The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® (UTMB®) took place from August 27 to September 2, 2012, in and around the Mont-Blanc range. This truly international Trail Running celebration brought together, as always, athletes, spectators, and volunteers who share the same passion. The 4 races, 73 nationalities, 6000 runners, 2000 volunteers and harsh weather conditions made for a truly extraordinary event.
This success, the accomplishments of each and every runner, the intensity of each race and difficulties to overcome were shared with the entire world this year through WebTV, which broadcast UTMB® latest news and updates live. By watching live coverage of the races, everyone was able to "experience" this ultra-trail, even from home. GPS tracking also allowed spectators to follow each runner section by section.
Winter conditions, modified courses
Although the weather started out great at the beginning of the event, by Wednesday, the courses for three of the four races had to be modified. Weather and trail conditions worsened due to heavy rain, snow, and cold winds. The organizing committee notified runners of the proper gear to wear and carry to be able to handle the especially challenging conditions, and asked everyone to be careful out there. The changing conditions reminded everyone, organizers and runners alike, that the mountains dictate the terms and not the other way around.
The challenging weather did not appear to bother everyone. In fact, some runners actually indicated that they prefer to run in the cold, and even in the rain; runners such as Agnès Hervé, the first woman to cross the TDSTM finish line (19 hours 7 minutes). The same goes for Dawa Sherpa, Team Petzl member and TDSTM winner. He always runs for fun and really enjoyed the course. For others it was much more difficult to push through to the finish line: 57% of those who started dropped out of the TDSTM.
The CCC® was slightly modified by removing the climbs to the Tête de la Tronche and Tête aux Vents summits from the race. Winter conditions reigned on all sections of the course above 2000 meters. Tofol CASTANER BERNAT (ES), who won the 86km CCC® in 8 hours 57 minutes, will not likely forget this race, crossing the finish line just three minutes before the start of the UTMB®. "Finishing the race with so many spectators and runners waiting for the UTMB to start will remain an unforgettable moment for me!!!"
For the PTLTM, the dropout rate was low (27%). The course was challenging, most notably on the sections through Buet and through Cantonne high above Champex. Five teams were able to run the entire course as originally planned, whereas the other teams were redirected towards Seigne pass, running through knee-deep snow except where the local cow population had already cleared a path!
In the end the UTMB® course also had to be changed. It was just not possible to think of running over the high mountain passes. The race remained in France, reaching the Contamines and coming back to Chamonix by the Aiguilles Rouge side. Only 20 runners decided not to start the race once these changes were official. This means that 2482 runners lined up at the start in Chamonix, at 7:00 p.m. on August 31, for a 103km adventure, and a large crowd to cheer them on. Take note of Team Petzl member Sebastien Chaigneau's desire to take part in the event: in spite of undergoing knee surgery just three weeks prior, he started the race with confidence. Although he ended up injuring his other knee in a bad fall no too far from the start of the race, he continued on, remaining in the top 6 until he forced to stop not too far from the finish due to eye trouble.
How did the UTMB® race go on the path to the podium?
- For the women
Emma ROCA (ES), 3rd place women's category, in 13 hours 23 minutes (photo nearby)
Emma comes from adventure racing, and found the race to be "much harder than planned", but added that "this is a wonderful competition." She focused on simply making forward progress and enjoying the race. Her only challenge was not knowing exactly what place she was in relative to the other female competitors, since it was hard to identify who was passing her.
Francesca CANEPA (IT), 2nd place women's category, in 13 hours 17 minutes
Francesca's strategy was to avoid running too hard. She prefers not to start races too fast. Her only error was miscalculating the time between the Les Houches and Argentière aid stations. She almost dropped out in Argentière, but was able to muster up the strength and determination to finish.
Elisabeth HAWKER (UK), 1st place women's category, in 12 hours 32 minutes.
Elisabeth is an extremely talented runner, and has always placed in the top 25 runners of the race. This is her 5th UTMB® win. She took on the race one step at a time. Her main goal was to enjoy the race, to share moments with the spectators and other runners, and to just keep moving forward through the night. She said that she wasn't feeling her best due to injuries incurred over the course of the year.
- For the men
Michael FOOTE (US), 3rd place men's category, in 11 hours 19 minutes
This was a new experience for Michael since he had never before run 100km. He made an amazing comeback, moving from 15th to 3rd place. He has room to improve for future races, most notably on the climbs.
Jonas BUUD (SE), 2nd place men's category, in 11 hours 3 minutes
"I was prepared for the race's vertical profile, which remained the same even with the changes. So there were no surprises except that the course was shorter and faster." Jonas tried to catch the frontrunner in the beginning, but François d'Haene was able to build a significant lead, most notably on the climbs.
François d'HAENE (FR), 1st place men's category, in 10 hours 32 minutes (photo nearby)
Even though the course was modified, he decided to participate and give it his all. François took the lead at Les Contamines and held on to it from there to the finish line. He was the first to leave the aid station and ran full steam up the subsequent climb. He built up a sizeable lead on the return loop to Les Contamines, and continued running hard. In his head he told himself, "This is my day, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose."
To better understand the UTMB®, a quick explanation by Vincent Delebarre, technical consultant for the event.
"This is an international event, and the ability level has been rising each and every year." Every race has its own athletic identity and requires serious commitment. There is no such thing as the UTMB® and its "little siblings", each race represents a serious challenge and a goal in itself. This year, individuals perfectly capable of running the UTMB® chose to participate in the TDS® or the CCC®. To sum up…
- TDS®: a technical course with the most wilderness of the three, a high-level race.
- CCC®: a fast-paced race, well adapted to trail running's elite racers, but also perfect for a first ultra-trail running experience.
- UTMB®: in spite of the changes due to weather, the race lived up to its name, with almost everyone present at the starting line. A difficult race for everyone, a real UTMB® without at doubt!
For this 2012 edition, the mountains showed us once again who is boss. Everyone, both organizers and runners, had to adapt to the adverse conditions… That is the spirit of the UTMB®. Let's not forget the numerous volunteers and spectators who came out and provided the race with a world championships of trail running type atmosphere… In the end the event hosted well equipped and well prepared runners from around the world spread out over four superb races.
Petzl at the UTMB meant…
- a booth at the UTMB fair to provide information,
- assistance a different spots along the race to help with any headlamp or battery issues,
- live coverage of the race…
- and thousands of runners who were able to run through the night thanks to our headlamps (including many NAOs!).
For more information:
- the official UTMB® website
- VIDEO – advice from Kilian Jornet, Seb Chaigneau and Fernanda Maciel on running at night
- the NAO headlamp
- Other Petzl news from the UTMB:
Trail running: are you ready for the UTMB to begin? [08/03/12]
Trail running - Dawa Sherpa wins the TDS at the 2012 UTMB® [09/01/12]
UTMB® 2012 Interview: Maud Gobert, 3rd place women’s category, talks about the CCC® [09/02/12]