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How Trail Running started in Mauritius

"There's something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites or two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time." - Christopher McDougall


Trail Running in Mauritius brings together hundreds of enthusiasts throughout the year for the events of Rando-Trail and Nature trail league. Today we are talking about a real community of runners who are really passionate about this practice. But this has not always been the case! Let’s take a  look at the beginnings of the trail in Mauritius. Flashback in 2003….

 

It all started with the idea of a passionate, Yan de Maroussem.  Without really knowing it, he began to practice what is now known as “trail-running” on the hills and mountains that surround the Abbey of Hautecombe in the Savoyard region, during a few years he spent in France. At the time, he was not really aware that it was a discipline in its own right, which had just taken off in France and Europe. Yan, like many other, enjoys the simple pleasure of running in the middle of nature.

 

Back on the island in 2003, he went back to road-running in his hometown. He quickly gets tired of the asphalt, and the desire to run in the mountains catches up with him. He remembers  the trails of Black River Gorges, which he knew through his father, who hunted there before it was declared a National Park in 1994. He set off to discover the mountains and set off on his first outing on an ascent of Parakeet. After long minutes of intense effort, he turns around before reaching the top and thought to himself: “It’s endless! ”  He later discovered Camphrier, Plateau Remousse, which at the time were almost always empty.

 

Loving this practice, he comes up with the idea to raise funds  organize an event and raise funds for the Black River School which  wanted to build a school canteen. It is in service of a good cause that the first trail event was created in Mauritius on December 10, 2004: the Rando-Raid! To share the news and try to gather a few people, Yan sends a few emails, contacts the press, and talks about the event around him to his friends and family. The race would start on top of Parakeet’s trail, a descent towards Plateau Remousse, an ascent of the Fil trail, to finally end up at Pétrin, on the high plateaux. Among the participants were Jean Maurice Mamet, Yan de Maroussem, Régine Guibert, Jean de Maroussem, Julien Desvaux and many more, the event was a real success: 80 people started the race, and 25 000 rupees were collected for the Black River school. 

 

The race was won by Julien Desvaux with a time of 1h23, and Stéphanie Bax in the women’s race in 1h59. According to our sources some runners could hardly walk in the following days… That’s how trail-running was born on the island!

Seeing such a craze, Yan and Jean-Maurice Mamet decided to organize new similar events to raise funds for different causes such as the tsunami victims in 2004, disadvantaged children, diabetics.

The events brought together between 30 and 50 participants, and 10,000 or 20,000 rupees were raised every time. 

 

Les prémices du Trail à Maurice
Yan de Maroussem dans l'effort 2010

One day Albert d’Unienville and Frédérique Robert contacted Yan with the idea of organizing a major Trail event in 2006: the Royal Raid. On the program were two races of 90km and 35km respectively. To prepare the race, Yan invited the runners to the Gorges de La Rivière Noire for some training outings on a regular basis. The first edition of the Royal Raid was a success, with about fifteen Mauritians on the 90km and Reunioneses in a larger number. Vishal Ittoo signs a performance of 03h15 for the first edition on the 35km. This race is more than ever a concrete expression of the initiatives taken in 2004.

After the Royal Raid, Philippe Hardy, Philippe La Hausse and Yan De Maroussem met with the wish to create an association that would bring together runners and hikers: this is how Rando Trail and Nature came into life. The founding members are Philippe Hardy, Philippe La Hausse, Yan de Maroussem, Jean-Paul Le Blanc, Laurence Goilot, Vishal Ittoo, Gim Chan Qin and Mario Koomoorossamy.  Quickly after, the mauritian trail-running league was born. Six races on the program over the year. Five of the six races ere organized by Yanature, and the Royal Raid organized by LUX. Once the routes were imagined, Yan, Phillippe and other friends reopened some existing trails in the Gorges. Rando Trail & Nature then had about twenty members, with only one distance league  composed of the following races: The Chamarel trail, Case Noyale, Parakeet Challenge, Ring Trail, Vertical Trail (renamed  Zig Zag a few years later), and of course the Royal Raid. Most races gathered at this time between 50 to 60 runners on the starting line.

This was followed by the organization of several small races that greatly contribute to the growing popularity of the trail on the country. In 2007, Yanature organized the Yanature Trail Contest, a 15-km race that included the ascent of Fil and Zépol, the Mare-aux-Joncs trail and finally the Camphrier’s descent. Vishal Ittoo and Régine Guibert respectively took first place in the race. They will perpetuate this ranking once again later, in the Yanature Nature Trail of November 2008, a 14km race. Several races are organized little by little: Yanature Salomon Climbers Trophy, Yanature Culture Trail, Yanature Trophy… By word of mouth, trail-running makes its way, welcoming more and more runners and hikers everytime.

The mythical ascent of Parakeet made noise in the Spin TV Parakeet Challenge on December 12, 2009. 6 kilometers for about 600 meters of positive altitude again ; a race still feared by today’s runners… The “break the hour” challenge pushes everyone beyond their limits and motivates all to give it all and get down below this 1 hour barrier. At the end of the first event, eighteen men and one woman managed to meet the challenge. Vishal Ittoo won the race with a time of 42 minutes while Mandy Collis finished the race in 50 minutes

 

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After a few years under the organization of Yanature, the races were organized almost exclusively by Rando-Trail and Nature as from 2010. Some races are added to the calendar regurlaly: the Trail des Goyaves, the Ferney trail, and the Lafuma Trail (Epic Trail) in 2010. In 2011 and 2012 were born the hot and techincal trail of La Ferme, the Mare Longue fast cross-trail, the Moka trail, and finally, the Dodo Trail. The calendar then included twelve races, and Rando-Trail et Nature had about 70 members. It was during this same period that the short league was created, an idea promoted by Loïc Maingard, member of the RTN committee. The discipline takes on a new impetus!

These new races marked the Mauritian trail universe.  The level of the runners gets better, they have the choice to select and prepare specific events, it gets serious for some and the competition goes up a notch. Thus, in December 2009, Philippe La Hausse, Yan de Maroussem, Vishal Ittoo and Thomas Desvaux organized together the first reconnaissance of the Trail des Goyaves, a race that was intended to be hard and very technical: climbing the Piton de la Rivière Noire from Chamarel by the Planteau trail, (named after Yan’s name, Planteau de Maroussem, in recognition of his investment in the development of the discipline)  Trochetia Trail, Paille en queue, les Mares, Macchabé, Zépol and Fil’s downhill, and finally, the  painful ascent of Parakeet. The route speaks for itself, 26 km of beautiful discovery.

 

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Éric Lacroix, Ludovic Pommeret, Yan de Maroussem, Dawa Dachiri Sherpa et Yannick de Spéville 

In 2010, Yan de Maroussem feels the need to create an emblematic race that would be a summary of the most beautiful trails and sights the island has to offer; a course that will represent the Mauritian Trail more than ever. He launched a survey and the responses were more than positive. That’s how the Dodo Trail comes into being! For the first edition, participants have the choice between an 80km course, a 33km course and a 10km course. The 80km starts in La Cambuse, passes through cherished woods, long pools, the Black-River Gorges, Yemen, Tamarina Resort, to finalloy end up on the beach in front of the la Pirogue Resort. Some star runners such as Dawa Dachhiri Sherpa (winner of UTMB 2003) and Ludovic Pommeret  (Team Hoka, winner of UTMB 2016) were there from the first edition. 375 participants are gathered between the three races. Despite the success of the event, Yan was not satisfied with the route, which he thought was too fast and too similar to the Royal Raid. With advices from Erik Clavery, and the results of a new survey, Yan redesigned a new course, this time with much more character, technicality, single tracks, mountain peaks, and breathtaking views. The new route, which we know today, begins at the foot of Le Morne mountain and ends in Tamarin, going through many emblematic peaks such as Piton Canot, Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire, or Tourelle de Tamarin…

The Dodo Trail, the Royal Raid, the Ferney Trail and more recently the Moka Trail are events that contributed to bring trail-running closer to the Mauritian population, thanks to the support of the press, and particularly Robert D’Argent and La Sentinelle. These popular events brought some regional and international standard runners, which has been stimulating the Mauritian runners to raise themselves to the competition level: Among the international runners who ran the Mauritian trails are Ricky Lightfoot, Xavier Thevenard, Pascal Blanc, Erik Clavery, Dawa Dachhiri Sherpa, Ludovic Pommeret, Freddy Thevenin, Francois d’Haene, Iker Karrera, Landie Greyling, Laura Orgue, Maite Maiora, and our local talent Marie Perrier, winner of the 2018 Championnat de France de Trail Court.. They all fell under the spell of our muddy trails and our peaks with compelling views

Not only do these races bring together athletes, no matter their level, but they also allow the less athletic, walkers, hikers and especially children to take part and discover the island’s nature. It is not just a question of running; the trail events allow Mauritians to get together for a nice and social day in the mountains.

Podium des premier championnats de Maurice de Trail

Men winners of the first Mauritian Trail Running Championship

From left to right, Vishal Ittoo, Henri Fayolle, Henri Julien et Yan de Maroussem.

Today the Rando-Trail et Nature association has more than 1200 members; and some races of the league, like the Mare Longue race bring together more than 600 runners. As for major events such as the Ferney Trail, they sometimes bring together more than 2000 participants.

In addition to this ever-increasing interest, the level has also increased. the performances have constantly improved in recent years. More and more runners represent the Mauritian trail abroad by par participating in major events such as the Grand Raid de la Réunion, or the UTMB races. In 2019, Mauritius created its first national team and sent for the first time the best of our local runners to the IAAF World Championships in Mirandha Do Corvo, Portugal. As for the local calendar, it is constantly being amended to give way to new races, but also to the Trail Championship, which defined for the very first time the national champions of the discipline in 2016, where Henri Fayolle and Laurence Goilot won the long format, as well as Marie Perrier and Xavier Verny on the short format.

Trail is now more than ever recognized as a unifying sport, bringing together runners from all communities and social classes in the country. The discipline allows both beginners and amateurs to discover and rediscover the island’s trails; and also allows athletes to express their talent by pushing the limits of the local Trail, while maintaining working to best represent the country on the international scene of the discipline.

Who knows what the flourishing world of the Mauritian Trail Running now holds in store for us? The future will tell us that.

Did you know?

Our team offers the opportunity to discover the beautiful nature trails of Mauritius on an exclusive and personalized guided trail-running tour.