112 km, 6470 m D+, 7630 m D- , 17h34
It's funny to tell the story of this race exactly 7 months later, but it brings back memories that will stay with me forever. This is the story of my first international race.
It all started after my victory in the Quebec Mega Trail 110 km in July 2019, where the prize for the winner was an invitation to the Grand Raid de la Réunion. Without hesitation, I embarked on the adventure! At the beginning of 2019, when I was only in my first year of trail racing, I planned to stay in Quebec to see how I was doing in my province before venturing on a national or international level. However, my goals have changed and my training was now focused towards the Grand Raid taking place in October.
Before the race
I had the chance to join the Grand Raid Warriors team representing La Clinique du Coureur, and we had a memorable stay that will be hard to beat! We rented trucks which allowed us to split into small groups depending on what we wanted to do during the day! In the first few days on the island, I had the chance to explore different trails to familiarize myself with the technical terrain of Reunion Island. I was dazzled by the enchanting landscapes: Maïdo, sentier des Galets, canalisation des Orangers, piton de la Fournaise, sentier du Zèbre à l'Entre-Deux, the multiple waterfalls, visits to markets, the beach... I fell in love with the island!
A few days before the race, we calmed our nerves and went into race and preparation mode to get ready for the start. The day before the race, we were handed our race numbers, GPS beacons and famous jerseys that we had to wear at the start and upon arrival of the race. We were 2 Quebecers, Elisabeth Cauchon and I on the Trail de Bourbon, which is the sister race of the Diagonale des Fous.
"We had a memorable stay that will be hard to beat!" - Anne Champagne
Our start was on Friday 9pm while the start of the Diagonale, the queen race, and the Mascareigne, the 3rd race of the Grand Raid, started on Thursday evening. We were the only members of the team to stay at the hotel, rest and watch the start of the race live on television.
On D-Day, I properly prepared my equipment and my ravitos bags. I rested on the bus taking us to the start of the race which was in Cilaos, the central point of the island. I was so calm. I was smiling. I was ready both physically and mentally.
At 9 p.m., the start was launched by the words of the animator Ludovic Collet along with the sound of music and fireworks. There was a mass start as we all went fast to get rid of the pack. 1300 people in total were determined to conquer La Trail de Bourbon.
Quickly, the sounds of music and of people cheering fade away to let us face the first ascent, Le Bloc, leading us to the Caverne Dufour, the Piton des Neiges lodge, the highest point of the route at 2500 meters. I clocked 40th overall at this ravito. I reminded myself to stay calm and go at my own pace during the night because I know I'm a daredevil and didn't want to risk getting hurt at the beginning of the race. I learned after my injury at Harricana how to better manage the risk. During the night I managed to climb back up in the rankings and took the lead in the women's race at around km 30.
I had a rather magical moment at 4am, at km 45, in Marla. It was cold, close to 0 degrees, and there was frost on the ground. The sky was cloudy, but the moon lit up the path. I was in my bubble; I felt like I was flying. I was now 11th overall. I continued on my way at a very steady pace without getting angry. It was at Roche Plate, a small village in the heart of the Cirque de Mafate, that the routes of La Diagonale des Fous and the Trail de Bourbon crossed.
It was soon sunrise, and the second for the madmen who were facing the Diagonale. Some were refueling, some were sleeping, and some were on their way. Sunrise is like a rebirth, a second wind. I refueled and began the great ascent towards the Maïdo. It was difficult, but I was still smiling because I knew that after this ascent, we had a long 20 km descent to get out of the Cirque.
We had the option to have a supply bag in Maïdo, so I changed my socks and shoes and quickly got back on my way. I had told myself at the beginning to be consistent during the night, but when the sun showed its tip of the nose, it was time to "activate the oxen". Moreover with such a great descent combined with my strength, I sped off at high speed.
"It was motivating to meet people after having spent the night almost entirely alone." Anne Champagne
That's when I realized that I was 6th overall. It was motivating to meet people after having spent the night almost entirely alone. Arriving at km 80, on Savannah Island, the cameramen and journalists were there, and I was caught off guard by their questions. I had great energy, I managed my race management, my pace, my hydration, and my diet. At km 91, at Possession, I experienced another memorable moment that will forever remain etched in my mind.
It was the first time I saw people from the Grand Raid Warriors team, who had come back on the course to cheer us on. One of them, Albert Carrere, a physiotherapist in Spain, surprised me so much and helped me so much. Without even asking me, he assisted me for the last kilometers of the race as a support system when I hadn't asked for anything! I was in a tough spot at that moment, and he made the difference in my race by giving me a boost of energy, helping me, and telling me what was happening in the race with the other runners. I also saw my friends, Elisabeth's father and boyfriend, and Caroline Côté, who was there to film the Warriors' adventure. She was able to tell me the right words at the ravito Grande Chaloupe at km 101.
"The shouts of encouragement, all the people present... I was flying!" Anne Champagne
I was following a cameraman on bike when I saw Olivier Gagnon and Nicolas Fréret in the distance, all of them filming my arrival. As I entered the stadium, Jeff Cauchon gave me the Grand Raid Warriors flag, which I raised in the air. The shouts of encouragement, all the people present, Ludovic Collet, saying "Poupon face!"... I was flying! I crossed the finish line in a time of 17h34, beating my old record of 1h20. I smiled again and again. I don't think I really realized what was going on: a mixture of tiredness, joy, and other intense emotions!
After the interviews and the doping control, I found the beautiful gang of La Clinique du Coureur while waiting for the arrival of other runners.
On my way back to the hotel, after a shower and some rest, I called my parents who were crying with joy. I had such a great time that evening, followed by an award ceremony the next day. I received so much sharing, love, joy, and positivity from the islanders, my friends, and my entourage who were present or at a distance.
"This experience concluded my 2019 racing season in a memorable way. I have and will keep memories of it engraved in my memory. It further strengthens my passion for ultra distance trail running." Anne Champagne