Advice from a former winner
Julien COUGNAUD: winner of the 2006 Montcalm Marathon.
I came to the slopes of the Montcalm for the first time in 2004 when I was twenty. I was looking for a way to mark my twentieth birthday with a race at the height of the event, a high mountains race with several summits to climb. I could not have found a better way. An exceptional landscape! I was not wrong, what I found there are not only beautiful landscapes but also men and women who share their passion and their love of the mountains.
Since then, I have run the race 10 times and I won the 2006 edition. It was an exceptional victory for me, a dream come true. It's never easy to win on a mountain race when you come from les Sables d'Olonne.
At first, I came alone with my parents for the holidays and the race. Then my brothers got involved in the adventure, and now our wives and our children are part of it too. Year after year, Montcalm has become an unmissable way to bring our family together and to meet and pay tribute to our parents, who are also in love with the mountains.
- 1st at the 2006 Montcalm Marathon.
- 4th at the Nantes Marathon.
- 4th at the GRP (80 km) in 2018.
- 1st at the “Gendarmes and Voleurs de Temps” (32km) in 2018.
My tip to you to win the Montcalm Marathon is to look up and open your eyes, and there, you will have won everything ...
See you very soon on the “stone”.
Winner of the Montcalm Ultra (the Montcalm Marathon followed by the Novis Trail, which took place for the 25th anniversary of the Montcalm Challenge) and creator of the course of the PICaPICA.
Tips for the Novis Trail:
The Novis trail is very accessible and does not present any particular difficulty. The paths are very nice and well maintained. Many parts are flat, with a magnificent view to the 3000 m summits of the Ariège. It is therefore important to manage well the steep parts in order to be able to efficiently speed up again on the following parts. It is not necessary to do a lot of mountain running to perform well but you need to be a complete runner, fast on the steep parts as well as on the flat ones.
Tips for the Marathon:
It is important to distinguish 4 parts in the course of the Marathon:
- From Auzat to the L’Artigue Parking (about 10 km long and 350 m of positive altitude difference): a first part, easy and slightly uphill, with a steep section at km 4 followed by a flat part on the square duct. It is important to avoid “over-revving” and to get caught by euphoria.
- From the L’Artigue Parking to the Pique d’Estats (about 12 km long and 2400 m positive altitude difference): the serious things begin with the ascent to the 3000 m summits. This climb is long and very steep. Manage your pace well, hydrate and eat as necessary. Do not start the climb at a too high pace as you might burn out before the summit.
- From the Pique d'Estats to the L’Artigue Parking (about 10 km long and 2100 m negative altitude difference): to run down 2000 m on a steep path is not easy and requires good preparation and good management of the descent. Try to preserve your quadriceps muscles as much as possible by being as smooth and relaxed as possible. And above all, be CAREFUL.
- From the L’Artigue Parking to Auzat (about 10 km long and 200m negative altitude difference): if you have managed your effort well, this part will be a mere formality. A long descent slightly downhill on which you can run very fast. However, if you have mismanaged the previous part of the race, this part will seem endless to you.
Tips for the PICaPICA:
Clearly, the secret to getting ready for the PICaPICA is spending many hours in the mountains. Fast hiking is the effort that will bring you closer to what you will have to do on the day of the race. Accustom your body to withstand positive altitude difference but especially the negative one. The races of the Andorra Ultra Trail are excellent to prepare for what you will face in a high mountains’ environment. PICaPICA is not a race, it's an adventure, so you have to tackle it as such.
My new role as an organizer:
What an experience! When you are a runner, you do not really realize how many dozens of volunteers work for a year of preparation so that you can have a great event on D-Day. Organizing a Mountain Ultra is more tiring than running it! But what a joy to be able to make you discover all the beauty of our massifs with a new concept of race. The PICaPICA is unique, it is a chance for me that the organization has trusted me for this project, a little crazy but which has found its place in the heart of many mountaineers who want to get off the beaten track. Thanks to this new concept, all races of the Montcalm Challenge have benefited from a spotlight effect and people now come from all over the world to run in our mountains.
First and foremost, it is essential to position the PICaPICA in the world of trail running: this race is unique and very different from all the others because of its exceptional km to altitude difference ratio.
The preparation to be optimal will have to take into account this specificity and the very important technicality of the field. Most of the time you will have to walk. Your preparation will have to be focused on muscular power and endurance which are essential qualities for steep walking.
For runners who live far from the mountains, I advise you to make a big sequence of 3 or 4 days of positive altitude difference to accustom your body. On a daily basis, do not hesitate to integrate indoor stepper and bike, with a low ratio of rpm to promote the development of muscular power.
Even for mountaineers, it is important to couple your training with a sport where the athlete is carried like cycling.
It is important in your preparation to integrate races with demanding ground conditions. Obviously, the 120 km of the Great 6666 Raid is a great way to prepare, two months before the start of the PICaPICA, but the 70 km and 4300 m positive altitude difference is an equally interesting format to evolve on a stony and technical ground. I would even tend to direct the future PICaPICA participants on this format to best launch their summer preparation.
It is important to manage the race from the very beginning. You can be on a good pace when running uphill but caution is essential for the first descents to preserve your muscular fiber capital. Being patient is the key word in this event: every kilometer brings you closer to the finish so, take advantage of every moment of respite to recover rather than trying to save time. Your average speed will be much slower than in any other event and you will have to be mentally prepared to accept it. Mind is the other key to your success, as you will have many difficulties to overcome before finishing the PICaPICA. All the experience you have accumulated in the mountains will be of great help to you the more you advance in the race.
Two last tips that matter:
I strongly advise you to use sticks for the PICaPICA but foldable ones because there are many passages that require the use of hands.
Respect the mandatory material and take care not to neglect this point. For the anecdote, last year I left with an 18 L bag and for the first time in a race, I had to use all the equipment that I carried inside my bag.
Steffi JIMENEZ: Several times winner of the Montcalm Marathon.
The Montcalm "little fiancée" !
Montcalm = a childhood dream, "one day I, too, will go up there"
My dad brought me to this race. I started with the children’s race and then I grew up and realized my dream, going to the top of Ariège and in a festive atmosphere. A magnificent challenge but it is important to go there by being well prepared.
We are talking about a mountain trail and not an ordinary trail.
A long ascent to climb two peaks over 3000 m altitude but also a long descent. But everything is possible thanks to this wonderful organization team.
Benjamin BELLAMY (New Balance), Winner Trail des Novis in 2016 & 2018:
When I was a kid, I used to accompany my father on this race and I admired these runners who, defying the mountain, went to tickle the clouds at the top of the Ariège before going down to Auzat (limping most of the time) and to cross the finish line as a hero.
I dreamed of being able to imitate them one day and my passion for running sprung up partly on this village square of Auzat.
Regarding the Novis trail (Winner in 2016 & 2018) :
the preparation will have to be quite compete because the itinerary is difficult too! Indeed, more or less steep ascents, descents and flats follow each other. So, my little advice would be to work during training on the change of pace and especially the climb-descent-climb sequence. It hurts the legs but it pays!
Regarding the Marathon of Montcalm (4th 2017- 4h36) :
After having postponed my participation for calendar reasons and surely also for a certain fear of this terrible descent, I finally decided to go for it and to attack “the stone” (the name that one gives here to the Montcalm). To strengthen the symbolic side of this race, we also climb the peak of Estats, the highest peak of Catalonia ...
And to make things even easier, whenever I talked about the race to a runner having already participated in it, he/she warned me that the end of race was terribly difficult and that one had to keep a little energy in reserve for the last kilometers.
In short, I was not very confident when I took the start of the race but the extra motivation and happiness to be there took over everything else!
I still suffered a lot as soon as the slope increased, reaching the top seemed to me extremely difficult, I went down quite "cautiously" with difficulty to find good supports until the path became less slippery and I finally let go of all my strength in the last kilometers.
So, I can tell you that I have lived very beautiful emotions, supported throughout the course by volunteers, friends and inhabitants from Ariège at the top, my father and Nicolas as enthusiastic fans and food supply providers, my family supporting me in the last kilometers ...
From a purely sporting point of view, my performance of the day does not seem particularly good but you will understand that on that Saturday, the essential was not there for me!
I will add that what I also like in this organization is that we really feel the love of the mountains and the pleasure that volunteers take to make this experience as beautiful as possible for the runners! A very nice family that we have pleasure to meet in mid-August.
And the day of the race, you have to know how to manage your effort to avoid to tire yourself out during the ascent to Goulier. The path is long thereafter and a well-managed ascent can make you save a lot of time.
The Montcalm marathon has to be managed with caution because its itinerary is very varied (we can distinguish 4 different parts): a start of the race that allows you to gradually warm up between Auzat and L'Artigue (12 km & 700 m of positive altitude difference).
Then suddenly a real mountain race, very technical (21 km & 2050 m positive altitude difference and 2050 m negative altitude difference) which begins with an ascent of 1900 m positive altitude difference non-stop to reach the summit of Montcalm (3077 m). Managing the transition well to be able to express yourself and to enjoy the upper part is essential. A slight descent to the pass of Riufret (2978 m) before moving on to the end of the ascent to the Pique d'Estats (3143 m).
Once you have reached the highest point of Catalonia, you have to begin the descent towards L’Artigue (10 km & 2000 m negative altitude difference) with a regular pace because it is very long. The descent requires a high concentration because it is technical until the food supply point of Pinet, then becomes easier but still treacherous to L'Artigue, with many traps you have to avoid to fall into.
It is necessary to arrive in good shape at this supply point to finish the race well (9 km & 500 m negative altitude difference) and to progress in the ranking on this easy part, on a false flat which goes down to Auzat.
One of Michel's best memories is his victory in 2011 because:
" A wasp stung my foot the day before the start of the race and, being allergic, my foot did not stop swelling, so much so that on Saturday morning when I got up, I could not put on my trail shoes anymore. But from the first kilometers, good sensations came back and my sore foot was quickly replaced by a lot of gastric problems that I think were related to the reaction of my body to the allergy”. Michel won the race despite all these adventures in 4 h 30 min 12 s.
Michel RABAT, it’s also a family story with his father Patrick and his sister Agnès who are also regulars of the Montcalm challenge. The Rabat family also produces wines, fruit and vegetables that grow at the foot of Canigou. As every year, the products of the “Mas dels Miquels” will be on sale on the Auzat village square on Saturday 17 August for the greatest happiness of all.