Kate Robinson visited central France for an event that is about so much more than racing
The Volvic Volcanic Experience, taking place in in the Auvergne region of central France, provides a spectacular mountainous landscape to race through, coupled with a variety of activities which allow supporters and competitors alike to immerse themselves in the traditions of the French town of Volvic.
Competitors can choose between five distances, ranging from 15km all the way up to the whopping 220km race, which takes them over the Puy de Dôme volcano, past the Volvic waterfall and even for a brief foray through Vulcania amusement park all before being greeted on the home stretch by cheering spectators, live music and (most importantly?) the bar.
The event, now in its third year, was founded by four locals of Volvic who wanted to share their love of the landscape around the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park and create an inclusive race experience for those who love being active outdoors. With the focus being on appreciating the natural landscape, the event is extremely environmentally conscious. The races are capped at a certain number of entries to preserve the trails and there is emphasis throughout on recycling and sustainability.
Volvic’s water bottles are made from 100% recycled plastic and there are representatives from recycling companies present to inform the public of what happens to their bottles during the recycling process. The VVX is also truly family orientated, with activities including archery, high ropes, yoga and hikes, so there’s plenty to keep supporters occupied while their loved ones are scaling volcanoes!
The evening before race day, competitors and supporters peruse the local specialities at a small exposition, where they can learn about the volcanic region, Volvic’s recycling habits or just stock up on free cheese samples. Next, it’s a short wander down to the town center for the opening ceremony, complete with traditional cuisine and music, making for a celebratory atmosphere. After fuelling up for the next day’s activities, it’s an early night – especially for the 110km runners whose race commences at 4am!
Although up before the sun the next morning, there is not a bleary eye in sight as head-torch-clad runners buzz in anticipation for the 110km journey they are about to embark upon. The start line begins to fill up and the (particularly dedicated) spectators congregate at the sidelines, under fairy-lit trees. Fire is blasted up from a torch at the start line as epic music begins to blare and the runners are off.
We meet them several times around the route; first halfway up a misty mountain to the sounds of distant accordion music (made quite eerie by the fact that we couldn’t see the players at the top), then through starkly red volcanic rock, and frequently along lovely, spongey woodland trails under a canopies of trees. The fuel stations along the way provide amazing arrays of French bread, homemade local pastilles and even meats and cheeses for runners to replenish their depleted energy stores.
After 10 hours 45 minutes and 29 seconds, Sange Sherpa, the front-runner of the 110km, breezes through the finish line, looking amazingly calm after covering in less than a day what would be a week’s worth of mileage for many. The 38-year-old Nepalese runner first asserted his dominance on the ultra-running scene way back in 2010 and now he has a wide repertoire of races, including the UTMB in which he will compete this year.
The winner of the 110km the women’s side was Sarah Verguet Moniz, finishing in 12:27:03. The French-Portuguese runner is a former triathlete and was named the female athlete of the year 2018 by Distances +, a major trail running magazine in Quebec, where Sarah is based.
Trail Running caught up with British runners Sue Blick and Faye Jeacock, from London’s Victoria Park & Hamlet Towers Harriers after finishing the 25km. Sue praised the race for its unusual setting, saying: “It was tough, but it was beautiful … the bit in the volcano was unusual and there was a really steep bit that was pretty tough and seemed to go on forever.” When asked if she had any mental tactics to keep her going through tough parts of the race, Sue responded: “Just put your head down and keep going!”
If you’re after a truly inclusive, breathtakingly beautiful race experience with a big celebration afterwards, then we’d highly recommend the VVX!
Men: Ludovic Martin (FRA) 36:45:06
Women: Claire Rimbault (FRA) 53:37:33
Men: Sange Sherpa (NEP) 10:45:29
Women: Sarah Verguet Moniz (POR) 12:27:03
Men: Pedro Jose Hernandez Sanchez (ESP) 3:24:32
Women: Virginie Pailloux (FRA) 4:34:37
Men: Fabien Demure (FRA) 2:07:48
Women: Marine Place (FRA) 2:30:20
Men: Yoan Meudec (FRA) 1:04:08
Women: Corinne Rougerie (FRA) 1:30:18