Why I Run: Ultra Runner Mr Germain Grangier
What does it take to be an ultra runner? Actually, wait. What is an ultra runner? For the benefit of the less sporty among you, let’s start with the latter question. An ultra runner is someone who partakes in races that span very long distances – often more than 100km – across rough, unrefined natural landscapes. It’s like normal trail running, but more, er, ultra. Such a hobby – if you can call something so physically punishing a hobby – is only possible for the extremely dedicated, a fact we confirmed when we took a trip to the awe-inspiring environs of Mercantour National Park in southeast France to meet the indefatigable ultra runner Mr Germain Grangier, an ambassador for Swiss trail running experts On Running.
Mr Grangier, who grew up in the northern Alps, has always been a sporty type. He was first of all a skier, then a cyclist, but stumbled into ultra running properly in his late twenties when an injury and a stint studying geology in Grenoble conspired to make his time-consuming cycling training unviable. It makes you wonder what the cycling must have been like because you wouldn’t exactly call his current regimen “breezy”. It involves a minimum of two, maximum of three, workouts a day (not including the morning yoga) and often training well into the night to prepare himself for the long nocturnal stretches of the events in which he competes. The most famous of these, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), involves a 171km run, starting at 6.00pm, in Chamonix, that circles Mont-Blanc and includes numerous passages at high altitude (more than 2,500m above sea level). In 2019, Mr Grangier, running the UTMB for the first time, finished in ninth place.
Such exertions, says Mr Grangier, are all about pushing the body to the limits of what it can do. “One of the really hard things about ultra running is knowing where the limit is,” he says. “It’s a sport where nobody knows how to really frame it.” Seeing the environs in which Mr Grangier trains, it’s also easy to understand the meditative aspect of the sport. “It’s a really quiet place, really remote,” he says of the Mercantour National Park. “Not a lot of people know about it and that’s why I like it. It allows me to train without having bad thoughts. I focus only on my training and I take energy from the mountains. Every day, I observe the mountain goats, the ibex, how they run or how I can improve. It’s really important to me to be in contact with this wildlife. For me, the time goes so slowly and time is precious nowadays.”
Watch the video above to follow Mr Grangier through a typical day’s training.
Film by Mr Andrew Telling | Photography by Mr Paul Hempstead