The Festival des Templiers (Templars’ Great Run) is one of the major trail events in France, bringing genuine fame to the winners in true Euro-style. Now in its 19th year, it includes multiple distances around Millau in southern France over the weekend of October 25 to 27, 2013. The runs are based on the rural, community life, and landscapes of the Grands Causses, the limestone cliffs and highlands surrounded by steep woodlands this region is known for.
In particular, this is the event that claims to have started the popularization of trail running in France which now includes numerous world-class races like UTMB. The history of French trail running could be argued to have begun in France in 1995 on the Causse du Larzac trails with the first edition of this event. The size and scope of the races at Templiers evolved over time while keeping the scenery which gives it so much character. Last year the podium included a variety of nationalities and big names like Núria Picas, Emelie Forsberg, and Lizzy Hawker. The mixture of singletrack and wider trails encompasses a wide variety of landscapes.
Over the three days of the event, an estimated 7,500 runners will complete one of the races, with the main draw being the 72k (about 45 miles, although the distance varies a bit each year) Grand Course des Templiers with 3,400 meters (11,000 feet) of ascending, the final stage of the French Athletics Federation National Trail Tour. It alone accommodates 2,500 runners, far more than any U.S. ultra, and will take place on Sunday. The other distances available range from a kid’s 1.5k (1 mile) race to the 105k (65 miles) Endurance Trail with a total of 11 events.
Andy Symonds, of Great Britain, now lives in France and won the 73k race in 2011, told us, “The race is one of the oldest in France and, until this year, in the absence of a designated French trail champs, was considered to be just that. So the race always attracts a lot of France’s best trail runners. Although, being October, there’s usually a lot of DNS injury carnage at the end of the season.”
Millau styles itself as the capital of French outdoor sports, something that Chamonix may argue with. The races’ scenery includes secret ravines, old castles, ghost villages, and towns with accordion players. It also includes terrific landscapes such as the Gorges de la Dourbie, the Causse du Larzac, canyons, and caves like the Owl Cave. However, it’s not one of the more technical European trail races. As Andy Symonds says, “The course is really what I’d define as pure and classic trail running. It’s fast, largely very runnable, and undulating without being mountainous. For me, it’s the sort of course that would make a good world-trail championship.”
to the 73k distance, which has prize money 10 deep for men and women.
This year the Grand Course des Templiers will still be a closely watched race on the European scene with stars signed up including UTMB winner, Xavier Thevenard (Asics/France), Miguel Heras (Salomon/Spain), three-time men’s winner, Thomas Lorblanchet (Asics/France), Emmanuel Gault (Asics/France), Sylvain Court (Adidas/France), Erik Clavery (Asics/France), Thierry Breuil (Kalenji/France), among many other high-level men, mainly from France. In the women’s race, defending Templiers women’s champion, Núria Picas (Buff/Spain) returns, and she’ll compete with Aurélia Truel (Tecnica/France), Julia Böttger (Salomon/Germany), and other women.