Elite athlete Roman Evarts, 6th place in the 2018 UTMB, gives some insight into his experience at the 2019 Ultra Tour Monte Rosa. He is happily returning for the 2020 race. Good luck Roman!
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 little 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. My second attempt in 2018 went better and I finished 6th. That’s it, no more UTMB for me, as I have explored the same trails twice and took 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 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 route 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 checkpoints.
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 checkpoint. 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 checkpoint (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 organisers 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 support crew members after the main event
Advice: You must take the mandatory kit and do consider taking the recommended kit suggested by the organisers in addition. 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, if they are required (depending on the glacier conditions) the organisers 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!
“What is a good alternative to UTMB – Ultra Trail Mont Blanc?”
The internet is a great place to prefix a great product’s name with “Alternative to” to find a way to either find something cheaper, simpler, as yet ‘undiscovered’ and quieter etc. Especially the case when the product in question is sold out!
With ultra trail races, no different. UTMB, the classic European 100 mile bucketlist foot race, is always sold out and with a lottery for places, plenty of capable runners are looking for an alternative race each year. As Roman Evarts advises below, don’t cancel your 100 mile plans, switch to a similar race and “just keep on working towards a big 170 km event.”
“In January I was disappointed after not to be drawn in the UTMB lottery, but now I know it was the right and even better decision to participate the UTMR. I found joy with fantastic people in non commercial environment where all is about passion for ultra mountain running. This 4 days in Grächen with my first 100miler were very special for me and I will thank Lizzy, Richard and all runners, all volunteers, all spectators for this. Please keep the race at it is❤.” link
To help those looking for an alternative to the UTMB, here are some opinions from runners who know both UTMB and UTMR courses, which might help. Don’t agree? Give your opinion below in the comments box!
I’ve been fortunate to finish some really amazing races in many parts of the world. This includes finishing the Hardrock Hundred five times, Tor des Géants, Ronda dels Cims, UTMB, Zugspitz and many more. I can honestly say that the UTMR is one of my absolute favorite mountain running races of all time. It offers up such a diverse mixture of terrain and topography, not to mention postcard-worthy views of some of the most famous and recognizable mountains in all of Europe. The race is very well organized and offers just enough support, yet not so much that you can’t let your guard down while out on the course. Coming from Colorado in the USA, I was very impressed with everything the UTMR offered. I highly recommend this race as a great alternative to larger, more extravagant races. You won’t be disappointed!
UTMR 2017, 2nd Veteran Male 39:00:33, 13th overall
You could say that UTMR is an alternative to UTMB, however it is so much harder mentally and physically. The climbs, the technical parts…. it is so different. However, it is 170 km and not too far away so if you fail a UTMB entry it is certainly alternative.
You do get a rude awakening though, not far from the start… ⛰
[i.e. there is a big climb beginning 2 km after the start, which leads right into technical mountain trail…]
UTMR 2017, 2nd woman 38:47:55
UTMB is a very famous and nice, popular race. It is well organised and marked, and the course is very nice. UTMR is a smaller race and it is very familiar [friendly]. The organisation is good. The aid stations are a little bit small for the big distance. The course is great and for me it was nicer then the UTMB course, but much more technical and so much harder then UTMB. I took much longer then UTMB [to finish]. (UTMR 38:47 vs UTMB 31:00)
For me both races were great!
UTMR 2017, 4th woman 41:33:23, La Sportiva Australia
I think UTMR is a fantastic course! It has more appeal to me than UTMB, because for me the mountains are more spectacular, the terrain more challenging and the trails more technical.
It is a great alternative, but it depends on the person. I think they need to be a confident and strong runner/walker. UTMB can cater for a wider range of participants.
I also really like the size of the event, and am happy being in the mountains by myself, and don’t need to have spectators snd fanfare, but if a runner wants this, maybe this is not a good alternative.
It is the extra challenge of UTMR that makes it more attractive. I loved UTMR and I hope to be back.
In my opinion Ultra Tour Monte Rosa is the best possible alternative to the UTMB for somebody if the person had a working long term plan towards 100 miles and failed in the UTMB entry lottery. Both events are only one week apart and there is not much needed to reschedule the season’s goal. I would recommend to all those who are saying due to failure in the UTMB lottery: don’t say “well, maybe next year”, but just keep on working towards a big 170 km event and give it a try on Monte Rosa’s trails. It will be the best option for you to test your mental and physical abilities in a big race. You will gain a lot of experience and will learn new things about your body and mind. With all this you will take a huge boost of confidence and conclusions with you to your next training block towards UTMB.
UTMR doesn’t have as much hype as UTMB does, but if you don’t care about being into the Brazilian Festival-style mood then go for Ultra Tour Monte Rosa without any doubts and regrets. The trails and views around Monte Rosa are awesome!
Remember another alternative to UTMB or UTMR is to race 100 miles / 170 km in 4-stages. Before the UTMB the course was run in stages apparently. The advantages are many: run in daylight hours, stay in mountain villages in comfortable hotels where you can eat well and socialise with other competitors, and you still cover the distance getting to run each stage harder or more fluidly that you would as an ultra.