inov-8 stamped its name on the UTMB – the world’s biggest trail running race – by placing two athletes in the top-five.
Underdogs Hallvard Schjolberg (Norway) and Damian Hall (UK) ran the races of their lives to finish 4th and 5th respectively (and 1st and 2nd veterans aged over 40) in one of the most dramatic and action-packed editions in Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc history.
While the brutal 105-mile mountain course took its toll on some of the pre-race favourites, Hallvard and Damian stayed strong throughout, steadily progressing through the field and eventually returning to the packed-streets of Chamonix as heroes.
For 43-year-old Hallvard, who only began running seven years ago, it was a second completion of the UTMB, having placed 28th last year. He said: “It went very well and exceeded my expectations. To finish 4th is amazing, I can’t believe it. Even to finish in the top-10 was not in my mind, so I’m very surprised and happy.
“In the latter stages of the race I was even getting messages from the course to say I could take third place as the runner in front (Jordi Gamito) was only five minutes ahead. I pushed the pace for the last few hours but he was too strong.”
For 42-year-old Damian it was a fourth UTMB finish in as many years. Having placed 29th in 2015, 19th in 2016 and 12th last year, he finally achieved his dream of making the top-10. He said: “I did help dump a load of pressure on myself before the race by telling everyone that my aim was to go top-10 and so I’m relieved to have done it.
“I did feel more anxious and less relaxed this year because of that pressure, but really I only thought 10th, 9th, maybe 8th in the best-case scenario, was where I could finish. As it turned out, some of the fast lads at the front smashed each other up on the course and dropped out of the race! This obviously helped me move up the field.”
Starting and finishing in Chamonix (France), 2,300 runners from more than 100 countries tackled a course that circumnavigates Europe’s highest peak (Mont Blanc) and includes a mammoth 10,000m of ascent. A total of 1,772 runners completed the circuit, which also includes sections through Italy and Switzerland, inside the 46hrs 30mins cut-off time.
First across the finish line was Frenchman Xavier Thevenard who claimed his third victory at UTMB, having previously won it in 2013 and 2015. He clocked a time of 20:44:16 to beat second-placed Robert Hajnal (Romania) by 47 minutes. Jordi Gamito (Spain) took third in 21:57:01, with Hallvard next in 22:06:59 and Damian fifth in 22:35:13.
Among those to drop out throughout the race were Kilian Jornet, Jim Walmsley and Zac Miller, the latter having led into Champex-Lac (76 miles) alongside Xavier Thevenard before later being helicoptered off the mountains.
Throughout all the drama, Hallvard and Damian stuck to their game plans – and it paid off. At Courmayeur (48 miles), Hallvard was 6th and Damian 12th. By Champex-Lac they were 6th and 7th respectively, improving to 4th and 5th by the time they reached Trient (86 miles).
These were the same positions the duo finished in, with Damian holding off a late charge from sixth-placed Roman Evarts (22:38:29).
Trail running kit for UTMB
Talking about the shoes, Damian said: “They were superb and I had no foot issues at all. They gripped on pretty much everything and were great.”
Hallvard added: “Like Damian, I wore the same pair of shoes from start to finish. The big 6mm lugs were brilliant on the muddy sections, especially the muddy downhills.”
While Damian – who earlier this year won the Ice Ultra and placed 2nd at Mozart 100 – will now rest up ahead of 2019, Hallvard – the 2018 Norwegian Ultra Trail Champion – has his eyes on the Skyrunning World Championships, which takes place in Scotland on September 13-16.
There was further inov-8 ambassador success in the shorter CCC race (62 miles & 6,100m ascent), which takes place as part of the UTMB festival. inov-8 Latvia’s Andris Ronimoiss placed a superb 6th place, while compatriot Linda Boldane finished 11th woman.
Andris, who earlier this year won the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, said: “What a rollercoaster ride the CCC was! It all ended well and I’m proud of my sixth place at one of the most important races of the season. Preparations for UTMB 2019 start now!”
Asked if they would be joining Andris for UTMB 2019, Damian shook his head and laughed, while Hallvard said: “I’m very unsure. I can’t think it’s possible to run it faster than this. Maybe… if the training goes well, maybe I will be there!”