The Grand Raid du Mercantour is a hundred-km long running race through the mountains of France's Mercantour National Park. Taking place in June, every odd-numbered year, we discovered it accidently while hiking up into the mountains early one morning, and being confronted with 400-plus very fit runners coming down the same trail in the opposite direction - moving much faster that we were.
The runners were not only very fit and very committed, but seemed very friendly and relaxed enough to greet us without fail. Moving off to the side of the trail isn't a big inconvience while trudging up the mountain in the early morning. The only minor inconvience was that saying "bon jour", "bon route", or the equivalent, became a bit tireing after about the 300th time during the first hour.
On that 18th of June 2005, we witnessed the third annual running of the Raid du Mercantour. Starting at St Martin-Vésubie at 4 AM, the trail is 102 km long, varying altitude between 820 m and 2685 m. Counting the various climbs and descents, there is a total of 5800 m vertical climbing for the race, finishing eventual at the starting point of St Martin-Vésubie.
The official course time was listed as 30 hours. Some of the champion mountain runners were expected to do the course in about 17 hours, and the slower ones to take up to 35 hours.
No support team was allowed to follow the runners on mountain bikes, so the runners were on their own. There were six "refueling" stops along the way, and the passes: Col du Veillos, Boréon, Madonne de Fenestres, Gordolasque, Refuge des Merveilles, Belvédère.