At 10am French time on Thursday 10th January the results of the ballot for the 2019 UTMB will be announced. If you’ve entered that ballot you will have put some pretty hard work in to get those points, so it’s likely that you’ll have quite a lot invested in that announcement. If you do get in – congratulations! But if you don’t, where do you go from here?
I didn’t get in via the ballot – can I still run it?
The answer to this question is yes, if you go down the route of a solidarity/health/environment bib. This is essentially a donation of 2000 Euros to one of the associations supported by UTMB. You can pay the money yourself or you can pay it and then recoup it via sponsorship/donations as you would for something like the London Marathon. But, these places are likely to go very quickly after the results of the ballot are announced.
But wait a minute, you might be eligible for automatic entry next year!
If you’ve missed out on the UTMB ballot for two years in a row, you should be eligible for an automatic place next year, bypassing the ballot altogether (details on UTMB website). So don’t rush to pay for a place this year if you can get in automatically next year. But you will still need to have the appropriate number of points from the two years prior to the year you run the race, so you’ll need to keep them up to date. If this was the first time that you’ve been unlucky in the ballot you’ll still have an enhanced chance in it next year (it’s essentially like having two entries in the ballot).
I didn’t get into UTMB but I still want a big adventure!
You might have been working towards UTMB for years, so a ‘no’ in the ballot might be a bit spirit crushing. But, if you still want to take on a big race in 2019 there are loads of other brilliant options! Obviously many of the more popular races will have filled up quickly or already held ballots like UTMB, but more popular isn’t always better! Some of these races will also help you to keep your UTMB points topped up.
- Ultra Trail Monte Rosa – if there’s one race that’s been building up a great reputation over the last couple of years it’s this one. Everybody I’ve spoken to who’s done it has raved about it, particularly our own contributor Pip Haylett (this is what he had to say about it). There are three options for the race – a 170k ultra, the same 170k course but in four stages, or a 100k ultra. The 170k course has 11,300m of ascent and the 100k route has 6420m. Everything you want to know about this race in terms of difficulty and beauty can be summed up by the fact that the race director, Lizzy Hawker, used to use the route for her UTMB training (remember: she won it five times!) and it’s the race she always wanted to do but it didn’t exist! There’s no ballot and registration is open. Find out more about the race HERE.
- Ehunmilak – possibly the most brilliant ultra you may never have heard of. This stunning race takes place in the Basque Country in Spain in July. ‘Ehunmilak’ means one hundred miles in Basque – so it’s obvious how long the race is – and it has 11,000m of ascent. But unlike races like UTMB and UTMR the mountains in this region top out at around 1400m, so that total elevation involves an awful lot of ups and downs, on technical, rocky ground! This race is tough, but it’s so beautiful and what’s so great about this race is that’s all about local traditions. From the Basque dancing on the start line, to the traditional xylophone players at some of the aid stations, to the pre-race paella party, to the berets presented to the winners, it showcases so much about the region. There’s no glitz and glamour here, just a very tough race in a traditional style. There’s also an 88k (with 6000m of ascent) and a marathon. Find out about all the races HERE.
- Transvulcania – if you fancy a bit of sunshine this May and you want a bigger race then Transvulcania is a great option. They do the start and finish line glitz and glamour very well (inasmuch as a 6am start at quite a bleak lighthouse can be glamorous), announcing the elites over a bit of booming house music. You’ll get to see almost all of a very cool island, and it’ll give you a very pleasing Strava map at the end. It’s 74k with 4350m of ascent, so it’s not as epic as some of the other races on this list, but ascending on sandy trails and rocky river beds will certainly test you. The logistics of getting to the race from the UK can be tricky, but it’s a good excuse to stay a bit longer for a holiday! Find out more about the race HERE.
- Grand Trail Courmayeur – if you’ve set your sights on some sort of Mont Blanc adventure this summer, how about the Italian side – the other side of the tunnel from Chamonix – in the Aosta Valley? With a number of high passes and some very technical ground this 105k race with 6600m of ascent isn’t to be underestimated. The trails around Courmayeur are stunning and the Italian side offers you something slightly different to Chamonix, if you’re a regular visitor. Find out more about the race, which also includes a 55k and 30k option, HERE.
- Grand Raid Pyrenees – if a big adventure is what you want then how does 220km with 12,500m of ascent grab you? This race takes place in August right down in southern France, close to the border with Spain in the Pyrenees and I’ve heard many runners rave about this race. As well as the epic ultra, there’s a 120k (which still has 7000m of ascent), an 80k and a 40k. Find out more HERE.
- Transylvania 100k – if something different is what you’re after then how about a race which involves Dracula’s Castle, some pretty vertical ascending, bears and wolves as well as stunning scenery? And what’s more, it’ll take you to a place you’d be unlikely to visit otherwise (unless you’re a fan of vampires). 102k with 6500m of ascent, with some snow, should make a good challenge for anybody. Find out more HERE.
There are of course a great many fantastic ultras in the UK, including some very tough ones. Last year’s inaugural Snowdonia 50/100 attempted to offer something technical and difficult, along the lines of an Alpine ultra albeit with smaller climbs. It’s back this May. The Spine Race do a summer version – the Spine Fusion – in June if you want to go really big. There are too many UK ultras, big and small, to choose from. That’s going to have to be another article.
But how about putting some of that money you were going to spend on UTMB (and let’s face it, once you’ve forked out for transport, transfers and accommodation, it really isn’t a cheap race to do) towards a big adventure of your own? Why not run the UTMB route over 3 days, staying in mountain huts? This sort of recce could reap dividends when you do get into the race. Or you could choose a European trail like the Alta Via in the Dolomites or the GR20 in Corsica, or a UK trail like the West Highland Way. You could take it at your own pace, stop when you want to and not get poked in the face by somebody’s pole or have to queue to walk up a hill. You might find you like it.