Nice By UTMB is an ultra-trail running event that takes place in the Southern French Alps, starting in the town of Auron and finishing in Nice. The race is part of the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) World Series and has many different distances.
Nice By UTMB offers several race distances, including a 20 km, 50km, 100km, and 100-mile race. The 100-mile race has a total elevation gain of almost 28,000 feet (8400 meters) and is on very technical terrain. This was the most challenging race that I have ever done and trained for.
How it All Started
My wife and I have been living in Nice, France for 2 years, and when I saw that the UTMB world series was coming to Nice I signed up immediately! I signed up for the Nice 100 back in February 2022 (7 months before the race) as well as two other preparation races.
The first race was a local trail marathon that also took place in the French Alps called the Trails des Millefonts. Next was the MXTREME 100k in the Swiss Alps.
Trails des Millefonts
My preparation leading up to the Trails des Millefonts marathon I thought was pretty good. I had done back-to-back training runs of a marathon with 6,000 feet of elevation gain followed by a 17-mile run with 4,000 feet the next day. This was a month before the Marathon des Millefonts and I thought I was ready to go.
When race day finally came in June I was wrong. The Trails des Millefonts marathon has over 10,000 feet of elevation gain and about 20% of the race is off-trail.
The race started out well for the first few miles until we hit the first downhill and that’s where the mistakes started. I was flying downhill at a six-minute mile pace and blew up my quads.
I thought I could fix it by taking some salt tablets that I brought with me but I forgot they had caffeine in them and so right after the downhill section was a STEEP uphill section that ascended over 3,000 feet in just a few miles. My heart was beating so hard I thought it was going to explode!
When I got to the highest point of the race around the halfway point I felt like dying. Then for the next 5 miles, it was another steep downhill except this time it was all off-trail! My road running shoes did not have the traction or cushioning to get me down the mountain fast so I was basically forced to crab crawl all the way down the mountain.
7 hours and 11 minutes after starting the race I arrived at the finish line.
This race destroyed me. I thought this would be a fun little race and a great start to the season but what it actually did was make me feel like I was completely unprepared for what lie ahead.
About one month later I was in Switzerland feeling just as unprepared as I felt at the end of my marathon. The MXTREME 100km race (actually 110km) has over 26,000 feet of elevation gain. About the same as the Nice 100 so I thought this would be the perfect race for preparation.
The race started at 4 AM so that meant waking up at 2 AM which was HARD.
After starting the race it is a 6,000-foot climb up to the highest point of the race so at least you get that out of the way quickly. By the time I got to the first aid station, I was feeling good! I made sure to not go too hard on the first climb and to save my legs for the rest of the day.
The miles kept ticking on and I was feeling good! The scenery was the most beautiful I had ever seen and I was just enjoying myself.
However, by the time I got to the halfway point of the race I was struggling. Luckily it was just a low spot and after eating a lot and getting back on my nutrition I was doing better… for a little while.
When I got to about mile 60 of the race I was in bad shape. The sun had set and I was just so tired. More sleepy tired than muscle tired.
I was very close to quitting at mile 60 because I figured I had basically run 100km already so what was the point of running the last 10 miles? I was predicted to finish at around 2 AM and I mentally could not handle that with how tired I already was.
Luckily my awesome support crew of my wife and mom bought me a pizza and a Monster so at 11 PM I ate an entire pizza and drank the Monster and was sent on my way (against my will).
Three hours later I finished the race in a total time of 21 hours and 48 minutes. My “A goal” was to finish the race in under 20 hours and my “B goal” was in to finish in under 22 hours. This was the hardest race I have ever done in my whole life and two months after this I was going to be doing 30 miles longer than this? It felt impossible.
Nice By UTMB 100 Mile
Training between the MXTREME 100km and the Nice 100 did not go as planned. The 100km race took way more out of me than I thought it would. After taking a week off from running after the 100k I slowly got back into training.
Three weeks after my 100k is when my body really started feeling the repercussions of the race. My knees felt so tight and to this day I don’t know if my feet will ever recover.
So I decided to not try to put in another training block between the 100k and the 100 miler. I just ran 10 miles a day, 5 days a week until taper time.
The day of the race was finally here and I was not feeling prepared. I was mentally exhausted before the race even started but my body was feeling strong and mostly recovered from MXTREME.
The race started in Auron at 1 PM so my wife and I caught the last race bus from Nice at around 9:30 AM. One thing that I really liked about the race is that they had shuttles between the aid stations for support crews.
The race started and I was off! The first aid station was in the beautiful town of Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée which was just 5 miles into the race.
I spent a couple of minutes at this aid station and then it was back up into the mountain (4,500 feet back up into the mountains to be exact) to the Refuge de Rabuons aid station which sits at 8,200 feet just outside of the stunning Mercantour National Park. There was no crew at this aid station but it was beautiful!
My wife and I also hiked all the way through Mercantour National Park on the GR 52 hike!
After this was the long descent down into the little town of Isola, a lot of which was off-trail.
I grabbed some food here and then I was off. Between the Isola aid station and the Pont de Paule aid station, the sun had set and I entered the long night that lay ahead.
Between the Pont de Paule and St Sauveur aid station was the most difficult part of the course because once again it was all off-trail (the French really love making races as difficult as possible).
However, this wasn’t just off-trail, this was scrambling down the side of a mountain in loose dirt through the trees off-trail. This section is what ended the race for a lot of people because it was so technical and so brutal.
The St Sauveur aid station is the first aid station that I sat down at and really took my time. We had bought a few Domino’s pizzas the day before so I had a few slices of those. I started to get really cold so I got out all of my cold kit and bundled up before leaving the aid station.
From St Sauveur to the Valdeblore aid station it was only about 5 miles so somewhat flat terrain so I made quick work of this section.
My wife caught me just as I was leaving the Valdeblore aid station and then it was back out into the thick of it.
From Valdeblore to the Granges Brasque aid station it was yet another almost 3,000-foot climb. Then a gradual downhill until the Utelle aid station. By this time, the sun had risen on the second day of running, and with it came the rain. Lots and lots of rain.
From the Utelle aid station to the Levens was more downhill. I and the people that I was running with were running as strong as we could 100km into a 100-mile race.
When I finally reached Levens I was mentally done. My wife had been waiting there for me for almost 8 hours and as you can tell by the picture below I was beyond exhausted.
From Levens to the Plan de Couthon aid station (they have changed the course in 2023 so now it would be the Chapell St Michel aid station) was the hardest 10 miles of my life. The rain would not stop and as I said earlier, my shoes are road shoes so I had no traction at all on the muddy, rocky, very technical trails.
So that meant that the uphills I couldn’t run because I was too tired and the downhills I couldn’t run because they were too slippery.
Coming into the Plan de Couthon aid station I knew I was done. I had never been so tired and so exhausted and so wet in my entire life.
I sat in this aid station for about 30 minutes. I was crying, sleep-deprived, felt terrible for putting my wife through all that I put her through, and I was ready to go home. I had been running for 26 hours and had done 80 miles. The next 20 miles of the race I knew like the back of my hand because I train on it every day and I knew that I couldn’t do it.
So at mile 80, I called it. I let my mind win. I knew that the last 20 miles of the race would take me anywhere from 6-8 hours to finish and had over 4,000 feet of climbing and I could not even fathom going into night two of no sleep.
So I got my racing band cut and my wife and I hopped on a public bus and went home.
I wish that I would say that quitting was the hardest thing that I have ever done and that I regret it to this day but I don’t. I pushed my body farther than I ever had before things just did not work out.
When I dropped out of the race 34% of the participants had already dropped out and by the end of the race it had increased to 41%. Out of the 333 starting participants only 197 people finished.
So, What Did I Learn?
I learned that I was not ready for this race. The previous two races had proven that to me and I thought I could just gut it out and do it. I also learned that shoes are very important and I have since upgraded my shoes to maximally cushioned trail shoes. I learned that I need to learn how to push even when I am sleep deprived and just want to go home and sleep.
Will I ever try to do this race again? Maybe. But in the far far future. I love the trails and I love Nice and maybe one day the stars will align and I will give this race another shot but until then, au revoir Nice 100.