fourth last year while wearing a cast on the arm she broke during another race beforehand—get it, beforeHAND? Sorry, I had to do it. :-) Aside from Hardrock, she’s done several other big races in 2018, including a pair of second places at both the Gaoligong Ultra 100 Mile and the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji (UTMF). That’s a lot of racing!
Spain’s Uxue Fraile (pre-race interview) has three previous stellar UTMB finishes: third in 2016, second in 2015, and fifth in 2014. As far as I understand it, Uxue was down for the count in 2017 with a major leg injury that required surgery and a long rehabilitation. As far as I also understand it, in 2018 she’s only raced in her Basque Country home region, finishing the Zegama Marathon in the top 20 and leading the Ehunmilak Ultra-Trail 168km until it was stopped by the race organization very early due to severe weather. We shall see what sort of shape she’s back into shortly, but one would be well advised to keep an eye out for Uxue and those two previous podium finishes if she has returned to form.
The USA’s Amy Sproston now has two UTMB finishes to her name, eighth place in both 2017 and 2012. Having been at this ultrarunning thing for at least 12 years now, Amy’s racked up an incredible racing resume which includes two podiums—second in 2016 and third in 2013—at the Western States 100 (WS 100), a win at the revered 2014 Hasetsune Cup, a win of the 2012 IAU 100k World Championships, and much more. Since UTMB last year, Amy’s top result has been an eighth at the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile.
Given her previous international-level performances, Bulgaria’s Mariya Nikolova (pre-race interview) is someone I should know more about. She’s been ninth and 16th, respectively, at the 2017 and 2015 UTMB. And beyond this event, she’s seen plenty of success around Europe, including taking second at the 2018 Ronda dels Cims, winning the 2017 Cappadocia Ultra Trail 110km, and taking second at the 2015 Iznik Ultra 130km.
France’s Juliette Blanchet had an incredible 2016, that year taking fourth at UTMB and following that up with a second at Diagonale des Fous, among a number of other strong performances. Since then, she’s taken seventh at the 2017 Transgrancanaria, DNFed the 2017 UTMB, and taken third at the 2018 MIUT.
With her incredible ability at long, mountainous, and tough ultramarathons, Emilie Lecomte (pre-race interview), also of France, has the capacity to crush on the UTMB course. That said, she hasn’t… yet. She took ninth back in 2012 and DNFed last year, but now she’s back to give it another go. In the last couple years, she’s been second at both the 2017 and 2015 Diagonale des Fous, fourth at the 2017 Marathon des Sables, and she was just 11th a few months ago at the 2018 WS 100.
Spain’s Teresa Nimes is one of those runners who has been steadily, methodically, and without much hype achieving solid finish after finish at internationally competitive events. Last year, she ended up 11th at UTMB. In both 2016 and 2015, she took 10th at the Trail World Championships. In 2016 and 2014, respectively, she was third at the CCC and the winner of the TDS.
Women with Top-10 Potential
Here are some more women to watch, who all have the potential to finish in the women’s top 10.
Basilla Förster is not racing due to injury.[Updated August 24]
Basilla Förster (from Italy but lives in Germany, perhaps?) ended up 13th at last year’s UTMB, and that has to be her top performance in trail ultrarunning so far. Elsewhere, she’s been on the Swiss Irontrail 127km podium the last three years and she was third at last year’s Zugspitz Ultratrail.
Yulia Baykova (from Russia but living in Italy) is another person I don’t know enough about but should, because she performs when it counts. Last year she finished 14th at UTMB, and the year before she was sixth at the CCC. Her top result of 2018 so far has been a third place at the shorter-distance MIUT 85km.
Great Britain’s Sophie Grant is a woman of ridiculous consistency. At the last three UTMBs, she’s been 15th (2017), 10th (2016), and 12th (2015). I suppose we should expect her to finish between 10th and 15th place this year, too!? Her top performance since last year has been a win of the 2018 Lakes Sky Ultra 56km.
Technically speaking, Stephanie Violett, of the USA, and Sophie Grant tied for 15th place at the 2017 UTMB, crossing the line together. Stephanie now has two UTMB finishes, adding an eighth place in 2015 to her resume. Since her finish here last year, she took eighth at the 2017 TNF EC 50 Mile and sixth at the 2018 WS 100. All the talent and training is there for Stephanie to go top five at UTMB, if she can put the race-day variables together.
The USA’s Kaci Lickteig is one of
three four(!!) previous WS 100 champions starting this year’s UTMB—again, they all did it last year, too—and Kaci was both the WS 100 champ in 2016 and runner up in 2015. This year, she was 12th at the WS 100. Last year, she finished 16th at the WS 100 and followed that up with 18th at UTMB in a three-way tie with fellow Americans Magda Boulet and Amanda Basham. Kaci unfortunately followed those performances up with a major injury which she’s rested, rehabilitated, and returned to form from over the last nine months or so. She’s another American woman with plenty of UTMB potential.
The USA’s Magda Boulet is also back at UTMB. This year will be her third outing at this race. Last year, she was a part of that three-way women’s tie for 18th place—where the women ran together in a torrential downpour and lightning storm for hours—and in 2016 she turned in a fifth place in her debut UTMB. Before all that, Magda took second at the 2015 CCC. I have to think that Magda has in her a UTMB podium performance as her max potential. Earlier this year, Magda won the Marathon des Sables.
Cat Bradley, also of the USA, is an interesting—and late—addition to the women’s UTMB field. While Cat had a steady improvement in trail ultrarunning in 2015 and 2016, she really broke out with her win of the 2017 WS 100. She followed that up with setting a new Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim FKT in late 2017. While Cat was supposed to run WS 100 again this year, she was a late DNS due to physical issues, what I understand was fatigue and a back injury. It looks like she’s healthy again and ready to roll. [Added August 22]
Given her past performances, the U.K.’s Beth Pascall is someone who I could see turning in a top-10 UTMB run. She’s twice turned in critical performances at the Trail World Championships, finishing 10th this year and eighth in 2016. In 2017, she was second at MIUT and sixth at Diagonale des Fous, and earlier this year she was fourth at Transgrancanaria. Beth started UTMB last year, but dropped, so she’s back for round two.
Jo Meek is another U.K. runner with all the potential in the world at UTMB. While she has a lot of accolades to her name over a six-plus-year career of trail ultrarunning, perhaps at the top of all of those as they pertain to UTMB were two performances in 2016: second at CCC and seventh at the Trail World Championships, within a couple months of each other.
The Brazilian who lives in Spain, Fernanda Maciel, is another speedy woman who had an off-par day at UTMB last year—she too DNFed. Though in Fernanda’s case, she has three other top UTMB performances to her name: fourth in 2010, seventh in 2012, and fourth again in 2014. But the women’s race as grown in its competitive depth since 2014, so what can Fernanda do in the modern UTMB era? I still think she could go top five. Fernanda’s already had a great 2018, turning in a sixth at Transgrancanaria, a win at the Penyagolosa CSP 115km, and a sixth at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
I’ll forever remember Hungary’s Ildikó Wermescher as the woman who in 2017 encountered a mountain lion on the WS 100 course while running pacerless in the dark, went backward on the route until she found other people to run with, continued forward with that company, and still managed to finish in eighth place. That’s just badass. Also last year, she took third at TDS. In 2016 and 2014, respectively, Ildikó took seventh and sixth at UTMB.
Last but certainly not least among the six zippy American women who I think all have potential to run top 10 at UTMB is the USA’s Aliza Lapierre. Such a superstar on her home American turf, Aliza hasn’t nailed UTMB yet in her two previous tries. Last year, she DNFed and the year before she took 23rd. Her top relevant performances over the last few years have been her tie for second place at the 2015 UTMF with Fernanda Maciel, her seventh place at the 2017 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and her pair of wins at the 2017 and 2018 Georgia Death Race, a burly course in the U.S. Just a couple months ago she took eighth at the 2018 WS 100.
More Top Women to Watch
It just keeps going, right?! Here are more speedy women to watch.
- Delphine Avenier (France) — 6th 2017 CCC; 1st 2016 TDS
Elisabet Barnes (Sweden but living in Great Britain?) — 2017 & 2015 1st Marathon des Sables[Updated August 22]
- Tara Berry (Canada) — 22nd 2017 UTMB; 7th 2017 Broken Arrow Skyrace 52km
- Luzia Buehler (Switzerland) — 1st 2017 Wasatch Front 100 Mile; 3rd 2017 Swiss Alpine Marathon
- Francesca Canepa (Italy) — 1st 2015-18 Istria 100 Mile; 1st 2017 Swiss Irontrail
- Katia Fori (Italy) — 5th 2018 MIUT; 10th 2017 High Trail Vanoise
- Nathalie Henriques (France) — 9th 2017 TDS; 7th 2017 MIUT
- Sarah Keyes (USA) — 2nd 2018 Cayuga Trails 50 Mile; 8th 2018 Broken Arrow Skyrace 52km
- Irene Kinnegim (Netherlands) — 18th 2016 UTMB
- Sally McRae (USA) — 1st 2018 Tarawera 100 Mile; 24th 2017 UTMB
- Jocelyne Pauly (France) — 9th 2018 Transgrancanaria; 5th 2016 Diagonale des Fous
- Holly Rush (Great Britain) — 7th & 8th respectively at the 2017 & 2016 CCC
- Manu Vilaseca (Brazil but living in Spain) — 9th 2017 MIUT; 10th 2017 Transgrancanaria
- Fu-Zhao Xiang (China) — 3rd & 4th respectively at the 2018 & 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100km
Andrea Huser (Switzerland) — Second at both the 2017 and 2016 UTMBs, she was originally on the entrants list, but has switched to the short-distance OCC.[Updated August 24]
Call for Comments
- Who do you think will win the 2018 women’s race?
- 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.’