Offroad race at Signes

Sacred Saint Baume et Mary Magdeleine !

I have been registred to this race for almost two months. Jacqueline highly recommended to me this offroad race. This race is part of the Salomon Challenge, these races are always well funded (not in prize money but in shirt, meals and so on thanks to Salomon marketing effort).

The weather forecast is excellent, blue sky and hot temperature well above 30 C celsius are expected, the hotest day so far this year. I am a little bit worried as I have already suffered from the heat at the last outdoor unofficial race in the french Alpilles one week earlier.


7:30 am, I run into my friend  Steve Joy, then Frank and Eric, and Nadya and Alain, then ...(ok you see it is a small world).

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We talk about his personal challenge of the day: this race this morning and tonite 10 pm an evening raid at Pelissane (53 km during the night). Steve is preparing the Ultrarace UTMB in the french alps next august. So I guess this is his kind of training to fatigue resistance.
I run into Olivier with whom I had the awesome ride of  the offroad race in Garlaban (home country of Marcel Pagnol)
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The start is located at the village center, in a narrow street, the fountains around us remind us that where we are going the bottle of water will be our closest allies. From the balcony, like an ascetic sheperd, Sam Bonaudo is telling us the last advices: beware of the sunstroke (by the way, some of the runners without their cap were quite lectured) Sans titre


Let's go, the good news is that the first miles of the trail are not hilly and the path is wide, no traffic jam at all.
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Before hitting the blaze, Samuel (the race director) choose to give us a nice and cold moment. We run along a small pond then along the splendid "Vallon de la Caou" stream .

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This is the point where Steve passes me, I will not come close to him again until the finish line.
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Some climbings on the trail break the monotony of this enchanting path.

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We still follow our "water thread".

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The trail becomes steep, the muscles start to warm up...
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We exit from the forest on a plateau next to the summit, already the partial overview is impressive.

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The view, few hundred meters later, leaves me speechless :
The scenic view, over360°, is gorgeous, we could catch sight both of the mediterranean sea and the snowy Alps mountains.

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With some regrets, I switch over the north face of the Sainte Baume.

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Here the atmosphere is completely different: 
" This Sainte Baume mountain, erected during the secondary era, appeared to be a real water tower, taking its roots from several rivers. From the peak, you can go down to the north face and discover a colder ambiance in this suprising forest, a unique forest in Europe, filled with giants beech, grand lime, maple, yew, spindle. Many oratories and chapels testify to the high spirituality  this place has always attracted."

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The Parisiens chapel ,was erected by Esprit Blanc, a rich bourgeois (Tax civil servant) in 1629.

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The air was fresh in this forest, no wonder that in the ancient times man used to make ...ice trading:
The site was ideal to construct these enormous reservoirs, hidden from the sun rays and in a windy place (thanks to the mistral). During the winter the reservoir were filled up and exploited during the summer. The ice was transported to the large cities like Toulon, Aubagne, Marseille) for the hospitals, pubs and food product preservation.

This activity was thriving during the XVII and XVIIIè centuries, the late coming of the railroad competition allowed ice from the alps to crush this activity. Later on, the industrial ice blow away this traditionnal business in 1940.

We come out of the forest by a endless climb (close from the Mary Magdalene grotto, wiki says: Magdalene is said to have retired to a cave on a hill by Marseille, La Sainte-Baume ("holy cave", baumo in Provencal), where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of Saint Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin., I did not know that we were racing the Da Vinci code trail). 


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On the right the 42 km path, on the left the 29 km path, I am still in good shape, so the let's go for the big one! We go along the  Saint Baume crest where lies several peaks like : le Saint-Pilon (1000 m), le joug de l'aigle (1118 m), le Signal des Béguines (1148m) on our right side: les Ecrins, la Sainte Victoire, l'Etoile, Lure, Ventoux, ... an on our left side: we catch a sight of les Maures et N-D des Anges, le Bec de l'Aigle de La Ciotat, Toulon.

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Everything is alright for now, the heat is not too strong. However the footpath is very difficult (lots of rocks and banking), the vegetation is tiny, just some bushes give a green touch to this mineral landscape.
Was it the height or weariness? Violently, I am stopped in my momentum. A vivid pain in my left thigh explodes in my brain. Geez! I got hit by a hidden branch pointing in my direction. I have a close look at my wounded thigh, big relief no open wound, only a bruise. Fortunately this branch was not sharp, the idea to be spited like a common roast chicken is not very cool.


I try to repeat to myself the GI's mantra"Pain is your friend, your ally it will tell you when you are seriously injured. It will keep you awake and angry and remind you to finish the job and get the hell home. But you know the best thing about pain? .... it lets you know you're not dead yet."

It is working five minutes, nevertheless did you ever try to jump from rock to rock with a limping leg ? Grrr... Km 20 on the crest, I could not be farther off civilized ground. I should have made a little prayor before the race or be blessed by saint Bonaudo.

The mental is down, I walk, no limp from checkpoint to checkpoint hoping to be brought home, noway I still have to reach the km 28 ( security and health checkpoint control). After "signal de Beguines", I still have the strength to take some pics of the mountain north side.Sans titre

My pace equals this valiant senior.
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I came along the eggs grotto, Visually it is unambiguous (check out yourself) .


History tells us:
Marie Madeleine, fertility goddess,
In the massif Sainte-Baume, ither is a gratto called eggs grotto. In former times the pilgrims use to bring eggs (called  "coucounets") from the mountain. lt was little reliquary sculpted in egg shells that contain a paper person).

From the beginning of the Mary Magdelena cult during the Middle Ages, the pilgrimage made women fertile and ensure a good marriage.

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End of the trail for me.

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Luckily there are still friends to take care of me.
Herunder Steve, like the savior, opened arm like on a cross, is waitng for me with a beer (the race direction has the brilliant idea to cool off the beers in the fountain).
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A  cute female runner (if we call her Mary Magdelene ? ) is chilling out by dipping her legs in the fountain. Definitely this fountain is a ...Blessing (you guessed that one, didn't you ?)Sans titre

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Do not laugh at our  tired faces, the heat took its toll (hyperthermia, black out..), with my bruise I could be considered as the lucky one.

I still deserve a nice technical T-shirt, I did not participate to the afterpasta party, I went home to pply some ice packs on my  sore thigh. Finally I was a bit frustrated to quit the fabulous race, but I discovered with wonderment the beauty and history of this place). I hope to be back in shape next year to overcome this race.

... however I will sign and say a little prayor....

Akunaum Sanctum