- Runner Vincent Machet is publishing his first book Trop gros pour courir (Too Big to Run) with Mons this Thursday.
- He made a name for himself in the running world by finishing Marseille-Cassis and the New York Marathon despite weighing 150 kg.
- In his book, he opens up about his painful family history and the "devil in his mind" that pushes him to yo-yo on the scales.
A book as poignant as the life journey of this 52-year-old athlete for 150 kg. Yes, 150 kg, that the native of Marseille, Vincent Machet, is no longer afraid to hide his weight. Thanks to running, which he has been practicing since the age of 15 and which has served as much as an outlet for a family life marked by drama, as well as a lifeline against the "devil in his mind". A devil that sometimes pushes him to gain 25 kg in barely two months, and to always push his mental limits to return to his "high-level athlete" fitness weight, as he likes to define himself.
You'll be running for the first time at 15 years old, and you're having fun when running can seem boring at that age.
When I was 15 years old, I was playing football in a club in Marseille, my father is a former footballer. Of course, I was a hitchhiker because of my body type. I also played rugby with friends who wanted to take me into their team because I had predispositions. But it's still a beach sport for me. The fun of racing is a bit weird. I don't explain it. Everything could push me back, the slowness, the fact that I'm at the back of the pack. The first strides of the first training sessions were hard, but the exhilaration came after 15-20 minutes. At first you're out of breath, you're waiting for your second wind and at my house it arrives late. Then the pleasure comes, the endorphins arrive at some point and you have this feeling of freedom and well-being. You're going to have five minutes of detachment, osmosis with your body and your mind. It's a moment where you just feel good, the effort, the challenge, the fight against myself. I love this duality, both of raw effort and at the same time of being caught.
Has running become an outlet and escape from your complicated family life?
Necessarily. Like other sports and other disciplines such as painting and music, you drop out and your mind wanders. You forget the problems of everyday life, you put everything away in your head. It's an important outlet, and even though I wasn't doing it for the challenge at first, I felt like I was becoming a sportsman.
Why was it important to become an athlete?
I didn't think about my weight, it was integrated and I wasn't aware of it. Then I started to want a challenge, to surpass myself, to go further, to go beyond a street, a monument. It's like in the mountains, you say to yourself: "I'm going all the way there, to see what it's like and once you get there, it's not bad and even prettier over there and you go further". The challenge increases, you feel good for yourself and it gives you confidence in what you do.
You talk about "the devil in your mind" that causes weight gain. Is it the legacy of your heavy family history?
I think I have the dark side that my mother had, and I accepted it. I have its share of madness in me. I often write a few books on the web with Vince Vader, I appreciate this duality in people. I can also have the good part of myself that pushes me towards food, like anyone else with the notion of fun, togetherness, around the table with friends and family. This dietary and bulimia problem is a dark part but not only physical. It's a bit like a cameo injecting himself with a syringe to discharge and relax. It's very impulsive and very violent.
Even in the middle of preparing for Marseille-Cassis, with heavy training sessions, you gain weight.
It never leaves me. No matter what moment I'm at, even in moments of happiness, of preparing for certain goals, of having fun moments with my family, I always have this thing that eats away at me. There are few times when I am completely at peace with myself. Even if I have to prepare for an event with heavy sessions of at least 1h30, it doesn't prevent the devil from always being in me.
Marseille-Cassis is the first race you have run, what does it mean to you?
It's the home race. And that was the first challenge, which is still a big sporting experience. It has a certain notoriety and twenty milestones is the end of the world when you're young. It's a sporting challenge, a magnificent race. The road between Marseille and Cassis is sublime. And it's part of the family history, it reminds me of the first hiking trips in the creeks with my father. There are a lot of things that go into it, beyond the race.
The New York City Marathon that you run at the age of 40 has something to do with your mother's story and her trip to the United States, while the other challenges seem to have more to do with your father.
It's funny to point that out in an outward way. But yes, my sports practice is closely linked to my personal life and my family situation. In the choices I make, the errands I want to make. It's like the Paris marathon, I was born in Paris, and even though I didn't live there, it's part of my personal history. The dream of New York came from my mother, and the pictures she showed us as a kid. I wanted the United States and then I was very quickly attracted by the mountains where my father liked to take us. But I don't make my sporting life a pilgrimage either. New York was also home to the marathon, which attracts the cream of the running world. It was a monumental kif but yes, there is a bit of a tribute to it.
What are you most proud of?
I don't take pride. I often finish last, which is not always good for my self-esteem. It's a joy to have done Marseille-Cassis, the Serre-Chevalier trail, the 28 km of the Mont-Blanc cross-country. The New York City Marathon was a joy, and it is the most significant event of my athletic career.
At the beginning, the race is an outlet, then you finish some famous races, you are recognized in your discipline, you race with Kilian Jornet...
I'm not going to be the wrong guy and we have to put things in their place. The guys who prepare for the race by aiming for the top 5 of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc send themselves colossal training loads. I obviously prepare a lot, even for a 5K, but I think I'm still an ordinary runner. I don't do anything extraordinary like the thousands of runners I meet, who surpass themselves to the point of ragging, on the verge of implosion. It amuses me a lot to say that I'm a high-level athlete. I have a good machine, yes I can move forward with a fairly high weight. I train but I don't consider myself a top athlete. When you're running at the back of the pack, you're also doing the broom wagon and I've seen people in remission from cancer, people with disabilities. I think the notion of a champion has been overused, to make a fuss, but there aren't that many real champions. But it feels good to know that you're admired, or recognized, for your efforts and your resilient way of being.
Isn't the purpose of running to get to know yourself better?
It may not be the goal, but with advancing age and the practice of sport, you can know a little more about yourself, overcome certain things within yourself. I'm not the same as I was when I was 15 or 30. Practicing sports helps me to move forward, and to change too. It's a good crutch.
I have the impression that somehow this book prepares you for the fact that you may not be able to run anymore, and to allow you to keep the memory of these exploits...
I keep running, but I'm not able to go for a half marathon. But in my head there's Marseille-Cassis next year, I have one year left to prepare. I'm not ready to stop yet, but I'm talking about it because it's a hypothesis that should not be overlooked. I'm 52 years old, my hips are squealing, I can compare myself to a top athlete who also has screwed up knees. I think that at 60 years old I may have to walk or ride a bike. The path must be made. But I don't find in walking the pleasure I have in running. I never enjoy it as much as I do when I run.
- Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur