Fairfield chef raced 240 miles through mountains and desert: ‘It’s crazy what it does to your mind’

FAIRFIELD — Pascal Fuchs recently pushed through blistering sun, 45 mile-an-hour winds, hail and even snow on a grueling 240-mile race.

His goal was to complete the Moab 240 race through the desert and mountains of eastern Utah by the 112-hour cutoff. Of the 227 runners who started the race on Oct. 8, approximately a third did not complete it.

But Fuchs did finish, sleeping less than four hours total over the approximately five days it took — an accomplishment he is extremely proud of.

“It was really tough and long, but it was do-able,” he said.

Fuchs, a Fairfield resident and private chef, said the race takes place in the middle of nowhere, adding each participant is equipped with a GPS tracker to help them navigate because many people get lost or injured.

“I came across a few crazy injuries, like this guy with a bone coming out of his knee,” he said.

Fuchs, 51, said he remembered vividly the pledge the director of the race has participants make just before the event begins that says, “If I ever get lost, hurt or die, it is my own ... fault.”

The race was hosted by Destination Trial, a company that puts together three 200-plus mile races a year. Fuchs said the competitions are hard to enter, with the Moab one selling out in 10 minutes.

“It’s very popular right now,” he said.

Runners carry a heavy pack with food and equipment, such as hiking poles, rain gear and sleeping bags. He said the race brings a wide variety of people — from special forces members to people recovering from addiction.

“It’s pretty cool because it’s really broadened to a wide variety of people,” Fuchs said, adding the camaraderie of participants is an important part of the race for him. “Everyone is so supportive and so nice.”

Fuchs, who is from France and came to the United States 20 years ago, said he grew up playing soccer and later did Ironman triathlons, but has not been doing races for too long.

“When I came here, I studied running,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of 15 milers, but never something like this — that long. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do it.”

Fuchs said he had signed up to do last year’s Moab 240, but broke his ankle two months before the race. He still tried to run it, but only lasted 72 miles.

He said the race was slightly different this year, being rerouted because of a snow storm. The weather never really got better though, he said.

“We started with rain for two days, which was awful for blisters,” he said. “Then, we got 45 mile-an-hour winds. Then, we got hail. We got a snowstorm at 9,000 feet, which was crazy. Like, we couldn’t even see the markers anymore.”

It is important to manage your time, Fuchs said, as the clock never stops and you have to finish within 112 hours.

“It’s pretty crazy to manage, because it’s not like a stage race where you finish the day and you go to your tent and the clock stops,” he said. “No, the clock never stops.”

Aid stations with food, water, medics and maybe some cots to sleep on are approximately 15 hours apart, Fuchs said. There were also vehicles along the trail runners could sleep in, he said, adding one hour of the three hours and 56 minutes he did sleep during the race was in a stationary car.

“I went 24 hours with no sleep and then I went to sleep in a car. After one hour, I woke up and I was perfect,” he said. “It was like I had slept 20 hours.”

One problem he encountered, Fuchs said, was that he took a caffeine pill the next day which kept him from sleeping for the next two nights.

But it can be very peaceful, Fuchs said, with long stretches of the race being spent entirely alone in the wilderness. He said he started with a friend, but was faster so he went ahead. That person later had to drop out at mile 203 for safety reasons.

“You would be alone for a few hours and then you would bump into someone and talk to that person,” he said. “You would stay with them for two hours or three hours and they would go or you would go. But I would look forward to those moments when I was alone, because there’s nothing like it. I could go for hours without a person in sight. It’s like you’re on the moon.”

Fuchs said he finished the last leg of the race during a spell of hail that hurt his skin on impact. By that point he was “totally sleepwalking,” noting he hallucinated.

“It’s crazy what it does to your mind,” he said.

Coming in 126 place out of 227 original racers, Fuchs said the winner this year did the entire race in approximately 52 hours. For him, he said, it was just important that he finished.

“You really, really need to want it to finish it, because it’s too easy to drop (out),” he said.

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com