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Taking On an Ultra as a Team

215 km. 29 sections. 2 days. 1 Night. The Run Mate Lac Léman Relay is all about numbers. And, as the Marais Running Club from Paris found out, to finish it, you need team members you can count on.


After the celebrations had ended and the muscles had recovered, MRC crew member Valentin Vuarnet tooks us through a blow by blow account of the team’s experience at the inaugural Run Mate Lac Léman – an epic ultra relay on the stunning shores of Lake Geneva. 


Valentin, Congrats on an epic achievement at Run Mate. Let’s start from the very beginning. How were you feeling before the race? 

We have a weekly club run in Paris but we also integrate targeted training and preparations for races and we worked on a program for the Run Mate relay. 


We were mentally ready because we knew the region well, its cities, its villages, its landscapes. We arrived in Thonon-Les-Bains the day before the race and our time was scheduled as follows: eat, stretch, meditate, sleep, repeat. 


What we actually didn’t expect was how much off-road and trail running the race entailed. We knew the track around the entire lake because we had cycled it this summer as part of the preparation. But the organizers decided to add several relay legs that went ‘off-the-grid’ and into the woods or through vineyards. That made us a little nervous right before the start. 



Did you have a strategy for the race? 

We made sure to spread out all kilometers evenly, taking into account elevation and other challenges. Our sole objective was to finish the race altogether, with smiles on our faces and our heads filled with unforgettable memories. We each ran 4 to 5 legs throughout the race; that’s roughly equivalent to 37 kilometers each. We ran individually every two hours which was very challenging over 20 hours.  


How did you decide who runs when

We took that decision a few weeks prior to the race according to individual fitness levels and also mental strength. We knew what to expect in terms distances and elevation on all 29 legs. And we actually finalized that plan according to who’s family and friends were going to be present to support us. We were all born and raised in the region and our families are still there. It came down to who’s family was going to cheer us on at 7 p.m., at 10 p.m., at 12 a.m. and even at 2 a.m. according to the town we were running through. Everything actually fell into place smoothly as we ran.



When did it start to get tough?

Without a doubt, when the sun went down. It became cold and fatigue gradually started to take over. It gets really tough on your third relay segment when it’s the middle of the night, everyone is sleeping in the van, there’s barely any noise around and it’s pitch black. 


But then you start running, the crisp air hits your face and your whole soul slowly wakes up. That’s when you stop overthinking and you just go. 


What were the biggest challenges along the way? 

There were quite a few actually, and we had to handle them simultaneously. There are 29 sections of around 8 or 9 km (around 5 miles) so we had to run four to five times each. Once you’d finished a leg, you had to mentally prep to go back out again two hours later. 


You had to change clothes every time. You had to stretch in between and warm up again. You had nutrition stops which were obviously vital, but you also couldn’t overeat because you wouldn’t digest your food in time for your next relay. But we experienced all of these challenges all together, throughout the 215k, and we were there for one another when it got really hard.



What were the physical and emotional challenges you faced?

Physically it got really intense with details like the repetition of segments, the changes in temperature, the road itself getting slippery and muddy. And then the lack of sleep added another challenge on top of all of that. It all starts playing with your head at some point. I personally remember looking at everyone’s face and how tired everyone got at a certain point. There was no more smiling. And then I heard a few “I won’t be able to do another one”, “I’m giving up”, “Let’s go home,” and “What were we thinking?”. But that was temporary. We made it to the end.


What were the biggest surprises along the way? 

The course of the race itself was a big surprise because it didn’t follow the road we all knew around the lake. We went through forests and vineyards at certain times and it turned out to be a blessing actually! The whole organization of Run Mate was also something we were also surprised and impressed with. It’s their first edition and everyone is a volunteer. To find volunteers at 2 a.m. in the middle of nowhere, playing music and serving us a cup of soup was probably the best thing. 


How did you keep the team spirit high

Our team is  very close knit from the get-go. We’ve known each other for the longest time. We’re evolving all together at this point in our lives too. We’re brothers and that helps tremendously when you have to go through physical and mental challenges.


We knew how to support each other, when to push, when to give some space. 


On our last relay for instance, Anthony was the one running and we knew he had reached his limit. That specific leg was 12k, through vineyards, at 10 a.m. when the sun was just starting to burn. Plus, there was a lot of positive/negative elevation. So Florian jumped out of the van and ran with Anthony for the last 6k, cheering him on. Then Maxence got on the bike and rode next to them both for the last 2k.  For the last kilometer we all started running with Anthony and we crossed the line together. Check out our faces on the pictures. You can see what it meant. 



How did the On gear perform? 

We could not have asked for better gear! We experienced major drops in temperature throughout Run Mate, from 6°C (43°F) at night to 24° (75°F)at the finish line. The Weather Jacket was probably our favorite piece because it really did keep you dry and warm while running at night. We all wore a Performance-T while running which also made all segments under the blasting sun a lot more enjoyable. It was lightweight, it was breathable, it moved with you without any friction. 


In terms of shoes, we all wore Cloudstratus which was perfect for this type of race. The shoe grips well, it’s extremely stable and you could definitely feel how it absorbed impact and turned it into forward-motion.


We were also equipped with all the gear “comfort”, so the Comfort-T, Comfort Long-T and even the Sweat Pants; that range is the best when it comes to those times in-between legs when you need to rest and re-energize. 

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How did it feel to cross the line? 

We were overwhelmed with emotion. And very very sore too! This is our region, this is the place we all grew up in before moving to Paris and the fact that we prepped this race for 6 months and ran all 215km all together through to the finish line made us super emotional. Some of us cried, I won’t even deny it! We were also quite impressed with our results because with our time [19:22:18!] we ended up placing 17th out of 133 teams in the ultra category. 


How did you guys celebrate? 

We celebrated twice actually! The first part was in Vevey, on the Run Mate grounds where we shared a well-deserved beer and some food. We all  jumped into the lake after that. Later on, we headed over to the hills of Montreux where we had rented a villa. We all got to shower and sleep a few hours before ending our day watching a beautiful sunset together.  We also had a few friends from the region stop by as well as Lausanne’s run crew DNH who we know very well.


Looking back now, is there anything you would you have done differently?

I think we would have targeted our training a lot more and worked more on handling the changes in elevation. That would have saved us from some moments of physical torture!



What would you say to a crew who are thinking about taking on the same race next year?

We would say don’t think about it and just go for it. Register as soon as possible and start thinking about the logistics and organization. Obviously in between all of that, train and train some more – and make sure to include uphill/downhill sessions!. 


Pressure starts being palpable the closer you get to race day but if you have worked on your plan well in advance, everything is going to fall into place naturally. Oh and pay attention to the race itself and how they have included off-road segments in there which becomes tricky. Run Mate remains a physically and mentally challenging event. 


What’s the next challenge for MRC? 

It’s back to our weekly runs in Paris with the rest of the crew and our regular training. We definitely have some big race goals for events in France and throughout Europe in 2020. We’ll keep you posted…


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