Live from UTMB: who’s starting this weekend, and who’s the favorite to win?

 Pau Capell breaking 20 film
Pau Capell breaking 20 film

In just under 24 hours, thousands of the world’s most ambitious trail runners will lace up their best trail running shoes and set off from Chamonix in the hopes of securing a spot on the UTMB podium. This iconic race is generally considered to be one of the most difficult trail ultra marathons in the world and we’re here in the French Alps with Merrell to cover all the action while testing out their brand new Agility Peak 5 shoes.

What is the UTMB?

If you don’t already know, the UTMB course covers a ferocious 106 miles (177 km) and entails a whopping 32,700 feet (10,000 meters) of incline, which means the runners will cover more elevation than they would climbing Everest. Encircling the Mont Blanc Massif, the route takes competitors in a counterclockwise direction from France, through mountainous areas of Italy and Switzerland before returning back to Chamonix. The maximum cutoff for the race is 46.5 hours.

Pau Capell breaking 20 film

What’s different this year?

Just last week, UTMB organizers announced a small course change to the very last section of the route, which adds just over a mile to the typical course. Furthermore, this year’s race starts a bit later than usual. The forecast looks great for the weekend, but at this altitude, anything can happen and we’re certain every runner and spectator here comes well-prepared with a waterproof running jacket.

Who’s the favorite to win?

We were looking forward to a repeat effort from last year’s champion, Killian Jornet, who in 2022 became the first runner to complete the course in under 20 hours, but sadly he had to withdraw earlier this summer due to an injury. That said, there’s still plenty of exciting talent to keep an eye on.

Men’s favorites for the 2023 UTMB

With Jornet out of the way and heaps of incumbent and debut talent, it’s impossible to predict who’ll get back to Chamonix ahead of the pack, but here are a few top picks to watch:

  • Mathieu Blanchard: The French runner came in just six minutes behind Jornet last year, and finished third in 2021.

  • Petter Engdahl: The Swedish runner is debuting at the UTMB this year but previous wins at the CCC, OCC and Transvulcania Ultra have him tapped as a runner to watch.

  • Tom Evans: This UK runner is having a great year - he won the Western States 100 a couple of months ago and placed third at the UTMB last year.

  • Zach Miller: This will be the US runner’s seventh UTMB attempt and his career so far includes two DNFs and three top 10 finishes, including last year when took fifth place after a long recovery period from injury.

  • Jim Walmsley: The American is the Western States 100 world record holder. In 2017, he debuted at the UTMB and came fifth. That success was followed by two DNFs before placing fourth 2022, so this year anything could happen.

inov-8 TRAILFLY ULTRA G 280 runners

Women’s favorites for the 2023 UTMB

A few of the women’s top picks to win including Ruth Croft and Clare Gallagher are no longer starting tomorrow, but here some of the runners to keep an eye on:

  • Eszter Csillag: The Hungarian debuted in a respectable fifth place in 2022 and looks to be on the rise, with a recent third place finish at the Western States 100.

  • Courtney Dauwalter: The American two-time champion is easily the top pick, especially after winning and setting new course records at both the 2023 Western States 100 and the Hard Rock 100. Blink and you’ll miss her!

  • Katharina Hartmuth: The German is debuting at the UTMB this year, but she’s no stranger to placing on the podium, from the Swiss Alps 100 Mile to the Eiger Ultra Trail 101k, and she took second in this year’s Trail World Championships 80k.

  • Blandine L’Hirondel: The French runner says she’s fully recovered from a foot injury which hampered her efforts in this year’s Trail World Championships. She’s the two-time trail running world champion, so we have high hopes for her.

Whether it’s returning favorites or fresh-faced newcomers that take the podium this weekend, we’re expecting an exciting race and wish the best of luck to every athlete out there on the trail.