This year, France’s Juliette Blanchet took second for the second time at Diagonale des Fous. In our first interview with Juliette, learn about her work on climate change in her life outside of running, her background in the sport, how her second second-place finish at DdF played out, and if she’s satisfied with her big racing season, which also included fourth place at UTMB.
For more on the race, check out our 2016 Diagonale des Fous results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Juliette Blanchet Post-2016 Diagonale Des Fous Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here on the island of Réunion. It’s the day after the 2016 Diagonale des Fous. I’m with women’s second-place finisher, Juliette Blanchet. Hi, it’s nice to meet you.
Juliette Blanchet: It’s nice to meet you as well.
iRunFar: I’m just meeting you at this race this week. Tell us a little bit about yourself. You’re a climate scientist.
Blanchet: Yeah, exactly. I’m a researcher, and I live in France. I am actually a mathematician and do research on global warming and climate and trying to understand the human activity and impact on global warming and stuff like that.
iRunFar: So does human activity have an impact on global temperatures?
Blanchet: Yes, unfortunately, yeah on temperature and precipitation. I work on precipitation. Precipitation as well.
iRunFar: This is our first time interviewing you, but you are not a new trail and ultrarunner. You have been at this sport for about eight years now?
Blanchet: Yeah, I don’t know exactly when I started to run ultra trail, but something like that eight years ago. This season I did a lot of ultra races. Each year I do a bit more ultra races and a bit longer.
iRunFar: Did you come to trail running from road running, or how did you find your way to our sport?
Blanchet: When I started running I saw people running on the road. I knew one of the most famous races was Paris Marathon, and my parents live in Paris. So I ran the Paris Marathon. I had fun, but it wasn’t a passion. I liked it. Paris results were not very, very good, but it was not bad. Then I moved to Switzerland in Davos. It’s a small resort area in the German part of Switzerland where there are lots of mountains.
iRunFar: They’re everywhere there.
Blanchet: Yes, I saw people running the mountains. I thought, Well, okay, we can also run in the mountains. Maybe I can go out of the road and try something like that. Then I started running in the mountains. I had lots of fun, and it just became a passion.
iRunFar: Was it a natural transition from training or running in the mountains to racing? How did the racing component start for you?
Blanchet: I started with kind of short—well, not very short—but 40k, 50k, 60k. I thought, Well, maybe I can try my first 100k. Then maybe I can try the 100 miles. Now, I don’t know.
iRunFar: Yeah, now what?
Blanchet: I don’t know. I will see. I can’t say now, but maybe something longer.
iRunFar: Okay. Maybe something longer.
Blanchet: I don’t know.
iRunFar: I want to ask you about the specifics of your race yesterday, but I also want to ask you about your experience with Réunion Island. This is your second time here. In 2014, you were here and finished second place, a really good result the first time you came. It’s quite far out here in the middle of the Indian Ocean. What brought you back for a second time?
Blanchet: This race is very special. Everybody talks about it. Everybody on the island just lives for this race during this time. I didn’t find that anywhere else. I would like to live this again. It’s such a special experience really, just running it and participating in this race is quite fun. It’s a motivation for me having all these people supporting us and cheering us on. It’s great.
iRunFar: What I have observed at this race is that there’s a really strong cultural component. A lot of times when you’re in a long mountain race, the nature component is the predominant one. Here, maybe culture is a stronger element than nature? What are your thoughts on all of that?
Blanchet: Usually when you run an ultra-trail, when you’re in the villages you see people, and then you have hours and hours of alone in nature and you need to be in your own stuff and just going on. Every 10 seconds you meet someone and because my name was on the bib, they all knew my name. They all say, “Oh, go, Juliette! Go on! Go on! Go on!” Every 10 seconds it’s this way which I think is great. I tried to thank everybody who said, “Go on! Go on! Go on!” I said, “Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” After awhile I was kind of tired, so I was like, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
iRunFar: “I don’t have words left.”
Blanchet: Yeah, but still, this is good. It’s something so special here. They love this race.
iRunFar: The act of running 100 miles over challenging terrain like this is a very internalized experience. You have to be monitoring yourself internally for 28, 30 hours. Is putting forth that energy externally, is that a challenge? Does it distract you? How is that for you?
Blanchet: Well, this is something I like. You have the physical part like being ready to race this kind of long race, but also mentally, and also people supporting me behind the scene like my family and others. All this for me gives me lots of energy, and I just want to have a good result for me, for the others… I don’t know. It’s kind of the whole package.
iRunFar: Let me ask you about your race. I saw you at many different points along the course. You just seemed so calm the entire time. Even watching you among the craziness of the starting line, you were just calm. Did you feel that way on the inside?
Blanchet: I think it’s the way I am. I don’t know. Maybe I’m somewhat calm. On the starting line, I don’t know, I was calm. Well, it’s time that you have to run. I think it’s not something special for me, it’s just the way I am.
iRunFar: Some runners you could see kind of got caught up in the energy or chose to participate in the energy of the starting line. They were “WHOOOOOOOH,” like this. Some runners didn’t seem as affected by it. Did you have to intentionally tell yourself, “Stay calm. Stay calm?”
Blanchet: No, but I remember Andrea [Huser] just behind me and she was dancing with the music. I thought, “Oh, this is strange. We’re going to run a race and she’s dancing.” For me, it’s not something I would do, but why not?
iRunFar: For her, why not?
Blanchet: Why not? Everybody is different. If it’s the way she wants to do or not, it’s just not what I would have done.
iRunFar: Let me ask you about your race specifically. The race starts off at night time. You have eight hours in the dark. What was the night time like for you in terms of the race? The first third of the race takes place in the dark. You’re running along the sea and you start climbing into the volcanic highlands. Can you describe how the race unfolded during the night for you?
Blanchet: For me the start is always difficult because I know I’m less fast than lots of runners. My ranking at the beginning is always not very good, but I say, Well, okay, it’s how I am. I’m not able to run very fast, but my quality is the fact that I’m very regular. I think mayben Domain Vidot and Notre Dame de la Paix, after a few hours I was eighth or something like that in the women. My brother sends me a message saying, “You’re eighth. Don’t worry. It’s okay.” I know, it’s regularly like that. I overtake one here and one here. Actually, I was second at Mare à Boue at 4 a.m. in the morning.
iRunFar: About 50k or something like that.
Blanchet: Then I knew I needed to keep second place because I knew Andrea was far. I like very much running in the dark and in the night. Everything is so different—the sounds—and you have always the impressions you’re going fast.
iRunFar: ”I’m moving so quickly!”
Blanchet: Exactly. Maybe it’s only 10k when it’s flat, but you absolutely have the impression that you’re flying. It’s good for me because I’m not fast.
iRunFar: That’s fantastic. I love it.
Blanchet: Then when the sun shines again, Ugh, I’m not fast at all.
iRunFar: One of the key parts of the race is the 40k inside of the Cirque du Mafate. What was that like? There was a little bit of rain; there was clouds; there was hot sun; there was humidity; there was unending ups and downs and rocks and stairs.
Blanchet: This part is very long, you’re right, but we didn’t have a lot of rains. The forecast called for it, but actually it was not very humid. It was warm. It was very warm between Cilaos and Taïbit pass. It was 1,000 meters or even more of elevation gain. It was for me warm, and lots of people had to go back. I think this was one of the most difficult parts. After that in Mafate, it was of course difficult, but it was warmest for me between Cilaos and Taïbit pass.
iRunFar: Interesting, so just before you started going down into the cirque. You have this gigantic 2,000-meter climb up to Maïdo, the high point of the course at 115k, but after that you still have 50k to go on some really tough terrain. Were you able to hold yourself together so you could feel strong on the last 50k?
Blanchet: Yeah, it was an advantage for me to have already done this race because last time in Maïdo I was so tired and thought it would never end. This race is never easy. It’s always, always difficult. There are always rocks and roots. After last year, I knew I needed to feel good in Maïdo to be able to work and have a good last part. Yeah, from Maïdo to San Souci, it’s a very long way down, almost two hours for me. After the beginning, you go down, and there’s a bump, and there’s a bump, and you look at your watch, and, When do we go down? I need to go to the sea! It’s so long, so long. After that, still, a lot of difficulties remain. So it’s actually a very difficult race. You need to be fit the whole way.
iRunFar: Can you try to describe for potential people watching who might want to do this race what the final descent is like? Terrible is not the right word, but it’s a very difficult descent. The whole time, you’re just a couple kilometers from the finish, you can see the stadium, but the whole time you’re on a very difficult trail. Can you describe what that trail is like?
Blanchet: Well, you’re right, it’s very difficult. It’s also very difficult because you’ve already run 150k or something like that. It’s easy to describe. It’s like that with drops and roots. You cannot run it. The only way to go down is to jump. Just jump to jump. And your legs are dead. It’s a nightmare. But it’s a great race! Just great! It’s difficult. At the beginning, there are lots of roots, so each time you place your feet it’s like that. After that, it’s more rocks. It’s technical, but it’s well. At the end, you can see the lights, but it’s still a few kilometers. I think it took me a bit less than one hour, so it’s not like five hours down.
iRunFar: It eventually ends is what you’re saying?
Blanchet: Yeah. At the end, you get to the stadium.
iRunFar: My last question for you. You’ve had lots of great results with your racing this year, but two fantastic ones—second place this weekend and fourth place at UTMB a couple months ago. Are you walking away from your 2016 season satisfied?
Blanchet: Not yet. I just want to recover from this race and to have some holidays. I will go to Myanmar with my boyfriend. I will stop running, just tourism, not think about this, no Facebook. Then I will start thinking about for next season. There are many races I’d like to run. I like to travel while running because I think it’s good. I would like to run Hardrock in the U.S., but it’s difficult because there’s a draw and you have to apply for this. It’s not something we have in France. I’ve never applied. I know you have more chance when you’ve applied and applied and applied.
iRunFar: Will you put your name in?
Blanchet: Probably I will apply for this race and then see. This is something I’d really like to do.
iRunFar: Racing in America.
Blanchet: Yeah. We’ll see. Maybe.
iRunFar: Fantastic result this weekend, Juliette. It’s been great to meet you and watch you race. Congrats on your second place.
Blanchet: Thank you very much. Bye bye.