© Copyright – 2020 – Athletics Illustrated

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the number one trail race in the world, The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). Scheduled for August 24-31 of this year the 18th running of the event was cancelled because the organizers were unable to ensure that the event could be safely undertaken considering all the social distancing protocols that they would need to meet for athletes and everyone else involved. 

UTMB founder Catherine Poletti said in a press release on the UTMB website,

“In the mountains, we are familiar with risk and commitment, when the conditions are not right, it’s more reasonable to turn back and go home. Risk-taking is part of our culture, as is knowing your limits. To give up is to show courage. When you give up an ascent, you know that there will be other opportunities to come back, when the conditions are right, when you are ready, when the storm is over.”

Although this comes as no surprise to the casual onlooker, it has become increasingly obvious that large scale sporting events are having to postpone or cancel altogether to comply with national and international rulings on large scale gatherings during the pandemic. Many eagerly waiting participants were holding out hope that the event would find a way to go forward.

The UTMB and it’s numerous sister events are not something an athlete casually signs up for on a whim. It requires a few years of racing to accumulate enough points in order to apply for the lottery, so the UTMB organizers did not make the decision lightly. Michel Poletti, another founder of the race commented, 

“Trail running is about meeting other people. It’s taking the time to chat at the aid station, it’s the freedom of movement. Because of the current situation, it has become difficult to organize races that offer this pleasure and these possibilities. We have of course imagined an event adjusted to the sanitary rules, with staggered starts, less runners and social distancing at the aid stations. In such conditions, the UTMB® Mont-Blanc would not be the one we know, and above all, the one each participant would like to experience. Taking part in the UTMB® Mont-Blanc implies a long process for runners, each of them expects to experience a full and satisfying race. Let’s be patient.” 

Event organizers have informed participants that they will receive a refund of 55% of their registration fees and will have a place reserved for them in the same race in either 2021, 2022 or 2023.