Can you explain SDPO’s philosophy?
20 years ago, after having taken part in some great events (Paris-Gao-Dakar, Chicago-Los Angeles, (Trans Atlas, Colorado etc.) I decided to combine sport and culture. It was a totally new concept at the time and no one was offering it! Stop running meaninglessly and enjoy taking in the surroundings, running in new places…that was my philosophy, enjoy life and get a good workout!
You used to be a runner and now you are a race organizer – has this transition helped you to better understand the needs of runners?
I am also a trainer so I am perfectly aware of the needs of runners. I have fine-tuned the event year after year and we were probably at our best in the days of China. Our events in China were unrivalled. I must admit that our Chinese partners helped us tremendously. After that it has been magical but less intense.
What decided you to choose Laos as a destination?
Why Laos? Because of the peacefulness of the country, the friendly and smiling inhabitants, the silence, the spirituality and fragrances. All these ingredients combined make for a successful event.
What can the participants expect from the 2013 edition? From a sports, adventure and cultural aspect?
The Foulées de la Soie (Silk Route Race) is all about sport and culture and this unique concept can only appeal to the participants. Sport and adventure are for us inseparable as we always aim to be off the beaten track and encourage cultural exchange with local minorities. Being in the middle of a tropical forest or in tiny isolated villages is an adventure in itself. As far as culture is concerned – reaching out to minorities, seeing how they live are part of our cultural agenda. Finally there’s the sightseeing aspect – visiting temples, monuments dotted along our route, crossing the Mekong etc.
How do you prepare for this kind of race?
It’s really not complicated. First you have to choose the destination which will go down well with participants. In order to do that you have to conduct a survey with ex-participants. Finally you have to study the geopolitical map of the chosen country. It would be unthinkable to organize an event like the Foulées de la Soie in a politically unstable country subject to bomb attacks. Last but not least you have to think about everything, even the unthinkable. My former job as an inspector in the helicopter division of Airbus (today I am retired) has helped me to prepare for events like these.
What will the climate be like in Laos and how can you prepare for it?
It is going to be very hot and humid. Participants will have to think about hydrating themselves and pacing themselves to save energy. It’s all about multi-stage race management.
You work closely with certain charities. Can you tell us more about that?
From a very young age I’ve always helped other people. It’s part of my personality. During my events I help minorities in the countries we cross like the Tibetan people in China by aiding them financially to reconstruct temples destroyed during the revolution. The Lamaist authorities authorized me to run on the Tibetan prayer route. In Sri Lanka SDPO invested 65 000 euros in rebuilding the country. In France we donate to Mr Red Nose, an association helping sick children.
In 2015 you have chosen Indonesia as your destination. We are no longer on the Silk Route. What motivated this choice?
Indonesia is strategically located on the trading route with India and China. And this maritime route was also on the Silk Route. This will be a great destination for the 20th edition of the Silk Route Race.
What will the course in Indonesia be like?
It will mainly take place on Java Island. Java is one of the most fascinating islands in Indonesia. Exceptional flora and nature, volcanic landscapes and an off-the-beaten track course. Jogyakarta, Borodur, Jombo, Bromo, Jien, Ketabang, Harbourg, Ubud will be our play-grounds.
When will you do the recce and how do you prepare for it?
I will do the recce in the same conditions and on the same dates as the race. The recce is prepared in advance by researching the destination. I look for friends who have already travelled locally and then I design a course. The travel agency I’m in partnership with also puts me in touch with local contacts. It’s a massive time-saver and makes my job so much easier especially to get authorizations and permits to draw up the course.
What kind of runner do you attract?
All sorts of runners take part in our events and it’s not unusual to have participants who have completed MDS, which is far removed from our concept of sport, culture and discovery. This notion is difficult to get across, as most runners instinctively want to calculate the mileage. 15km at 70% humidity is much harder than 20 or 30km at 18°C in Europe. I saw runners do 3.30 on a 13km stage in Vietnam. The beauty of a course is more important than the mileage or distance covered.
A lot of your runners come with their partners or accompanied. Is there a reason for this?
Often runners come with their partners and women make up about 40 to 50% of our field, which is quite unusual in a mixed race. One year we even had 55% women. Women are intelligent runners – I think the mix of culture and sport accounts for this high percentage.
Your events also cater for walkers? How do you manage this?
We don’t allow people to accompany runners as seconds at SDPO. That is why we created a “walkers” category 20 years ago so that walkers and runners alike can take part in the same event; the walkers do half the mileage of the runners. I leave out the less interesting parts of the course for the walkers who are transported to a separate start using the appropriate means of transport. They start at the same time. SDPO is a precursor in the concept of allowing walkers to take part in multi-stage races. Unfortunately the run public doesn’t know this, as there is no PR professional in our team.
You have an interesting ranking system. How does that work?
Like in the Tour de France we have different colours of jerseys. Yellow and orange for general male and female ranking. Red for the best climber and green for the best sprinter. Walker also have their own jerseys. Blue for men and pink for women. In 2010 a woman was first in the general ranking and wore the yellow jersey – I got a great kick out of that – more than if I had been her trainer.
Any feedback from a runner you would like to share with us?
“I will remember this the rest of my life. I have been waiting for this moment for over 10 years, reading all the race reports on this mythical event and now my dream has become a reality” said Michèle Geney.
How can we follow the race?
Easy – every evening we put the daily stages on-line with photos: http://sdpo.com/reportage-foulees-de-la-soie-laos.html
3 words to describe your race: In 3 words: “Effort, pleasure and curiosity”
Interview with Jean-Claude Le Cornec, by Niandi Carmont.