On Friday at 6 p.m. in Chamonix, France, a gun will signal the start of the 2018 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), a 100-mile race around the Mont Blanc Massif through Italy, Switzerland, and France. The race is one of the most competitive ultras in the world, as well as one of the most demanding, with more than 32,000 feet of elevation gain, including four passes that top out over 7,800 feet. Last year, runners endured snow, rain, and hail on their run through the high alpine, which is why race directors require every competitor to carry, among other things, an emergency blanket, a hat, gloves, and a rain shell. Here’s the other gear some pros plan to carry during the race.
The UTMB crown has proven elusive for American men, but Mammoth, California–based runner Tim Tollefson has gotten close, finishing third two years in a row. He finished second at the UTMB’s little brother, the 100K Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC), in 2015.
Hoka Evo Mafate ($170)
“This shoe is an all-around shredder with fantastic cushioning, quick responsiveness, and top-notch durability,” Tollefson says. The five-millimeter Vibram lugs offer just enough traction to excel on singletrack without sacrificing performance on fire roads and pavement, while Kevlar supports in the forefoot provide a secure fit.
Drymax Running Lite-Mesh Socks ($13)
Thanks to venting panels on the top of the foot and under the arch, these socks breathe well, keeping feet comfortable and dry. “I have worn them for over 20 hours without a single blister,” Tollefson says.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles ($170)
Made entirely of carbon, with a quick-deploy system that allows you to unfold and stiffen the pole with one motion, the Distance Carbon Z poles are “a must for late-race ascents up nasty cols,” Tollefson says. They are at home in a mountain race, where weight and fast transitions matter.
A road marathoner turned trail runner, Magdalena Boulet competed for the U.S. Olympic team and U.S. Cross-Country team before transitioning to trail ultras in 2013. She has since run her way onto podiums at many competitive U.S. ultras, including the 2015 Western States 100, her debut 100-miler. She finished 19th at the 2017 UTMB.
Hoka Speedgoat 2 ($140)
Designed in collaboration with ultra legend Karl Meltzer, the Speedgoats marry ultra-distance comfort with a responsive midsole. “They are incredibly cushioned while still being lightweight enough to actually race in,” Boulet says. “They also have an aggressive outsole for the technical trails.”
Stance Run 360 Uncommon Solid Run Crew Sock ($18)
“I love the fun designs and comfortable feel, and the slight compression they provide really helps keep the swelling down over 100 miles of running,” Boulet says. She’ll bring several different patterns and make a race-day decision about which pair suits her mood.
This tan straw hat has become Boulet’s signature—she rarely races without it. “It protects my face from the sun, keeps me cool during the heat, and reminds me to have fun during some difficult miles while racing,” she says. UTMB will be no exception.
South African–born Ryan Sandes has notched wins at races from Hong Kong to Australia to the U.S., including the 2011 Leadville 100 and 2017 Western States 100. He finished 21st at the 2017 CCC; this is his first time racing the full UTMB.
S/Lab Ultra ($180)
Salomon designed this shoe for former UTMB champ Francois D’Haene, who wanted kicks that could handle 100 miles of pounding without packing out. It’s no surprise they’re Sandes’s choice for this year’s race. “The shoe is lightweight but still gives me enough support for a long race and enough flexibility for technical terrain,” he says.
Salomon Bonatti Pro Waterproof Jacket ($200) and Pant ($120)
Each racer is required to carry a waterproof jacket and pants. Sandes’s choice: the Bonatti Pro models from Salomon. “They’re waterproof and really lightweight but still offer breathability, so that running doesn’t get super hot,” Sandes says. He’ll also have on hand the S/Lab Light, a lighter, thinner wind layer. “It’s great to take on and off during the race as conditions change,” he says.
Suunto 9 Watch ($600)
The newest sports watch from Suunto offers 25 hours of battery life in its least-efficient setting—“crucial for an ultra,” Sandes says—and up to 120 hours in the most conservative battery-saving mode. FusedTrack technology aggregates speed and direction of travel to retain navigational accuracy, even in settings that reduce the frequency of GPS pings to save battery life.
Clare Gallagher has a history of winning races the first time she enters them: in 2016 she won the Leadville 100, her first crack at that distance, and last year she won the 100-kilometer CCC, her first major European trail race.
Honey Stinger Ginsting Gels ($36 for 24, or $1.50 for one)
These honey-based gels with a ginseng kick will be an essential element of Gallagher’s fuel menu on race day. “I brought 50 of them,” she says. Another nutritional necessity: Coke. Gallagher estimates she’ll consume at least four liters.
Petzl Nao+ Headlamp ($200)
“I can’t see shit at night,” Gallagher says. With its 700-lumen bulb, the Nao “is clutch” for navigating UTMB’s many technical sections in the dark without getting injured.
Stephanie Howe Violett
With two Western States 100 podiums (one of them a win), a former Speedgoat 50K course record, and a top-ten UTMB finish under her belt, Howe Violett has enough ultra experience to know that she doesn’t need to stress over gear, though she says there are a few items she’s particular about.
Nathan Vapor Howe Pack, 12L ($180)
Launched in 2017, the Vapor Howe is Howe Violett’s ideal pack—because she helped design it. “Everything from the sizing to the fit to the location of the pockets” is made to Howe Violett’s specifications. The rear kangaroo pocket makes for quick access to stashed layers without losing stride.
The North Face Ultra Endurance Shoe ($120)
With its welded TPU upper and burly TPU toe bumper, the Ultra Endurance spells protection and durability. “It has enough grip, without big lugs that don’t work on wet rock, which is pretty important for UTMB,” with its high-alpine terrain and conditions, Howe Violett says. “There are a lot of lightweight shoes that would get destroyed in this race.”
Clif Shot Bloks, Salted Watermelon ($36 for 18)
Howe Violett, who has a Ph.D. in nutrition, knows a thing or two about food—and she’s learned through years of racing what works for her. Salted watermelon Shot Bloks are a staple. “I can eat them all day,” she says. Post-race, she’ll have her eye on some nachos. “The one thing I need after a race is salty food,” Howe Violett says. She’s already arranged for her friend, former UTMB champ Rory Bosio, to have a plate waiting at the finish line.