How do you truly capture the magic of the world’s greatest trail running race, Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)? It’s not easy, but we have tried. The following ten photos were all taken by James MacKEDDIE during this year’s 104-mile race. They tell a story of all the emotions that encapsulate this iconic Alpine event.
1. The nervous wait
Around 2,300 ultra runners from more than 85 countries descended on the town of Chamonix, France. They were the lucky ones. More than double that tried to gain an entry for the race, in this its 14th year. In the hours before the official start, runners began to gather outside the church. Many sought shelter from the blazing sun and sat on the ground to rest their legs ahead of a brutal race that involves 10,000m of both ascent and descent.
2. The excitement at the start
Like caged animals set free, runners depart the start line. Many, many months of preparation are finally over. Ahead of them lay 104 miles of the most testing mountain trails on the planet, but that doesn’t stop some sprinting the first 200m!
3. The red-hot atmosphere
As runners head into the night the atmosphere on the Alpine trails heats up. The bonfire at Notre Dame de la Gorge is a particular highlight for many of the competitors. Enthusiastic and knowledgable spectators line sections of the course, shouting encouragement and ringing cow bells as each runners goes past.
4. Into the darkness
It’s a long night for the runners, many of whom will see darkness again on the second evening. Powerful head torches form a long, spectacular line lights along the trails.
5. That sunrise
Everyone lifts their head up to watch the sun rise. And, if you’re lucky enough to be placed somewhere like our photographer, you get an amazing view 9and photos) like this. With it dawns a new day in the Alps. But for all its beauty, the sun and blue skies also bring concern for many runners. The day ahead looks set to be a hot one.
6. The necessary graft
It’s not supposed to be easy, and as runners settle into the day ahead the realisation of what is still to come really hits home. The trails are hard, dry and dusty and the hills are big, very big. Many use lightweight trekking poles to aid their progression through the mountains.
7. Cooling off
With temperatures soaring above 30°C, runners seek any means possible to cool off. In her post-race interview Jasmin Paris, who finished 6th woman, told how she jumped into a mountain lake mid-race and went for a short swim in a bid to try and lower her rising body temperature. For others, the heat becomes too much. This, combined with other reasons such as injuries and illness, forces many, including several pre-race favourites, to drop out.
8. The photos and attention
Cameras of all known varieties point onto the streets of Chamonix and more specifically at the hallowed UTMB finish line as exhausted runners make their approach. For many competitors it’s a life-long ambition to reach this finish banner, so the pressure is on family and friends to capture that moment with photos and videos and often post it straight up onto social media.
9 The tears of joy
For each runner it’s a personal journey. All have a story to tell and upon crossing that finish line, the emotion of what has been achieved comes flooding out. Many, like Damian Hall in the photo above, take their time in the home straight, soak up the atmosphere and share the moment with those closest to them.
10. The camaraderie
The winners take the adulation, of course, but every finisher is a hero, none more so than the last person across the line. This year that person was Laurence Dupont, who soon after completing the 104-mile course in 1,468th place, and in a time of 46hrs 42mins, was invited to take to the presentation stage.