Western States Champ Tom Evans Races UTMB With Nothing to Lose

This article originally appeared on Trail Runner

Tom Evans has got a whole lot to gain but nothing to lose in his return to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB).

The British sensation races UTMB this weekend free of pressure and with an open playbook after he already blazed to an emphatic victory at the Western States 100 in June.

“Of course I want to win, but for me, UTMB is just a bonus,” says Evans.

“If I win, I win. If I don’t, I don't. This situation is liberating for me, and that’s how I get the best of myself.”

Evans piled his chips into California’s iconic Western States 100 race. Six months of training laser-focused on the run into Auburn came good with a 24-minute win in the fourth-fastest time on record.

With his Adidas-Terrex team contractual targets and obligations now fulfilled, the 31-year-old can run wild in his quest to go better than his third place of last year and pull a rare Western States-UTMB double. Only Kilian Jornet previously achieved the feat in 2011. The Spanish great won a snow-altered California race before he claimed his third of four titles at the so-called “Super Bowl” of mountain running. American runner Courtney Dauwalter will also be doing the double, just weeks after also setting the course record at the Hardrock 100.

“I sacrificed so much for Western States, and if I came second, I'd have been disappointed. But for UTMB I can go and run and have fun, and enjoy it,” says Evans.

“Of course, if it goes to plan it's an amazing fairy tale story. No one’s ever done Western States and UTMB before. Do I think it’s possible? Yes. Have I done everything I possibly can do to make sure I’m ready? Yes.”

RELATED: Trail Runner’s Guide to UTMB 2023

Free To Perform

Many point toward Evans and Frenchman Mathieu Blanchard as favorites ahead of Jim Walmsley, Zach Miller, and Petter Engdahl for the 106-mile trek through France, Italy, and Switzerland.

Mountain “GOAT” Jornet won’t defend his 2022 title due to injury, shifting the gravitational pull for the front-runners.

Evans will toe the startline in Chamonix on Friday night with a base built for Western States finessed with a three-week boot camp in the French Alps.

“I think there’s a chance I could win, and I'm prepared to run as if I'm going to win. That's the guarantee,” he said. “I am prepared to empty the tank and I’m happy to go all-in because if things go wrong, I genuinely don’t care.”

Evans only confirmed last month he’d return to UTMB. With a Western States buckle in his trophy cabinet, Europe’s de facto trail running world championship is just a very high-hype bonus round.

“I genuinely wasn’t planning on racing UTMB. The plan for this year was all-around racing Western States. Then once Western States went well, it very quickly planted a seed of 'why not?” he said.

“So now this is just an amazing opportunity to go and have fun. I can run free and don’t have to be worried, whereas a lot of runners put a lot of emphasis on this as their main race, their sole focus for the year. That’s so highly pressured.”

RELATED: Jeff Colt is Having Fun - And Running Fast

Tuning Up For UTMB in Tignes

Pulling the Western States-UTMB double is considered one of the toughest challenges in ultra running.

A tight 10-week turnaround between two totally contrasting events stretches athletes’ capacity to recover and exposes their adaptability to different terrain.

Western States is fast, net-downhill and mostly runnable. UTMB is a true mountain marathon encompassing 30,000 feet of gain over relentlessly technical alpine trail.

“The demands of the event for UTMB are very different to Western States, but I almost see it as like an iceberg. With Western States I built this incredible base fitness,” Evans said. “I’ve come into this race being the most consistent I ever have, with the most amazing foundation.

“Yes, I wasn’t working on the unique skills like hiking and running on technical terrain, but for me that's just the ‘nice to have’, tip of the iceberg stuff.”

Many UTMB-focused athletes spent the whole season pounding their poles through the Alps to prepare for the quad-busting descents and lung-burning climbs.

Meanwhile, Evans spent months in Flagstaff, Arizona, or at home in the UK ticking off a training plan 100 percent tailored to Western States. He tuned his top-end with marathon-style track sessions and worked with Maurten to refine his fueling strategy.

The result was what he hailed “his best season of training yet”. 120+ mile weeks from January through June and podium finishes in the 10km British cross-country championships, the 100km Black Canyon race, and the 50km Ultra-Trail Snowdonia paved his path to becoming the first British male to win Western States.

RELATED: Kilian Jornet Withdraws from UTMB

Unlike the hordes of ultrarunners that descended on Chamonix this month, Evans chose the high altitude, cooler skies, and calmer conditions of Tignes for a three-week mountain-running tune-up.

“I get pretty nervous before races. It way easier for me that I can isolate myself up here in the mountains where I can really focus,” he said.

Specific sessions adapting to climbing, fuelling, and running through the night send Evans into Chamonix with the wind at his back.

The day he spoke to Trail Runner, he already spent time riding his indoor bike trainer in a heat-adaption suit. Several hours after the call, he went for a 90-minute night-time run to finesse his gear for the overnight haul of UTMB.

“I’m genuinely excited about going down to Chamonix and soaking up the atmosphere right now. If I went earlier I would have got super nervous. Everything would have got blunted, but here in Tignes, I feel like I’ve got really sharp,” he said. “I feel I’m as ready as I possibly can be.”

‘There is genuinely no pressure. I’ve maxed everything out this year’

Evans embodies a new approach to trail running with his scientific, “no stone unturned” approach informed by collaboration with coaches from triathlon and WorldTour cycling.

And the world of trail running is no doubt a changing place as interest in what was a niche discipline continues to grow.

UTMB in some ways embodies that development. It attracts the hype and the sponsors, but sometimes also the controversy.

The introduction of a qualification system that funnels runners into its UTMB “World Series” events already rocked the ultra world.

And the running community was again divided when the race announced car manufacturer Dacia as a title sponsor for its 2023 edition. Several leading runners boycotted the race, and Jornet signed the petition they started.

RELATED: Ruth Croft Opens Up on Her Build Towards UTMB

Evans told Finn Melanson’s The Singletrack podcast last week he’d received direct backlash at his commitment to take to the start Friday, and that other athletes have suffered similar. A group of top runners - including Evans - are working behind the scenes to find an optimal solution.

In the meantime, Evans is keeping his focus on the race and his quest for a fairytale run into Chamonix town center.

“It would be a dream victory if it happens,” he said. “For me, there is genuinely no pressure, no expectation. I’ve maxed everything out this year. I’ve achieved all my goals, there's nothing to lose.”

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