RDRC Interview with Philippe Daniel and Jean-Henri Haniquaut
At 8:00 on the evening of March 11 Philippe Daniel and Jean-Henri Haniquaut set out to run 200 kilometers literally around Singapore, an adventure they hoped would take them less than 24 hours. They did this crazy thing for a variety of reasons: to celebrate Philippe's new job, to raise funds for a pair of non-profit organizations that work to preserve coral reefs, and because both of them have for years sought to challenge themselves by doing things that most people (but maybe not most people in the RDRC community!) would think are crazy. Plus, during these stay-at-home, work-from-home times, it was a good excuse to get out of the house, one they had been thinking about for around six months.
Philippe and Jean-Henri are both French, from the south, but they met only last year, after Jean-Henri moved to Singapore in January. In very 21st century fashion they met online, on Strava during the Circuit Breaker, and after stay-at-home restrictions were eased, they were able to meet in person for socially distanced runs and bike rides.
Philippe has been in Singapore for around eight years and came to ultrarunning from technical (deep water) scuba diving after discovering he had a small hole in his heart (believe it or not, around 25 percent of people have the same condition, which for most of us is unnoticeable). He elected to have the hole repaired so he could eventually return to diving, but during the year or so he was away from the sport, he discovered running, and that he had an aptitude for pushing both his body and mind further than he thought. His first ultra was the Force of Nature 50, in which he finished in the top 15 despite having gotten lost (in MacRitchie Reservoir Park, LOL) for 45 minutes; he ran eight ultras in 2019; and in 2020 he did the same sorts of things you've been doing: DIY endurance challenges.
Jean-Henri also came to ultrarunning from elsewhere – in his case from rock climbing – and although he says he used to run only a few hundred kilometers a year, in 2020 he ran over 4,000 kilometers (including 42 marathons, one per week from the end of May), and added over 6,000 kilometers of cycling. Before moving to Singapore he also managed to compete in at least one ultra-trail race in Europe every year since 2010, as well as serving as race director of a trail race he created in France's Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department.
RDRC: Obvious first question: why this?
PHIL: I guess the spark for doing this right now was that I wanted to celebrate my new job. But it's also something that we were discussing for six months. We were going to do it last year, but I had to DNS [did not start] because I was busy studying and it was a stressful time. And for me, 2020 started out as the year of RTI [Round the Island]. On 1 January I was on Yonaguni Island in Japan, very near to Taiwan, diving, and one day I decided to run around the island, around 30 kilometers. Then before the pandemic hit I did another RTI in Indonesia, on the small island of Lembongan, just south of Bali. Then with air travel shut down, I started to think about an RTI of Singapore.
JEAN: I just needed a challenge. After I arrived in Singapore and met Philippe on Strava, then later in person, we started doing little challenges like "every path in the Botanic Garden", and 9 or 10 loops of MacRitchie. This was farther than either of us had gone, but that's what a challenge is all about.
RDRC: What was the most challenging aspect of your RTI?
JEAN: Definitely the heat and humidity, which is something I have had to adapt to since I moved here last year. We got lucky on the day, it was quite overcast and we got a bit of rain, but still there were long sections when we were running without shelter and on asphalt that was radiating the heat back at us.
PHIL: Agree on the weather, and although some parts of the course were very scenic, other parts were ... not at all scenic! But for me – and for Jean as well because I was slowing him down – the toughest part was that at around the halfway point I started to have a serious problem with my hip. I had to stop every few kilometers to get treatment from our support team, and in some cases from Jean, and then at around 120 kilometers I had a calf problem in the other leg, probably from compensating for the hip. I felt bad for Jean because I really slowed us down.
RDRC: Your original target time was 24 hours, right?
PHIL: We always knew that would be a bit of a stretch, and at the halfway point we thought we might be able to get home in 25 or 26 hours, but then I had my problems.
JEAN: We went through our first 100K in 11:15. The second one was 17 hours, so ... you can imagine the pace. The good news is that we had a lot of support from friends and family along the way, but still, it was tough.
PHIL: We knew it would be tough, though, and we designed our course to try to reduce the chance we would be tempted to cut it short. We decided on a clockwise route, and we decided to get Sentosa out of the way first so we wouldn't have to deal with the "hill" climb in and out of there, and we also wanted to be sure to get to Sungei Buloh when it was open. We also figured that after we passed Changi we would be basically just running back home, getting closer with every step.
RDRC: Did you do any special preparation for this RTI? Any specific training?
JEAN: I've just been doing my normal training, which is around 80-100 kilometers a week of running, plus 150-200 kilometers on the bike. And last year we were doing a long run on the weekends, 40-50 kilometers, which I'm sure was quite useful training.
PHIL: I used to do a RTI once a week on my bike, and last year I was running 100-120 kilometers a week, but this year while my life has been in flux with the job change and so on I have been running only 80-100 kilometers a week.
RDRC: How about your preparation for race day? What was your nutritional plan?
JEAN: We had Tailwind, thanks to RDRC, and it was my first time to drink anything but water in a long endurance event. As I said before, running in the heat and humidity of Singapore has been a real change for me over the past year.
PHIL: I normally make a Tailwind super-concentrate in one flask, then dilute with water as I go along, so we did that and it worked great. I started out with 18 scoops of Tailwind in my flask, it's really goop and you really don't want to consume it just like that. But we also had real food. We made around 10 croque monsieur [baked ham and cheese] sandwiches before we set off, and we had nuts of course and plenty of gels. At one point in East Coast Park I ate a Unived gel and felt like Superman for around two kilometers. Then the effect wore off and I went back to limping!
RDRC: What did you eat when it was done?
PHIL: Shake Shack.
JEAN: We finished at around 1:00 a.m., so we were more interested in getting to bed.
RDRC: With your injuries, Phil, did you think about quitting?
PHIL: Well, we had support from so many friends and family members, including text messages, video chats, and the people who came out onto the course to run part of the way with us, those things keep you going. Also, we were raising funds for charity, for two non-profit foundations that work to protect coral reefs, and you don't want to let down the people who contributed to that campaign. And Jeri came out on her bicycle with a lot of stuff in both the front and back baskets – a cooler of cold drinks, and even toothbrushes!
JEAN: For this kind of run we really needed a support crew., and we had great support. My family came out, which was great, and we had pacers for almost the whole thing, except for 30-40 kilometers, I think. At the same time, we wanted to plan it so we were as safe as possible, and within government regulations for public gatherings, so we actually had a sign-up sheet so people could know where we had support and where we didn't, and spread themselves out.
PHIL: Yeah, you end up not doing it for yourself alone, but for the group. All your family and friends and sponsors who support you. For us we were super-grateful for the Tailwind, and for support from T8 and Instinct.
RDRC: So, of course I'm going to ask: would you do it again?
PHIL: Yeah, in that respect it was just like every other big ultra. In the final stages and right afterwards you say, "Never again!"
JEAN: And then after a couple of days, and we're moving into that zone now, you start to think, "Maybe ..."
PHIL: But for sure it was not the most scenic 200K on earth. There were some lovely parts, of course, but at one point we had 50-60 kilometers straight of industrial landscape and boiling concrete underfoot and it wasn't that fun.
JEAN: The point of doing it was to challenge ourselves in a big way, and we certainly had success in that. It was a big challenge. And we're looking forward to the next challenge!
PHIL: Absolutely. And a million thank yous to everyone who helped us in every way. On the day, with donations to the charities, and with congratulations afterwards. It has been fantastic to see how this crazy event captured the imagination of so many people.
Many thanks to Philippe and Jean-Henri for talking to us, and you can find them (of course!) on Strava here and here. You can also learn more about and support the Run for Coral Reefs campaign benefiting The Sulubaaï Foundation and Coral Gardeners here. 📸 And thanks to Adventure III for some of these photos. Terrific as usual. 🙏🏼