Kilian’s Classik 2016

At the start of the year, I had no idea that I would have the opportunity to visit the amazing places I have done already this summer. Font Romeu was one of those places. Each year, Kilian’s Classik celebrates the sport of trail running with a weekend of races, l ages and abilities, enabling everyone to explore the beauty of the region’s landscape. The racing and performances are seen as secondary to experiencing nature through running and enjoying great trails with friends, resulting in a fantastically relaxing and all-encompassing atmosphere.

No sooner had I begun to settle at home after my last trip, I was once more in the air heading back to France. I was thrilled to have been invited to join a mix of Salomon runners from the 2015 and 2016 running academies for a week in the Pyrenees mountains. The week would be ended by taking part in Kilian’s Classik, sharing our passion for trail running with everyone there.

The awesome chalet
View from the chalet, looking to the mountains we ran in

It was great to catch up with those I had met back in May in Germany, and to meet some of the people from the first edition of the academy too. We were all super excited by the prospect of staying in a place renowned for its sporting culture, and we were amazed by the accommodation waiting for us. Situated on the lower edge of Font Romeu, the view from the newly built wooden chalet was staggering. The interior was just as splendid, furnished in traditional style and with all the features you could ask for, including a sauna and Jacuzzi! A short run stretched out our travel-heavy legs and the mountains, bathed in glow from the setting sun, fuelled our appetite for the running adventures to come.

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Our first run in Font Romeu (Photo: Jonathan Wyatt)

We woke the next morning to the sun inviting us out into the mountains, and warming us while breakfasting on the balcony (a start to the day I wish I could have more often!). For our first run of the week, we started across the valley from Font Romeu, to climb to one of the highest summits in the area. Our guide was the race organiser and our host, Pierre, a very generous and hospitable guy. Up through forests trails, along the mountain river, then out into open grassland, we reached the final climb and run along the ridge to the summit, with far reaching views all around.

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Up through the valley (Photo: Jonathan Wyatt)

A fun descent on scree then followed, with the elevation dropping rather more quickly than gained during the climb! Winding down through forests, we then continued along a seemingly never-ending road, much to our already exhausted legs dismay! However, what we found at the end of the road made it completely worth it… a spa with numerous baths, in- and out-door, Jacuzzi and sauna’s, all heated by nearby natural hot springs! Perfect for soothing trail tired muscles! Emerging a few hours later with wrinkled fingers, weary but gratifyingly relaxed from the heat, we returned to the chalet to greet a couple of new arrivals, including Grégory Vollet, the main man projecting Salomon’s vision of the sport’s future and maintaining its values around the world. We then all gathered around the HUGE kitchen table, discussing our ideas for developing the sport, what our plans are, and just getting to know each other better. The evenings were often spent having a laugh over card games, with ‘Spoons’ the most popular… a game of speed, slyness, and occasionally violence!

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Down we go! (Photo: Jonathan Wyatt)

The next day we travelled up to the furthest part of the race courses, the section where the 45km route goes. There was some spectacular running here, with snow sliding galore! Having seen thunderstorms were forecast, we were running against time to get back to the lakeside restaurant before it struck… we didn’t make it! Soaked through almost immediately, it was still a strangely enjoyable and exciting end to the run, even though we were being pummelled by hailstones!

At the top of the 45km course
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Jumping for joy! (Photo: Jonathan Wyatt)

That evening back at the chalet, we were in for the surprise our lives. While at the table reliving the day through the photos and videos, we saw Kilian Jornet‘s name pop up on Greg’s phone, and while he took the call, we all chatted about how cool it was that he was just on the phone while we were there! What happened next I, and everyone else, did not expect… Kilian Jornet AND Emelie Forsberg actually walked into the room! OMG!! Gobsmacked, we were completely speechless! They had seemed to exist only on videos and in pictures through social media, and yet here they were, in the flesh! I’m still pinching myself that it actually happened! After the shock had subsided, we all got talking and, as I would have expected, they are the most genuine, kind and polite people you could meet. They would both be in Font Romeu over the weekend to support the event, and Kilian would run with us the next day, when we would be leaving early, very early in fact, to see the sunrise… what a treat!

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A brilliant bunch of people! (Photo: Jonathan Wyatt)

Leaving the chalet at 4am, we climbed half asleep into the bus to reach the mountain we would climb. Head torches on, we started slowly, shuffling along the track to wake our legs up before the ascent began. With no way of seeing how much climb was left, it made it more manageable for our dazed bodies. However, once we broke out of the forest covering the lower parts of the mountain, and saw the thin dark orange strip cast by the rising sun lying on the horizon, I was suddenly fully awake, the cool mountain breeze blowing away any drowsiness. Continuing up, we reached a rock field spreading down from the summit. It was while clambering my way through, with my breathing the only man-made sound in the crisp dawn air, that it struck me how surreal the situation was. I was running up a mountain (my favourite pastime), to reach the summit in time to watch the sun rise (a first time experience for me), with Kilian Jornet running in front of me… I mean, when does that ever happen! Incredible…

Kilian Jornet and myself

After a precarious ridge run along the top, we soaked in the beautiful sunrise. It was definitely worth waking up so early for, and I wondered why I hadn’t done it before! Starting our descent, we paused several times to take in new views from different spots, mesmerised by the environment we were running in. Returning to the bus, we were now all eager for a generous breakfast, and a well-deserved nap!

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Soaking in the sunrise at the summit (Photo: Jonathan Wyatt)
A descent with a view

The first races of the weekend, 25km and 45km, set off on Saturday morning, and although I had decided to not compete in these and instead the 10km on Sunday, I was of course eager to support everyone on the route. So I went with Jono to find a good spot for cheering and taking photos, cow bell in hand ready to ring. There was a fantastic atmosphere, with the numerous supporters showing how passionate this area is for the sport. I’m not often on the spectator side of races, and it was great to get a different perspective and to help give energy to those running. All the academy runners had a successful and fun time on the trails, and once back at the finish, we waited for Greg who was doing the 45km, running to the line with him. Many families were there to support their relative through the final section, creating a great buzz. This buzz carried on through the disco that night, and on not much sleep, I started the 10km race at 9am the next (same!) day. I was happy to finish a close 2nd, enjoying the course and taking in the views on legs heavy from all the dancing the previous night!

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Sharing the joy of the sport (Photo: Jonathan Wyatt)

To finish off the weekend, a time trial was held to find the fastest both up and down, but not before the kids had their moment. This was such good fun, as we ran with each race for different ages, helping and encouraging them along the way, and hopefully inspiring them to enjoy trail running in their futures! It was a great (and tough!) way to end the week, and we were all very sad to be leaving. A week of wonderful running, high mountains, surprises, and laughs had come to an end, but the enjoyment of the sport continues, and I look forward to discovering where the trail will take me next.

Huge thanks to Salomon Running, Greg Vollet, Jono Wyatt, race organisers and volunteers, and of course to my fellow #SalomonYoungGuns for making the week such a memorable one!

Below is a GoPro video of the whole week, and of the last part of the climb to the summit, through the rocks, to see the sunrise, and some more photos from the week:

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, and if you enjoyed it, please FOLLOW and SHARE on social media! I look forward to seeing you out on the trails!


A Return to Racing

I began my attempt to rescue something from the summer season with a couple of races, both turning out to be excellent experiences, but of different kinds. For the first, I took the long journey up to the Spittal of Glenshee in the southern Cairngorms (thanks to my parents for taking me all that way!) for one of the few uphill only races held in Scotland, the Glas Tulaichean race. This was the first time I had done this race, and a spell of unusually warm weather meant a very hot race was in prospect, with the warm-up jog leaving me drenched in sweat. A small field of runners gathered at the start line, with sun cream offered around by the race organiser, a rarity in this part of the world! I was feeling particularly nervous as we waited for the off, something I had expected after over four months out of racing. With no idea what to expect, both from the race and myself physically, I was aiming to just make it a decent and consistent effort, so as not to overdo it and blow up. This would also mean that I would stay mentally positive, as it is always difficult to return to racing after a long period out.

Start of the Glas Tulaichean race

The first couple of kilometres were along flattish farm track, including a few river crossings. I had heard that in previous years when the weather was not so great that these crossings could be a real challenge, with very high and fast flowing water. Today, however, the water was ankle deep at most, and amazingly warm! Thankfully, no one was pushing the pace too hard in these first stages, and I ran with a couple of the others until the last river crossing after which the climb to the summit began. Reaching here, I was feeling quite good, so decided to up my effort a bit more, creating a gap to the runners behind. The ensuing climb was a clear but rocky path, steep in places, but all very runnable. Fortunately, the further up the hill you ran, the cooler it became, with a refreshing breeze accompanying the warmth of the sun. Less fortunately, I was suddenly hit by a HUGE stitch with about a third of the climb still to go! Desperately trying all the methods I know to relieve it, I was forced to reduce my pace, and was very worried of letting the good lead I had built up over the earlier part go. With much focussed effort, I continued on at the fastest pace I could without the pain becoming unbearable, and after what felt like an age, I reached the last short sharp climb up to the trig point. Gasping with pain, I finally made it to the top, completing the climb and the race, relieved to be able to stop and let the pain subside, and even more so to not have been caught! It was such a bad stitch that I’m still feeling the mild after effects of it when I run a couple of weeks later! The cause of this is something to work out, and then to find ways of preventing it from affecting my training and races in the future, as it’s sure not a pleasant thing to experience! The outlook from the summit was pretty spectacular, and did no end of good to take my mind off the pain.

A moment of calm and contemplation after the race
Grimacing from the stitch, and with one swollen leg (??!!)… nice view though!

A fun route down with a few of the others after the race was highlighted by two deer, or stag, standing majestically on the hillside ahead of us, and then spotting a whole herd galloping across the ground below us. We were all stood in awe for a moment, and it really underlined to me why it is important to reach new places and to explore the outdoors. You need to find these experiences yourself, and create your own adventures.

A week later, I was on the plane to France for La Montée du Grand Ballon. I had booked the flights a few months previous, not realising how much time it would still take me to return from injury. Since this was the first race in the World Mountain Running Association’s (WMRA) World Cup series, I was anxious about my capabilities physically against tough competition. I then came to the conclusion that I may as well go out there and enjoy the race and the whole experience; after all, that’s the whole point of this sport, something I sadly forgot at times in the past.

A classic French town where many a coffee and cake were enjoyed

Travelling with fellow Scots Louise Mercer and Andrew Douglas, we met up with Max Nicholls once in France, before travelling to Thann where we would be staying. Enjoying a coffee and cake while relaxing outside a classic French café in a picturesque town, we were all very much taken to the lifestyle! Once the cake had settled, we made the roughly five kilometre run to Willer-sur-Thur where the race would be starting, to pick up our numbers. The French weather unfortunately not quite turning out to be as we had hoped, we were soaked through after the first five minutes, and it wasn’t looking any better for race day. Once back at the apartment, a big dinner was made, with abuse thrown in my direction about my culinary skills… seriously guys, what’s wrong with a bit of soil?!! #nutritious

The dinner didn’t take any victims overnight, and so we all got up the next morning to discover the rain continuing to fall. Ah well, it’s what we are used to running in back in Britain! With Louise leaving earlier to catch the bus to the women’s race start further up the valley, the rest of us then jogged over to Willer-sur-Thur once again for our mid-morning start. A relaxed warm-up eased my nerves, and with the rain fortunately abated, we were all at the start line, raring to go. With over three hundred competitors in the race, I managed to squeeze into the front with Andy and Max so we could get a clear run out. After the organiser introduced one guy who had run the race nearly every year since its inception(!), the race was underway through the streets of the town.

On your marks!

A steady start for me, and the fact that I knew no details about the course apart from length and ascent, meant that I got stuck behind a number of runners once we reached forest single tracks. A bit of darting weaving where I could then followed, before some wider forest tracks, where I found myself in a bit of no-mans-land between two groups of runners. Reaching the next town up the valley where the women’s race started came quicker than I expected, and the group ahead were in my sights. From here, the climb began in earnest, and I was still feeling fairly fresh. I continued to work my way up to the guys in front, passing them quickly to ensure they didn’t stay on my shoulder. At this point I drew level with a guy who turned out to be the well-known local, and who received large amounts of support en route to the finish. A sharp road descent then triggered the dreaded stitch that caused me trouble the previous weekend. I was very worried now. If it got as bad as it had done, it could ruin my race. I kept focussed on steady and rhythmic breathing, easing my pace slightly. My plan had been to push on in the second half of the race, but now I wasn’t sure how much I could do this. The local guy moved ahead, then I had a bit of a tussle with another who had gained back the distance to me – I would pull away on the ups then he on the flatter bits. Fortunately, the stitch wasn’t getting any worse, so picking up the pace again, I pulled away decisively, and caught the local again. A real battle then ensued, all the way to the finish. Along fast, slippery single trail, through low cloud on open hillside and with minimal visibility, then up leg sapping rock strewn paths, we pushed each other on with cow bells eerily resonating through the mist. Knowledge of the course would have been vital in these final stages. I was uncertain of how much of the race was left, with my GPS way off what the distance markers were indicating (demonstrating that you can’t always rely on your watch!). A relatively long downhill finish on rocky track ended hopes of beating my opponent, and I wished I had pushed on ahead in the final uphill section. Although I hate giving up on anything, and especially in a race, it simply wasn’t worth risking any reoccurrence of my shin injury (plus he was a rapid descender!). And so, accepting this outcome, I cruised in to the finish, staying a safe distance ahead of those behind.

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A rare break in the cloud from around the summit (Photo: Louise Mercer)

It was a strange finish to the race. We were at the top of a high mountain, surrounded by cloud with the rain starting to fall once more, with an icy wind rapidly cooling all standing around the summit. The temperature abruptly halted the heavy breathing from the race, quickly turning to shivering. Finding our bags in the tents, we changed quickly, then headed for the food tent where plenty was on offer. We were all hoping for far-reaching views, and a glimpse of the large balloon shaped plane control station on the summit, but no such things were visible that day.

The crew

Enjoying a hot drink, I reflected on a generally positive run, and it is certainly something good to build on looking forward to the rest of the summer season. Approaching the race with a more relaxed attitude and looking to enjoy it, certainly contributed to a decent run. For the rest of our group, Louise enjoyed her race too, earning 10th place. Andy had a great run for 3rd, with Max in 9th, two places ahead of myself.

The whole weekend was great fun and a good experience. A very well organised and welcoming event, with unusual prizes including local honey and massage oil, I will definitely try to go back again next year.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, and if you enjoyed it, please FOLLOW and SHARE on social media! I look forward to seeing you out on the trails!

Salomon Running Academy 2016

Shock and pride were the biggest emotions I felt as I stared at the email confirming my selection onto the 2016 edition of the Salomon Running Academy. Out of all the applications submitted by athletes from all around the world, I was not expecting that email in the slightest, having applied with little hope. After an injury hit winter, which resulted in only one mediocre outing at a cross-country race, and the vast majority of my training spent cross-training on the bike and in the pool, it felt like a new beginning. I was of course super pleased and excited, but also anxious. Anxious because I’d only recently started running a few times a week again, and with the academy schedule involving long outings in the beautiful mountains of the Bavarian Alps, I wasn’t sure whether my recovering injury would cope. And how would I compare against the other successful applicants? I was soon to discover this was a worry I needn’t have had.

The Salomon Running Academy was set-up in 2015, with the idea of not just finding the next generation of trail and mountain runners, but more importantly to share, promote, and preserve the spirit and passion of, and within, the sport. It is all about appreciating our natural surroundings, exploring new places, and having fun with your running, striving to be only the best that you can be. Through the relationships formed between the academy members and the established athletes such as Jonathan Wyatt and Anna Frost, the aim is to pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm, so that the sport remains genuine and true to its values.

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Academy member announcement
And so, over the month before the trip to Germany, I did everything I could to keep my progression back into running smooth and as positive as possible, but consciously without overdoing it to avoid any injury reoccurrence. The day soon came, and I was on the plane to Germany, nervous but full of anticipation for great running in the mountains, and to share this passion with the other members of the academy. Reaching Munich airport, I met up with half of the group before travelling South to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but not before we solved the mystery of how one person managed to get lost in airport arrivals… already I could tell this was going to be a fun filled weekend!

The emerging snow-capped mountain peaks, stretching high into the sky on the horizon, signalled our arrival at our destination, and we were all in awe of the new surroundings. We seemed, however, to have a relation of James ‘no sense of direction’ May as our taxi driver, who abandoned us at the wrong hotel, too far away from the booked one to run with our heavy bags! A long day of travelling finally ended once we reached the correct hotel, and they could not have organised better accommodation… fantastic views from the rooms over the valley and to the mountains beyond, with a lakeside restaurant, and spa for a warmer recovery option than a lake dip! After settling into our rooms (which I was sharing with another of the same name!), the whole team gathered together to get to know one another and kick the weekend off. Over the course of the trip, it was really interesting to get to know each of the other runners, each from a different part of the world and each with a different background story. It was, however, a little embarrassing for me, as my knowledge of any of their languages was virtually naught, whereas the standard of their English was very impressive!

The hotel’s setting – Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak

Each day we were awoken by a 7am yoga or strength session outside in the morning sunshine, led by Anna Frost, a hugely inspirational and successful athlete who was a pleasure to learn from. A superb breakfast spread, including highly addictive freshly made pancakes, was soon burnt off by long mornings in the mountains surrounding the hotel and the city of Garmisch. The first day was full of varied running, from deep snow descents that froze your legs, to smooth forest roads, to an infinite number of exciting winding forest single track; it was certainly a great introduction to the area!

Searching for the best line – first run, snow fun!

During the run, we did a workshop on the different methods of tackling various gradients of hills, such as power hiking and running with poles. These were taught by Anna, Martina Valmassoi (a great athlete herself and also photographer on the trip), and Jono Wyatt, a legend of mountain running and one of my biggest inspirations.

The next day’s run we were let loose and told to make the main climb to the summit a hard effort; my kind of thing! It was also great to catch-up and run with (well, ‘with’ could be slightly optimistic!) fellow countryman and all round top guy Robbie Simpson, who popped over from where he stays across the border in Austria to meet and join us for the run. After his successful exploits into road running recently, he still has his climbing legs! We were met by fabulous views from the top of the mountain, and once pictures were taken we started heading down the mountain, stopping to do a workshop, lead by Grégory Vollet, on ‘Accepting the Downhill’, something I need to do better at!

Luckily this wasn’t the descent we’d be practising on!

Some of the guys were very swift descenders, and as I didn’t want to risk the chance of my injury flaring up, it was great to watch and learn. Throughout the trip, there was no pressure to do anything you were uncomfortable with, and so I was able to take the downhills within the runs easier without feeling left out or letting anyone down, which is something that makes a running camp like this work; to be able to do what is best for yourself sometimes.

Robbie Simpson and myself above Garmisch

The final full day brought with it a completely different challenge; an Olympic ski jump race! Not allowed to use the slope itself, we raced in pairs up either side on the stairs, an intense yet exhilarating effort, with friendly rivalry in abundance. Some of us were so keen we headed down on jelly legs for a second crack at it, and a better time! A cool down through a beautiful gorge was then the perfect way to end the running side of the trip, and to just be outside enjoying the fantastic environment.

A different challenge
Looking along the gorge

Various workshops were held in the afternoons and into the evenings each day, from talks on training and racing, to learning about Salomon as a brand. One of my favourite workshops involved getting to know and understand the very creative designers and their inspiration behind the clothes, accessories and shoes they develop. It was great to be able to give our feedback on the current products, as well as on the new models to be released, and our thoughts on the direction the brand takes into the future.

The final day was signed off with a great dinner at a mountain restaurant, celebrating one of the girls’ birthday (what a great present this trip was!), with many stories shared and good laughs had. Overlooking the spectacular scenery as the sun set, and sharing this moment with others who have the same passion for the mountains and nature as I do, really brought it home to me that this is why we do what we do; to be able to enjoy and ‘play’ in our surroundings through the art of running.

Enjoying a great meal with the great people

I am hugely thankful to Salomon for giving me this opportunity, and to all the members of the team there who made it such a welcoming and fun experience. To be a part of the fantastic culture that Salomon have created has been an incredibly motivational boost for me going forward. I have met new people from all different parts of the world, learnt from them, and been inspired by them.

I would also like to express my extreme gratitude to the Scottish Borders Athlete Support Programme (ASP), and the health professionals who have all given their support in fixing my body (and trust me there has been a lot to do!). This has allowed me to get back to some form of running shape before the trip to Germany, and thankfully I didn’t break down while there, so I’ll take that as a positive sign!

I have made a very rough and ready video montage of this trip, which you can watch below. If you enjoy it, please share on social media! The professional film of the academy, created by The African Attachment, will be published soon, so watch out for that as it will be awesome!

Below is a link where you can find amazing photos taken by Martina Valmassoi, as well as great videos by Grégory Vollet, from each day of the academy:

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, and if you enjoyed it, please FOLLOW and SHARE on social media! I look forward to seeing you out on the trails!

New Blog

The purpose of this blog is to track my journey through the wonderful sport of trail and mountain running, by means of race reports, training updates, and sometimes non-running stories, as not all significant events occur in trainers (much to my surprise when I found this out)!

I hope this provides an interesting, and hopefully occasionally entertaining, read, both for those who visit and follow this blog, and also for me, when it would be useful to look back on my experiences to see what I can learn from them.