This is the French ultra trail race that no runner has ever finished

As if the 300km distance was not enough, participants are also required to bring a bottle of alcohol from their place of origin

No one has ever finished the race in Chartreuse, near Grenoble
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Would you start a race that no one has ever finished?

A group of 40 trail runners in France is set to do just that on Friday (June 16) at the start line near Grenoble (Isère, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes).

Created in 2017, the 300km Chartreuse Terminorum trail, which loops around the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the Chartreuse massif forests, is known for being one of the world’s hardest races.

More than 300 people apply every year, with only 30-40 accepted.

Applicants must answer one question by letter: “Why should I be accepted to participate in the Chartreuse Terminorum?”

The race takes its name from the Sapinus Terminorum Cartusae, the fir tree that marks the boundary of the Chartreuse. Its route changes every year, but the idea remains the same.

Runners must do five loops of 60km, including 25,000 metres of ascent. They have to complete the entire trial in a maximum of 80 hours (16 hours per lap). Participants cannot use GPS or have assistants travelling with them.

They will hardly sleep over three days, stopping only for short times to nap and refuel.

The race’s motto is the Latin line: Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit (No one wants pain itself, but seeks pain to pursue [and] to gain).

The race is shrouded in mystery, with only the organisers themselves knowing the exact start time. Even the participants are not exactly sure of when things will begin.

One racer, Antoine Comalada, who has attempted the race twice, said that one year: “It was a full moon, and I was convinced we'd be leaving at night. We could hear doors slamming, cars clattering, all sorts of strategies to make us believe that we were about to leave. I didn't sleep all night…and we finally left in the morning.”

Once the ‘leaving gong’ has been hit, runners have one hour to prepare and fuel before the race begins.

There has never been a winners’ or medal ceremony, as no one has yet completed the course, despite some of the world’s top ultrarunners having attempted the challenge.

In 2019, Frenchman David Barranger and Spaniard Imanol Aleson Orbegozo tried but failed to complete the fourth loop.

Mr Barranger said: "The level continues to improve. As far as I'm concerned, the pieces of the jigsaw are starting to come together.”

Benoît Laval, one of the organisers of the Chartreuse Terminorum, defended the race’s difficulty.

He said: “There's nothing easier than organising a race that's impossible to finish, but it makes no sense and it's not our objective. We're doing an ultra-trail at the limit of what's feasible and we'll be fully satisfied when we have the first winner. There will soon be a winner. That’s the goal.

“In itself, the route is not insurmountable, but it's the right mix of gradient, distance, orientation, fatigue management, and time that makes it all the more complex.”

Speaking about the race’s proximity to the isolated monastery, Mr Laval said: “The monks were rather amused by the idea of imagining the solitude of these athletes running in the middle of the night in silence. It spoke to them.”

The race also has a few other quirks: It only costs €3 to race (in contrast to the hundreds or even thousands of some prestigious races), and each participant must bring a bottle of alcohol from their place of origin (in a nod to the race’s Chartreuse heritage).

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