How do you combine a passion for trail running with a worthy cause? Thirty-year-old elite runner Thibaut Baronian takes us on an adventure to the islands of Cape Verde, where he used his athletic talent for a great cause.
Santo Antão, one of Thibaut’s favorite destinations
A high-level athlete since childhood and a competitor at heart, Thibaut Baronian started his career in sports with cross-country skiing. Several years later, after working as a physical therapist and specializing in micronutrient nutrition, he decided to focus his talents on trail running, competing and placing in one difficult race after another.
In the fall of 2019, this exuberant athlete wanted to combine trail running with a worthy cause. He set his sights on traversing the Cape Verde island of Santo Antão from east to west. Since Thibaut already knew the island and its inhabitants well, the goal for this particular endeavor was not to compete, but to connect with the locals, to embark upon a shared experience with islanders and crew. Santo Antão is volcanic island, with a massive chain of mountains that divides it into two completely different worlds: the verdant northeast is ideal for growing crops, while an arid and mineral landscape occupies the entire southern half of the island.
An unprecedented adventure
The planned route covered 93km of mostly trails with 5700 meters of vertical gain, for 15 hours and 57 minutes of total running time.
The time sets the benchmark since no one has ever before traveled to Santo Antão to simply run across it. All along the amazing traverse, Thibaut and pacers encountered a wide variety of trails. They received assistance at only three locations along the way.
In total, eleven people crewed for Thibaut as he ran up, down, and over the beautiful island of Santo Antão:
Three people to take photos,
Four friends to pace him,
One physical therapist,
And three locals to help with the logistics..
The main challenge was the heat. Temperatures during the run hovered around 30°C, with little shade in sight from one end of the volcanic island to the other, especially in the very arid, desert south. Drinking water is difficult to find along the route, which means carefully monitoring how much and when to drink. Add considerable route-finding due to the faint, little-maintained trails, with frequent stops to check the map and the OpenRunner app.
An intercultural exchange, running for a cause
This exciting trail running adventure in Cape Verde revolved around a worthy cause. The team traveled to the island of Santo Antão with the goal of providing aid to children living in Paul Valley. From the start of the project, the team worked with the school to assess the kids’ needs and make sure that all donations would be relevant. Through a crowdfunding campaign on Ullule and with help from the project’s professional partners, the team collected more than 120kg of school supplies for village kids in the valley. These supplies ranged from educational equipment like video projectors, to pens, markers, notebooks, rulers, calculators, and flutes. Donations also included sports equipment such as bathing suits, balls, and cones. In addition, with help from Petzl, families without access to electricity received headlamps and light diffusers equipped with solar chargers and rechargeable batteries for a long-lasting and environmentally-friendly lighting source. In Paul Valley, many families have to walk several hours just to reach the closest road.
Proper planning beforehand translated to providing truly useful aid to the local population, who warmly welcomed Thibaut and his entire crew.
New ideas for the future
This athletic adventure for a cause required one full year of planning to put together team and budget, to identify the aid locals needed, and to organize all of the logistics. Thibaut and his crew are proud of their accomplishment and the fact that the adventure went so smoothly: a breathtaking run through the island’s mountainous landscapes and a rewarding day spent with locals in the remote Paul Valley. This incredible experience will forever remain engraved in their memories.
In February 2020, Thibaut plans to organize another exciting trail running adventure on Santo Antão. Cape Verde, an archipelago with 10 islands, including 9 that are inhabited, offers so many future traverses for this particular adventurous athlete.