Pushing endurance beyond limits at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc

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              A competitor walks past Mont Blanc in background at La Flegere path as he competes in the 170km Ultra-Trail of Mont-Blanc (UTMB) race, near Chamonix, French Alps, Sunday, Sept 2, 2018. Set up in a breathtaking setting in the heart of the Mont Blanc massif, this 170-kilometer race with a total vertical gain of 10,000 meters is regarded by many as the world's most difficult ultra-endurance event. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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CHAMONIX, France (AP) — Since its maiden edition was held in rain, cold and hail back in 2003, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc has gained legendary status in the runners’ community.

Set up in a breathtaking setting in the heart of the Mont Blanc massif, the 170-kilometer race with a total vertical gain of 10,000 meters — a height greater than Mount Everest — is regarded by many as the world’s most difficult ultra-endurance event. Just finishing it is considered a victory by the legion of amateurs competing alongside the elite runners.

“Each person manages the emotions of experiencing one of the most incredible adventures of their lives and, at the same time, the fear of knowing if they will be capable of getting to the end,” three-time winner Kilian Jornet wrote in his book “Run or Die.”

Starting and finishing in Chamonix, the annual high-altitude race takes a pack of about 2,300 runners through three different countries (France, Italy and Switzerland) and across rivers and glaciers. Last weekend, the weather was so cold and windy that runners had to deal with temperatures that felt like minus-10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees F).

This year’s winner in the men’s event was Xavier Thevenard, a Frenchman who covered the distance in 20 hours, 44 minutes, 16 seconds. The last finisher crossed the finish line more than 26 hours later.