Go where you feel most alive
Last month was the Marathon Du Mont Blanc; a race I have repeatedly tried over the past three years to get a place for in the ballot. After successfully securing a spot this year, I then made the early decision to DNS (Did Not Start) with great disappointment. An ongoing ITB issue meant I couldn’t get the training in that I needed for this race and I knew, due to its tough nature, it would not be one to tackle lightly in this state.
Though an annoying situation, this story does have a silver lining.
I still decided to take myself out to Chamonix for four days to run parts of the course and experience it over a longer time frame, at a more relaxed pace. It gave me the chance to not only travel on my own, but also to make me step out of my comfort zone and experience the mountains solo after countless trips running or racing with others. It would also be perfect training for races later in the year, as well as mountain races on the radar for next year.
Adventuring on your own can be a daunting experience. I was nervous about getting lost, the weather suddenly changing, not taking enough food and water etc, even though I knew the routes I was planning were pretty safe. Some handy points I made sure that I stuck to:
– Always let somebody know when you leave, where you are going and when you get back.
– Take more water and fuel than you need incase you are out for longer than anticipated, especially in changeable weather conditions.
– Identify key points where water and other facilities may be available, as well as potential cable car routes down in unforeseen circumstances.
– Even when heading out early, take a head torch just incase you end up getting lost or taking longer than anticipated.
The route took me from Chamonix; Plan Praz; Grand Balcon Sud; Flégère; La Floria; Chamonix. I set off early to try to avoid the heat of the day, but even at 8.30am the sun was hitting the mountains on this side of the valley with full force. Even though the Grand Balcon Sud was most likely going to be rammed with tourists, hopping up to it via cable car, I had to go and see the views for myself!
After a couple of hours hiking up to Plan Praz, avoiding the vertical km route and seeing very few people on the way, I arrived to hoards of people watching the paragliders take off from the top. I was tempted to add an additional loop up to Brévent that my friend had told me about…however I also wanted to ensure I didn’t kill my legs too much for the following day’s exploring! Cutting across patches of snow and meltwater, I took the path along to Flégère on the Grand Balcon Sud. The views were everything I’d hoped they’d be and the alpine meadows were full of beautiful flowers. I was pleased there was less hiking along this stretch and enjoyed letting my legs run free over the more runnable terrain.
After passing countless tourists I came across Flégère, a major cable car station, and took the opportunity to refill my water bottles, use the toilet and eat some of my delicious Lucho Dillitos in the sun. I knew the route down from here well and started my descent, running down through the forest trails, past La Floria in full bloom and back down to Chamonix. The heat really got to me that day – I managed to drink about 2.5 litres of water along the way but felt exhausted once I got back into town. I was so proud of myself for getting out on the mountain alone and not getting lost! In the evening I met up with some of the Wild Trail Chamonix crew and we went along to a talk about hydration and nutrition at the Salomon store, which seemed rather apt!
The route took me from Argentière; Lac Blanc; Flégère; Chamonix. After a very touristy morning taking the train up to Mer De Glace, my friend Jana met me after she finished work to take me on a very special adventure. We set off around 6pm from Argentière, working our way up the mountain over boulders, climbing ladders and having a good catch up along the way – a welcome contrast having spent the previous day alone. I felt comfortable with Jana leading the way on a more technical route – I don’t think I would have attempted this one solo! It was totally silent, no tourists, just pure mountain silence. Ibex, chamois and marmots watched us as we went past, totally unbothered by human presence.
As we reached the snow line we came to Lac Cheserys before heading up further to 2352m and Lac Blanc. After dreaming of visiting this place for so long, I was so happy to have finally got here! We didn’t stay long as the sun was starting to set and we were keen to get back into town by 10.30pm. We ran along to Flégère and watched as the sun turned the mountains opposite a beautiful shade of orange and pink. The most beautiful scenery I have ever witnessed on a run. We entered the forest tracks just as it was getting dark and so ran the final descent with head torches, getting back to Chamonix on time! A fitting end for a great trip to the mountains.
What did I learn from this trip?
I miss the mountains. I haven’t run or raced in mountainous terrain for a long time. CrossFit has made me strong and ready to return to them, but it doesn’t fill the hole that the feeing of trail racing gives me. Going away on your own can be a humbling experience. Although I actually ended up being surrounded by more people than I anticipated, I still managed to take myself out of my comfort zone and put myself in situations I normally wouldn’t do alone.
Surround yourself with awesome people. The people I spent time with in Chamonix were amazing, with so much passion and love for the wild. It was an incredibly inspirational and exhilarating trip.