Three times a Diagonale des Fous finisher, two times a winner, it’s France’s François D’haene. In the following interview, François talks about how constant adaptation is necessary for success in this race more than every other race, what he thinks of La Réunion’s excitement about the race, and what his training for the Diagonale des Fous has looked like since recovering from the ankle and foot injury that prevented him from starting Western States in June.
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François D’haene Pre-2016 Diagonale des Fous Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m on Réunion Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean with France’s François D’haene. Hi.
François D’haene: Hi, how are you?
iRunFar: Good. How are you doing?
iRunFar: You have just arrived to the island, but you are not unfamiliar with this place. This is your fourth time racing?
iRunFar: What keeps bringing you back to Réunion Island for this race?
D’haene: Each ultra trail is different. It’s really different. You must be a little bit stressed before each event. Each event is a little bit more different. It’s more hard; it’s more unique; it’s more wild; it’s more dry; it’s more technical; it’s more cold; it’s more hot. There are a lot of different things. The atmosphere is more different. The people are really welcoming. Yeah, it’s easy to come here from France. It’s a race with a lot of history. It’s a big mountain race. Yeah, I think I’m really happy to be back here. Last year I did a different race than this race just to keep motivated, but this year I was really happy to put this on my calendar.
iRunFar: Grand Raid Réunion—did this race go onto your calendar at the very beginning of the year as one of your focus races?
D’haene: Yes, it is one of my focus races.
iRunFar: The race itself—I have been here just for a couple days. This is my first time to the island. I am amazed by the technicality of the trails—all of the rocks and all of the stairs. What do you think? You come from a place where the trails are quite technical. What do you think about the trails?
D’haene: What’s amazing is that it’s totally different from the beginning to the finish. There are some technical parts and some not technical parts, but it’s always ascending or descending. There’s always a difficulty. If it’s not the floor, it’s about the humidity, or it’s about the night, or it’s about the rain, or it’s about the forest, or it’s about the mud. There’s always something that we need to adapt to. This is why at the start line, everybody is really small in terms of the event. We are always the same way hoping we will finish the adventure.
iRunFar: The microclimates of Réunion Island change from moment to moment to changes of altitude. You run through the wetter side of the island, and then you go through the very dry Mafate Crater. Then you’re on the western and northern slopes where it gets even drier. You start at the night time and you go up quite high at night where it’s cold. Then you go down lower in the daytime when it’s hot. How do you go about adapting to all of those changes over the course of 24 hours?
D’haene: I think it’s really hard because you can start at maybe 30 degrees [Celsius] in the rain and then you go to the volcano and it can be really cold like between 0 and 5 degrees [C] and sometimes with wind or rain. Then again 40 degrees [C] in the different cirques like Mafate and Cilaos and Salazie. It’s really different cirques and really different experiences. You need to be really careful with what you eat and what you drink and what your attention is on. Sometimes when it’s cold you have your attention and when it’s really warm you get tired suddenly. Yeah, a lot of people have stomach problems and problems with their feet and some things like that. You really need to be careful with you and your sensations and listen to your body more than any other race. It’s really important to listen to your body and don’t care about the other runners. I think it’s really the second priority to think about that. The first thing is taking care of yourself and listening to your body and always keep care of your stomach and always try to eat and drink even if it’s cold. You always need to drink and eat. It’s hard because sometimes it’s warm, and it’s hard to drink and eat, and you just want to eat. If you drink too much then you’ll have a stomach problem, and then you journey to the cold place and it changes everything. That’s why you need to say, “I need to eat. I need to drink. I need to try and understand what my body thinks,” perhaps all the time.
iRunFar: Réunion Island, the people here are obsessed with trail running and this race. I’m learning in a very short period of time how much they love the Grand Raid Réuunion. You’re a two-time winner at this race. You’re a very popular figure with them. How does it feel to come into a place where there are going to be thousands of fans cheering for you and maybe the pressure of them wanting to see you do well?
D’haene: Yeah, it’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a lot of nice moments and a lot of sharing moments. It’s very particular here because all the people when the race approaches, all the people are focused on the race. The radio, the TV, everyone is focused on the race.
iRunFar: They don’t talk about news outside in the world. The news on the radio is the race.
D’haene: You have 72 hours of just the race. The radio is just crazy. All the people stay along the course of the race. They are there for the first runner to the last runner. It’s a 40-hour time difference. It’s just crazy. The first people arrive on Friday evening and the last one is on Sunday afternoon. People, during all this time they stay with the race. They party during the race. They run with the competitors for a few minutes. You can do nothing, everyone is here just to share. It’s exquisite. It’s crazy.
iRunFar: Talk about your training in the last couple months. The last time we saw you was right before Western States where you weren’t able to start because you’d turned your ankle that week. What has recovery from that injury and your summer of training looked like?
D’haene: It was really hard for me at Western States. Yeah, I had an adventure just before in Corsica in June which is why my proprioception was a little bit latent. Then it was really long to recover. It wasn’t just a twist. I broke a small bone in my foot. I made a lot of examinations. I stopped seven weeks with no running. I just started to run a bit more in August and made some bicycle. Then it was okay, and I listened to what my body say. I go back slowly in the training. Yeah, by the 25th of August, I was able to go back to the mountains and make some long runs. At UTMB I was able to run up and down Mont Blanc for eight or nine hours running. I said, Okay, now I’m in good shape. I trained very well during the next month and then I tried to rest a little bit. Now I feel good, and I have no problem in my training. But in August time, it was the first time my child went to school and there were a lot of things and I was a little bit busy, but now I have four days to sleep and rest and I will be in good shape.
iRunFar: Good shape come Thursday night. Best of luck to you out there. I look forward to seeing you make the Diagonale des Fous—the Fool’s Diagonal.
D’haene: Thank you very much. I’m happy that you came here because I think it’s an island event, but I think it’s very, very popular here. I think for people who like trail running, I think it’s a really nice place to discover and a place a trail runner would like because it’s just a big adventure. There’s a lot of landscape to discover. Though it’s far from everything, I think it’s a place everyone should go one time in their lives.
iRunFar: I’m pretty excited about being here. It’s been an overwhelming couple days driving on the crazy streets and traveling on the crazy, technical trails.
D’haene: Everything is crazy, yeah.
iRunFar: It’s been an overwhelming couple days, but I’m really happy to be here. Thanks, François.
D’haene: Good. Thank you.