It was a historic year at the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc, the Super Bowl of trail running held in France each year since 2003.
Pau Capell of Spain became the first non-French runner to win since Kilian Jornet in 2011. Meanwhile, Golden’s Courtney Dauwalter brought home the fourth American win in the women’s field in a dominant performance after eliminating an early gap behind China’s Yao Miao, who blew up after her early lead.
Capell finished in 20 hours, 19 minutes, 7 seconds on the 106-mile course that features roughly 33,000 feet of climbing. He was 48:49 ahead of France’s Xavier Thevenard, the 2018 UTMB winner who will once again run next year’s Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run in the San Juan Mountains. New Zealand’s Scott Hawer was third, 1:28:57 behind Capell’s record time.
Durango’s own Jason Schlarb, a 2016 Hardrock co-champion along with Jornet, was the first U.S. man to the finish line, as he placed 19th overall in 24:27:59. Schlarb also will run Hardrock next year.
Schlarb said he realized early in the race that his body would not perform at maximum level. He still persevered to the finish, even after he got off course and had to run an extra mile.
“My life’s worst moment in running was seeing my son, Felix, cry when I dropped out of (UTMB) in 2016,” Schlarb said in a post to Instagram. “I would crawl the 170K before I did that again. I accepted that I would complete the race despite being in a humbling 30th or further back position.
“By fighting every second of the way, through some tears, laughter and smiling, I kept on. ... Through the love and support of everyone who believed and still believes in me, I was rewarded with a finish. A surprise 1st American finisher at UTMB is special to me despite not being in an expected time or place. This race and UTMB will now forever be one of the best experiences of my running life.”
Durango’s Kyle Curtin, who edged Dauwalter at the 2018 Tahoe 200, was the second American man to the finish and third American overall, this time behind Dauwalter, as he finished in 26:12:30. That was good for 43rd overall.
“I ran conservatively from the beginning, just worried about blowing up my legs in the first half,” Curtin said in an email to The Durango Herald. “That strategy worked pretty well. After the sunrise went I stopped taking pictures and started treating this like a race around Mile 65, I felt really fresh. I think I paced this perfectly.”
Curtin had plenty left in his tank on the final three climbs that follow a 12-mile descent. With roughly 10,000 feet of elevation gain and loss in the final 20 miles, Curtin had the legs to charge to the finish and moved from 192nd to 43rd overall.
“This was a tough year for the top-ranked American men,” Curtin said. “As a fan of the sport, it’s tough to see so many of the top-ranked dudes not have a good day out there. But, as a participant, it was validation of my race strategy and the year of training focused on this race every time I passed a big-name runner. I haven’t come close to processing this result, but I’m deeply satisfied and optimistic about my next adventure, although I’m not sure what that’ll be yet.”
Dauwalter, who is expected to be in the San Juan Mountains next weekend for the Imogene Pass Run, placed 21st overall and first among women in 24:36:24. She became the fourth American woman to win the race. She is the first American woman to win since Rory Bosio earned a second consecutive victory in 2014. Kristin Moehl, who won the first edition of the race in 2003, also won in 2009, and Nikki Kimball won in 2007.
An American man has still yet to win the UTMB 106-mile event.
Daulwalter is also expected to make an appearance at Backcountry Experience in Durango next weekend after Imogene, and she, too, will race at Hardrock next summer.
“Both (Schlarb and Dauwalter) have been doing some amazing things recently, and their results really cement what high-caliber athletes they are,” Curtin said. “I couldn’t be happier for them, and that means Colorado claimed the top-three American spots and Durango gets two men for this stacked race. I don’t think I know how to actually put it into words yet, but having these two competitors and friends do so well makes me so proud.”