Friday 2pm, I left Grenoble straight to Saint-Etienne. Of course in Lyon my train was cancelled (SNCF, or how to make you prefer the car, or the plane...) with no any information. The girl at the counter told me to wait for the next one, so I asked if I couldn't rather take the earlier one, she answered yes, then informed me I had to take it to the terminus in Firminy then take a transfer to Saint-Etienne, while the train was actually stopping in Saint-Etienne on the way to Firminy... really useless woman... the only thing she knew was that the cancellation was due to a one-month-old-already strike and that I should have kept myself informed on the website (a second website different from the ticket booking one...). But well, in the end I made my way to Saint-Etienne in time, under the rain. Went straight to my hotel: hotel Furania that I highly recommend: super nice staff, super nice rooms, brand new, just great, and the cheapest I found too.
Friday night in Saint-Etienne, at Parc Expo: first the runner expo, bought some warmer gear for the race. Then Endurance Film Festival with Kilian Jornet! Got his book signed, made a photo with him, and watched films starring him running, skiing, winning everything, training hard. Then back to the hotel for a long sleep before the race tomorrow.
Saturday, breakfast of croissants from the bakery round the corner, a relaxing bath at the hotel, then had to give back the room at 11am, spent some time reading Kilian's book on a bench at the square, before heading to a nice italian restaurant, Don Camillo, where the waitress thought I was a young boy :-) due to the haircut. So risotto and panacotta, and then head up to the Parc Expo for a nap. Spent 2 or 3 hours drowsing on a beach chair, then watching a mix of endurance movies (running, skiing, mountain biking, kayaking...) until Patrice joined me right in time for the pasta party. Found Mickael by chance there too so we had dinner together, 2 serves of pasta and a mandarine. And there are still 5h until the start... Back to the stands for a nap on a bench, getting the gear ready, drowsing, chatting... At 10pm it's time to put the luggage in the bus that will take it to Lyon so have to get all geared up. Outside it's getting way colder, and it's raining again: it's gonna be wet on the tracks... Then shortly after 11pm people start moving and we follow Patrice to the start line at the stadium 1km away in order to not be at the back of 6000 people, which would make it hard to overtake.
Start at midnight in not so cold but rainy night. Actually with the city lights blaring it feels like daylight in my memory... Start among 6000 people packed in the starting area, lots of hustling and jostling. 7 km of concrete run at largely below 6mn pace, carried on by the crowd, both runners and public. Was looking forward to the first hill at 7km to slow down. Then started the trails, muddy trails, very very muddy trails, you could lose a shoe in 10 cm of wet mud (the fact that it rained all afternoon, night, and was still drizzling or raining at times during the race didn't help). Decided to have fun, not be angry at the dangerous slippery trails, and so did I. Ipod on at high volume, not listening to other runners complaining, keeping up uphill, overtaking downhill, enjoying the scenery (ie mainly the stars, and the lights coming from the towns around, and the big orange glow behind the horizon, looking like a pre-sunrise, but which I assume was Lyon glowing in the dark. Didnt see the moon though...). First CP at 16km, Patrice had told me he had been advised not to stop because of the crowd, but I still felt like having something to eat and drink: bad idea. Everybody was pushing their way through, jostling, not very polite at all, made me really angry. Had my two glasses of lemon drink, some biscuits, put some in my pocket, and left as quickly as I could. The night felt really cold after the overheated tent. So much hated this first stop that I passed the next one without even slowing down.
Then came a biiig downhill on a rocky track covered in autumn leaves wet from the rain, hiding some roots, wet grass on the sides, and big puddles and patches of mud everywhere you had to avoid. At some point I stopped along with another guy to help a runner who was sitting on the side, looking all white: we asked if he was ok, offered food, and finally got him back on his feet and moving again before he got cold, showing him the next CP further up on the right and requesting him not to stop before he got there; when we were sure he was moving again we left, and I started moving quicker to make up for the stop. And then I just enjoyed this downhill a lot, probably too much actually, following a good descending guy in blue in his footsteps to overtake everybody else being careful. Too much because then I just crashed hard from the lack of energy (never actually crashed to the floor, unlike lots of other people yet being more careful than me, that I could see with mud all over up to the shoulders). After this section I suddenly realised I had passed halfway and was further than I thought, pleasant feeling, but then about an eternity later my Garmin told me I had just passed halfway (misread it the first time??), quite unpleasant feeling... :-/ and then yet another eternity later it was Saint-Genoux CP announcing 34km: half way again, while my Garmin read over 37 km... someone else was asking a volunteer who said that yes, everybody had different distance on their watch and that we had done sth like 34 to 36km.
Disappointed by this, having done only 34 km finally (in something like 5h45 if I remember well), I then had a very hard patch. After that CP it was hard, lost some motivation, started counting what time I would do if walking all the rest of the way, and wasn't quite happy with the result. Started wondering why I was doing so long races if I start struggling after 30km... thought about Marysville too, my previous experience at a long event with no appropriate training beforehand. Then I started falling asleep too (despite the afternoon before the start spent drowsing in a beach chair, on a bench, anywhere I could), and my head started turning, unless it was the rest of the world turning around it; my stomach was claiming food but not really willing to digest what I had (madeleine cookies from the previous cp). So the next checkpoint at Soucieu en Jarez was very welcome, at 6h45, I had my first real break sitting on the floor doing a bit of stretching and just letting my mind recover, also tried the Redbull diluted in water, out of other choices because i've always been doubtful about that as a race drink, but it really did its job. I hesitated about taking the headtorch off already but decided to keep it finally. Then had a second glass of diluted Red Bull just before leaving, and was then full awake.
Just in time for a second joyful downhill, the famous Bois d'Arfeuille: had huge fun overtaking everyone, noone was running anymore, everybody was super careful not to slip, while I was just jumping and flying down, great fun in there. Still dark for a while so good thing I had kept my headtorch, then daylight came, but no sunrise, the sky just turned from black to grey and cloudy all over. Lots of concrete now, running through villages just awakening to a new day, oblivious of all these crazy people who are coming from Saint-Etienne over 50km away. A few people are up and cheering though. I meet a guy who is obviously struggling and limping. I slow down to walk with him and ask how he's doing, and he answers his knees are blocked, he tells me that he was injured for the past two months (a pulled muscle back the thigh. I don't tell him I was injured too) and couldn't train enough, and that his body is just not trained enough anymore. We chat for a while, he says that the next CP is just 1 or 2 km away and then it's a big hill followed by 12 never-ending flat km to the finish. (Turns out he was all wrong.) Suddenly we reach a steeper downhill (I forced myself to walk on the progressive concrete downhill chatting with him, but now couldn't resist that one ^^) so I encourage him and leave full speed, thinking the CP is just round the corner, but it was actually still 6km away. Plus the uphill started before it, the famous Chaponost uphill. And well... I never really felt this so famous hard uphill, not sure where it was, was awaiting it until I finally reached to CP and realised I had passed it already... Not much to be scared of here really.
No more redbull at this CP, no more lemon either, so it's water, and fruit jellies, and go again quickly. It starts from the CP straight uphill, and seeing the aqueduct I remember the roadbook talking about the steep last uphill of "Aqueduc de Beaunant": here it is, and steep it is, but fortunately quite short. Well, a few turns surprise us with the hill still continuing after them, but still, very short. And then a long flat through villages, a 15km sign somewhere, and I am wondering if there will be any more downhill before the last 8 km flat in Lyon, and it does not come. But then finally here it is, we are in the outskirts of Lyon probably, on a big windy road downhill, and I feel like I have seen this road before as a kid, no idea why... And here I start running again, see a first guy jogging and try to follow but he's way too fast for me, then cling on to a pair of other guys (joggers, not part of the race) who run about 11-12 km/h, take them as rabbits and follow while they overtake everybody, the runners (walkers at that point for most of them) step aside for them and I take advantage of the open way. It lasts for a while, no idea how long, until we take a turn and they don't. We are at the top of a big stairs, where a guy is pointing towards the stadium saying "that's where the finish is", but I don't really watch yet, just keep going fast. Some stairs later that some people are hobbling down, it's the road again.
Finally we reach the quays along the Saône, then up and down to the quays along the Rhône. The 5km sign happens shortly after the 10km sign (maybe about 3km or so) and here I am hoping again that the course is really 68 and not 70 km. But then it's a loong way along the water (I love running along the water, but I'm starting to tire up though). It's a mix of paved track, sandy track, concrete, in a desertic industrial area. Lots of people are jogging everywhere around there, there is a girl "jogging" so slow that we all pass her with the 60+ km in our legs and the pack on our backs. I wonder if we depressed her... :-) Keep going along the water, sometimes singing but there are too many people around, I also catch up with this super-fast running long-haired guy who is actually walking now and chatting with a runner from the race, he must be his crew, running fast just to catch him.
Then we get to the big park where the stadium is, but I can't see it anywhere. Run, run, run, in the grass, with Mala Vida at high volume, amongst tourists, run, run, trying to force myself not to walk, helped by good music (that's when Su Di Noi happened on my iPod, precisely, and Demain, and Nowhere Fast ^^). Then as my Garmin shows up 69 km already, I ask a passer by where the hell is this stadium (with a smile), and he answers it's just round the corner. And indeed, suddenly it is here, and a biiiig crowd cheering behind fences, really huge crowd, I feel like Kilian at the end of UTMB running in between such a crowd, want to high five them, or rather want to sprint, which is what I do when I finally see the big arches, then a 100m sign, faster, then a 75m, and 50m, then we enter the stadium, the crowd is even bigger, then I almost trip on the finish line, and here I am, straight to the ground to recover my breathe and mind. Done!