On June 3, 2016, ultra-runner François D’Haene, was joined by his entourage in the streets of Calenzana. Right before 4:00 am, he stepped to the beginning of one of the most challenging trails in Europe; the GR20 in Corsica. Other runners followed along with the intention of documenting this phenomenon and also to be a part of the adventure. What began 15 years ago as a big hiking trip with friends has since transitioned into a personal challenge for D’Haene. Now he stood before this trail with a new goal of running the entire trail to beat the time of the previous record holder.
The GR20 is a whopping 112 miles of treacherous trails and is well known to many Latin-European hikers. The name itself stands for “Grande Randonnée,” which literally translates to “long hike” in French. In fact, it usually takes hikers 2 weeks or more to complete this trail. The elevation gain is 8 miles high and the trail itself is a rough path of 17 different segments. The trail completely covers the mountainous island of Corsica from north to south, with the northern parts being the most difficult.
Back in 2009 Killian Jornet completed this grueling trail within 32 hours and 54 mins. Many others attempted to follow in his steps, but most of them failed due to poor weather conditions. Finally, in 2014 Corsica’s Guillaume Perretti ran the trail and ended at an even 32 hours. This was the record that François D’Haene would have to beat in order to hold the new record.
Within a few hours D’Haene already encountered jagged rocks, icy snow, and steep areas accompanied by light rain.
Each step became more dangerous as the weather worsened. Despite the initial start of his adventure being postponed for three days and potentially cancelled due to poor weather conditions, he still remained calm while he prepared. Aside from weather, navigation was also a problem, especially in the dark. If he strayed from the trail even a little it could have meant the end of the record attempt. Thankfully he chose the right people to accompany him as they worked hard to locate markers and stay on the trail.
Preparation wasn’t just physical, it was also mental. Rather than focus on the fact that he had to run 112 miles he mentally broke up the trail into 17 segments. He wasn’t going on one long run, he was only tackling the first of 17 segments. Breaking it down into portions was the only way to make it to the end, and he planned every single detail with his group of runners. Sleep deprivation wasn’t easy to plan for, so he had to rely on his adrenaline and stamina for fuel.
On Saturday, June 4, 2016, at 11:06am, an exhausted but happy D’Haene was greeted by a crowd of supporters at the very end of the GR20 trail in Conca.
D’Haene’s finishing time was 31 hours and 6 minutes, earning him the title as the new record holder. His athletic performance is truly admirable and a great example of what a little perseverance can do.
To check out the full documented video of his run, visit Red Bull