The Intruder of the News gives a spotlight every night to a personality who might have gone unnoticed in the news.
Ultra-trail (illustration). (MAXPPP)
On Thursday night, March 16th to Friday morning, March 17th, a French man achieved an incredible feat by completing and winning the mythical US ultra-trail race, the Barkley. This race consists of 160-200 kilometers with 20,000 meters of positive elevation gain and participants have 60 hours to complete it. Aurelien Sanchez was able to finish the race in 58 hours and 23 minutes; no one had completed the race since 2017. Since its beginning in 1986, only 17 out of over 1,000 competitors have finished the Barkley. This marks the first time in 35 years that someone has finished the race.
To understand Aurelien Sanchez’s feat, one must listen to the organizer of this unmarked race in the wild mountains of Tennessee, in the fog, who was inspired by a prisoner’s escape from the penitentiary along the course. This organizer, old Gary “Lazarus Lake”, a white-bearded American, starts off … lighting up a cigarette: “It’s time to light up the cigarette! Everyone ready for a good time?”, you can hear him say in an Équipe explore documentary, Les finisseurs, directed by Alexis Berg and Aurelien Delfosse.
Gary “Lazarus Lake”, the organizer of the race, describes the feat as very courageous: runners must leave everything behind and find themselves alone in the woods, relying only on their talent, strength, and creativity to survive the challenge.
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Aurelien Sanchez apparently managed to survive. This 32-year-old extraterrestrial was born near Carcassonne and grew up in the Limoux region (Aude). He attended the Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) in Toulouse. Initially, his sport was football. He played for 16 years, especially at the Limoux Football Club.
Aurelien Sanchez discovered hiking in Phoenix, Arizona, where he spent four years that changed his life. He began walking, then trail running and ultra-trail running. His hero: explorer Mike Horn. Aurelien Sanchez completed many trails and set a few records, such as crossing the Pyrenees on the GR 10 from Banyuls-sur-Mer to Hendaye in 12 days without any outside assistance. Since returning to France in 2020, he has also made a name for himself in Vendee, at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre, on the “Dernier homme debout” race (127 kilometers and 4 420 meters of positive elevation gain) in 13 hours and 54 minutes.
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He also takes on all the great trails of the world. For Barkley, it’s all about being selected. So you have to do races in succession. And sometimes fail. Like at Chartreuse Terminorum, the little sister of Barkley created in 2017 in Isere (300 kilometers, 25,000 meters of positive elevation): he was the first to finish the second loop of 100 kilometers, before giving up in the third. “Sometimes it works out. Often it breaks, but when it works out it’s cool. Here, it’s more likely to break than pass,” he told a team from Dauphine Libere who had followed him while he was pushing himself. “I had no more energy, no more balance.”
For the past two years, in order to be selected for the Barkley, he has also completed the Diagonale des Fous in Reunion, Ultra-trail du Mont-Blanc, Grand Raid des Cathares in Aude, and Terre des Dieux in Corsica. This year, three people finished the Barkley: Aurelien Sanchez, American John Kelly (who had already finished it a few years ago), and Belgian Karel Sabbe (who finished six minutes before the final 60 hour mark).