Here’s a nice insight into the 2018 4-day Stage Race from Rebeca Ehrnrooth, part owner of myRaceKit. A Swede living in the UK, she is an outdoor enthusiast and ultra-runner who travels the world for adventures and races. We look forward to welcoming you back in 2019 Rebeca!
In Lizzy Hawker’s book Runner there is an episode where Lizzy has returned to Kathmandu after another monstrous run in the Himalayas. Richard Bull and she are on a roof top, drinking milky tea and stargazing, reflecting over the question: Why do we run? Their answers are philosophical. I ask myself the very same question as I climb Colle del Turlo. Although, my question is highly relevant; the climb is gruesome. My legs are aching. Every time I advance, turning a corner, the climb appears even longer. Do endless climbs exist? I grit my teeth. I follow a piece of advice given in Lizzy’s book, when in doubt, just put one foot ahead of the other.
Turlo, meaning small door in Walser dialect, is a mountain pass that has been in use for centuries, its impressive paved trail is a fine example of medieval labour that was then rebuilt by an alpine military battalion in the 1920’s. My rule during this race was when tired; breathe in and inhale the environment. The views running around Monte Rosa are captivating. There is something magic seeing Monte Rosa from different perspectives. The beautiful surroundings give you a sense of purpose, particularly when you need it most.
A friend of mine introduced me to Ultra Tour Monte Rosa (UTMR). I had not heard of the race before, but I was quick to sign up as I adore that part of the Alps having skied and mountaineered there. The race was organised by Lizzy Hawker and Richard Bull; I’m a longstanding admirer of Lizzy and I had previously heard of Richard’s race organising capabilities; thus, the race seemed a brilliant fit. The 170km and 11,300m of ascent didn’t scare me. I opted for the four-day race which had the least onerous entry criteria. At 4,634m, Monte Rosa is the second highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe. It is located between Switzerland (Valais) and Italy (Piedmont and Aosta Valley). Grächen in Switzerland is the start and finish of the 170km race. Grächen is a picturesque host village displaying warm hospitality towards the runners. The tour takes you from Grächen to Zermatt, Zermatt to Gressoney la Trinité in Italy, from Gressoney to Macugnaga and finally from Macugnaga you climb the almost vertical Monte Moro Pass before descending to Saas Fee and the final stretch back to Grächen.
Ahead of the race, I read that trekkers were recommended to complete the tour of Monte Rosa in about 10 days. The pace of UTMR is more ambitious with a 170km single stage, a 170km four-day stage and a 100km single stage on offer. There are cut off times. If you plan to walk the race at a leisurely pace you won’t make these. The circuit follows many ancient trails that have linked the Swiss and Italian valleys for centuries. It includes larch forests, alpine meadows, balcony trails and a glacial crossing. The course is runnable, but at times highly technical. It connects seven valleys embracing different cultures: the German speaking high Valais, the Arpitan speaking Aosta Valley and the Walser culture with spectacular wooden houses in Otro Valley in Piedmont.
The race organisation is diligent, thoroughly checking the mandatory equipment of all participants. This is needed as the circuit takes you to remote areas. At one point there was almost 25km between aid stations. I ran alone during parts of the race, truly enjoying the solitude and vastness. The climb after Rifugio Ferraro reminded me how small the human is when pitted against the forces of nature as the skies opened and deluged me. At +2,000m, wearing shorts and a t-shirt you get cold immediately and the trails turn slippery. Mountains are inviting but can be treacherous. Safety is paramount for the organising team.
The four-day race include three overnight hotels; the organising team allow runners to send 15kg of luggage on to the next overnight stop, which was much appreciated. Meals are provided and, maybe as expected, the Italian meals were outstanding. The hotels are comfortable and accommodate the runners with early breakfasts. Along the route the aid stations were well stocked and manned by immensely friendly volunteers.
There was sunshine, cloud and rain during the race. In the valleys during the afternoons it was +20C, when crossing the glacier at the Theodul Pass it was minus degrees. A good tip is to bring newspapers which can be used to dry your shoes overnight.
This is a challenging race that takes you to your limits. For the first time, I found myself crying as I reached an aid station out of pure exhaustion. Likewise, I felt sheer, unconditional happiness at the summit of each climb, taking in the extraordinary views. The mountains drain you on energy, but you gain something extremely valuable in the form of enormous, indescribable fulfilment.
UTMR is a surprisingly small race, maybe because it is squeezed in after UTMB week and coincide with the Transalpine and the Tor des Geants. The race feels very genuine and uncommercial with the sole wish of the organisers being for the runners to enjoy their trail experience and nature. This humble attitude showed during the post-race celebration dinner when the master of ceremonies called on Lizzy and Richard to address the runners. The microphone got passed between the pair until they expressed that they were simply happy if the runners had enjoyed the race. It was as if they were almost surprised anyone pitched up to run their race. This race is a hidden gem in the race calendar.
After a last-minute cancellation of the friend who introduced me to the race, I turned up alone in Grächen, however, I became good friends with a German lady I shared a room with. The spirit was incredible across the many nationalities and I was for four days immersed in this big running family, where everyone wanted their fellow race participants to enjoy the race.
So why do we run? In Lizzy’s book Maya Angelou is quoted saying: “You are only free when you realise you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all.” Lizzy concludes that all of those places that belong to no one belong to us all. If we explore them we make them our own.
I experienced Monte Rosa as my own mountain. I enjoyed it so much I’m planning to be back in 2019 – only I intend to run it better.
Damian Hall, journalist and elite runner, is signed up for the 2019 170 km Ultra Tour. With an impressive 5th place at the 2018 UTMB in 22:35:13, and having recently set an FKT (fastest known time) for the Cape Wrath Trail with Beth Pascall, he is no stranger to the long and hard. We look forward to hearing what he thinks of UTMR!
I love a good 100, me. The lumpier and hurtier the better.
Lizzy Hawker is a huge inspiration me and when I heard first heard talk about the inaugural Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, I wanted in right away.
There are a lot of appealing races towards the end of summer though and I had a bit of a UTMB obsession I needed to shake first.
In the meantime, friends of mine – especially Tim Laney, Nicky Spinks, Philip Haylett – did UTMR and raved about it. Race photos just looked sensational.
I’m done with UTMB for now and UTMR seems like the perfect replacement. Not only is it only one letter different, but it’s the same distance and also in the Alps.
However UTMR also seems very different to UTMB in some ways. It looks wilder and remoter, more technical and spectacular than UTMB. It goes higher (above 3,200m) and there’s 1,300m more ascent (gulp). It’ll obviously be more low-key, but that’ll make a nice change. (Cowbells can get a bit irksome after 20 hours or so.)
I can’t wait to get out there. I can’t wait for it to get hurty.
What you are looking forward to?
I’ve been hearing about UTMR for a few years now. The idea of touring Monte Rosa has always fascinated me, as all wild, technical races do. I am really looking forward to it.
Sono gia‘ tanti anni che sento parlare di questa gara. Fare tutto il giro del Monte Rosa mi affascina molto. Sono proprio gare come qusta, selvaggia, con sentieri tecnici e tanto dislivello che mi piacciono. Non aspetto l’ora di essere alla partenza.
What are the challenges you expect?
I’ve never feared but just respected these kind of races. I am aware it’s about knowing what you are facing and keeping calm in the difficult moments. I expect very “wild” terrain with a lot of elevation. So much fun!
Non ho mai paura di queste distanze ma tanto rispetto. Bisogna sapere a cosa si va in contro e mantenere la calma nei momenti difficili. Mi aspetto un tracciato molto „wild“ con tanto dislivello da fare. Ci sara‘ da divertirsi.
What is your time estimate for this course?
It’s difficult to estimate a time in these distances. Every race has its history. I try to get to the start prepared the best I can, to focus on my feelings moment by moment and to give my best. If I am well I know I can do well.
E‘ difficile stimare un tempo finale su queste distanze. Ogni gara ha la sua storia. Cerco di arrivaci il piu‘ preparato possibile, di concentrarmi sulle mie sensazioni in gara e di dare il massimo. Se sto bene so‘ di poter fare un bel risultato.
What is your best result / moment in trail racing?
The two victories at Dolomites Sky run 131 K in 2014 and 2015. It is a race that I ran on the Dolomites Alta via .1 which unfortunately has been discontinued. However, there is always something special that remains in your heart for every race and this is the reason that makes me keep on going, training, racing.
Sicuamente le due vittorie alla Dolomiti Sky Run 131 k nel 2014 e 2015. E‘ una gara che si correva sull’alta via nr.1 Dolomitica che purtroppo non vien piu‘ organizzata. Comunque c’e‘ sempre qualcosa che ti rimane nel cuore ad ogni gara, in ogni allenamento. Questo e‘ il bello del correre il montagna, questa e‘ la motivazione che mi fa‘ andare avanti.
Grazie per darmi questa opportunita‘. Thanks for giving me this opportunity.
With entries closing in two weeks I thought I would remind everyone what a fantastic race this is and to say that I’m so looking forward to returning to Grächen in September and completing the full 170 km race. Last year I was upset to have to DNF at 100 km after 20 hours with a chest infection that took me until October to recover from.
I have only dropped out of two races in my life; Tankies Trog when I had a haemorrhaged cyst and the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, I was gutted both times. And this year I am determined to come back to UTMR and enjoy the first half as much as I did last year … and then revel in completing the second half and running down to the finish to meet Lizzy Hawker as she greets runners in on the finish line!
Training is going well with the Ultra Tour Snowdonia 50 completed in 9th position, 1st Lady in 13.50 hours. This was a good training race as 50 miles but with a huge 6070m ascent. My next race is the Lakeland Trails Ultimate 55k on July 8th which is “flatter” with 2133m of ascent but in 34 miles.
I’ve ordered a UTMR map and keep looking back at the photos of last year. I was blown away by the scenery on the route and hope the weather is just the same as in 2017 so I can enjoy it to the maximum. The race organisation is very low key but efficient and appeals to my sense of fell running spirit. I just love the serenity of being part of the mountains and not in huge crowds.
To enter just chose your course; either full 170 km, full 100 km or stage 170 km. Then fill out a pre-registration form and Lizzy will respond with your invitation and hey presto – you’re in and can start planning the adventure!!
Contact @Nicky Spinks via Twitter.
Lloyd Belcher, our photographer in 2015 and 2017, is coming back in 2018. This time he is leaving the cameras behind and this is why! Good luck Lloyd!
“I’m very fortunate that I have a job that I enjoy and it takes me to some beautiful places around the world. But don’t be fooled, it’s bloody hard work. However, I’d rather put in the hard hours in the mountains than lecturing and marking undergraduate papers which is what I used to before changing careers. One of the most scenic races that I have worked on is the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa. I first worked on this race in 2015 and I was struck not only by the beauty of the landscapes that I was shooting images in, but also the rugged terrain that appealed to the runner in me. I ran a lot of miles on the course while shooting the race and saw how rugged and challenging that the course is. While shooting UTMR 2017 and seeing a lot of the course again, I decided that enough was enough and this is a race that I will have to run. So for UTMR 2018, I will leave the cameras packed away somewhere as I have registered to run the 100km. See you out there.”
Lloyd Belcher, Lloyd Belcher Visuals
The route of the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa is challenging! Bold, beautiful and brutal …. There are two reasons why we ask for the experience we ask for – we want you to be safe and we want you to enjoy your race experience.
It is a tough trail – high, wild and technical in places. The terrain is demanding and the weather conditions can be too. You may be exposed to snow, rain, wind, intense sunshine, heat. The weather can change quickly and you need to be prepared for everything.
Imagine you fall and twist an ankle and you are waiting for help to arrive. You are sitting on cold rocks just below a 3000m pass in the pouring rain with the wind howling. Can you look after yourself until help arrives? There is also a reasoning behind the obligatory equipment that we ask you to carry!
We are offering four different race options so that you can choose the challenge that suits your experience and aspirations.
The stage races are a wonderful way to experience the UTMR. You can race as hard as you like during the day and then enjoy the companionship of your fellow runners as you relax and recover in delightful alpine villages. With no night-time running you are able to enjoy each section of the route in daylight. The 4-day stage race covering the full tour is 40% harder than the 3-day stage race starting in Cervinia. Bear this in mind when deciding which race to enter!
We suggest prior experience of multi-stage racing on mountain terrain or completion of a mountain marathon with up to 2000m ascent within a time of 8 hours. More important than speed is the ability to look after yourself in the mountains in potentially severe weather conditions – this is why we ask if you have any previous mountain experience – this might include climbing or mountaineering, multi-day trekking, ski alpinism (not downhill piste skiing) etc.
Running one of the UTMR ultras means you are going to be running during the hours of darkness, possibly for all of one or even two nights. It is essential that you are sufficiently comfortable on alpine trails to be able to cope when you are tired, your eyes are strained from trying to see in the dark and your legs are exhausted. You need to be in good physical shape and you need to be mentally prepared.
The 116km Ultra from Cervinia to Grächen is a real challenge. We ask you to have experience of a race of at least 100km on mountain trails and requiring you to run over 6 hours during darkness on rocky mountain trails (not smooth single track).
The 170km Ultra Tour making the full loop around Monte Rosa from Grächen to Grächen is a serious challenge. This is the race that I wanted to run and this is why we created the UTMR! For 2017 the number of participants is limited to 100. We ask that you have already completed one of 5 races of comparable difficulty. Note that in my opinion the UTMR is at least 30% harder than the UTMB.
“The full UTMR course is going to destroy runners that think it’s just another long run in the mountains,” said Fergus Edwards from UK who recced the new course over four days last summer. “This is not a race that you turn up at and hope to hike the ups, jog the downs, and make it back tired but inside the cutoffs. Two key reasons: firstly, the ascents and descents are longer and steeper than other races; secondly, the terrain is very technical with boulder fields and narrow paths clinging to steep mountain slopes.”
Please choose the event that gives you a challenge appropriate to your experience. If you have any questions then please do get in touch and we hope to welcome you in September!
True, Ultra Tour Monte Rosa is only in its second year as an organized running event, but the long-distance hiking route around the Monte Rosa massif has been trod by people for quite a while previous to this. Wild and high and ridiculously scenic as it is, it’s punctuated by signs of habitation—vestiges of ancient paved paths and isolated villages—all along the way. Rather than marring the wilderness, these manmade landmarks only add to the variety and historical context of this unique trail.
Parts of the TMR have been employed as trade routes since some rough-dressed folks left behind stone tools, so it’s kind of surprising that the whole 100-ish mile circuit wasn’t actually connected for hiking purposes until 1994. As such, the entire circumnavigation is usually an eight- or nine-day itinerary. The route, which has some variants, was designed with both practical logistics and views in mind, so it made perfect sense to follow the existing trail rather than devising something just for the purposes of the race—no need to remake the wheel.
Photographer and writer Alex Roddie hiked TMR in 2015, following in the 1842 footsteps of Professor James Forbes, who Roddie admired. Roddie noted in his blog prior to the journey:
“The Tour du Mont Blanc is a very popular long-distance hike in the Alps, looping around Mont Blanc, but the circumnavigation of Monte Rosa is less frequented. Both routes are approximately 100 miles in length. However, the relative unpopularity of the TMR – and its more severe elevation profile, featuring numerous major ascents and descents – make this route the more serious proposition.
The main challenge here is the brutal elevation profile. … I’ve climbed plenty of 3,000m and 4,000m peaks so am quite happy with climbs like this, but I’ve never done so many day after day before. What the TMR lacks in wildness it makes up for in physical difficulty.”
Starting in Cervinia and proceeding counter-clockwise on the Italian side of the massif, you’ll cross back into Switzerland at Monte Moro Pass, finishing in the umlauted town of Grächen. This year, the route does not include the highest point on the whole circuit, 3,900-some-odd meter Theodul Pass. If you feel cheated by this, you have options for restitution: Sign up for UTMR’s Grachen-Cervinia hike extension, simply keep running from Grachen, or sign on for UTMR again in 2017 when it will cover the full monte. Ha.
While UTMR ultra runners will experience the cultural variations between the Italian, Swiss and small Germanic Walser communities at a brisk clip, there are some clues that can be appreciated at 8-minute pace
If there is pasta at the aid station and the caffe only has milk in it between the hours of 6 am and noon, you’re in Italy.
If there is rosti (a potato fritter) and chocolate on the table, you’ve crossed into Switzerlan
Gressoney la Trinité, Alagna and Macugnaga are traditional Walser communities along the route. If there is beer and ham on the refreshment table, it is culturally sensitive to eat and drink quite a lot.
Words by Sarah Barker.
I was rude and inquired the age of two finishers of the 2015 UTMR. Like most things, Roger and Bridget took my impertinence in stride, shared their experiences and gave some tips. Prepare to be blown away and inspired. In their own words…
“Roger is 70 and I‘m 64. We have only just got into mountain running in the last few years.Last year I think we did 18 running events (about 12 were ultras) and a couple of mountain bike events, too. We both entered the World Mountain Running Championships last year, just for fun. That hurt…a lot!
We are all about the adventure and big open spaces, so what better race to do than UTMR….a new event is always very exciting. It was tough and I swore (quite a lot actually) that I would never ever do it again! But you could feel the love Lizzy had for the area and we found that infectious—she has so much soul. It was just so wonderful, we had to go back again. We’ve signed up for 2016, and have managed to persuade a few friends to do it too.
After the UTMR last year we went along to soak up the UTMB atmosphere in Chamonix and we just found it all too big and impersonal, so doubtful we would consider it, even if we could get in. We were both signed up for Transvulcania this year. I was ill but Roger finished the 84k fun run—he had a strong run. We are both doing the V3K in Wales in a couple of weeks.”
Roger added: “As Bridge said, we tend to avoid big international events— there is often a ballot for places and cost is a factor too, since we have retired in order to have more playtime. We have never enjoyed road running, choosing to run events like 10 Peaks, Lakeland 50, GL3D, Coast2Coast, or simply exploring the moors and hills when we are in the UK, or covering 3500 km on mountain bikes in New Zealand in 2011. That was really the catalyst that resulted in us giving up work for adventure. UTMR 2015 was a perfect opportunity to run in the Alps and Lizzy organised such a good event, we have to return in 2016.”
I asked Bridget and Roger to share some tips for those who question whether they’re up for the UTMR challenge…
“I would say to anyone who was concerned about the distance that they should do the stage event [rather than the ultra], and if two old duffers can do it, anybody can. The altitude wasn’t really a problem but the right shoes are very important—there is quite a lot of technical stuff and you want to be able to trust your shoes. I would also like to add that you have to know what you are capable of—nothing worse than a panic attack on a route that’s too technical.”
Words by Sarah Barker.
I’ve observed that runners read. This is strictly anecdotal, and scientific rigor could easily prove me wrong, but I find that when runners return from seven or eight hours of scissoring the pins, they like to have a knees up. Because they are obsessive multitaskers, reading ensues. Next day, they’ve got great ghastly miles of thinks about what they read, and the cycle continues.
They might like to read about the Monte Rosa region which they will be trotting through in September, for context. (Thank goodness, we’ve arrived at the point of this missive.) Well, running readers, here’s a very short list of Monte Rosa-related material that will provide at least 116 kilometers of things to think about.
The story of Ulrich Inderbinen, the oldest Alpine guide. Two ways to enjoy this icon of alpinism—in a brief but entertaining Alpine Journal article, or the more thorough biography mentioned in the article, Ulrich Inderbinen: As old as the century. Inderbinen lived and worked around the Monte Rosa massif through the age of 95, passing away in 2004 at age 103. He was known for his professionalism, unerring mountain skills, impeccable manners, and dry humor.
Alone In The Alps, by James Lasdun. This lengthy article that appeared recently in the New Yorker describes the eight-country Via Alpina which actually skirts the Monte Rosa region. But the terrain and unfolding long-distance trail experiences Lasdun relates are very similar to those you’ll find at UTMR. Particularly resonant is this description of the cultural variety in each new valley: “The Rockies may offer wilder wildernesses, but you don’t experience the pleasure of sharp cultural variegation as you move from place to place. In the Alps, it’s still present in the shifting styles of church towers, village fountains, sheepcotes, hay barns. It’s there in the odd bits of language that filter through even if you’re an incurable monoglot like me. (How nice it is to learn that the German word for the noise cowbells make is Gebimmel, and that the Swiss-Romanche word for “boulder” is crap.) It’s there in the restaurant menus: daubes giving way to dumplings, raclette to robiola; and in the freshly incomprehensible road signs, which in Slovenia are clotted with impenetrable consonant clusters, as if vowels were an indulgence.”
Mr Noon, by D.H. Lawrence. Started in 1920, abandoned in 1921, and finally published in 1984, Lawrence’s novel is largely autobiographical. Most relevant to this list is the second part of the book that describes the main character’s elopement and subsequent romantic tramping through the Alps with his lover. Holds promise on a number of levels.
I’d like to point out, I am receiving no kickback for this listing whatsoever: Runner: a short story about a long run, by Lizzy Hawker. If you want to reach way back to the very origins of UTMR, you’ll find the answer here. Lizzy’s love of mountains was planted, nurtured and flowered in the high meadows and craggy peaks of the Monte Rosa massif. You’ll get to know both the UTMR director and the high passes and dark valleys that inspired her—directly applicable, no imagination required.