This past weekend, while we Americans relaxed and enjoyed a long holiday weekend, one of the biggest endurance events in the world was taking place on the trails around one of Europe’s most iconic mountains. That’s where the 2019 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc took place, brining together some of the world’s top outdoor athletes to test themselves on an incredibly difficult and demanding trail that pushes runners to their limits on an annual basis. This year, the UTMB didn’t disappoint in any way, delivering high drama and incredible performances, particularly from the men’s and women’s champions.
Covering a little more than 106 miles (171 km), the UTMB follows the legendary Tour du Mont Blanc trail, which circumnavigates the entire mountain, passing through France, Italy, and Switzerland along the way. The route has long been a popular one with trekkers, but it makes for a stunning challenge for trail runners too, providing 32,940 ft (10,040 meters) of elevation gain. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 4000 feet (1219 meters) more altitude than Everest. The UTMB has been a fixture on the endurance sports calendar for more than a decade, but has only continued to grow in prominence in recent years.
For 2019, the men’s winner was none other than Spanish runner Pau Capell, who took the lead early and held on for nearly the entire race. He set out from Chamonix at 6:00 PM local time last Friday and was immediately pressured by a fast pace set by several Chinese competitors. It wasn’t long before he drew even with those runners however and after that there was no relinquishing the first position. Eventually he would finish with a time of 20 hours, 19 minutes, and 7 seconds, making him the first UTMB winner who wasn’t from France since Kilian Jornet won the race back in 2011. Second place went to French runner Xavier Thevenard, who completed the course in 21 hours, 7 minutes, and 56 seconds.
Meanwhile, the women’s division was just as competitive with the world’s best female endurance athletes battling it out for the top spot. In the end, that honor went to American Courtney Dauwalter, who finished in dominant fashion. She won with a time of 24 hours, 34 minutes, and 26 seconds, which was good enough to be 21st overall. Like Capell, she faced a fast pace set by another Chinese runner early on, only to see her competition fade out behind her. The next woman to cross the finish line came almost exactly one hour later, which is when Sweden’s Kristin Berglund completed her run.
Congrats to Pau and Courtney for outstanding performances, as well as the rest of the competitors who were able to not only run in this event, but also complete the grueling course. Of the 2543 runners who took the finish line, 987 did not finish. That alone should indicate how difficult this race actually is.
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