Testimonials from First Time UTMB® Runners

Every year, thousands of dedicated trail runners descend on the picturesque French resort of Chamonix, pumped and ready to take to the alps in an ultimate test of endurance: the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Named the ‘World Cup of ultra-trail running’, the week-long event attracts 10,000 runners across seven different races.
While the legendary UTMB® race, with its distance of 170km and ascent of 10,000 metres, holds iconic status, there are also a range of other races designed to offer a taste of what it takes. The De Martigny-Combe à Chamonix (MCC) race, for example, is a 40km course with no less than 2,300m of ascent, and although it’s the shortest race at UTMB® , that certainly doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. Here, four first-timers to the race, explain how they prepared, what they experienced and whether they’d go back for more.
Photo of Celine and her father
On the left Celine Bruere and her father behind coming down from Col de Balme. On the right view from Col de Balme.

Celine Bruere - e-com marketing specialist at Columbia Based in Geneva

I’ve been a cross-country runner since my childhood, but prior to the MCC race, my longest run had been five hours. I knew it would be a long day full of effort, but former participants had told me how exhilarating they’d found the experience. I wanted to challenge myself, but as I started training without building up properly, I ended up having to recover from tendonitis. It meant that I only had two months left to train, but when some of my friends started doubting whether I’d do it, that spurred me on and I knew I’d complete it.

On the day, the weather was perfect and there was an incredible team spirit along the way, from both my colleagues who were also running and the Columbia volunteers on the route. I didn’t expect the day to be so much about enjoying the moment and I was happy I didn't experience any pain. My father ran the final 14km, from L’Argentiére to the finish line alongside me, and it’s a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I’ve definitely adopted trail running since UTMB® and find it really helps me reconnect with nature, but I think my next adventure might be a marathon that some friends are persuading me to do.
Lukas Irmler

Lukas Irmler - slackliner and brand ambassador for Columbia Based in Germany

I’m generally fit and very active in the mountains but I wasn’t a trail runner before I started training for the MCC at the start of this year. For me, the greatest challenge was in the distance rather than the altitude, so I built up my running form by increasing the distance and length of my weekly runs.

To be honest, I was a bit intimidated beforehand: I am full of respect for the race and I expected it to be hard. It was really cool though to experience the vibe. I found the race really fun and rather easy until around 30km in; then my legs started to cramp and I really had to fight to finish. The arrival in Chamonix was crazy with so many people cheering, yelling your name and giving you a lot of energy back. I finished in just under six hours, which was exactly what I was hoping for, so I was really proud.

I’m already looking for another race - maybe with more elevation but not much more distance. Having a race to work towards is always great for motivation for training and it’s a cool experience to be part of such a big crowd of likeminded people.

I will keep on running, especially trail running, as I’ve really found a love for this way of moving through the mountains. It’s also very enjoyable during the summer time.
Julia Bauer

Julia Bauer - marketing manager: east region for Columbia Based in Munich

I started training in mid-June, and in retrospect, maybe I should have trained more. I was on holiday in Greece for two weeks, where it was too hot to run, and then my second Covid-19 jab knocked me out for a week. So, in total I managed five trail runs before MCC, but as I’m a frequent hiker and run around 10km once or twice a week regularly, I hoped I’d still be able to make it.

As it was my first trail running race and first visit to Chamonix, I had no expectations, but I also didn’t realise how great an experience it would be. I enjoyed it all: the landscape, the people clapping and yelling along the race and pushing myself hard.

I found the last four kilometres to be the most difficult. I thought the last 10km would be quite relaxed, but it turned out that six of those kilometres were over rocks and roots in the forest. It was more like climbing than running, so when I arrived on the flat, my knees hurt and I had cramps. I had really wanted to complete the race in under eight hours, but the last four kilometres were tough: I had to run 500m, then walk 500m. The support from the people along the road and my work colleagues really pushed me to keep running. I made it in eight hours and six minutes, but I was so proud and very happy. I think my scream as I crossed the finishing line could be heard all the way up Col de Balme.

I felt quite emotional and was so relieved as I had put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, even though I knew I hadn’t trained much. I would definitely do the race again: I love being in the mountains. I’ll carry on running and hiking - I’ll even combine the two and throw in some trail running from time to time.

Mathieu Dietlin - talent acquisition and L&D partner for Columbia Based in Geneva

The last time I’d run, before the MCC, was a year ago. I’d had ankle surgery so I couldn’t really run, but I managed to train by hiking. It meant that I’d be able to climb and not suffer with the elevation on the day. Prior to the surgery, I had been a trail runner so I knew the race would be tough (especially for someone who hadn’t ran in a long time), but I also expected beautiful scenery and a special atmosphere, all of which was correct.

I would recommend the race to any runner or trail runner. It was such a nice experience. I really enjoyed the beautiful scenery, but even more so, the atmosphere and the public cheering us on over the whole course. I would do the MCC again, and once my ankle issue is sorted, I’ll keep on running for sure.