Race Review: Trail des Forts de Besançon 19km

Runners in the forest

Two weeks ago, I did a 19km (11.9mi) trail race as a training run—the Trail des Forts de Besançon. The name of the race is a cute play on words, as “fort” in French means both the adjective “strong” and the noun “fort.” Besançon is known for its citadel (la Citadelle), a historic fort overlooking the city. The fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is now home to a zoo and several museums. We ran through the fort in the last couple miles of the race, and the view was lovely (though the stairs not as much haha)

The event actually offers 4 distances: the 10km, 19km, 28km, and 48km. There’s also a 48km two-leg relay and the 10km is also offered as an untimed hike. The 10km races were held on Saturday this year, and the others on Sunday. The 19km the historically the largest race, with 1700 participants this year (2000 registered).

I initially wanted to do the 28km (17.5mi), but I came down with food poisoning the week before (I had the nastiest fish in Montenegro, and I also ate some unrefrigerated leftovers…). I don’t think I’ve ever felt so awful in my life—and I’ve had pneumonia before too. The fever, nausea, and diarrhea kept me out of commission for a few days, so I figured I’d better run a shorter race.

Here’s what I thought about the event.

Trail des forts shirt, bib, and medal

Packet Pickup/Swag

Packet pickup and the start line were at La Friche Artistique de la Rodia on the outskirts of Besançon. You had to bring your confirmation email with your QR code, an ID, and your medical certificate (if not already uploaded online and approved). Pickup itself was quick—I arrived Saturday afternoon and there was no line. There were a handful of vendors, most notably sponsor Hoka One One, Tiger Balm (the French are obsessed with it haha), and a local cheese stand.

Race entry came with a shirt that was nice quality, but the women’s small was a little tight in the shoulders when most smalls fit me fine. Be sure to try the shirts on before you take them home.

All races get the same medal, which was super stylish this year. Both the shirt and the medal were much nicer than those of the Paris Marathon, which is way more expensive than this local race.

Crossing a bridge in the Trail des forts race
Climbing a hill during the Trail des forts race
Mud during the Trail des forts race


There was some conflicting information about the course—the online description listed 700m elevation gain, but the maps at packet pickup said there was only 500m of gain. I joked to my friend that there was maybe 600m, right in-between the two. I wasn’t too far off—according to my Garmin, there was actually 580m (1900ft) of gain.

I found the first 7-8km of the course the most challenging, as that’s where we saw the largest hills. I actually sped up throughout the race because of my slower start—I walked all hills, so the first half took more time.

Unfortunately, there were also several traffic jams in the first 10km since the trail was too tight, only allowing room for one person. We had a staggered start with 4+ waves, but they weren’t super effective—the waves weren’t based on expected finish time and were also only a few minutes apart. It would be helpful if future editions spread the waves out and organized them by expected pace.

Another bummer was that it had rained the day before—so it was mud galore (they did have a special station to wash your shoes at the finish, though). The mud wasn’t too much of an obstacle except at a steep downhill around kilometer 12.

Overall, the terrain wasn’t too technical, but there were a lot of roots and rocks embedded in the dirt. There was also about 3km (2mi) of pavement over the course of the race, mostly near the start and finish. We did have to traverse several flights of stairs at the Citadelle, though most of them were going down.

Trail des forts hills
Me running on the Citadelle fort during the Trail des forts
Trail des forts fuel station
Trail des forts fuel station

Fuel stations

There were two fuel stations during the race—one around 7km and the other around 15km. Each station
had orange slices, bananas, pain d’épices (gingerbread), chocolate, cookies, pretzels, crackers, peanuts, water, and soda.

The finish line had similar fare, but also cheese cubes, cheese and meat sandwiches, and beer (you got one for free as a finisher).

My muddy shoes at the end of the Trail des forts
Trail des forts shoe washing station
Me at the finish line of the Trail des forts

Tips + Summary

  • The elevation gain estimates can be inaccurate by over 100m. The 19km had 120m less of gain than advertised online and 80m more than listed on course maps.
  • There might be some traffic jams due to the narrow trails, so get to the start line at least 30 minutes early if you want to run fast.
  • Try on the race shirt before taking it home; the sizes might run small in the shoulders.

Overall, I’d recommend this trail race, especially as a training run. The views are lovely, the course is a good challenge, and the event is well-organized. If you want to race your event, try to get into the front of the starting corral. The friend who did the race with me was irked that he had to stop so much in the first 10km because of the trail traffic. I was a little annoyed, but didn’t mind as much since it was a chance to catch my breath haha.

In any case, Besançon is a charming city, and I’d definitely recommend visiting–whether for the race or just for fun. If you do this race, consider adding an extra day or staying the afternoon to explore and loosen up your sore legs (just remember that a lot of shops are closed on Sunday, the day of the 19km, 28km, and 48km).

If you also want to get a preview of the course, the event organizers often hold a couple runs (one in February and one in March) to let you explore sections of the trails. These events are free and are listed on the website (I didn’t go, but I would’ve had I known about them sooner).

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  1. Well done on doing this! It sounds an interesting race. I’m not so keen on mud though- not sure I’d enjoy that! It’s nice that you get some things as part of it. I’m inwardly screaming at that bin full of cups (even if they turned out to be paper ones)- such a waste- and all those disposable containers. I wish the culture of that would change!

    1. Thanks Kezzie! And yes, race waste has had a lot of media attention recently, and I agree that more needs to be done. The London Marathon had seaweed pods to replace water bottles/cups, and other races have had long drinking fountains before, which I think are a great idea. That said, I feel that a lot of runners are pretty environmentally-conscious, with some run commuting (I personally love running tourism, where I run around cities I visit instead of taking transport), and others carrying their own water in reusable containers. I know one race I’m signed up for is handing out a reusable cup to each participant and will not have any disposable cups.

      1. I know there are lots of responsible runners which is great but apparently, at the London Marathon, there were only those seaweed pods were at ONE station out of the whole race, one near the end and there were still masses of plastic bottles. Someone I follow on instagram posted a picture from where she lives in Greenwich and the entire road was littered with thousands of bottles and the roadsweeper was sweeping them up into the general waste, not recycling, the next day or later so it feels like the seaweed pods were a publicity stunt but there was still an incredible amount of waste! But it’s nice to know that some people care and hopefully more will change!

        1. I see where you’re coming from, especially as they made the seaweed pods a big deal. I’m glad they made an effort with the pods though–it is small compared to the amount of waste they created, and maybe it was a publicity stunt, but I never had heard of these pods before, and I’m sure many race directors hadn’t either. Since there was so much coverage, maybe more races will take sustainable steps. It does seem contradictory that they just tossed all the plastic bottles in the landfill; that is upsetting, and I hope they’ll make a bigger effort next time.

          There are a lot of ways races can be more eco-friendly, but I don’t think this is an issue unique to races–it applies to any big event. What bothers me is when many will criticize runners specifically for being wasteful (I’m not saying this is you), such as taking international flights for races, yet forget to criticize leisure travel by air in general. Marathons are often only a yearly or bi-yearly thing for runners, and many combine it with a vacation if it’s an international destination.

          I also think it’s important to make purposeful changes, but we also have to keep living our lives. For instance, I’m not going to avoid visiting my family just because air travel pollutes. I do, however, try to be more careful in planning so that I’m not flying excessively. I’m not going to stop running races because of the waste, but I do carry my own water for convenience and to avoid creating as much trash.

          Climate change is a critical issue, but I feel that they way to change hearts is not just to criticize and be upset every time something isn’t perfect. Perfection/the righteous attitude of a lot of eco-warriors is probably actually scaring or turning a lot of people off from taking first steps (I’m not saying this is you either, but I do feel that you can come off strong–I’m saying this with love and respect as I know you truly care about this issue). I think one of the biggest ways we can encourage change is to share what we’ve been doing in our daily lives, like you did in your most recent post (I tried to comment, but it was glitching for me? Unless you need to give comment approval?). That gives people a concrete idea of what they can do too.

          Thanks for starting these conversations and getting people to think more about this issue!

          1. Oh goodness, I am not meaning to criticize runners specifically (cycling also has things like that and any sort of festival or big event- I avoid festivals for this very reason). To be honest, I had not even thought about runners and eco-things (since I DETEST running myself!) UNTIL I saw those two instagram posts a day apart- one where I was happy to see the seaweed pods and then another, a day later where I saw all the bottles. But since I happened to have clicked on your post as I looked at my Bloglovin (a rare event in my life nowadays!) and read the post and wanted to comment on it with something that occurred to me as I read it (which I think is the point of blog post comments), I mentioned it- not because I wanted to have a go at you but because you ARE a runner with morals (as a vegan) and I figured that you probably had the same thoughts as me on it, I think it is people like you who actually make the difference because you influence people, and I wanted to share my thoughts. It IS important to continue to live our lives but try and make changes where we can. I think a lot about the leisure industry and it is a big issue (also, the big elephant in the room in terms of Climate Change issues that people don’t talk about and environmental matters is actually the number of children people have and the rising population but that’s a whole other matter) . I am travelling to Italy by train in the Summer because I took a flight to Vienna last November and I don’t fly more than once a year because my family live in the same country as me and that’s my choice to avoid flying where I can. I don’t think anyone who is an expat can avoid it- it would be horrible not to see family and go home. I know because I spent a year in Bali without seeing my family (but I genuinely couldn’t afford a flight and didn’t want to go long-haul too often- I’ve only been long-haul 3 times in my life) and it was very hard not seeing them in all that time. I wouldn’t even think to say that to someone who lives away from family.
            I would not want to put anyone off being eco-friendly and I am horrified that you think I might perhaps be too strong about it as that is the last thing I would want to do- I am always aware of my shortcomings so it is good to know. All I am trying to do is do what I can and talk about it as much as I can so people think about it but thanks for the kind way you said it- I will certainly take it on board. Hope you are having a good week!

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