If you’ve been in the running community for a while, it’s likely you’ve heard about UTMB or Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. This is a popular series of races that takes place in the French Alps each year and features some of the best ultra runners in the world.
Did you also know that everyday runners like us have a shot at getting into the famous race and running it alongside the pros?
In this article, we will cover all of the information you need on how to qualify for UTMB and land a coveted spot on the starting line in Chamonix.
We will look at the following:
- What is UTMB?
- The Qualification Process for UTMB
- What is an Index Race?
- How to Earn Running Stones
- How to Qualify for UTMB with your Index Race and Running Stones
What is UTMB?
The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc was first run 20 years ago in 2003. It’s often called one of the most difficult foot races in the world. The course follows a hiking path that circumnavigates Mont Blanc in the French Alps.
Starting in Chamonix, France, in late August or early September, runners will cover 106 miles (171 kilometers) with just over 32,000 feet (10,000 meters) of elevation gain while traveling through France, Italy, and Switzerland.
The route normally takes hikers 7-9 days to complete. However, you can expect the top runners in the race to finish around 20 hours. The majority of the race participants will take between 30-45 hours to complete the loop.
The course records for men and women are held by names you are likely familiar with: Kilian Jornet (19:49:30) and Courtney Dauwalter (22:30:54). Each year, the race attracts some of the biggest names in ultra running vying to take their place in the upper echelons of endurance runners by winning the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.
American ultrarunner Jim Walmsley even moved to France in order to prepare himself for the event in hopes of being the first American to win on the men’s side.
In recent years, UTMB has turned into a weeklong festival featuring numerous races. In addition to the UTMB 106-mile race, there is the CCC: Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix, which is 100km (62 miles), and the OCC: Orsières – Champex – Chamonix, which is 56km (35 miles).
The qualification process for UTMB
Whether you’ve been training for years in preparation or just made the decision in the last 2 minutes of reading this article, figuring out how to qualify for UTMB can be an incredibly difficult process.
First, the good news.
UTMB features an incredibly large field of runners, with over 2,500 runners starting the race most years. Now comes the bad news, it’s a race that has been growing in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down. Also, the process for qualifying is not the most straightforward.
Ultimately there are 3 different types of runners who come to the race, and the qualification for each varies. Amateurs, Elites, and “Runners with Priority,” as the UTMB site puts it, are the runners looking to enter the race. Since most of the readers will fall into the “amateur” category, the focus of this article will be on that.
While 2003 might seem like a long time ago, this race is still relatively new. As such, it’s gone through several different iterations, owners, and qualification processes.
The race recently merged with the Ironman Group, and with that came a new qualifying process.
The new qualification process consists of two parts that a runner must complete in order to be able to enter the lottery for the UTMB, CCC, or OCC races.
Runners must complete an index race and must gather running stones.
What is an index race?
There is no denying that the distances and elevation gain of the UTMB series races makes them incredibly difficult for even the most seasoned of runners.
I’m sure that was foremost in the mind of the race directors when they devised the index race system.
In order to ensure qualifying spots are going to runners who are ready and able to finish the race (at least in theory), each race in the UTMB festival requires your to complete an index race in order to be eligible for the lottery.
There are 4 different distances an index race can fall under 20k (12.5 miles), 50k (31 miles), 100k (62 miles), and 100 miles (161k).
To qualify for the OCC, you need to complete an index race of 20k. For the CCC, you need to complete an index race of 50k. For the UTMB, you need to complete an index race of 100k or 100 miles. The index race must also be completed within the last 2 years to be valid.
So what constitutes an index race? Any race that meets the distance listed above? Not exactly.
An index race must be a UTMB event from this list.
With over 3200 results on the list, you might think that there are plenty of opportunities for you to gain your index for whichever event you are hoping to run. However, you’ll quickly see that these races are spread across the world, which can complicate things.
For instance, as a runner residing in the United States and hoping to run the UTMB event in the coming years, I’m looking for a race in the US with an index of 100k or 100m. Narrowing that down brings me to 66 races.
Some of these races will be on the east coast of the country and therefore be more difficult to fit into my schedule. Also, due to the fact that these races are anywhere from 62 miles (100k) to 250 miles (402k), I have to have adequate time to recover and train from event to event. Especially considering these will all feature a lot of elevation gain and drop.
Some of these even require you to qualify for them, like the Western States 100m. So realistically, that only gives you a handful of races each year that will work with your schedule. Good thing the index race lasts for two years.
So, you’ve run your index race. Now what? You’ll also need running stones to enter the lottery.
How to earn running stones
Running stones provide you with an entry into the UTMB lottery of your choice. One running stone gets you one entry into a race. Two running stones mean two entries. So on and so forth.
The more running stones you collect, the better your chance of getting into the race during the lottery. A runner with ten running stones is ten times more likely to get into the race than a runner with one stone.
So how do you get running stones? By running UTMB races!
Running stones can be collected by running UTMB World Series races. The length of the race typically determines the number of stones a runner can collect.
For instance, on April 29th I will be running the Canyons 100k race, which is the first UTMB World Series event held in North America.
The 100k will award me 6 running stones (it is also an index race which is why I chose it). There is also a 100m race (8 stones), 50k (4 stones), and 25k (2 stones) at the event.
At least one running stone must have been acquired in the last 2 years in order to enter the lottery. However, running stones do not have an expiration date.
How to qualify for UTMB with your index race and running stones
So you need running stones and an index race to qualify. Sounds easy enough.
Yes and no.
There are a few things to consider. These races don’t necessarily overlap. Meaning you could run an index race that doesn’t award you any stones. Or a race that awards you stones may not meet the index you seek.
It’s important to make sure the race you are looking at is on the list of Index Races and has an index marked. Here you can see if the race meets the 100k index.
You can also see the running stones a race will award you.
We can see this same race awards 6 running stones, which will give a runner 6 entries into a UTMB race.
It is important to call out that all of your stones have to go to the same race. So you would need to put all 6 stones from this race towards either the UTMB, CCC, or OCC race. You are not given the option of splitting up stones and entering the lottery for each race.
The good news is that after acquiring my 100k index, I can run shorter races and collect stones to improve my chances of getting into the UTMB lottery. For instance, I could run the Speedgoat 50k, which would grant me an additional 2 stones if I complete it.
This would now give me 8 stones (along with the 6 from Canyons 100k) to use to enter the lottery.
As mentioned above, running stones don’t have an expiration date. The only requirement for using them to enter the lottery is that one has to have been acquired in the last 2 years.
So let’s say you gained 8 stones in 2021 and never used them to enter the lottery. If you gained 2 stones this year, you could put 10 stones in the lottery for a race in 2023 or 2024.
There are some definite pros and cons to the new index and running stone system. On one hand, it allows amateur runners plenty of opportunities to gain entries for the lottery of their choice.
On the other hand, the argument can be made that it caters to those who have enough money to travel and race to acquire as many stones as possible.
Whatever your thoughts are on the matter, hopefully, this clears up the process of how to enter UTMB. Now, run an index race and start collecting stones! Hopefully, we will see each other on the starting line in Chamonix in the coming years!
Looking for other challenges to add to your bucket list? Check out our article on some of the most beautiful marathons in the world!