In part two of our UTMB series, we break down the DNF stats from 2015 to 2017, and highlight the key takeaways, the danger CPs for dropping and missing cut-offs, as well as some useful expert tips to give yourself the best possible chance of finishing UTMB 2018, and finishing strong!
(scroll to the end for some great pro tips from our experts)
The Key Stats
Over 2015 to 2017, the average DNF rate was a whopping 38%. At 171km and 10,000m D+, this ain't no Sunday stroll! There's some wide variability, though, with only 33% DNFs in 2017 in chilly weather (6-14C) and a snow-affected shorter course, while a baking 2015 with 14-25C temps saw the DNF rate skyrocket to 43%.
Men have a better chance of finishing, with average 37% DNF rates, against 43% for the ladies. However, men tend to drop out earlier, with 34% of their drops happening by Lac Combal at 67km. For women, only 29% have pulled out by then.
In order, these checkpoints have the highest percentage of all DNFs:
- Courmayeur 17.7% - big milestone and easy transport out
- Arnouvaz 15.4% - 2017 was particularly high with the cold weather
- La Fouly 13.9% - the legs are starting to get really tired now...
- Contamines 10.5% - the first major CP after things have started badly
- Lac Combal 8.9% - arriving early/mid-morning after a rough first night
Unsurprisingly, mountain checkpoint DNFs were only 8% of the total, despite being 40% of all checkpoints. Too easy to pull out when your warm comfy bed isn't a big mission away!
Worried About Cut-Offs?
Like most races, the speed required to stay ahead of the cut-offs slows as you progress in the race. The earlier sections to St Gervais and Les Contamines require over 5kph, and closer to 8kph adjusted for climbing (100m D+ = 1km, in line with ITRA conversions). This slows to around 3kph (or 5kph adjusted) in the latter stages, but this can be just as tough on tired legs.
If you're a bit slower and racing the cut-offs, pay particulary attention to the sections into Arnouvaz and Lac Combal. After the first 60km, these stages have the highest adjusted required speeds at 5.9kph and 6.2kph, and also have the highest number of runners cut-off.
The key is getting to - and leaving! - the Champex Lac checkpoint at 134km. Maybe it's because there's "only" 47km to go, but push on from here in the knowledge that you now have a 94% chance of finishing.
+50 year old runners have a much higher DNF rate generally but, amazingly, have an even better probability of getting to Chamonix once they leave Champex Lac.
Pro Tips to Avoid the Dreaded DNF
We spoke to a few elite runners for their sagely advice on staying strong and getting to the finish line in good time and in one piece.
Australia's Majell Backhausen is a Chamonix pro with the results to prove it - 22nd UTMB (Ultra Trail My Birthday!) in 2015 and 6th TDS in 2016. "It's an incredible feeling to succeed in a 'race' but you can only feel the highest of high emotions after you go to the darkest places and work through the hardest of times. You have to be real honest in the moment. If you're injured and will sustain permanent damage, don't push through, but if you are just cold, hungry, tired, moving slow, hair is messed up, stomach not right, ran out of toilet paper, lonely, boring, something kinda hurts etc, just keep going. Go out there for a journey and don't run away from the experience when the real journey begins!"
Great Britain's Emily Woodland cruised to 26th place in 32:28 in 2017, and advises, "You have to strike the right balance between not rushing the CPs, because you have to take time to make sure you are properly fuelled, but not getting too comfortable either. And you need a great crew who know when to give you a kick up the bum 😆!"
Marie McNaughton from New Zealand is a regular top 10 finisher in Ultra Trail World Tour events, even finishing 10th in the 2016 tour. She's a firm believer that we always have more to give - "Don't listen to the voices. Even when you are pretty sure you need to stop, you can always go further. We can always walk a few more KMs so get yourself to the next CP. More often than not, things turn around and you don't pull out. When you think you are done, you are probably only at 40%."
T8's own John Ellis has never DNF'd a race and puts it down to a number of factors. "You need to train hard and prepare well as, by the time you get to the start line, the race is 80% over. And just remember there will be, at most, only three or four key moments where you need to be strong and leave that warm CP. Take a little rest but commit to walking out and keeping going. Dropping makes you feel good for an hour, but finishing is something you get to keep forever."
Over to Singapore and ex-Salomon runner Jeri Chua from the awesome Red Dot Running Company was one of the first Asian runners to finish UTMB (and TDG, the crazy nutter!). Her advice is, "Use visual aids to keep the DNF demons at bay and write your reasons somewhere easily accessible - 'This is what you signed up for', 'Pain is French bread, suck it up, buttercup' or 'You won't regret this at the finish line'. Pictures of your kids, spouse or cat might also help - 'Do it for Tibbles!'. And keep a DNF checklist: Am I bleeding? Anything broken? Will I die if I carry on. If you can answer 2 out of 3, then you're probably good to go 😉 after a 5-10 minute rest.