The qualifying requirements for Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), Europe’s marquee 102-mile ultra marathon, are unique and complex — and, some might say, brazen. They also underwent significant changes for the 2015 season. To help avoid disappointment or mid-season race shuffling (as I just went through), I thought I would provide an overview, and some insight and context.
To register for the 2017 UTMB, you must earn 9 points (or 15 new points) by completing three official UTMB qualifiers during the preceding two years. Points are based on race length and vertical change. Typically, earning 9 points will require one of these combinations:
- 100M, 100M, 50K
- 100M, 100K, 50M
- 100K, 100K, 100K
For other races in the UTMB series — e.g., the CCC — fewer points are needed.
Since the race is oversubscribed, acceptance into UTMB is not guaranteed even with 9 points. For the 2016 race, there were 5519 registrations for 2300 slots, so only about 40 percent of registrations were successful. Rejected applicants have better odds in future lotteries than first-time applicants.
Only official UTMB qualifiers earn you points. A searchable database of official races is available on the UTMB website.
To determine if you have earned points from previous races, search your name in the International Trail Running Association (ITRA) runner database. Point races will be marked; no marks, no points:
The process by which a race becomes an official qualifier is the subject of some controversy. It is managed by ITRA, not UTMB. However, the UTMB race organizers — Catherine and Michael Polleti — reportedly have strong influence over ITRA, raising the question of ITRA’s true purpose: advancing the interests of the for-profit UTMB race series, or the sport in general.
To become a UTMB qualifier, a race must be “evaluated” by ITRA, using a GPX file of the course. Then, the race must pay a fee to ITRA of 100 Euros (currently $110 USD). The fee applies per course; for example, in the case of Run Rabbit Run, fees would amount to 200 Euros, for the 50- and 100-mile courses. Qualifier status does not auto-renew; races must reapply each year, and pay the fee(s), too.
The qualifying process is not reciprocal. For example, Hardrock considers UTMB a qualifier; but since Hardrock has not requested evaluation or paid the ITRA fee, it’s not a UTMB qualifier. If it seems odd that one of the hardest and most coveted ultras in the US is not a UTMB qualifier, it should.
Hardrock is not the only high-profile race that is not a UTMB qualifier. Other biggies not on the list include Bandera, Barkley, Big Horn, HURT, IMTUF, Leadville, Run Rabbit, San Juan Solstice, Sean O’Brien, Vermont, Wasatch, among others.
At least a few of these races have intentionally decided to NOT become a UTMB qualifier. To paraphrase: “UTMB created its qualifying system and it should bear the cost for it, not us. Plus, we don’t need to be a qualifier to fill our race — we already have a lottery and a waitlist as it is.” Some race directors might add a few 4-letter words, too, as the evaluation process seems inconsistent with the inclusive and supportive vibe of the US ultra running community.
With a few exceptions, one commonality among UTMB qualifiers in the US is that few runners have heard of them. On a run this morning I told a long-time friend — who is an elite female ultra runner and who has been directing a race in the Seattle area for years — that I’m racing Silverheels 100 next month. Her response: “I haven’t heard of that one before. Where is it?” Essentially, directors of lesser known races are paying ITRA for an extra marketing story that will help to fill their entry rosters.
UTMB guarantees entry for any runner who has:
- Met the 9-point standard, and
- Has an ITRA ranking of 750+ (650+ for women)
Currently, I meet the ITRA ranking, but need to earn an additional 6 points this year to qualify for the 2017 UTMB. So long as I finish Silverheels and then Indian Creek 50M in October, which are both part of Human Potential Running Series, I’m in.
Originally, I had planned on defending my podium finish at Run Rabbit Run in September, but decided that a different race and UTMB entry was a better plan. Ironically, in doing so I traded a very elite field for one that currently lacks a single big name. That seems unsustainably counterproductive.