Hugh Symonds (Vignemale ’88 winner)

In ’88, I was helping to secure the last névé of the race, behind the Col du Labas when I saw a guy, leading the race, kind of flying above the snow. We were all really impressed by his easiness on the snow, and on the rocks. We knew he was english when he asked « Où est le ‘oute ? » (literally « where’s the path »)… We later learned that this guy was Hugh Symonds, an english who came to run the Vignemale and eventually broke the record.
25 years later, I asked Hugh few questions about the Vignemale and more. Here they are!


Photo by son Joe Sympson, another bearded runner…

CauteretsTrail : You won the Vignemale race back in ’88. I am wondering why you run that race. Where you spending time in the area for vacations or did you come specifically? Why did you decide to compete?
Hugh : In 1987 Pauline (my wife) and my 3 children cycled in France for a holiday and we finished in Cauterets when there race called the Cabaleros.  I ran this race and won it beating local runner Jean Dominic Calbera. He became a friend.  I was invited to return to race The Vignemale the following year.

Photo Andy Symonds

Photo by Andy Symonds : another son…

CauteretsTrail :What kind of memory do you have from this race? Any specific moment your remember?
Hugh : This time we drove from England to the race.  I didn’t feel strong after the journey and started the race in 10 th position for the first hour but when we reached the snow level I began to feel stronger and I started to overtake people.  By the top of the Mountain I was 3rd and I saw the first 2 runners not too far ahead of me.  I thought that they looked a little tired.  I began to gain confidence on the way down and after eating a few sweets and having a drink at a feed station I ran harder and soon became the leader of the race.  The downhill was a pleasure particularly when I could relax on the long run back to Cauterets.

CauteretsTrail :This year will see the first edition of the Vignemale since 1991. Any advice for the runners?
Hugh : My advice for anyone doing this race is to have shoes with a good grip and to take the first two hours of the race quite easily.  You need a lot of energy later on.

CauteretsTrail : What kind of argument would make Andy decide to compete this year?
Hugh : I hope that Andy our son can fit this race in to his programme one day.  It is very special.  The certificate with the photo of Vignemale is on a wall at home.  I love it.

CauteretsTrail : Did you keep running in the mountains since the 80’s?
Hugh : yes – I still run in the mountains but most importantly in 1990 I ran for 97 days over all 303 high mountains of Britain and Ireland in one continuous run – I wrote a book about it called « Running High »


CauteretsTrail : What are you doing now?
Hugh : Now we are cycling round the world – at the moment we are away for a year and are on our way to Central Asia


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