This post is written by Roman Evarts who is happily returning for the 2020 race. You can find him on Facebook:
End of summer for many ultra-trail running enthusiasts is a time to lace up the shoes for a long and epic race. No doubts – the end of August or the beginning of September is the best time to undertake some mountainous 100 miles. It’s not steamy hot anymore and there is plenty of time during the summer months to run long and fun runs in the mountains in order to get ready for a big day.
Many of you are targeting UTMB and it definitely is worth trying out. It’s a very pleasant experience for those who are taking on their first 100 miler. Event trails are not very technical; there are plenty of checkpoints with rich food selection and even sleeping options in the middle of the distance. But the best thing about UTMB is the handful of fellow runners around, who can give you a mental boost and cheer you up during your low moments (Or kill you with their pace – yes. Be smart when looking for friends on trails!).
I have done UTMB twice. The first time I went there with not much expectation, not much training and most of the race I was enjoying the company of the French speaking people with having no idea what they were talking about. Finishing 35th, I realised that I need to do more than 6 weeks of training beforehand and maybe learn some French. The second edition of mine in 2018 went better and I finished 6th. That’s it, no more UTMB for me, as I explored the same trails twice and took a part in the competitive side of the event as well. Time to move on!
UTMR became my 2019 choice as it met all the criteria’s I set for a 100 milers:
Everything sounded great and the fact that race director Lizzy Hawker claimed that the course is more demanding than UTMB’s sounded even better.
Runners line up in the local community building to get bibs and pass the equipment check. This race doesn’t have the excessive hype of the UTMB and most of the people are super relaxed and very friendly: they are here to have a good time rather than beat the sh*t out of other people in order to get recognition and potential sponsors’ attention. I got my number “69” and was ready to go eat and sleep before a 4 am start.
After a great night’s sleep, me and another few hundred enthusiasts are ready to find their way around Monte Rosa. The race will take us to Italy and back to Switzerland circumnavigating the hiking loop around one of the biggest collection of peaks in the Alps. Start bell rings and we are off. I am leading the race with a few other guys; among them Brit Damian Hall, who finished just a couple of minutes before me the previous year at UTMB and he is definitely one of the strongest contenders here. We are 15 km in and there is a first big climb. I am dying at this point – my legs are useless and don’t want to climb a steep hill. All others are pushing hard and they are leaving me behind alone in the darkness. Fighting my way up I reached the top when the first sunlight started breaking through – but wait a minute – where is the sun? The entire valley has been covered in dark thick clouds and a bad weather front was approaching very fast. I got a few raindrops and some snowflakes in the next hour. At least it’s not hot.
Next stage was a rolling technical trail traversing the mountainside for about 20 km. Fun running on technical terrain got me back in a racing mood and I felt excited. Maybe overexcited. I tripped over a big stone and landed on my knee. Knee was bad before the race – swollen and full of liquid – I smashed it two weeks prior. Well, my running routine was always taking me to the kind of terrain where tripping and stumbling skills are essential. I took time for a little cry and situation reassessment. The knee was still swollen and got upgraded with a bloody wound. Trying to carry on was a good decision, as the wound wasn’t that bad and after I limped a few hundred steps I was back in shape to jog again. After I ran across the world’s longest suspension bridge I forgot about my bad knee.
40 km in I approached Zermatt. My support team was there with all delicious treats and goodbyes, as Zermatt was the only place we managed to organize transportation to.
Monte Rosa’s round is tricky in terms of logistics and I highly recommend sending all necessary food/equipment with the drop bags to the km 82, 102, 128. Even if you have a support team with a car they might not make it in time to meet you at the CPs.
Zermatt is a holiday destination and mostly famous because of great views of the Matterhorn, an epic peak at the backdrop of the village. If the skies are clear you can see it from everywhere in the valley. During our race the weather wasn’t that great and I’m assuming nobody saw the Matterhorn that day. Even the run up to 3300m didn’t provide us with any glimpse of the mountain. That particular climb from Zermatt to Teodulo, (the hut at the border between Switzerland and Italy) was steep and with a glacier on it. We put on our micro-spikes and spent some good 40 min traveling up the glacier chatting with another runner Jason, who caught me on the way up.
Italy welcomed us with a ray of shy sunshine and some epic views down the valley. We ran down Cervinia’s ski fields and I felt some extra boost of motivation after having a few pieces of flapjacks at the next CP. I welcomed my racing mojo back and thought that it might be time to put some pressure on the front pack. I felt really great for the next 30 km of the distance and even rain didn’t kick any drop of motivation out of me.
When I arrived at the Gressoney CP (km 82) I saw Damian, who was walking around in his pajamas. Right, I thought, as a real Brit he probably became afraid of miserable weather and decided to pull out. Turned out, that the race officials had made the decision to stop the race expecting snowstorms at the next stages of the race.
Ok then, what next? Yes! The first thing that every runner should do is to pretend that he is very sad about that decision: “The race only began for me and I was saving the energy for the last part of the race”. Right. Everyone was happy to finish. 82 km is a good chunk of running and personally I was very happy to finish the race and get my weekly dose of Nutella in one go. All of the finishers spent a great time together waiting for the transfer back to the Grächen; cheering newcomers, making new friends and enjoying delicious food. I loved that time more than time on my feet. Ok, probably I am not a real runner.
A 100 miler is a big commitment and most of us spend months and months building our fitness towards that specific goal. It’s normal to be sad about somebody’s decision to stop the race when all you want is to be out there trying your best. Unfortunately, mountains are not the Italian mafia that you can deal with using your communication skills, connection or money. Mountains are going to kill you even if the race organizers have all the money in the world or can perform strange weather rituals involving Siberian Shamans and Pandas. (All the rituals with Pandas always work.) A good call to stop UTMR 2019!
Definitely you are not going to be high-fiving thousands of strangers at the finish line as at UTMB. But you are probably going to make a few new friends, as the vibes at the event are very friendly and very relaxed with plenty of time and opportunity to talk to other runners in for the challenge.
But you have to train. UTMR is hard and more technical than UTMB. You cannot run downhills here with your eyes closed – that’s for sure.
You don’t have to worry about qualification points and ballot results. The race is still a few years from being overcrowded and the bibs are easily available.
You can choose a few other options beside 100 miles to explore the trails and area:
– Run 23 km, great for a support crew members after the main event
Advice: You must consider taking the organizers suggested equipment with you, as the second part is in cold, dark and big mountains and an extra warm layer can save your motivation and maybe life.
You don’t have to worry about micro-spikes, as organizers rent them for a little fee before the race.
For all the reasons I mentioned above, and mainly because I like completing rounds and unfinished business, I’m going to be back there in 2020. I’m looking forward to better weather and views of the Matterhorn this time! Hope to see you there!