Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) 2018 winner Francesca Canepa showed her class to win the Oman by UTMB 130km race on Friday, holding off stiff competition to take first place by just seven minutes.
For most of the race, it was a battle between the Italian and American Meredith Edwards. Canepa held pole position throughout but Edwards made a late surge and cut into her lead.
The 2018 UTMB Chamonix champion eventually crossed the finish line in 26 hours, 11 minutes and 43 seconds, only seven minutes ahead of Edwards with France’s Kathleen Leguin third.
Frenchman Olivier Romain won the 130km men’s race. Ireland’s Eion Keith and Japan’s Kaori Niwa were the first men’s and women’s runners, respectively, to the finish line in the 170km race.
Two Nepalese runners, Bhim Gurung and Sunmaya Budha, won the 50km.
Local hero Hamdan Al Khatry finished second in the 170km, setting the tone as fellow Omanis had strong showings across all three races, despite the fact the nation is not known for trail running.
In the 50km male division eight out of 15 top finishers were Omanis, who gave it all, racing hard from the front to the delight of their compatriots and managed one second and one third place across the three race distances.
In the 170km division, Al Khatry grabbed the lead from the start, having gone off at breakneck pace. A Lieutenant in Omani armed forces, who was given leave from the Army to train for the race, Al Khatry already looked out of sorts at 33km, but he held on to his lead until the monster climb to the top of Jebel Shams peak at 110km where he was finally ground down by Ireland’s Keith.
The 170km race saw a brilliant performance from Japan’s top female ultra runner Niwa. She calmly climbed from 30th to third overall by the final quarter of the race before moving into top spot.
Swiss Anita Lehmann, who was the second woman, said at checkpoint one that just 50km of Omani mountains felt like 250km of normal trails.
The 130km race saw a dominant run by Frenchman Romain, who destroyed the field, winning in 18:18:46, more than two hours ahead of his compatriot Julien Chorier. Romain said the race was “technical”. He added that there was countless ups and downs, even when the course profile map showed one single climb, which made it hard physically and psychologically.
Sebastian Chaigneau, 47, running with a severe cold, completed the all-French podium. “It is hard,” said the veteran mid-race, shrugging off his immense discomfort, “as always.” He was third in 21:05:06.
The 50km division was dominated by Nepali runners – in the male category Gurung put in a tactical performance, calmly shadowing the leaders until the final descent and then applying his famed downhill technique to clinically drop both and take the win in 5:26:22.
Nepal’s Budha led from start in the 50km women’s race and not only finished top of the women’s field but came sixth overall in 6:12:26. The 21-year old from Jumla has now won two “by UTMB” events, including a victory at the Gaoligong race in China. “I am very happy” she said.
Having grown up in Himalayan foothills, she did not find the racecourse difficult, despite a fall on the final downhill.
Holly Page, a member of the UK’s national trail-running team, was second over 50km in 6:34:18. Page ran the whole race in heavy hiking shoes, having broken her foot a few weeks ago.
“I do not take it [trail running] too seriously,” said Page. “In my line of work, you realise that trying to see who can run the fastest up and down a hill is really not that important.”
Mira Rai, Sunmaya’s mentor, was third. Rai came into the race recovering from knee surgery and it was very much a tune up race for the Nepali.
Despite many runners left reeling from the brutality of the terrain, Page said that her Oman by UTMB was a “smiling race”. Brazil’s elite runner Fernanda Maciel, fourth in the 50km, echoed the sentiment, calling the Omani mountain trails “tasty”.
Eight Hongkongers took part in the event, with Lucy Cant superbly finishing in the top five in the 130km.