A book as poignant as the life journey of this 52-year-old athlete weighing 150 kg. Yes, 150 kg, that the native of Marseillais, Vincent Machet, is now no longer afraid of hiding his weight. Thanks to running, which he has been practicing since the age of 15 and which has served him as much as an outlet from a family life marked by drama, as well as a lifeline in the face of the “devil in his mind”. A devil who sometimes pushes him to gain 25 kg in barely two months, and to always push his mental limits to return to his ideal weight for a “high-level athlete”, as he likes to define himself.
You run for the first time at 15, and you enjoy it even though running can seem boring at that age.
At 15, I played football in a Marseille club, my father is a former footballer. I was obviously a hitchhiker given my body type. I also played rugby with friends who wanted to take me into their team because I had a predisposition. But it remained a beach sport for me. The pleasure of racing is a bit strange. I don’t explain it. Anything could put me off, the slowness, the fact of being 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 are out of breath, you wait for your second wind and at my house it arrives late. Then the pleasure comes, the endorphins arrive at a certain point and you have this feeling of freedom and well-being. You will have five minutes of detachment, of osmosis with your body and your mind. It’s a moment where you just feel good, the effort, the challenge, the fighting against myself. I like this duality, both raw effort and at the same time being caught up.
Has running become an outlet and escape from your complicated home life?
Necessarily. Like other sports and other disciplines like painting and music, you drop out and your mind wanders. You forget everyday problems, 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 an athlete.
Why was it important to become an athlete?
I didn’t question 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 up there, to see what it’s like and once you arrive, it’s not bad and even prettier over there and you go further”. The challenge increases, you feel good and it comforts you in what you do.
You mention “the devil in your mind” which is the source of weight gain. Is this the legacy of your heavy family history?
In my opinion, I have the dark side that my mother had, and I have accepted it. His part of madness, I have it in me. I often sign some writings on the web with Vince Vader, I appreciate this duality in people. I may also have the good part of myself that pushes me towards food, like anyone with the notion of pleasure, of conviviality, around the table with friends and family. This dietary and bulimia problem is a dark side but not only physical. It’s a bit like a drug addict who injects himself with a syringe to unload and relax. It’s very impulsive and very violent.
Even in full preparation for Marseille-Cassis, with heavy training sessions, you gain weight.
It never leaves me. Whatever moment I am in, even in moments of happiness, of preparing for certain goals, of fun times with family, I always have this thing that comes to eat away at me. There are rare moments when I am completely at peace with myself. Even if I have to prepare for an event with heavy sessions of at least 1h30, that doesn’t change the fact that the devil is still in me.
Marseille-Cassis is the first race you ran, what does it mean to you?
It’s the home race. And that was the first challenge, which is still a big sporting experience. She has a certain notoriety and twenty miles is the end of the world when you are 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 coves with my father. There are lots of things that come together, beyond the race.
The New York marathon that you ran at 40 has a link to the story of your mother and her trip to the United States, while the other challenges seem more linked to your father.
It’s funny to emphasize it in an external way. But yes, my sporting practice is closely linked to my personal life and my family situation. In the choices I make, the errands I want to do. It’s like the Paris marathon, I was born in Paris, and even if I didn’t live there, it’s part of my personal history. The dream of New York came from my mother, and the photos she showed us as kids. I wanted the United States and then I was quickly attracted to the mountains where my father liked to take us. But I don’t make my sporting life a pilgrimage either. New York was also the marathon that attracted all the elite of running. It was a monumental achievement but yes, there is a bit of a tribute aspect.
What are you most proud of?
I don’t take pride. I still often finish last, which isn’t 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. The New York marathon was a joy, and it is the most significant event of my sporting career.
At first the race is an outlet, then you finish certain famous races, you are recognized in your discipline, you run with Kilian Jornet…
I’m not going to act like a fake guy and we have to put things in their place. The guys who are preparing for the race by aiming for the top 5 of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc are putting colossal training loads on themselves. 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 push themselves to the point of ragging, on the verge of implosion. It amuses me a lot to say that I am a top 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 high-level athlete. When you run at the back of the pack, you also do the sweeper car and I have seen people in remission from cancer, people with disabilities. I find that the notion of champion has been really overused, to show off, but there aren’t that many real champions. But it feels good to know that we are admired, or recognized, for the efforts and our way of being resilient.
Isn’t the purpose of running to know yourself better?
This is perhaps not the goal, but with advancing age and practicing sport, you can know a little more about yourself, overcome certain things within yourself. I am no longer the same as I was at 15 or 30. Practicing sports helps me move forward, and change too. It’s a good crutch.
I have the impression that somewhere this book prepares you for the fact of perhaps no longer being able to run, and allows you to keep the memory of these exploits…
I continue to run, but I am not able to go for a half marathon. But in my head there is Marseille-Cassis next year, I have a year left to prepare. I’m not ready to stop yet, but I’m talking about it because it’s a hypothesis that shouldn’t be overlooked. I’m 52 years old, I have creaky hips, I can compare myself to a high-level athlete who also has damaged knees. I think at 60 I might have to walk or cycle. The path must be made. But I don’t find in walking the pleasure that I have in running. I never have more fun than running.