Running in three ultra trails in one year and winning the Ultra-Trail World Tour, clocking up numerous ultra trails not to mention taking part in the Pierra Menta (ski touring race) just to keep fit during the winter, that’s a thumbnail sketch of François d’Haene. But this ultra athlete has another life after the races, in which the Beaufortain and wine-growing play a central role.
François d’Haene came to trail running in 2010. He soon found his feet and started clocking up wins. After building up to longer distances and travelling further afield, in 2014 he ran three ultra trails in a row (Mount Fuji, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, and the ‘Diagonale des fous’ or Grand Raid de la Réunion). He won all three and was crowned undisputed winner of the Ultra-Trail World Tour. Despite becoming a top athlete in his discipline, François lives a relatively ‘normal’ life. A qualified physiotherapist, he has achieved his ambition to become a wine-producer, having acquired a vineyard in the Beaujolais in 2012. This makes him the first wine-growing trail-runner! He hasn’t given up his favourite activity though, which he sees as a passion rather than a sport:
‘Trail running is above all an adventure; it’s about self-discovery as well as discovering new landscapes. The notion of pleasure is very important. It’s also vital to take an after-season break, clear your head, rest your legs, and make the most of the other things you enjoy.’
Top of his list of the other things he enjoys is the Beaufortain. A constantly changing landscape in which he spends the winter months, downhill skiing, ski touring or cross-country skiing – and of course trail running at the winter’s end when the snow has melted enough for him to be able to put on his running shoes. François fell in love with the Beaufortain’s magnificent landscapes, and has found a warm welcome here in a country where he is appreciated for himself as much as a top athlete. A top athlete who’s put to the test once a year when he pits himself against the world’s elite in the famous Pierra Menta ski touring race. This proved to be an excellent preparation for his successful attempt to set a new record for the challenging John Muir Trail (359 km and more than 14,000 metre of elevation gain) which he completed in 2 days and 19 hours.
Skier, disabled sportswoman, paralympian? Let’s just say, champion! Marie Bochet has already won so many titles, collected so many medals and crystal globes (global ski awards) that she seems to have reduced her fellow-competitors to mere spectators. But Marie is a ‘Beaufortaine’ at heart, and has her feet – or rather her skis – firmly on the ground in her native land.
Marie was born into a Beaufortain farming family; her father Yvon ran the milk cooperative and would take the whole family with him in summer when they moved up to the high mountain pastures. Marie grew up running around ‘out of doors, like the chickens!’ And like all kids born in the mountains, she was on skis before she started school. Her brothers and sisters encouraged her to join the local ski clubs and she raced without thinking twice about it against her able-bodied competitors – for Marie was born with a malformation of her left forearm. In secondary school she switched to the disabled sports circuit and soon won her first races. She was selected for her first Olympic Games in 2010 (Vancouver) where she achieved two fourth places – somewhat frustrating for a hopeful 16-year-old dreaming of success, but it only made her more determined to come back a winner. At the following winter Olympics in Sotchi, not content with just a couple of podium places, she completely swept the field, taking 4 gold medals in the 4 disciplines (downhill, slalom, giant slalom and super G)! A performance she repeated at PeyongChang.
After this success story, Marie might feasibly have rested on her laurels and given up competing, but she carried on training. A self-confessed perfectionist, she explains:
‘I’ve won all I could hope to win in a career, but there are still aspects of my performance I can improve on. I haven’t pushed myself as far as I can yet.’
She has her eyes on the Beijing 2022 Olympics, in which she hopes to take part, albeit with a different mindset:
‘If I get to go to the next Games, it won’t be so much for the results as for the opportunity to experience the event even more intensely because it will probably be my last Games. That’s something I still need to work on. I’ll need to arrive in a different state of mind, even if I really want to win the medals. I know how much that means!’
So Marie is getting ready for Beijing, and you might even spot her out training in the Beaufortain – for this is where she still lives, and trains.