What to say ? It’s hard for me to explain my feelings in English, sorry for you but the longest and deepest introspection will be in French later, not really for other people but for me as « to evacuate ».
This time I’m back, as a solo, but with 2 running mates from Japan.
After a short night in the gymnasium at Aiguebelle and more than one hour in a bus to Vizille, we are soon to start our biggest challenge until now. A big breakfast is set in a tent, perfect to start this long journey that we are facing.
We stay far behind because none of us is targeting a podium……but may be we were wrong. We are around 500 runners, it is not so many but enough to create traffic jam, especially when all runners suddenly transform into an army of Trailbots and Runnepticons. Can you imagine 500 bipeds who, at the same time, when the first tiny hill appears, deploy their poles in a commun move, into the glimmer of their headlamp, hearing the sudden « cliquetis » (rattle ? Jangle ?) Of their mutation into Mutant Mechanical Quadrupeds. Really impressive. But worst, overtake becomes impossible into this forest of sticks. Amazing as Steve said.
Sun starts rising now, and we reach the first aid station. Amazing landscape, beautiful weather, cheese and sausage, warm vibes, mates, French langage…….may be that’s what we call « Paradise »…….. OHHHHH NOOooooo, it’s just 16,7 km, open your eyes man, stay focused: Hell is paved with good intentions. 😱 But god damn Hell looks pretty cool !!!
From CP1 to CP2 we leave the forest for a more alpine scenery, but without any big difficulties. Temptation to jump into the lakes is big, special dedication to TTR family, water is perfectly clear and so fresh. From CP2, is the first challenge, Belledonne Cross, the highest point of the race. Once at the summit, we meet together for the last time, time for a picture then everyone goes his fate. Yosuke goes fast, Andrew is like a kid running down into the rocks, and I’m already paying attention because my feet start suffering, that’s the first bad news.
At CP3, refuge Jean Collet, I see Andrew, very fresh, Yosuke is already gone, « be strong my friend it’s just the beginning ». We leave together, for the last time.
I don’t remember very well the next section, except it was tough but is it really necessary to specify ? Andrew is not so far from I can see it…..far ……away. Simple, he leaves a place after a break when I arrive to do the same.
At CP4, Habert d’aiguebelle, I meet Andrew, Sandy and Anna. It becomes difficult for me to eat, that’s the second bad news. I need a break. Sandy brings me a blueberry pie, really nice present. I eat with pleasure but a little voice is telling me « appreciate it, this is the last ».
Next CP is Le Pleynet, with drop bag and tutti quanti. But. Before joining this fu…ng resting place they are Col de l’Aigleton and Col de la Vache. The perfect nightmare before sunset. Why but why did I say to all people I know, « come, come, this race is amazing »……… amazingly fool yes. And when you think it’s finish, when ascent is over for this section, that you just have to go down, gently,……it’s endleeeeeessssssssssssssss. Into the darkness, the down hill to Le Pleynet is a test for your nerves, more you see it, more you roll away, you’re in a parallel dimension. Around 1km before CP5, I see Sandy coming in front of me…… OMG Humankind, civilisation is close. I confess I’m in a very bad situation, I can’t eat, the simple idea of eating food makes me sick, and worst, the taste of water causes disgust. Only 64 KM. I can’t go on in these conditions….I don’t want. A new battleground is open now, in my head, and there is no mercy. Everybody tell me to take a rest, a nap, a shower, to eat well……but no, I just want to stop, it’s so simple. Why nobody listen to me ? ….. may be because they have understood, or not, I don’t know. My Friend Phil, from the staff, is really insisting: take a shower, really, take it. I don’t have enough underwear but I decide to do it. That’s the first time I look at my feet and……….once dressed, I hurry up to the podiatrist staff. People are funny, we talk about many thing, there is music, so cool, I forget my pain. I ask fo a leg massage with physiotherapist staff too. That’s so great. Once finish, everybody say to me « see you at Aiguebelle Man »…… I’m under pressure. Go to the restaurant, a plate of spaghetti is waiting for me, but I just eat half, my stomach says stop. No more time to waste, I go to the bedroom sleeping may be one hour.I don’t know if the young boy in charge wake me up or not, I don’t remember, but when I open my eyes, it is 45 mn before cut-off time. WTF. Go go go.
15 mn later I leave Le Pleynet, into the dark, rests, fresh and cleaned, I feel a new guy, thank you my friends, let’s go.
Ascent is a long trail in the forest but almost easy into the night, not too hard for my injured feet. I overtake many runners, I’m in a good feeling and also too close from cut-off time, I need to « secure » the situation.
At CP 6, Le Gleyzin, I’m in a good shape, except I can’t eat, I try but stop immediately, only few cheese is ok.
Now the famous Col du Moretan is waiting for us and it’s not a piece of cake. Rocks and rocks and rocks are back, while jumping from one to an other I talk to myself, there is no volcano around, so ……..from where do they come theses fucking pieces of mountain ? Who is the fucking bastard who has pounded the mountain into a giant puzzle ? And mostly where is this bullshitt of rockbiter when we need it ? ……. Putain…..de merde. Sorry.
Moretan has won, I’m deeply back in a bad shape. When you reach the ridge, there is a long snowy slope on the other side.
CP7, Périoule, is a big tent in the middle of nowhere, don’t expect to retire here, it’s a non sens.
Drink a little, eat nothing.
Landscapes are so beautiful, it’s really helpful. My legs are ok, knees, ankles, muscles, all are fine, except my burning feet, blisters are such that every step is a pain, especially downhill. No choice, I have to go to Super Collet. At this moment, and to be honest, since a long time, there is no more pleasure. Weather is getting hot, I’m thirsty but water is disgusting me, so I drink little by little. My stomach continues to block the route. I feel it heavy like someone who has eat too much, except that mine is empty.
Before Super Collet, I meet Sandy again, impressive lady who has landed 2 days before, drove a part of the night, and actually is running in my side. She gives me good news about my mates, Andrew is flying to the finish line, Yosuke had a bad shape but went on. And me, ……me, I want to stop again, I don’t see why I should continu. Once at CP8, drop bag 2, as usual, Sandy proposes me something to eat and only an ice flavour Cola convinces me. I never have eat an ice so slowly. I decide to visit podiatrist staff again, whatever my final decision I need some cares. Sandy and Anna leaves me to reach Yosuke.
Super Collet is 100 km, 49 km to do. 2/3 are done….. but 1/3 again, and a long night is approaching. DNF corner is close to me, so simple, just have to take off my bib number, and the nightmare is over….. just ….have….to….unhook….this ….piece….of….paper.
Quick analysis of the situation, with absolutely no objectivity: I don’t have eat « seriously » since pasta party at CP5, and soon I won’t be able to drink too. My soul is with miss Mariana
digging the trench to break Cameron’s record but my body is fine, except my feet. My upper body, I trained for, is fine too. So what, all lights are green, if I give up, what’s next ? Go back to the gymnasium, sleep in my bag on a camping bed, take a poor shower, a breakfast, alone, thinking that I should be running on trail at this moment, watching other runners ringing the bell and embracing their family. Worst, be present for the victory of my running mates (what a strange feeling of « déjà-vu »). Then going back home explaining to every people I know why blablablablabla I gave up, and hearing as answer that I did my best, it’s important to be able to stop, blablablabla…….. My ass.
If I stop, what do I win: to not suffer anymore in the next 18 hours. Ok. What do I lose: proud, self-confident, every efforts I have made to be here, hours of training, absence from my family and how could I talk about this race as ambassador if I don’t finish it. What is scaring me is clearly the numerous hours separating me from the finish line, Time can’t be changed, but time goes by….time…goes…by, whatever you do, whatever you feel. I take my bag, get up from my chair, take a look around: what a beautiful day today. I switch off my mind and walk gazing straight forward.
Immediately, I meet a group of French runners I already met before, funny and chatty guys, they say: « ca va Jéjé ? », means « are you ok Jérôme ? ». If you accept I join to you I will be ok. The deal is done.
Running in a group is really helpful, I hang on. The pace is perfect for me, I start talking, but not too much, to keep energy and concentration. The course to CP9 is beautiful and we assist to the sunset in the most beautiful landscape, before arriving in the night at Val Pelouse.
Two of us decide to rest and take a nap, I stay too, the 2 others, as Pacers, go on, hurried to finish. No drink, no food, as usual, fortunately it is night but the next hours will be complicated, battery are low, really low. The most difficult part are behind us now and the course become more runnable. Arrived at Sommet du Grand chat, no matter the cost, I have to eat, I need it, even if I know the consequences. I warn my pals, and we all stop. Try to eat a morsel, become a hard paste in my mouth, impossible to swallow, drink a few to help, the mix will be explosive trust me. Too long we have to go on. Few meters away, shaked, the potion is ready, and I give back to mother nature the fruit of her labour, as expected. Stomach contract so hard, there is nothing anymore to expel, but It seems it want to be sure of that. My friends are worrying about me, but I continue, we continue. After that, I feel better, my stomach is free, not sure that it will accept food immediately, but it has been unfettered and me too.
Once at aid station, I make a nano or micro nap, don’t know, but Sandy, who is back, wakes me up. What surprise. « did you eat something ? » « no more than usual !!! » when suddenly, a miracle, something they never served before, appears in front of me: slices of watermelon !!!!
And I know at this moment, this is what I need, this is what I want, and I eat a lot.
Now it’s time to go, the Bell is waiting for us. Last effort, now we are unstoppable, just have to be patient, forget your feet as you did until now, and it will be done.
Third sunrise on the Echappée Belle, just one soft climb and then 10 km of continuing downhill until the finish line. It’s 6AM but we can hear music, there is a rave party somewhere. Sad.
The pace is increasing, amazing capacity of human body to forget everything when the end is close, I take the lead, we are flying. When we reach the road we know that all is done, we shout, we laugh, my throat is tight, emotions are invading me, I would cry if I were alone.
Only few hundred meters left, sky is blue, I feel free and so happy to have made the good choice…. time goes by, you just have to be patient.
The last meters are magic, the first time I lived this moment was my first 100 miles, UTMF, and I thought it would be impossible to feel that again, I was wrong, l’Echappee Belle offered me a deeper and stronger feeling. It’s so powerful and indescribable at the same time. While I’m writing this report, I’m always under effect, at a lower level.
It’s finished, we cross the line together. Time for hugs, congratulations, smiles and pictures, and most important, time to shake this god damn BELL.
Definitely, this race is different from the others. It’s a real challenge. You have to be very well prepared to play with. But what a wonderful achievement.
This is my longest race ever, 49 hours, furthermore I'm 4 Kg less heavy and I confess that was a nightmare, can you imagine wearing the same underwear more than 2 days 😜.