Spain’s Pau Capell won the 2019 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in impressive fashion, finishing the 171K route in 20 hours and 19 minutes and crossing the line almost a full hour ahead of second place. Understandably disappointed when the race was cancelled for 2020, he decided to run it anyway and to try to break the 20-hour mark. He finished his project, which he called Breaking20, on Friday, falling short of his sub-20 goal but still running an impressive 21 hours, 17 minutes and 18 seconds. This time would have earned him a third-place finish at last year’s UTMB. In an Instagram post after his run, he said the challenge was the best experience of his life.
Capell’s result would be good in normal circumstances, but the fact that he ran just north of 21 hours without fellow competitors on the course to motivate him shows just how incredible an athlete he is. He also didn’t have the benefit of aid stations, although he was accompanied by a small support crew. On Instagram, he said he actually ran 173K (although this could have been a typo), and noted that the course features more than 10,000m of elevation gain. He was clearly thrilled with the result, adding that he fought for every kilometre, and he thanked his family and friends and all the spectators who came out to cheer him on.
“Life is about that, right?” he wrote. “Always fight for your dreams.”
Cancelled for a reason
While Capell’s result is inspiring, it doesn’t necessarily mean that his Breaking20 challenge was the right thing to do. After all, UTMB organizers cancelled the race for a valid reason — to ensure the safety of everyone involved, including participants and locals who live along the UTMB route. It’s fine for Capell to go and do this run on his own, and it was noted in an Instagram post from The North Face (one of his main sponsors) that his support crew was with him for “the health and safety of others.” This way if Capell collapsed on the route, locals wouldn’t have to come to his rescue and risk possibly spreading COVID-19.
Still, Capell wrote about the many spectators who showed up along the course to cheer him on and run “some sections of the route” with him. He also said “the start and finish [felt] as if it were a race.” As can be seen in a video of the finish (which is on Capell’s Instagram feed), the street is lined with dozens or even hundreds of people. Capell’s run was inarguably amazing, but it’s hard to say that it was the best choice he could have made during a global pandemic.