Cledara talks with Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc founders

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

After a great first edition last year, the 2022 Val d'Aran by UTMB® race is set to surpass every expectation. Elite and amateur trail runners from around the world will come together for 4 days to enjoy a breathtaking experience (literally) in the Spanish Pyrenees. We’re excited to sponsor the Val d'Aran by UTMB® race for the second year in a row! 

During last year’s event, we sat down with UTMB® founders, Catherine and Michel Poletti to learn about their journey in creating one of the most thrilling trail running series in the world. 

Here’s their story.

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 two 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 a UTMB® race so special?

A UTMB® race is more than just that, it’s an event that creates strong links between 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 around the world. And starting in 2022, a whole sports 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 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 in qualifying races closer to home.

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 UTMB® Mont-Blanc, without having to travel long distances to participate. This not only reduces their carbon footprint, but it translates into lower travel expenses and more time for leisure activities beyond the race.

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

To us, there are a number of parallels. 

In business:

  • In business, you need a solid process and the right team to be able to meet objectives.
  • You need to be disciplined to ensure that you’re making progress.
  • You have to be ready on D-day.
  • You must not give up.
  • You must remember to rest in order to avoid succumbing to 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? 

Organizing an event means providing services to runners, but also to other communities (volunteers, local residents, host territories, media, partners), and technology allows us to be on top of our game. What’s more, to innovate each year we must constantly learn how to adapt to the latest tools available to us.

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 organizers 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 really useful when combined with weather monitoring data or aid station supply levels.

This visibility lets us manage the race proactively. It’s one of the main reasons we can provide such a high-quality event.

8. Ultra running has become very popular in 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.

We would once again like to thank Catherine and Michel Poletti for a wonderful conversation last year, and we're really looking forward to the 2022 edition of Val D'Aran by UTMB®. Best of luck to all the participants!

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Jenny Liu
Head of Finance @ Marshmallow

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