And They’re Off! … (their freakin’ heads)


Let the suffering begin. The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) officially kicked off Wednesday night at 22:00 with the start of La Petite Trotte à Léon. Amidst a blaze of flashing lights and cheering crowds the racers took off into the darkness as the sky unloaded and the cold rain began hammering the runners on the first leg of their 245km (152 miles) course with 21,000m (68,897 feet) of climbing to look forward to.

The Petite Trotte is a non-competitive event for a maximum of 60 teams of three runners each, at least two of whom must have previously completed the UTMB. The race description states:

-Each 3-man team must stay together throughout the event.

-The course follows a mapped path that may not be signposted

-The course is 100% trail running with less than 5km (3.1 miles) on pavement.

-Paths are clearly more difficult than those of the UTMB and can present objective dangers (very steep slopes, falling stones, very narrow paths, and risk of getting lost on very faint trails).

-Teams must finish before Sunday, 30 Aug at 16:30

-Runners are completely autonomous with refreshment and rest available only at the mountain refuges that are passed along the way. Personal assistance is forbidden.

-The course is often above 2,500m (8,200 feet), far from any refuge, and in case of poor weather conditions can become extremely tough.

-There will be no assistance on the ground other than that supplied by the mountain refuges.

Hmmm, surely I wasn’t the only one to get a sinking feeling in my stomach as I watched the lightning and remembered back to this past June when three competitors died overnight from exposure at a race in Mercantour.

Four Races

ultra-trail5000 runners will be competing in four races in this year’s UTMB on courses ranging from 98km to 245km. All competitors will be issued a chip that will be scanned as racers pass through checkpoints every seven kilometers (4.35 miles). However, as in Mercantour, the problem is what happens to the racers between checkpoints, which is one of the reasons competitors are required to carry a mobile telephone with a fully charged battery to which storm warnings can be texted to the racers based on their position.

Rescue and health professionals on hand include PGHM, CRS, mountain rescue, firefighters, doctors, physiotherapists, podiatrists, nurses and volunteers – around 1400 people in all. In addition a Race Control will be set up in Chamonix for the duration of the event and will continuously follow the racers. In case of emergency the team will be able to phone Race Control and speak with a doctor for diagnosis and advice on field treatment. If they need to see a doctor they must reach the next village. If the team finds it impossible to move they can alert Race Control and emergency services will be notified.

Obligatory equipment per person
– 1-litre minimum water supply
– Two torches in good working condition with replacement batteries
– Mini survival blanket (140×210 cm)
– Whistle
– Mobile phone with international option
– Sleeping bag
– Clothes:
o breathable T-shirt
o two breathable and warm undershirts with long sleeves
o a long-sleeved fleece
o goretex jacket
o long tights
– Sun glasses
– Gloves
– Hood
– Altimeter and compass
– Knife

Obligatory equipment per team

Road-book (instructions and map of the race) provided by the organizers

– a bivouac tent  big enough to enable a team of 3 to take shelter
– a rescue pack (see below)
– a digital camera

Highly recomended
A GPS on which the maps given by the organisers will have been downloaded.

Required by Customs authorities
– identity papers

Other equipment advised (non exhaustive list)
– camping stove
– trekking poles
– Goretex-style trousers
– additional clothes
– string, sun cream, Vaseline or anti-burn cream

In addition, a GPS/GSM tag is issued to Petite Trotte competitors that will send out an SMS every 15 minutes indicating the position of the team. This information will allow Race Control to follow the progression of the team as well as friends and family to follow on the racers’ progress on Google Earth.

Good luck, ladies and gentlemen. Let the hardest man win.


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