We’ve just held 2016’s first UTMR training camp – completing the full tour of Monte Rosa in four long days. A mix of running the downs and hiking the ups, to get familiar with the course and get long hours on our feet. It’s the kind of course that needs that. One of the participants, Fergus Edwards, was asked to give his opinion on the course as it will be in 2017, including the 40km section from Grächen to Zermatt along the Europaweg.
If it’s a fair course, one that is an existing trail and that can, in theory, be completed without needing to sleep, then it’s probably about 100 miles long and up in the mountains somewhere.
It’s going to be tougher if it’s up higher, if the elevation profile is sharper, if more of the terrain is technical, and if the weather changes are likely to be severe. That’s going to make it harder to breathe, harder on the muscles and joints, harder to get into any running rhythm, and harder to keep the body warm and working.
The UTMR course is going to destroy runners that think it’s just another long run in the mountains. 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 technical with boulder fields and tight turns to narrow paths clinging to cliff edges.
The elevation change is more than a Western States or a Leadville, but even beyond that the defining quality is the steepness. There are two climbs of over 1,500m, and one of those takes place over only 8km; UTMB has only one such climb and it takes place over three times the distance.
The technicality of the terrain is harder to convey but probably more important. These aren’t groomed trails of pine needles or dusty crushed canyon walls; these are boulder fields or granite strewn switchbacks. Only the most technically competent runners are going to be able to move consistently, and no-one is going to be keeping a loose, even stride.
The physical stresses only magnify the impact of every decision the runner takes as the night closes in, the temperature drops, and as the weather changes. The ability to think and intelligently adapt will be at least as important as the ability to switch the mind off and move.
This is the way ultras began: with a competition between each runner and a raw, brutal, beautiful course. It’s why every finisher is celebrated: because at UTMR, not everyone is going to finish. Not by a long way.
There you go! One man’s educated opinion. For reference, Fergus has run races, and made fastpacking trips, all over the world, and so he knows his trails and has something to compare the UTMR trails to. He’s run TDS (2015), CCC (2014) and many of the Racing the Planet races (all 250km self-supported, carrying all own kit) and The Four Deserts (Gobi March (9th)), Atacama Crossing, Sahara Race, The Last Desert (10th)). and the Roving Race (Ecuador) where he was the Winner, Team Competition.