It is just after 9 o’clock on a mild summer evening in the French Alps, and you are standing at the bottom of a steep hiking path.
A setting in which one can take pleasure in the peace and quiet of nature, breathe in the crisp air of the mountains, and be amazed by a night sky that is filled with more stars than one could even begin to count.
Not this evening.
A man who looks like he could have tried out for “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is revving a chainsaw till it is within an inch of its life, and house music is playing in the background. The air is heavy with smoke from a red flare.
He is one of the thousands of people who are lining the track at Notre Dame de la Gorge just outside of the little town of Les Contamines-Montjoie. His eyes are bulging, his face is gleaming with sweat, and he has a crazy grin across his face. At the same time, gasoline is leaking to the ground, and fumes are filling the nostrils.
Hundreds of people, excited like children with a new toy, jingle cow bells. Others are content to rely solely on the influence of applause. Everyone is cheering enthusiastically for you. To our great relief, Monsieur Chainsaw possessed the decency to forget to bring the blade with him.
Courtney Dauwalter, the greatest female ultra-runner in the world, is currently 20 miles into the world’s largest, most famous, and wildest trail race when she smiles as she runs through this tunnel of noise.
The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is a race that is so prestigious that it has been compared to the running equivalents of the World Cup, the Tour de France, and the Super Bowl. None of those expressions does it sufficient justice.
As it goes around Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is 106 miles long and begins and ends in Chamonix. Along the way, it travels through three different countries: France, Italy, and Switzerland.
The distance is merely one aspect of the whole picture. Runners are required to endure temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius and as high as 30 degrees Celsius, as well as an elevation increase of 10,000 meters, which is comfortably more than the height of Mount Everest. Additionally, they must be able to withstand any conditions that the mountains throw at them, which are often reserved for skiers. Insurance coverage for SAR missions conducted by helicopters is required by law.
The race follows a well-known trekking trail that travelers typically cover in ten days. The fastest runners at the UTMB finish the course in less than 20 hours. The “loop” can be “completed” by mere mortals in two days’ time.
At the beginning of this month, 2,689 participants from 81 countries had their start in one of the most difficult competitions of their whole careers. More than one-third of those who attempted it did not succeed, and many of those who did were a physical and mental wreck by the time they staggered across one of the most famous finish lines in all of sport.
The first male Briton to ever win the UTMB, Jez Bragg, who did so in 2010, referred to it as “the perfect journey” and said that he “loves it to bits.” Francois d’Haene, a four-time winner and a legend in the sport of trail running, has stated that “what is magical is that the winner and the finisher can have the same feeling – ‘wow, we made it’.”
There is such a vast number of facets of UTMB that are unique and remarkable in their own sense.
Let’s begin with the surrounding landscape. The town of Chamonix is situated in a narrow valley that is surrounded on all sides by towering mountains and magnificent glaciers that rise sharply from the end of people’s back gardens. The overall effect is one that is breath-takingly stunning. Moreover, as the race progresses, participants will have increasingly breathtaking views of the snow-capped dome of Mont Blanc. “The beauty is insane,” adds Bragg. “I can’t even.” “It’s impossible to find anything else quite like it.”
Then there’s the weighing device. Western States, which is held in California and is considered the second most renowned 100-mile trail race in the world, has an entry limit of fewer than 400 racers, which is a fraction of UTMB. UTMB is the culmination of a series of events that take place over the course of a week in Chamonix. With the assistance of 2,500 volunteers from all around France and beyond, the event welcomes a total of 10,000 participants.
The ambiance is the material of which legends are made. The rowdy scenes from Notre Dame de la Gorge are repeated in countless other villages, and supporters camp out at even the most remote parts of the UTMB course in the middle of the night to cheer on what amount to little more than moving headlamps. Crowds fill the streets of Chamonix five deep, and the riotous scenes from Notre Dame de la Gorge are repeated in countless other villages. Tom Evans, a competitor from the United Kingdom who came in third place in 2022 and is considered to be one of the favorites this year, calls it “completely bonkers.”
In addition, the standard of play on the field is unparalleled. According to American Dylan Bowman, who placed seventh in 2017 and currently hosts the Freetrail podcast, “It’s the most competitive race of the whole year and they’re all in the shape of their life.” Bowman said this of the race, which he called “the most competitive race of the whole year.” Evans maintains that “it definitely is the one to win,” despite his astonishing victory at Western States in June. “It’s the one to win,” he says. Katie Schide, who won the women’s competition in the UTMB in 2022, had this to say about the race: “You don’t use UTMB as a training race.”
It is easy to see why Bowman considers the UTMB to be “orders of magnitude bigger than anything else” in the sport of trail running when one considers the fact that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the event, along with the huge dollops of drama that have been added to the event as a result of the organizers’ clever advertising and marketing machine.
Trail running is essentially jogging anyplace off-road, however it generally incorporates hills (the hills at UTMB tend to be larger than most other trail races’ hills). It is widely recognized as the sport’s summer home, at least in Europe, in Chamonix, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1924. It is one of the sports whose popularity is expanding at one of the fastest rates in the entire world.
There is no better illustration of this than the beginning of the UTMB race. In front of the town hall, all of the runners congregate in the Place de l’Eglise, leaving hardly a single inch of road visible in the midst of a swarm of brightly colored running gear and twitching muscles.
It is timed such that the leading runners finish during the busiest period of Saturday afternoon, thus shops close before the start at six o’clock on Friday evening. The viewing areas for spectators and photographers are reserved several hours in advance. Some people will climb up atop statues in order to have a better perspective. Those of you who are able to see over the sea of extended arms and people talking on their cell phones are among the lucky ones.
The operatic music from Vangelis’s Conquest of Paradise, which is the soundtrack to a movie directed by Ridley Scott, echoes off the walls of the congested street, ratcheting up the tension to an unbearable level before the starting gun fires.
“The atmosphere is like nothing I’ve ever experienced – in any sporting event,” says Bragg. “I’ve been to a lot of sporting events.” Even before you leave Chamonix, you are surrounded by a peculiar frenzy, excitement, and worry; in other words, you are experiencing strong emotions. The audience is trying to transfer its energy to the runners, and the runners are living in fear of what lies ahead.
The elites, who start at the same line as the amateurs but are given a slot at the front of the pack, rush out at a speed more appropriate for a 10 kilometer race than a 170 kilometer race in order to avoid getting caught in a bottleneck as the road narrows.
“You hear stories of people falling,” adds Schide. “You see it all the time.” “So during the first 800 meters, you’re not thinking about pacing—you’re thinking, ‘get out and find space.’ You’re just trying not to trip up on anything,” the announcer said.
Since Schide will not be competing in this year’s UTMB (she recently came in second place in a race that lasted 34 miles and took place in Chamonix earlier in the week), fellow American Dauwalter is the clear favorite in the women’s field.
Dauwalter, who won UTMB in 2019 and 2021, is currently vying for the unique Triple Crown of 100-Mile Races in 2023. This summer, he won Western States and Hardrock, both of which were held in Colorado. Only a small number of the world’s best runners have even attempted to compete in three of the most difficult ultra-marathons on the running calendar within a span of ten weeks. It is practically impossible to finish them, and winning them is on the verge of being ridiculous.
“It would be one of the greatest achievements in the history of the sport, and something that will never be repeated,” adds Bowman. “It would be something that will never be repeated.” Courtney is an athlete who comes around only once in a lifetime.
The 38-year-old Dauwalter has transcended the specialized world of ultra-running because to her casual demeanor, constant smile (particularly when racing), and baggy shorts, all of which are just as important to her allure as her remarkable athletic achievements.
She is the current holder of the female record in Western States, Hardrock, and UTMB; she has not been defeated by a female competitor in any event since 2019; she consistently places in the top 10 regardless of gender; and she has won a 240-mile race outright in the past. As a result of her appearance as a guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast and her cover story in the sports section of the New York Times, she is on the cusp of becoming a household figure in the United States.
Schide is honest enough to acknowledge the fact that Dauwalter is in a class all by herself. She states that “We’re not even close to competing,” and I quote: ” “Courtney never competes against anyone else; instead, she simply outruns us all.”
According to Evans, “I need to be at 100% in order for me to win, and Courtney needs to be at 75%. The other girls are incredible, but she is an absolute specimen.”
When it first began in 2003 as a low-key occasion that was organized from a living room, UTMB was a long cry from the phenomenon that it has become today. Michel and Catherine Poletti, a married couple, eventually gave in to the persistent prodding of a mutual acquaintance who insisted that they organize a race that would circumnavigate Mont Blanc.
Isabelle, their daughter, created a webpage for the family. David, who was then a teenager, was one of the helpers. As members of the medical staff, Michel’s sisters and Isabelle’s father-in-law took turns helping out.
The Polettis anticipated three hundred participants. In the end, 722 people participated. “That was emotional, the first start,” adds Michel, who also participated in the event. “That was exciting.” At four o’clock in the morning, there was no one else there.
Under a canopy, Catherine and a few other race volunteers served as the race headquarters. They were equipped with a mobile phone, two radios, and a laptop. In spite of the difficult conditions, only 67 racers managed to finish the race. This is a finish rate of fewer than 10%.
As a wedding present from the athletic shoe firm that Krissy Moehl works for, Michel ran a portion of the race alongside the American runner Krissy Moehl while she was on her honeymoon. At the same moment, Catherine greeted her new husband, Brandon Sybrowsky, as he crossed the finish line as the joint second-place finisher. Brandon had finished the race with her.
Catherine recalls, “This was their honeymoon – me and Brandon went on it, and Michel and Krissy went on it with each other.” Michel grins and says, “It has the makings of a movie.” Moehl, who came in first place overall among female competitors, commented that the French “loved it” and “went to town” on the amorous duo.
The success of UTMB can be attributed in large part to the organizational skills of Michel and the smart financial judgment of Catherine. In 2006, when the race reached capacity in just three weeks, the Polettis responded to the overwhelming demand by beginning to organize more races of varied lengths. In 2008, UTMB seats were sold out in just nine minutes, prompting the organization to institute a qualification process the next year, followed by a lottery method the year after that.
Catherine claims that every year, there are up to 9,000 persons who submit an application for a UTMB race bib. If the current system, in which hopefuls are required to collect ‘running stones’ by completing qualifying events, did not exist, Michel is of the opinion that the number “could be 100,000.”
“It has changed so much,” says Dawa Sherpa, who won the men’s race in 2003 despite having never raced more than 70 kilometers in a single race. “It has become much more difficult.” “However, I can still vividly recall every detail of that very first race.”
2009 was the year when Moehl, who is now 45 and works as a running coach, won once more. It’s only in hindsight that I realize how significant UTMB is to my running career; at the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The winner of the competition in 2003 received nothing more than a simple wooden trophy as their prize. Bragg, who is now 42 years old, recalls winning several sports coupons in 2010 before going back to his job as a chartered surveyor. Bragg is a chartered surveyor.
Have there been any notable shifts in your life? “Not at all. You’re back in the lift on Tuesday morning, making small talk on your way into the office. I could never be bothered trying to explain to people because 90% just wouldn’t get it.”
Even while this year’s victors will each take home 10,000 euros (about £8,600), the value of their success lies much more in the sponsorship and notoriety it brings them.
According to Schide, who is 31 years old, this makes it simpler to explain to a sponsor who isn’t completely familiar with the sport. “You can just say, ‘Hi, I’m Katie, I won UTMB,’ instead of saying, ‘Hi, I’m Katie, I was second at this race in Italy.'”
“Even though I reside in a very small village in France, my life has not been affected in the slightest by this fact. It’s not like people are trying to stop us on the street.”
She extends her advantage to 18 minutes at Courmayeur, Italy, which is the halfway point of the race after 53 miles and one of the critical aid stations. By the time Dauwalter is evading chainsaws at Notre Dame de la Gorge, she is already in the lead of the women’s field by a few seconds.
Because just one person is permitted to offer assistance at each of the race’s several checkpoints, this will be the first time that many runners will have the chance to get assistance from their support crew.
The majority of competitors stop to refuel and take a break, but Dauwalter, who arrives at 3:40 in the morning after spending almost 10 hours on the move, goes in and out of the bathroom in under two minutes. This includes the time she spends brushing her teeth.
More than an hour ago, the current leader of the men’s race, Jim Walmsley, made his way through this aid station, which was just a sports hall with picnic tables. Zach Miller, another American, was only a few seconds ahead of him at the time.
Walmsley has been regarded as an alpha guy on the trail, dominating races from the front, despite the fact that he speaks softly and appears to be slightly awkward in front of the camera.
Already a legendary figure in the sport of ultrarunning at the age of 33, his resume is packed with important victories, including three wins and a course record at Western States, and he is the current holder of the world record for the 50-mile distance with a time of 4 hours 50 minutes.
Before any of those accomplishments, Walmsley was likely best known as the man who led the 2016 Western States for 93 miles before taking a wrong turn, ending up on a highway, and finishing in 20th place. His gaffe was immortalized in the film ‘Found on 49,’ which chronicled his race and its aftermath.
However, he has not yet managed to win UTMB; he finished fifth in 2017, did not complete the race in 2018 and 2021, and led for two-thirds of the race in the most recent edition before falling to fifth place.
It is possible that Walmsley will have his best opportunity of winning the UTMB this year because the Spaniard Kilian Jornet, who is widely regarded as the best trail runner of all time and who has won the race four times, is sidelined with an injury.
Because of his fixation on winning the UTMB, he and his wife Jess uprooted their life and moved from Arizona to Areches, a small village located adjacent to the course. He now resides just down the street from his close buddy and training partner D’Haene, who won the most recent of his four titles in 2021.
“I sincerely hope that Jim will be able to win it. It would be wonderful for him, but I have a feeling that he won’t ever take home the UTMB trophy,” adds D’Haene. It’s not the most vital thing in the world. Perhaps in ten years, the things he has learned and experienced here in the mountains will be more significant.
Walmsley had a tear in his ankle ligaments in May, which caused him to miss the Mountain and Trail Running World Championships in June, and he has been curiously quiet on Strava in the weeks leading up to the UTMB competition. No one appears to know what kind of fitness Walmsley is in before the race.
Trail running and Chamonix are practically inseparable in the same way that cheese and wine are in France.
There can’t be many places in the world where a hotel chef wears running gear while on duty, making it that much easier to get out on the trails once the breakfast shift is over. Every other store in the town center sells sports gear. The streets are full of people with bulging quads and granite calves that would make England footballer Jack Grealish green with envy.
“The people are true fanatics, and they comprehend what’s going on. According to Bragg, who won UTMB despite the altitude difficulties he had as a result of living in Warwick at the time, there is an Alpine mentality and so much respect for the competitors.
“For 10 days in the calendar year you become an A-list celebrity,” says 31-year-old Evans, who left his triathlete wife Sophie Coldwell in charge of their four chickens, two dogs, and tortoise during his pre-race training camp in the Alps. “This comes at a price. Runners who are anonymous at home will be mobbed in Chamonix.”
Even the charming D’Haene, a Frenchman who lives in the neighborhood, had this to say about taking selfies: “You can get tired of it if you have 200 selfies a day and cannot walk one metre.”
Schide is of the same opinion, stating that “we are all people who spend a lot of time alone, then we’re suddenly thrust into these really intense situations with a ton of other people around.”
The first time I ran UTMB in 2019, I didn’t do a good job of managing my energy, and when I got to the start line, I was thinking, ‘I just want this to be over.’ You don’t want to feel like that at the start of a 100-miler.” “It can be exhausting. The first time I ran UTMB in 2019, I didn’t do a good job of managing my energy.”
The ability to deal with the additional focus and pressure is one piece of the UTMB puzzle that, for many of the best runners, may take years to master, if it can even be solved at all.
According to Evans, who served in the Army for eight years and ran his first ultramarathon in 2017 following a drunken bet with friends in a pub, winners require a “way bigger toolbox” than at other events. Evans completed his first ultramarathon because of the bet.
D’Haene stresses the significance of ensuring that all of your needs are met, saying, “It is very important.” “You have to be able to handle the peaks, the night, and the hiking. You have to be able to run quickly on the flats. You have to be okay running on technical terrain, in steep descents, and in runnable descents.”
To finish a race that is 100 miles long, regardless of its format, demands a pretty unique relationship with pain, both physically and mentally.
Before she began competing professionally in 2017, Dauwalter was a science teacher. She now utilizes races as an opportunity to hone her skills in the “pain cave.”
“For me it’s normal,” says 37-year-old D’Haene, who has done so many UTMB loops in training that he has lost count of how many times he has completed them. “For me it’s normal.” “Of course it’s difficult. Of course you get tired. You are destroyed. But even if it’s horrible pain, I love it. People pay to do that. People wait for three years to do that. They choose it. Why complain?” “Of course it’s difficult. Of course you get tired. You are destroyed.”
The race for Evans comes to a close with some difficulty in Courmayeur. After spending the most of the first fifty kilometers in the lead group along with Walmsley and Miller, he eventually falls behind the pack and winds up spending ten hours in a hospital in Italy. A few days later, he posts on Instagram the following message: “UTMB… see you next year.”
As they make their way toward Switzerland, Miller makes his move in the following part of the race and passes Walmsley, who is having trouble keeping up.
In the same way as Walmsley, UTMB is the itch that Miller wants to scratch: since 2016, he has had three finishes in the top 10, but he has never finished higher than fifth.
The 29-year-old driver is one of the most recognizable and well-liked individuals in the sport, and he is known for the signature moustache and backwards trucker’s cap that he always wears, even while he is competing.
He worked as a caretaker in a hiking cabin in the Colorado mountains for a period of five years, and he is now touring the United States in a bus that has been transformed to look like the one in the show Breaking Bad. He shows up at races and gives away free doughnuts and ice creams.
It has been said that Miller was seen clearing up trash during this year’s UTMB, and just a few hours after the event he was seen going around Chamonix with his girlfriend purchasing cheese.
His strategy, which consists of going all out from the very beginning in the vain hope that it will pay off, is quite appealing. “The fans really enjoy the aggressive style, but all of the coaches and sponsors are like,’maybe you should start conservatively.’ I’m kind of stuck with it now,” he grins. “The fans really love the aggressive style.”
When Miller reaches Champex-Lac, which is 79 miles into the race, he has a 12-minute lead over Walmsley, who is even momentarily passed by the Frenchman Germain Grangier, who will end up finishing in third place overall.
Dauwalter is on track to shatter her own UTMB record and is so far ahead of the women’s competition that only a seismic collapse can stop her from winning the race. While she was on the route, she momentarily stopped to greet her husband and parents by the wayside.
These priceless moments are all captured on camera for posterity. In point of fact, the coverage of the race is almost as remarkable as the exploits of the athletes.
Using a combination of drones, helicopters, and, most impressively, runners and e-bikers who somehow manage to record the top protagonists while keeping pace with them, the UTMB is broadcast live in a choice of seven different languages.
At aid stations, it’s not uncommon to see a moving horde of photographers and videographers surrounding the runners who are coming into view. Commentators with keen eyes pay close attention to people’s body language. Dozens of zoom lenses are aimed on athletes while they engage in seemingly mundane activities such as eating a banana or changing their T-shirt in front of the cameras. In 2019, viewers were treated to an up-close and personal look at Dauwalter throwing up live on TV.
There is unquestionably a need for it in the market. During the week of racing for the UTMB this year, there were a total of 52 million video views on the event’s official website and across its social media outlets. Nearly 2,000 pieces were published, more than double the amount from 2022, and there were approximately 436 accredited journalists.
In 2005, Lizzy Hawker’s mother did not have access to such a luxury. The day after the UTMB, she called the tourist information office in Chamonix to find out that her daughter had won the race. This victory was the first of a record five triumphs for one of the greatest British runners of all time.
However, the expansion of UTMB is not something that everyone approves of.
Trail running is a straightforward sport that has its roots in the local community. The elite runners are personable and willing to talk about their passion for the trails because they are mostly unaffected by the various layers of control. In how many other sports are there opportunities to give a fist bump to the top athletes in the world while they go about their business?
The Polettis have devoted their entire life to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), and they sincerely enjoy their work there. Michel, who was born in Chamonix and urged Catherine to move there after the two of them met at university in Grenoble, has finished the race seven times, the most recent occasion being at the age of 67 last year. Catherine and Michel met in Grenoble. This time around, he will make it up to the 25-mile mark before his time limit is reached.
The role of race director, previously held by Catherine, has been passed on to Isabelle, and David is now managing an app that delivers real-time updates from all points along the course. Catherine waits at the finish line of every race to congratulate the person who has won.
However, Ironman Group, which now owns a portion of UTMB and has been criticized for moves such as the introduction of a qualification system that encourages participants to sign up for more races and spend more money on those races, has been criticized for decisions such as these.
The entry fee for the UTMB is 355 euros (about $300), and that’s before you take into account the cost of traveling to and staying in one of the most expensive resorts in Europe. “It’s too big now. It smells of money,” says Dawa, who was born in Nepal but has worked as a bricklayer in Geneva for the past 25 years. Dawa is currently 53 years old.
“A lot of people are protective about the grassroots,” says Bowman, who is 37 years old and began racing ultras in 2009. Bowman has been competing in ultras since 2009. There is a contradiction between the fact that the UTMB in Chamonix is unabashedly about the spectacle as well as the brands and the commerce that surrounds it.
One of the few runners that competes at a fully professional level, Schide, had this to say: “We’re asking for more prize money, more support, and more doping control. At the same time, we don’t want money in the sport. It’s a huge point of contention.”
The environmental responsibility of UTMB has also come under fire. One of the most prominent trail runners in Britain, Damian Hall, who also happens to be an outspoken advocate for climate change, is among the individuals who have chosen to abstain from competing in the race because it is sponsored by an automobile manufacturer.
Michel Poletti agrees that the UTMB has a “huge responsibility” to lessen the impact on the environment and that the organization is “fighting to find a solution.” Despite this, Michel Poletti states that “our carbon footprint all week is the same as one day of the Tour de France.”
A moment ago, Dauwalter came to a stop to embrace an inflatable pizza. Soon after that, she will be pursued by a man who is shirtless while riding a dinosaur that blows up and is carrying a loudspeaker. At Col de la Forclaz, where Dauwalter occasionally needs to push her way through a swarm of ecstatic supporters who are blocking the path, fancy attire appears to be required.
“My ears were ringing,” she explains later on in the narrative. That has had to be one of the most awesome things I’ve ever been a part of, so a big thank you goes out to all of the crazy fans who came out to the track today.
The affection is also felt by Walmsley, who was adopted by a French family. “This year, more than any other, the ‘Allez Jim’ was off the charts. It most definitely felt like a home race.”
Walmsley overcomes a 12-minute disadvantage to Miller into a solid lead while they are in the midst of crossing the Swiss-French border. This is accomplished by his “stomach and legs back in the game” after “falling apart” earlier in the race. That cushion is never in danger, and he can thus afford to have pleasure in the journey down into Chamonix.
There he is, cheered on by many of the same spectators who sent the runners on their way the day before. For the final mile, they lean precariously over the fences to get a view of the first American man to win UTMB.
In the midst of a cacophony of cheering, applause, music, and an amped-up race announcer, Walmsley hobbles across the finish line in 19 hours and 37 minutes with a tired smile spreading across his face.
After successfully completing his UTMB assignment, he passed out in his wife’s arms. Soon enough, the tears start to fall.
Miller comes 21 minutes later to an incredible scream, running down the finishing chute in the manner that has become his trademark, and pointing at Walmsley as he crosses the line as a sign of appreciation for having finished second. He is the second person to break the sacred 20-hour mark.
There are not a lot of competitions where athletes are given chairs to sit on while they answer post-race interview questions. However, UTMB is not like other competitions in any way. When Walmsley is asked how he feels after claiming what is likely the greatest win of his career, he responds, “Terrible. I’ve felt terrible for a while.” Walmsley has felt terrible for a while.
He elaborates on that the following day while he is riding his bike around Chamonix in between his many media appointments. It’s a beautiful moment after a lot of hard work organizing my life to attain this objective, and there’s excitement, relief, and a lot of things coming together.
I get to be a part of the formidable American female contingent. They’ve proven their mettle here time and time again, and I couldn’t be happier to stand on their shoulders.
Approximately three and a half hours and forty minutes later, one of those ladies will cross the line by herself.
In spite of the fact that she is struggling through the final third of the race and at times is hardly able to pull herself back up on her feet and her smile has long since been replaced by a lifeless stare, Dauwalter says that she wills herself to cross the finish line.
Her entrance into Place de l’Eglise elicits the loudest cheer of the day since the crowd is aware that they are witnessing one of the greatest athletes of all time make history. The highlight reel that UTMB posted on Instagram of that moment has been seen 1.1 million times.
“This was totally crazy and really, really difficult – but it was worth it,” says a visibly exhausted Dauwalter just seconds before being transported to the medical tent for treatment.
“My legs are sad and throbbing and my brain is unwilling to do difficult things,” she recalls the next day. “I had run out of energy, and I was deep in my pain cave.” It didn’t matter how much effort I put into chipping away at it; the results weren’t producing any power.
It begs the question, which is self-evident: why would you subject yourself to such severe mental and bodily torment?
“My motivation for the sport is never about a finish place or a finish time,” says Dauwalter. “What are we capable of?” What are humans capable of? I want to put that theory to as many tests as I can.
It’s very fascinating what we can find out about ourselves when we sync up our brains and bodies and set them toward a common goal, because our bodies and brains are both incredible in their own right.
“This is the very thing that gets my blood pumping. My sincere wish is that everyone would be able to discover what it is that excites them in the same manner.
Every single one of the 1,757 people who crossed the finish line at UTMB had their own personal reason for doing so; every single one was cheered on their way home, no matter the time of day or night; and every single person had a unique experience to share.
There is Fu-Zhao Xiang of China, who comes in fourth place overall and whose boyfriend proposes to her as they cross the finish line. There is also Claude Sevin, who is 70 years old and jogs the last stretch to become this year’s oldest finisher.
Or fellow Frenchman Philippe Tran, whose body is deformed in spasms and leans to the left as he stumbles in with his family supporting him up. After 106 grueling miles and two nights in the Alps, he is the final finisher with a time of 48 hours and 16 minutes.
When it comes to him, the words of Dauwalter certainly ring true: “Any time we’re given the opportunity to try something difficult or crazy, we should absolutely take it.”