Boulieu Trail 100 k: My first race in France, my home country

Hello, it’s me, again!

 

When I went to bed on Saturday, the 03rd of October around 07:30 PM, I said to myself: “You just ran 100 km. What distance does that represent already? I’m not sure, but that sounds ridiculous!”. The next morning, when I woke up, I realized that 99% of my friends based here in France would not even consider riding a flat course of this length on their bike.

 

Yeah, but I now have spent two years & a half in Boulder, CO and I got in touch with people running in green jerseys out there.

 

Due to a lousy money situation in research, I had no other choice but to go back to France at the end of June, even if I had no single will to leave Boulder & all the friends I made there. Back home though, I realized through solo exploration during the summer that France is not such a bad place for its mountain options (the Alps, Pyrenees & Corsica don’t really suck). Boulder even came to party in Chamonix for the UTMB the last weekend of August! And if you ever have been at this location during these four days, you simply want to try to be part of it once more the following year. This is living.

 

But this thing attracts more & more idiots, good ones though. And you now need to have points to enter the draws of these races. 9 are requested for the UTMB one (I don’t feel ready for this insanity quite yet), 3 for the CCC (100k, 20,000 ft of positive verts), 3 for the TDS (120 km, 23,900 ft of positive verts) & 1 for the OCC (50k, 11,000 ft of verts). After a quick look at the remaining qualifying race (before the draws, taking place in January 2016), I spotted the “Boulieu trail 100k”, taking place the 03rd of October in Ardèche, this remote & calm hilly region, 200 miles west of Chamonix. Any finisher of this race (that looked like a low key one, but with some solid 14,500 ft of positive verts) would collect 3 points. If things don’t go too sour, I could maybe think of a future CCC or TDS registration did I thought? Right, maybe.

 

Okay, let’s do this thing then!

 

Yves at night

We can’t see what the mountains look like in this place, it’s too dark!

 

Because you usually don’t regret doing things that look out of good & normal sense afterwards, on Friday the 02nd, I drove for 07 hours from Strasbourg (North East of France, by Germany, where I am based this year) to a little town called “Boulieu les Annonay” in the Ardèche region. It happens to be a nice medieval (a time when no Europeans had already crossed the Atlantic ocean) town. I looked beforehand at the topography of the trails we would use during the race & they happened to look very similar to these of the Vosges mountains (35 min drive from Strasbourg) where I could train these last three weeks.

 

Since I got there on my own, I let my mom know once I arrived in town that I was racing on that day, but would not let her know how far I would go. She has good & normal sense. I would let her know at the end of the race how far I would have gone. There are just a lot of km for me to go today. But I trained for it & would not have signed up if I thought I could not do it.

 

After what you can call a brief night or more accurately a nap (I stayed at a parking lot in my Peugeot 206 –a small car-, on the passenger seat), I made my way up into town with excitement at 02:30 AM. I dropped a bag containing a pair of dry socks, a jersey, some candies & cereal bars that I could use if I wanted at km 45 into the race. I closed up to the starting line, few people were already there, I got my picture taken & more people gathered. Dang, that’s maybe not such a low key race after all, the speaker is announcing 160 participants w/ people coming from Sweden & Indonesia! These trail runners seem to be willing to grab these 3 UTMB points!

 

Organizers also announced runners coming from Brittany! Wohoo, I just made new friends I’d be able to go run with when I’ll be out around at my parents place! They also came for the 3 points & with a big smile on their faces. Super nice folks.

 

They made us circle around the tiny city center and we were off! They even cracked a smoke grenade for the occasion! People were out, in town, to cheer on us at that time already! Some were at their house windows, other just leaving for a couple minutes the party they were at, with a glass of liquor in their hands of course!

 

Yeah, we’re running! 🙂

 

I placed myself in the mid pack, there was about a flat mile to start with and effortlessly I passed a few dozen runners. Man, I’m sure you could have read happiness on my face at that time! Came the first climb, I passed some more peps, but kept on telling myself to go on easy. Just “Go easy on Yves”, “Just focus on where you step your god darn feet”, “You don’t want to roll ankle & burn yourself up so early on in the race”, “there’s 100 km to go today” in my head. Then I kept up with a group of about 10 runners, I could see a line of lights down the valley. We crossed a remote farm: villagers were out cheering on us. It was 03:45 AM. Farmers get up early I guess! First “Bravo”, “Good job” & “Allez” of the day!

 

Came the 1st descent, I kept up with this group. The pace was what I could expect: steady but not too hard. Came the second climb, fellow runners were walking the steep parts. Fine by me, time to eat a few candies & a cereal bar. Time to see if ultrarunners were cool here in France too! Yeah, this fellow told me he ran CCC this year but he is also having a hard time: he suffers of the Crown disease, dehydrated himself yesterday & cannot really eat nor drink. Bad luck. He looks tough though, he’ll make it through, I’m sure. Came the 1st aid station, in the middle of the climb. The volunteers are awesome! I ask them how they are doing? They answer great, & say that I look fresh like a fish! Bigger smile on my face! No electrolyte here to put in the water. Okay, just throw some coke in this bladder then (1.5 L of liquid here). I also grabbed slices of yummy apple & stuffed these in my shorts pockets. Dang, there is a lady runner just ahead of me, she looks super strong, that’s cool! Back at it, left the aid station alone, but also got a bit lost. Good thing I put the GPX file of the course on my phone. I lost a few minutes here, but found the trail back. My headlamp does not work so well in this fog atop this hill. That’s no problem, these runners are awesome, they light my way through. It’s time for a battery change though. This dehydrated runner (that kept through) asks how many runners had already passed before us? 10 he is answered. Wow, that’s cool; I’ll try to stay around that position. The light works better for a second, but not too long. The batteries do not hold well in position inside this lamp anymore, I’ll have to get a more serious one in the future.

 

DAYLIGHT!

 

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Cows are a big thing in France: We need them to make good cheese & butter!

 

Daylight is coming. It was about time, 4 hours in the dark had been enough here. Wow this place looks good. We’re moving down to a village. It’s km 45 and aid station number 2. I am sitting a second on this chair. Oh yeah, this feels good, but hurts at the same time. What should I eat? Drink? My stomach does not want coke any more. Orange juice? Meh. Tea? Oh wow, this thing is fantastic, it just settled my stomach! Brits might be right about it. Fruit, a couple of pieces of cake, more tea. They empty my bladder of this filthy coke & water mixture & refill it with electrolyte. Another 1.5 liters. Mm, this Isostar tastes good! I can see what my new friends look like now. They also have smiles on their faces but agree in fact that legs start to hurt a bit too. The dehydrated fellow is staying a bit longer. Impressive he made this far already. Some are leaving. It has been 10 min. Okay, I’m leaving with them too. I’m not running alone today.

 

Back up the hill again. Rain starts. I hope it does not last for too long. It’s not too cold, that’s okay. I’m wearing arm sleeves in addition of my RMR jersey. The second summit is quickly reached, but, dang the downhills we’re running on get scary! These rocks & roots are slippery! I’m thinking out for a second & slightly roll my ankle. “Focus on your god darn feet you idiot!” That’s all right, it ain’t bad, I’m back at it, just moving a bit slower. I’m forcing myself to keep up with a fellow bald runner.

 

You’re beyond it now! Keep moving though, this is the same thing to enjoy ahead!

 

This descent is hard on the quads. We’re getting to this new village. Km 61. I’m telling Jerome (bib 700, my friend with few hairs on his head) that it’s the farthest I’ve ever run. He congratulates me. No seat here, it’s getting cold & the rain does not stop. Time to put the jacket on. They’ve got pumpkin soup! Mm, tasty & yummy! I’m asking everybody around who sang too loud yesterday & is responsible for this rain? (That’s a common joke in France). Everybody cracks a laugh. Will I be able to go back at it? Legs feel stiff. I’m stretching them a bit & hopping for the best. Time to get back at it with my bald friend. He agrees not to go too hard on this douche grade right after the aid station. He does not want to burn himself up either. He tells me about Les Templiers. Man, these folks (him & the 4-5 other runners I talked with on the way) have the spirit I like. It feels like running with RMR buddies here! I’m so happy that people running these races are the same here than in Colorado. They are super chill. We are doing this thing for the same reason: we are no champions; we just like this running gig. We’re trying to go long, enjoy this time out of civilization & we share a simple approach to it. If we get lucky, we might get into the big races, but this is really not the most important. We just have fun. This climb is full of douche grades, all of us walk them. We (I at least) could go harder here & run that, but we’re no top 10 finisher at the UTMB yet. I also was not using poles like Sir Smith! My long legs make me move fairly well though, I pass a few. A rolling part. My new BFF Jerome goes for it. I follow him. It feels just fine, the caffeine pills I had at the previous aid station are probably kicking in. After all, it makes all these km go faster. We joke on how we went kinda hard just there. We’re getting to km 74. Jerome walks & wants to eat a bar. We have the opportunity to refill our bottles. Nah, thanks I’m being thrown enough water at my face right now in this weather! I wait a few seconds. Jerome does not show up.

 

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Setting crosses on top of hills is a big thing in Europe. Go figure.

 

You’re on your own now buddy, just go get it!

 

A steep climb starts. All right, it’s time to go finish this thing anyways. I’m getting tired of being soaked! It’s cold on top of this penultimate climb. I put my gloves on. It’s no time to chill here. We can’t see a darn thing anyways. Let’s just go down. I’m trying to move the fastest I can on this downhill. “Focus on where you step your god damned feet!” still in my head. I’m now crossing a nice little village that seems literally dead. Are all the people all gone here? There is literally no sign of life anywhere in town. What now?! Do we have to go through this tunnel?! It’s dark in it! Not any more life around after I passed it. It’s pouring rain though, I almost forgot. Everybody has my authorization to stay in. Who would be silly enough to go out & spend their day in this weather?

 

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The village refilled of its inhabitants once the rain had stopped.

 

I’m continuing up and quickly getting to aid station at km 88.5. This one is a joke. Volunteers are simply busy drinking “Ricard”, a French liquor. I secure a seat on a chair. Family members of coming runners are super nice, realize the situation and hand me a glass of coke. I refill my bladder with electrolyte, another 1.5 L. I eat a fruit bar. I grab a few others that I stuff in my bag pockets and it’s time to go. I’m telling everybody that we would have had enough km & verts at this point, but they don’t answer, they’re too busy drinking. “Allez” to myself, there’s only one more climb to go! A late 50k runner tells me, that it’s a good last one. Thanks, but at this point I don’t really care, I just wanna crush anything from now on. Partiers -volunteers- remember to tell me that the rocks I need to run on there are slippery. I had forgotten my gloves on the chair. So be it, I’ll survive! It’s going up up up. We’re crossing another tiny town. A guy shows me a 10k sign to go. Thanks. A branch holds my hat. -@-%)# (A very loud French swearword, you would clearly hear on the other side of the valley). Wow, that’s one nice view on top here. Okay, I’ll come back tomorrow to snap a few pics from here. It’s time to finish now.

 

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Look beyond this rock, you’ll see real white Alpine peaks!

 

Just run down now.

 

No more climb, I just have to go as fast as I can on the descents now. You want some juice under this tent Sir? Nah, I’m in crushing mode, can’t you see? But thanks. I can see town from here. But what is that?! Where are you taking us?! What are these curves, you seem to direct us back to the forest! £@&£– (More swearing). Hikers tell me that I have it, and that shower is hot & ready. And beer? Fresh too?! They crack a good laugh. I’m on town roads and streets now, but “it ain’t finished yet, keep moving you fool!”

 

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Smile up buddy, the Mont Blanc ain’t this far!

 

It looks like: that’s it!

 

I recognize exactly where I am now. One last right turn to go. The starting line was just here on the left hand side some hours ago. I get more smiles and “bravo” from the organizers. Yep, that’s the Finish line. They wanna pass me on a medal. I just wanna sit. A 10 yo boy & 13 yo girl give it to me. I make the boy say that he’ll run this race later. I get up, look at people looking at me under tents by the finish line, I show them my medal with pride & I also start crying. I walk to the gymnasium where food and beers are served, but my nerves break down, that’s real warm tears.

 

Boy, I’ve made it and I never thought I’d be able to! I want a Beer now! Shower they say. Gimme a Beer okay?! I’m trying to eat a bit, but I can’t get much in. My fellow runners are coming in! They all tell me they saw me disappear & that they also wondered what happened to me after it. We all have huge smiles on our faces and we all acknowledge on how it has been a good one.

 

A good soul drives me back to my car (it’s still raining cats & dogs. 2 months of rain in one day). I put some dry clothes on & drive to the Air BnB I had booked. I buy a couple pieces of pizza that I’m sure I’ll want to eat in the middle of the night. I grab my stuff, don’t forget to take a beer from my truck & go for a good shower and some deserved bedtime.

 

Getting a finisher jacket & a big ass medal is cool.

Getting a finisher jacket & a big ass medal is cool.

 

These simple things to realize.

 

Man, this race definitely has been fun for different reasons (nice course, happy volunteers, and super cool fellow runners), thus I’ve enjoyed it tons.

 

You would read tons of reports where people promote their diet, their way of preparation, the place they live in, etc. But if you don’t have a good time during the race or every time you go out with you running shoes on, things are likely to not turn up in a good way. I have trained and prepared a way I find smart (two weeks before the race I ran the distance with the amount of verts of the race, one week before the race, I only ran 2/3 of this volume and only 10% of it the week of the race). I also have worked on the points at which I was weak (I try to put much more focus at where I step now, to avoid ankle rolling. I agree to push myself more without being scared of injury). But, without excitement (as on Saturday & realizing that I will be running with a big group again), or simply by telling myself before I go on every run, that this is just another run, something fun to enjoy, I don’t think that I would have gone this far on Saturday.

 

Just enjoy your runs, keep a smile on your faces & you’ll be all right. This is a fun gig.

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