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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!