Cledara talks with Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc’s founders

What does it take to organise the world’s best trail runs? We talked to the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® (UTMB) founders to find out.
Cledara talks with Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc’s founders

We were proud sponsors of the first ever Val D’Aran by UTMB® race on the 9th-11th July.

During our time in the Pyrenees we also managed to volunteer for the event and grab some time with UTMB founders, Catherine and Michel Poletti.

Here’s what we learnt.

1. Tell us about UTMB. You now have races in China, Thailand, Spain and, of course, the grand race at Mont Blanc. How did it all begin?

At the turn of the millennium, trail running only involved a few enthusiasts. So back in October 2002 when we, a group of 9 friends, registered the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® on the international calendar, we could never have imagined how the event would grow. 

But we had a combination of powerful ingredients: determination and a clear goal.

The goal was to complete the tour of Mont Blanc, leaving Chamonix to pass through three countries (France-Switzerland-Italy) before arriving back in Chamonix without turning around! 

Today trail running is open to everyone and based on the pursuit of freedom. It brings people closer, forging bonds through fundamental human and sporting values.

2. What makes the UTMB special?

The UTMB is more than just a race, it’s an event which creates strong links with ALL the participants. 

From the runners, volunteers and communities involved – to the locals, partners and media. Not forgetting the runners’ friends and families, including those who are not present at the event (via LiveTrail and UTMB®Live). The same passion is shared by everybody throughout the year. 

Val D'Aran race bell

Since 2016, the UTMB brand has brought together several events in the world. And from 2022, a whole sport series – the UTMB World Series – will bring together between 35 and 40 events on 6 continents, where the runners' communities are located.

3. You mentioned values. How important are UTMB’s values to your events?

We put a great deal of energy into guaranteeing the quality of our events for everyone involved. We believe there are no limits on quality.

To stay on the right track it’s vital to maintain the human values that bring us together. Equity, respect for the environment, respect for others and oneself, solidarity, fair-play, lucidity: so many different values which are dear to us and which we would like to share. 

To do this we created several committees to discuss the problems and propose solutions. These solutions are not only intended for the improvement of the event, but to be shared more widely.

4. How do you aim to improve the world of trail running?

Step by step, the evolution of the events has led us to become more and more professional. Now, the UTMB® Group is a team of 40 full-time employees with expertise in marketing and communications, IT, sales, events and more.

To continue improving the world of trail running, we need more races, so that runners can gain experience closer to home in qualifying races.

We need trail running events all over the world. That way communities of runners can find races with the same quality standards and values as the UTMB Mont-Blanc, but also travel less to travel better with less expense, more time for tourism and fewer carbon emissions.

5. What connection do you see between high performance in sports and in business?

To us, there are a number of parallels. 

In business:

  • You have to set objectives and organise processes and the right teams to reach these objectives, then work by applying the defined procedures and regularly checking that you are progressing towards the objective. 
  • You have to be ready on D-day.
  • You must not give up.
  • You must remember to rest before you are overcome by fatigue.

In high-performance sports it's more or less the same plan!

6. You put technology at the service of trail runners. What’s your point of view around the potential of tech to reshape the sport? 

If we consider that organising an event means providing services to runners, but also to other communities (volunteers, local residents, territories hosting the events, media, partners), then technology allows us to be more qualitative. We must learn how to adapt to the tools of our time.

Val D'Aran finish line night time

Technology also creates new markets for manufacturers who can design and develop new products that facilitate the development of the sport.

7. UTMB is growing as an organisation and using more software in various locations. What have you noticed in terms of managing your software and the business processes as your teams grow globally?

Coming from an IT background, we use a lot of software to manage all aspects of the organisation. For example, Livetrail allows us to manage a large part of the race. It is far more useful than initially meets the eye.

Knowing where the runners are allows us to:

  • Improve communication and facilitate the work of the organisers and the media through UTMB LIVE and complete tracking.
  • Improve safety and reliability: knowing the runners’ flows and knowing where the sweepers are during the race, as well as before the race, are fundamental decision aids.
  • Facilitate forecasting: we can predict where the runners will be 1, 2, or x hours later. This is fundamental if we correlate this data with weather monitoring, supply on aid stations or any other unforeseen element.

This visibility lets us act and really manage the race. It’s an important element of the quality we are constantly striving for across all areas.

8. Ultratrail has boomed over the past few years. Where do you think the sport is headed in the next 10 years?

Ten years ago, we never imagined we would be here, so it's hard to predict where we will be in ten years...trail running is a young sport! 

For us, we imagine that the UTMB World Series will have more events – 60? 70? 80? – that will allow more runners to find quality events close to home. And, if they want to travel with their friends or families, they will have more options to discover the world and explore different cultures.

Thanks for your time Catherine and Michel, we're already looking forward to next year's Val D'Aran by UTMB.

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Jenny Liu
Finance Leader @ Marshmallow