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Courage, humility and camaraderie!

by Editor
Monday 29th August 2011

Race report: The North Face® Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc® 2011 - August 22-28, 2011

The 2011 edition of the race had, through it's reputation over the years and through the abundance of ultra running legend's names on the start list, been dubbed the unofficial World Championship of Mountain Running. It turned out to be an epic battle on many fronts, and the headline could have been 'weather v organisers', 'Europe v America' or 'runners v the toughest UTMB course in the race's history'.

The finishing stats - yet to be finalised, but at less than 15% some seven hours before the 9pm time limit on sunday, will most likely be the story that will best demonstrate that a course of such epic proportions requires respect.

© The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

Photo: The start of the 2011 race was delayed to 11.30pm © The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

'Humility and courage' are what it takes, according to Lizzie Hawker, the British The North Face athlete who managed an unpresedented fourth win at the race.

In fact, however hard the journalists pushed during interviews, none of the legends much wanted to talk about 'winning' or the race's predicted or actual outcome. What they did talk about a lot though was the shared experience in the mountains.

The French The North Face athlete Sebastian Chaigneau put his 2011 experience above his second place in 2009. He tells of an epic battle on the hills made special by the company of the other runners. His only regret he said, was not being able to share third place with Miguel Heras, who had been in the same leading pack until some 20km from the end.

Photo: A storm brews over Mont Blanc the afternoon before the race. 2010 winner Jez Bragg and 2011 winner Lizzie Hawker shelter from the rain before the start © Run247

Kilian Jornet, now three times winner of this race, had arrived triumphantly in Chamonix, nine minutes ahead of second placed Ikere Karrera. Yet, crossing the line in first place was not what seemed to matter as much as the journey. Spending the day together was what he would remember. 'The moment over the finish line is only short'. He had adjusted his race strategy due to the weather, thinking it wise to stick with the strong runners around him but this race strategy became 'a very strong emotional' experience.

So what was it that happened out there on the trails around Mont Blanc that promted these tales of camaraderie? Most of us will never know, but Kilian hinted that 'you have to dig very deep and share the experience' to understand.

The UTMB course is epic at the best of times. The changes to the start time and later to the course, the testing weather conditions (from pouring rain to snow and heat) as well as the outrageous pace of those front runners will have demanded a lot from the body and mind. The lead pack, which contained almost a dozen of runners at Les Contamines (31km), eventually reduced to just four runners who had put in a big lead over the rest by La Fouly.

Many suspected they were pushing too hard - five runners had gone through Courmayeur (78km) faster than record pace. It is certainly true that the drop out rate was unusually high, even amongst the elite, but the pack of four (Kilian Jornet, Ikere Karrera, Sebastian Chaigneau and Miguel Heras) continued their 'crazy pace'. The three spaniards, all Team Salomon and sporting the brands trade mark white kit, were nicknamed 'the white Spanish train' and it may have been the presence of Sebastian Chaigneau that forced the team mates to keep driving the pace.

© The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

Photo l-r: Sebastian Chaigneau, Kilian Jornet and Ikere Karrera at Refuge Bertone (81km) © The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

After an enormous storm destroyed a refreshment post on Bovine on Friday, the organisers took the decision to re-route to Martigny. This meant the new route of the UTMB® was 170km and 9700 m of positive ascent.

It appears that it was here that Miguel Heras finally succumbed to an injury, leaving the others to continue alone to battle it out for the medals. It was only at Argentiere where Kilian Jornet finally put in a decisive effort to go it alone and arrive first at the finish.

Ikere Karrera followed some nine minutes later with Sebastian Chaigneau another ten minutes behind. With changes to the course it is hard to compare times, but over the extended course, in testing conditions all three were within Kilian's previous record!

Photo © The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

It was a very different story for the winner of the women's race. The North Face athlete Lizzie Hawker who first discovered trail running, and maybe her talent for winning, at the UTMB in 2005 was the undisputed leader for the entire 170km.

Yet Lizzie had her battles too! She was in a lot of pain by La Fouly and it was the support of her crew, as well as the shouts of 'courage' from the spectators that helped her go on. 'Competition is about yourself and finding your edges'. Despite the pain in her hip she finished not only almost three hours ahead of the second placed Néré Martinez Urruzola (ESP) but also ahead of many of the elite men in the race.

© The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

Photo: Four times winner Lizzie Hawker finishes her journey and is met by team mate Sebastian Chaigneau © The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®

When she finished just after midnight the streets of Chamonix were still lined with cheering supporters welcoming back the heroine who now has four UTMB wins to her name.

Third placed Darcy Africa had also made history. She is the first athlete to achieve back to back podiums at the Hard Rock, where she placed second (7th overall!) and the UTMB.


UTMB® - 170km - 9700m D+ (after the deviation par Martigny)

Men's results

1 Kilian Jornet Burgada ESP 20h36'43
3 Sébastien CHAIGNEAU FRA 20h55'41


Women's results

1 Elisabeth HAWKER GBR 25h02'00
3 Darcy PICEU AFRICA USA 28h30'28


CCC® - 93km - 5100m D+ (after modifications)

Men's results

1 Emmanuel Gault FRA 10h10'25
2 Adam Campbell CAN 10h29'33
3 Nikolaos Kalofyris GRE 10h50'17


Women's results

1 Virginie Govignon FRA 12h47'11
2 Claire Price GBR 13h08'41
3 Catherine Dubois FRA 13h30'38



Men's results

1 Franck Bussière FRA 15h51'37
2 Lionel Trivel FRA 16h12'32
3 Sébastien Talotti FRA 16h20'54


Women's results

1 Jolanda Linschooten NED 20h57'32
2 Francesca Canepa ITA 20h57'40
3 Nathalie Le Flanchec FRA 21h38'28


All the results on www.ultratrailmb.com


Some statistics

UTMB® (at 14:04 on the 28/08/2011)

  • Number enrolled: 2554
  • Number of starters: 2369 of which women: 186 (7.85% of the starters)
  • Number of finishers: 341 (14.39% of the starters) of which women: 21 (6.16% of the finishers) (11.29% of the starters)
  • Total number of withdrawals: 1208 (50.99%)

CCC® (at 14:04 on the 28/08/2011)

  • Number enrolled : 2124
  • Number of starters: 1906 of which women: 262 (13.75% of the starters)
  • Number of finishers: 1592 (83.53% of the starters) of which women: 207 (13.00% of the finishers)(79.01% of the starters)
  • Total number of withdrawals: 316 (16.58%)

TDS (at 14:04 on the 28/08/2011)

  • Number enrolled : 1344
  • Number of starters : 1181 of which women : 116 (9.82% of the starters)
  • Number of finishers: 781 (66.13% of starters) of which women : 79 (10.12% of finishers)(68.10% of starters)
  • Total number of withdrawals : 401 (33.95%)

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