American is a model of stubborn determination as he triumphs in Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc at his fifth attempt, while Courtney Dauwalter enjoys her third women’s win
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This was Jim Walmsley’s mantra ahead of winning the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in a course record of 19hr 37min 43sec on Saturday (Sept 2) in Chamonix.
On a mission to win arguably the world’s most prestigious ultra-running race, the 33-year-old failed to finish the mountainous 101-mile course in 2018 and 2021, finished fifth in 2017 and fourth in 2022.
In May last year he moved to Arêches in France with his wife, Jess, to embrace what he called “the mountain life”. Narrowly missing out on a podium place last year was progress but he described it as “unfulfilling”.
So this year he has completely focused on the UTMB – with training going well apart from a month on the sidelines in May due to a sprained ankle – and it paid off as he took 12 minutes off Kilian Jornet’s course record this weekend to become the first American man to win the event.
Walmsley ran a patient race in the early stages as Britain’s Tom Evans – racing three months after his Western States 100 victory – took to the front.
It was not to be Evans’ race, though, as he had problems approaching Courmayeur and was sent to hospital for observation but is reported to be recovering well.
The race passes through France, Italy and Switzerland and Walmsley endured some bad patches as fellow American Zach Miller began to force the pace in the second half of the race. Walmsley dug in, though, to cut the gap on Miller as he passed him on a descent from La Giete to Trient.
“I was pretty strong on the hikes,” said Walmsley, “and where I live now has steep mountains and good hiking and that’s where my focus has been. In the closing stages I thought I could take some time back if my stomach settled down.”
Twelve months earlier Walmsley made a strong move at around 53 miles to open a gap on Jornet and he enjoyed a 15-minute lead at one point but he fell apart in the final stages as Jornet stormed past to clock what was, at the time, a course record of 19:49:30.
But this time – and in Jornet’s absence due to injury – the HOKA athlete held his form to come home with more than 21 minutes to spare over Miller, who was also a model of determination as he made the podium for the first time in six attempts to become only the third runner to break the 20-hour barrier with 19:58:58.
Walmsley’s first words at the finish line were: “I feel terrible!”
He added: “I’ve felt terrible for a while. I had a really tough spell when Zach made a push and I just had to wait it out, hoping for things to turn around.”
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With Miller runner-up, it meant a US one-two with Germain Grangier of France third in 20:10:52.
On becoming the first American man to win, Walmsley paid tribute to the American female athletes who had won at the UTMB, saying: “It just feels like I’m adding my name to join the strong US women’s contingent.
“You can’t take it away from them. They’ve done it again and again here and I’m happy to stand on their shoulders.”
Indeed, an American woman won at UTMB again this year as Courtney Dauwalter took her third victory in 23:29:14.
Impressively she did it in the same summer as setting course records at Western States and Hardrock ultra-races too.
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