Semi-Marathon des Ammonites: Running in the land of fossils

29 Apr 2013 06:00
Jean-Loup Fenaux
Focus on a race Interview


Hello, on September 22nd 2013, you’ll be organizing the Semi-Marathon des Ammonites. Can you tell us where it is located?

The Ammonites Half Marathon takes place between the village of Barles and Digne des Bains, the Prefecture of the Haute Provence Alps in Southern France.

How old is the race and why was it created in the first place?

This competition was created in 1999 and had been organised until 2002. Our club’s wish at that time was to offer a popular test, accessible to the greatest number of people, and to offer the runners the chance to discover the most picturesque countryside in the Haute Provence Geological Nature Reserve, throughout which the trail passes.

After a few years’ break, we wanted to relaunch this race for two reasons: first of all, in 2013 we are going to celebrate the Centenary of the Route de Barles, a route taken by the competition along its whole length, and we couldn’t do anything other than this to celebrate this special anniversary.

In addition, during the summer of 2012, our club lost one of its members, Cyril GUES, taken away following a long illness at the age of 36. Cyril had taken part in numerous French Championships and above all, he had won the first Ammonites Half Marathon event in 1999, in our club’s colours. Therefore, this 5th event will be organised in support of the League against cancer. For us, it will be a way of paying tribute to his fight against the disease.

What kind of route have you set up for the runners? How would you describe it?

The course crosses the Haute Provence Geological Nature Reserve, the largest of this type in Europe. So, these are exceptional landscapes that the runners will be able to discover, inherited from the Jurassic era and from the history of our planet. The course does not present any particular difficulty, since it offers a negative change in elevation of 378 metres, very even. The first 7 kilometres cross two canyons which are particularly spectacular, the Clues de Barles and Clues du Péouré.

Credit : Semi-Marathon des Ammonites

Further along the course, the runners pass along conservation sites in the Nature Reserve, of which some are renowned throughout the world: Voile de Facibelle, Vélodrôme d’Esclangon, Ichtyosaure, Dalle aux Ammonites, to name only the most impressive ones.

At this time of year, the vegetation of the Haute Provence Alps is flamboyant, alternating in shades of red and yellow. If the Mediterranean sun is part of it, the scenery will be truly stunning.

Credit : Semi-Marathon des Ammonites

How many runners do you expect on Sunday morning? What type of runners do you plan to attract?

The Ammonites Half Marathon is graded to receive 500 runners. We favour the quality of reception to quantity, and the 200 challenge volunteers go to great lengths during the 2 days so that the competitors keep unforgettable memories of the test. During the last event, the pack represented 21 French departments and 8 nationalities. The race is suitable for all types of runners, from the beginner wishing to throw himself into the challenge of an accessible route, to the more hardened runners seeking a fast course to fulfil achievements and good times.

Do you organize other races during the Weekend? If so, on what distances?

The Half Marathon is the main race, but there will also be a children’s race before the start of the half-marathon, in the village of BARLES: the Maratoon’s, so that the young ones can also get to know the taste of effort and “doing the same as the grown ups”.

At that time of the year, what kind of weather can we expect?

We are in Haute Provence, at the end of the summer – beginning of autumn. The setting off point is at an altitude of approximately 900m, at 10h30. The temperature can be a little fresh when boarding the bus shuttles at 7h30, but the Mediterranean climate should allow for perfect race conditions for a half-marathon in the morning. In the canyons, the cliffs provide the route with some shade, also made cooler by the Bès stream close by.

Credit : Semi-Marathon des Ammonites

Have you planned festivities around the marathon?

A pasta party is organised for the eve of the race at the Palais des Congrès in Digne des Bains. This year, our club is laying on a first-rate meal because the group “Monsieur Orange” will be performing at the dance, in a private concert especially for the half-marathon runners. On the day of the race, several activities await the runners along the course, on the occasion of the Centenary of the Route de Barles: musical and folk groups, etc… But we can’t say anymore, otherwise it won’t be a surprise!

The race finished, what advice would you give a runner who has never been to Digne-les-Bains before? A good restaurant, a fancy sightseeing?

Notably, you will be able to visit the Geological Centre of Parc St. Benoît, which houses the headquarters of the Haute Provence Geological Nature Reserve. There, as a family, you will be able to deepen the discovery of fossil sites that you will have passed along during the morning, unless you prefer to go hiking on some itineraries marked out by the Reserve.

In a single sentence, what would you tell the readers of ahotu Marathons to make them register for the Semi-Marathon des Ammonites?

Whether you are coming to make a time, to discover the fossils in the Haute Provence Geological Nature Reserve, or to celebrate the Centenary of the Route de Barles with us, you’ll be very welcome on “the Race to turn back time”!

Interview with Xavier Roseau, Manager of the race and creator of the challenge. A long-time runner, Xavier is 42 years old. He has some marathons to his name, but his preferred distances remain the 10km and the half-marathon. Xavier is also a former President of the Departmental Commission for Out Of Stadium Races in the Hautes Provence Alps.