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Resting my legs before Grand Trail du Saint-Jacques

Yes, we’ve arrived. We’re in Le Puy-en-Velay, in the South of France. Two days, 14 hours and 22 minutes from now, I’ll be on the start line of the Grand Trail du Saint-Jacques, toe to toe with Thomas Cardin, the brand new European champion trail running.

Although, toe to toe … Cardin will start at the front of the pack, I’m starting in the second wave. There are three waves in total. Which wave you start in, depends on your UTMB Index. The trail runners with the highest scores – the fast ones – start in the first wave, the runners with the lowest scores – the slow guys – start in the last wave. Which makes me wonder why I am in wave 2 and not wave 3. I’m a slow guy.

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How did I end up here?

Sometimes I even wonder how I ended up here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to run the Grand Trail du Saint-Jacques. But 80 kilometres still sounds like a crazy distance. For me, looking at the 3.200 metres we have to climb as well, that’s probably 14 to 15 hours of running. By car you can can cross my country, the Netherlands, from North to South in three hours. The Netherlands is only 360 kilometres, so I’ll be running almost a quarter of the length of my country.

Just placing things in perspective…I mean I only wanted to run an eleven kilometres mountain race in Italy, two years ago. Just to try once. Before I knew it, I was training for a 55 kilometres mountain race. When I finished that one, I knew one thing for sure; never again. And now, I’m 2,5 days away from running my longest race ever: 80 kilometres. I just kind of rolled from one thing into another. If you want to look at it in a positive way, you can say 80k isn’t 50k. So at least I was right when I said I would never run a 50 kilometres mountain race again.

World Heritage Site

Plus, that race – the Dolomiti Extreme Trail – was a loop. Saturday’s race is a race in line. That’s a first for me. Well, for an ultra. I ran the Steamtrail in the Netherlands, where we were dropped off by train. This time we’ll get a shuttle bus at a quarter to eight. At 9.30 am on Saturday morning, we’ll start in Monistrol-d’Allier, known for its famous Eiffel metal bridge, over the Allier. From there we will climb up to Rochegude peak, follow the Allier gorges and head for Bouchet lake. With also the Devès mountain and Chibottes scree slopes it’s a rough course around the Santiago de Compostela path that starts in Le Puy-en-Velay, among other places.

To give the race an extra historical touch, our last climb is up to the famous Notre-Dame du Puy-en-Velay cathedral, classified as a Unesco World Heritage site, and sanctuary of the Black Virgin. So I might have just rolled into it, it does feel special to be here. To run this race. To do something that’s out of my comfort zone. And this time, I can’t say: ‘never again’, because this time, I’ve already subscribed for the UTMB CCC, at the end of August. But first things first; the Grand Trail du Saint-Jacques.

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