From trail running to ultra-trail running
Jérémy Fontaine, the AViSTO Sophia Antipolis manager, is a man of adventures. Before joining AViSTO in 2015, he traveled around the world crossing South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. During this journey, he reached the summit of Huayna Potosi, in Bolivia, at an altitude of more than 6000 m. In 2017, he climbed Mont Blanc. Since then, he has embarked in trail running, with the aim of tackling longer and longer distances. Last July, he participated in the ultra-trail Côte d’Azur Mercantour, the 95 km format with 5800 m of elevation gain, which he covered in 20 hours and finished at the 21st rank. He tells us his story.
Q: To begin, can you explain to us what a trail and an ultra-trail are?
The word trail derives from English and means track or path; in short, it is about running on the trails, in nature, as opposed to running on the road. When we reach 100 km and beyond, we speak of ultra-trail.
Last July, you participated in the Ultra-Trail Côte d’Azur Mercantour, 95 km format. Tell us more about it…
We started at 5 am, with headlamps. The lack of sleep and the apprehension of such a challenge made the beginning difficult.
The first light of day helped me get into the race, I arrived at the first supply point 45 minutes ahead of my plan.
Entering the valley, the heat became very important, making the end of the first third of the race very tiring for the body. A little further, at the Roquebillière life base, I was able to take a real break to eat and change my wet clothes.
After about 7 hours of race, I had covered 53 kilometers, there were still 42 to go and 3000 meters of elevation.
That’s right! I left at around 2 p.m., and all of a sudden I felt totally shattered. Additionally, the heat greatly complicated things: I felt like I was no longer moving forward.
I was able to join a shady trail, which allowed me to regain consciousness and continue at a better pace.
Q: Did you run alone all the time?
I ran alone until the 70th kilometer supply point, it was around 6 p.m. There, my two friends and colleagues Richard (Tournois) and Thibault (Mehrenberger) were waiting for me, and they then came with me. Richard for a vertical kilometer, Thibault up to the end.
Psychologically, it helped me a lot. We took a good pace, and overtook a lot of competitors, which gave me even more energy.
The night started to fall, we turned on the headlamps, I felt my last lack of strength around 10:30 p.m., but I hung on and the adrenaline of the end of the race allowed me to continue and thus cross the finish line before 1 am.
Q: At that time, how did you feel?
I was happy, surprisingly fresh, and lucid. I had enjoyed most of the race and was an hour ahead of my race plan.
Q: Now let’s talk about your motivation. What attracted you to ultra-trail?
I have a constant need to surpass myself, to play with my limits. Short distances (15 – 30 km) do not motivate me, I like to push my resistance capacities ever further, much more than trying to make time performances in smaller races.
In addition, doing sports in general and running, in particular, gives me real well-being. It’s a true outlet.
Finally, the need for surpassing oneself allows for a form of reconnection with oneself. It’s just you, your body, and your mind, with no possible escape. And the reward is better self-knowledge.
Q: How did you start?
By nature, I like to explore. During my world tour in 2013-2014, I rediscovered the mountains as well as the reconnection to nature and the humility it brings. You can’t cheat in the mountains. The elements will always be stronger…
Then, I was involved in the creation of a trail club at the end of 2020, in Saint-Jeannet (06). At first, the idea of running 20 km impressed me, it has since become commonplace. It’s a sport that you quickly take a liking to, and that I could even describe as addictive.
Q: How did you prepare for your trail?
The purists follow very precise programs, and pay attention to their lifestyle; I merely run a lot (in distance and in altitude). To give you an idea, during the first 8 months of 2022, I have already covered more than 1500 km with a total elevation gain of more than 70,000 m.
Q: What will be your next challenge?
The objective is clear: exceed 100 km! But that’s only one step, the goal I have in mind is to be able to complete my first 100 miles (160 km), the « gold » distance for trail runners.
It is not something that happens overnight. We are talking about race formats that spread over more than 24 hours, and can approach or even exceed 48 hours… I will have to continue to be regular in training but also follow a more specific preparation than what I am doing today.
Q: In 2022, at AViSTO Sophia, Thibault Mehrenberger cycled 500 km during the Race Across France. Walter Allemand completed the mythical Pierra Menta (90 km of ski mountaineering, with 10 km of elevation gain). And you are close to 100 km in trail running. It’s impressive! Has this fostered a momentum towards sport in Vallauris?
Many people have started exercising more regularly. Whether it’s cycling, CrossFit, running, squash or simply “going to the gym”, it’s great to see this enthusiasm to move and fight against our sedentary life behind a screen.
Taking heed of this momentum, we had the idea last year to create “Transpaca”, the multi-sport relay that linked the ADVANS Aix-en-Provence and ADVANS Sophia agencies to each other.
When you do sports, the important point is not the performance itself. Everyone has their level as well as their own constraints to be able to invest in it. What I like in sports is to push your limits, to challenge yourself. To set goals, but above all to give yourself the means to achieve them. A goal is not necessarily a time or a scary distance… it can start by doing one session a week. It is a goal in itself. And if we stick to it, the rest will follow… maybe a little too much, because it quickly becomes addictive!
In the end, it is better to do too much sports than to drink too much beer, right? The two are not incompatible though…
Q: You mentioned the Transpaca: will there be a 2023 edition?
Absolutely, we are already working on its organization! It will take place on May 12 and 13, 2023. The motivated people can already book their weekend, whether to join us for the sports activities, or to help us with logistics.