Diagonal des Fadas 140km: Aix en Provence a Marseille

Sainte Victoire, Sainte Baume and the Calanques. Three iconic places to traverse on the South of France. They are not difficult in case of elevation gain or technical climbing, however, the rockiness of the terrain is just brutal. You must be alert all the time, watching out for all the stones and roots. There are even completely flat sections, where you are forced to walk, because the high knee running would result in draining struggle and elevated heart rate. This is mentally exhausting and together with sleep deprivation, the cruel heat and the direct sun-rays of the day, can result in a lot of negative thoughts.

Challenge of Mental Fortitude

I wore a heart rate monitor for the first 3hours of the race, to start out slow and to increase my pace later on. To get into a quality fat burning mode and to not to fall into the trap of a later bonk. However the heat was pumping up my heart beats, without even forcing the pace. I was falling behind while trying to adjust my effort and found myself at the back of the pack. This started greatly annoying me as my fitness level and preparation was very appropriate for a first 5 finish. 105.000m of elevation gain since January. 400hours of endurance training without the gym sessions and mobility workouts. I ignored the heart rate and this was a bad move. I should have just stayed very low for about 5hours and even if I had lost 90minutes already during this short time-span, it could have been regained later on.

My body was not able to recover. I had around 160bpm average heart rate due to the heat of the day and arriving at the 18km mark, my legs were trashed. I mean, they felt like I already ran at least 100km. What ? I was hydrating and taking in salt like crazy, but nothing was working. I was pushing myself to the limits and moving constantly, regardless that people were passing me. My head was turning, my stomach was upside down, my body was shutting me out, closing in on my brain. I was yawning, having nausea and cramping up like crazy.

Dropping out was not in my dictionary this day. It became personal, I forgot about having positive race results, but zoomed in, on the small tasks. – It shall come to pass ! – I was repeating to myself. Breathe and let it go ! At the 30km mark a 30minute heat management pause was very necessary. I had to drink a lot of soup, then 1L of sparkling salted water. This opened up my stomach and with more soup to come, I was able to take in solid foods. I left the aid station just after 6h hours past. 6hours for 30 km ? Horrible ! A lot of pain was following each of my steps. Hips, knees, ankles, tight lower back and neck, but no more cramps and a stable mind.

We were advancing faster and faster with a friend (Benji) on the next 15km flat pavement stretch. The sunset was giving us some piece. I was finally able to eat on the move too. The night passed very well and my progression was matching my expectations. I wanted to have this kind of feeling all day. I needed only 3 to 5 minutes at aid stations and could eat all kind of mixtures, digesting and absorbing them with a direct energy transfer from stomach to muscles. I got into the groove with a runner wearing huaraches and a Tarahumara indien and we danced through the night effortlessly.

Arriving to the last section’s first aid-station was painful. The sun commenced burning again, slowing me down more and more. Before getting in my soup dose, I had to tackle an hour long descent on a steep concrete route, jamming my toes to the front of my Altras. I did what I could do there to eat, drink, cool-down, but the next 31km took me at least 6hours.

It was a furnace. 28°C in shade, 40°C under the sun. No wind, no clouds. I rushed the last 6.8km stretch in about an hour, leaving 6 guys behind and did finish in 24 hours, I think around 21st place. I arrived in one piece, in spite of the  light heat stroke suffered twice. Not the results I prepared for during the last 5months, but the mental battle was still amazingly satisfying after it was over.

From a race like this, we can learn a lot. You can do anything to get your body cooled down: from a nutrition or hydration standpoint, but from external refrigeration too. If you were not at least minimally heat adapted, it would mean next to nothing. This was the very first volcanic week of the year and I did not get enough from this oven effect. I obtained some light suntan to avoid using solar creams and had some beach time with my wife, but no real running was done under the blazing fireball. You would not start hard training under the sun during the taper period, would you ?

It was an epic experience to run this breathtaking race and congratulations to all the participants. Respect to the Tarahumara indiens too, who tackled this adventure bravely, despite the unusual conditions. A giant felicitations to the great friend who finished 5th overall, 1st veteran: Bertrand !

Mental Fortitude !!!