Founded in 1995, Le Grand Trail Des Templiers has grown to become an iconic trail race within France and further afield, and is now the showcase event in the Festival of Endurance taking place in Millau every October.
Starting next to the town on the river Tarn, the race climbs onto limestone plateaus, and descends into steep gorges on trails previously used by the Knights Templar to evade their enemies. With the race taking place in October, the autumnal colours are stunning, and compliment the medieval villages that serve as aid stations with large crowds out supporting the runners.
It was a race that I have been keen to participate in, not least because of its location close to the town of Roquefort and its famous cheese.
Despite having over 3,500m of climbing on the 78km race route, the trails are generally runnable, and lead to a relatively fast race. This was the 5th and final race of my year and due to races in both August and September I had limited time to train specifically for it. However, I was lucky that the previous two races had long steep technical climbs, and descents, not too dissimilar to Le Grand Trail Des Templiers, so was happy that I had the climbing legs. Therefore, for the final few weeks of training I focussed a lot on undulating runnable trails, rather than power hiking and more technical elements. This included some long 50km training runs on trails with around 2,000m of climbing per run.
The race start is a short distance from the centre of Millau, and so I took this as an opportunity to warm up and walked/jogged from my hotel to the race start, following the line of headtorches from the other runners.
The race began with flares being set off and music playing, a wonderful atmosphere to begin a race. After a couple of easy kilometres along a road the race turns uphill for the first big climb of the day. I had been steadily passing people along the road, but as is so often the way when the track narrows a bit of a queue formed and I was forced to take my position and hike at the pace of those around me. Looking back I could see the long line of headtorches glinting in the night.
Luckily the path soon widened and flattened off as we summited the first plateau of the day. I quickly found my running legs and made my way slowly through the field, before we joined another section of single track and were forced to run in a queue once again. By now it was dawn and I was beginning to get some fantastic views across a valley to my left. The route was taking us on a cliff top path, before descending down into the first aid station of the day.
My race strategy was to not stop here as I knew I had enough water and food to reach the second aid station, and I was pleased to see that I made up a lot of positions, and once back on the single track was happy to have uncongested trails no longer blocked by other runners.
I was now on the second climb of the day, and as we neared the top the route took me through a ruined church - the first time I have done that in a race! - before carrying on through stunning scenery, under large rock outcrops, and along the top of valley edges.
At every aid station the crowds were cheering, it was like the whole village had turned out to support the runners.
The race continued to flow through technical climbs and descents, with runnable sections on the top of the plateaus. The scenery was spectacular and I was loving the autumnal colours, the crunch of dry leaves underfoot, and the mix of quiet trails and cheering aid stations.
I arrived at the penultimate aid station and refilled my bottles and supplies. I knew there was just over 10km to go, but it featured two climbs, and I was feeling the pace. I had lost a few positions in the last 30 minutes prior to arriving at the aid station. I put my head down and started the hike up. It was tough, the sun had come out and I was feeling the heat. Around two thirds of the way up the climb I sat down and ate some more food, before pushing on to the summit. Luckily this plateau had tall trees and I was shaded and able to pick up the pace again and was quickly through to the final aid station.
Next was a steep descent followed by an even steeper climb back up on the plateau, Millau off to my left in the valley below. Once over the top the final descent awaited and I started pushing on. I had a runner in front and the two of us raced one another down the path, before a small climb. I hadn’t expected this, but then I heard some cheering and saw an official photographer. The path went through a cave system, another first for me on a race, going through a tunnel in the rock.
After emerging from the cave there were just a couple of kilometres of descending to the finish line, where crowds lined both sides of the course cheering runners on.
Other than a slight bit of fatigue around the penultimate aid station it had been a perfect race for me. At the first timing mat I was 747th but my final position was 289th, inside the top 10% of starters.
If you are doing the race here are my 5 key points to build into your training plan:
The video I made is available here:
If you would like more advice or training plans on the race please get in touch.