Top 10 French Races

Le Championnat du Canigou

Month August
Location Vernet-les-Bains – deep in the Pyrenees (the eastern part, towards the Mediterranean)
Distance 30K
Why do it At the turn of the century, the locals from Vernet-les-Bains were in the habit of climbing the Canigou mountain to bring back blocks of ice from the glacier for the pleasure of those visiting this thermal spa town (English for the most part, including Queen Victoria herself). In honour of the ‘porteurs de glace’, the French Alpine Club inaugurated this mountain race in 1905, each competitor carrying an eight kilogram load. The Canigou is an isolated mountain, giving spectacular views of the surrounding country during the climb and from the summit. But to see them you’ve got to make it up the 16km climb (all 2100 metres of it) and, after a bit of rock scrambling near the summit, negotiate the 14km descent along mountain paths and forest rides. While this is a tough mountain race, it remains accessible to the well prepared, but note that the air is thin at these altitudes (2784 metres). Taking your woolly hat to the South of France in August may seem bizarre, but runners came up against -4°C temperatures at the summit last year. And for those tending towards masochism, a separate ranking is run for those carrying the (now optional) eight-kilogram pack – the locals will love the idea of getting their own back if you take up this option.
Field 800
Fee €20 (including a post-race picnic in the park)
Contact Championnat du Canigou Siege social: 37 Bd Clemenceau-66820 Vernet les bains, France; e-mail; web
Other information Entry closes on July 22. Race starts 7am. Feeding stations every 4km. Showers and massages available.
Getting there By road – 55km from Perpignan on the N116 towards Andorra. By rail – the nearest station (5km away) is Villefranche-de-Conflent on the Perpignan-Andorra line, then bus or taxi. By air – cheap fares may be available with Go airlines to Perpignan.
Where to stay Hotels and camping available from the Office Municipal du Tourisme, 66820 Vernet-les-Bains, France; tel 00 33 468 05 55 35; fax 00 33 468 05 60 33.

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