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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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…
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!
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!
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!