Sometimes a long run can do wonders for clearing your head and fixing your mind. Other times it highlights what is wrong without providing a solution. My aim yesterday was to start covering 170km over 4 days but I blew up after just 1. I did, however, manage 49km with 2,700m of ascent in 10 hours, which I’m pretty stoked about.

But as I sought clarity and answers, I think more questions have arisen and I cannot help feeling that there are bigger things for me to address.

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Any race that a helmet is mandatory has to be pretty badass, no?

Well, the Mont Blanc Skyrace K2000 is certainly that. Starting in Courmayeur with 2,200m of climbing over 11km to Pointe Helbronner at an altitude of 3,300m, the only way is up. And Up, and up, and up.

Sold on the idea last year by Doug Mayer – founder of Run the Alps, a trail running holidays and training camps provider – I have been looking forward to this race all summer.

All smiles before the race with Fernanda

My enthusiasm for the race was a little contagious and it did not take long to recruit a few people from Chamonix to sign up – one or two might have been a little under the influence at the time – as well convincing Fernanda Maciel to work it into her training schedule. I mean, the race is ridiculous, who wouldn’t want to do it?

What is the K2000

The K2000 – the finish looks rather a long way away..

Hell.

Well, no, it wasn’t, actually.

Apart from the fast and flat start, I genuinely enjoyed the whole course.

The race starts in the centre of town, on the pizza and gelato side of Mont Blanc. At 07h30 305 runners set off from town at 1,300m. The start was a pretty much flat 4km to the foot of the Skyway telepherique, the main viewing and tourist lift on the Italian side.

This bit, I’ll be honest, was hell for me. I am not really a runner and have put no work in recently trying to improve that. I like going up – and down, but generally up – and trying to keep up with everyone had me seriously wondering whether I had made a huge mistake in signing up.

After 20 minutes, though, we reached the start of the climbing. Running poles came out and it was now time to hike.
There is a common misconception in trail running about how much running there really is. I’ll let you into a secret: except for the elites, we all walk. A lot!

As a mass start, all runners were still quite close together at this point and I could see the leaders striding up the steep grassy fields to reach the Pavillon, the mid-station to the Mont Blanc Skyway.

Speed is key – this is a race, after all – and so the winding trails and switchbacks on the hiking path, as tempting as they might have been, were out. We were taking the Euroline – heading straight up and cutting all the corners.

Here marks the halfway point, well, nearly halfway point. Having climbed 900m and covered about 8km in 1 hour and 10 minutes we had 3km to go but a massive 1200m of climbing. Helmets were donned to protect from rocks kicked down by runners above, my water bottle was refilled, and I did my best to eat a few slices of orange but my appetite was not really feeling it.

Halfway up, just a mere 1,200m of climbing to go..

As I set off, I crooked my neck up to take in the steep climb to come and though, as far as it looked, there was a satisfaction that it was finite. The end was up there, I just had to put in the work.

Steep grassy fields soon gave way to moraine and here it was time to ditch the hiking poles as things were about to get interesting. The remainder of the race was going to be heady blend of scrambling, climbing, and a few steps in between.

It felt like here that my experience and background came into play. A few of the stronger runners started to flag with the altitude – we were well above 2,500m now – but also with the terrain. The boulder hopping and climbing is what I spend a lot of my time moving on and so here I managed to start over taking people.

As I started to gain places, however, I saw something I didn’t expect; a runner with a prosthetic leg. Congratulating him on his incredible effort as I passed him something from the race briefing came back to me; on a fuzzy microphone the race director mentioned something about a special relay..

Moreno Pesce of Team3Gambe – photo Mont Blanc Skyrace

I carried on and soon came across another runner with a prosthetic leg, and then a third. These guys had partnered with other runners on the first half then ran the second half of the course themselves.

The technicality of the terrain was insane but these guys were moving up, one step at a time, not stopping.

Soon the Torino Refuge came into view. A welcome sight, it is a place I have spent many a night for alpine climbs and also popped across on skis from our side of the Massif a few times for high altitude ski touring training.

Step by step, scramble by scramble, the music and the noise of all the finishers and tourists up there got louder. Before long, I stepped onto the decking. With just 80m vertical to go up a final ridge I was hauled over the balcony by two mountain guides and pushed on my way to the finish line.

Papped by Robbie Britton

Ever the unusual race, the final section we ended up running up the stairs inside the lift station until I burst back out into the light and across the line at 3,300m. Runners collapsed on the floor everywhere were coupled with oblivious tourists taking selfies with the stunning south face of Mont Blanc and Dent du Geant in the background.

It was done.

2 hours and 49 minutes since the start line, and 1 hour 39 since the last checkpoint, and I was done.

The land of pizza, gelato, and coffee

I love Italy. Especially the Aosta Valley. In the summer it is home to easy access sport climbing, remote trail running, and the wilder side of the Mont Blanc Massif. In the winter it turns into a skiers paradise coupled with stunning ice climbing. All of this is on a platform of wonderful hospitality, incredible food, and the world’s best coffee.

As the team reconvened, we said goodbye to Fernanda as she (crazily!) ran on to the Bonatti Refuge as part of her training for the UTMB, and we descended the lift. Stopping briefly to dunk our tired feet in an alpine lake, we then headed for our reward pizza and gelato before driving back through the tunnel and home, just 30 minutes away.

I am very aware how privileged I am to live where I do. Now, I just have to keep making the most of it!

Who has a crazy race, plan, or adventure lined up here? I’ll bring snacks!

Finish line spa with the A-Team

One of the most common questions I get is “How do you make life work in Chamonix?” and a follow up to this piece on living the dream.

Everyone will be forgiven for thinking that I am a man of leisure with no work commitments, and just a never ending string of days climbing, skiing, and running in the mountains.

If only that were true.

Actually, no, I’m glad it is not true, I would get really bored if I did not have work to keep my brain ticking over.

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I’m back..!

Time flies when you’re having fun, hey?

It has been nearly a year since my last blog post. So much has happened; summer continued with plenty of running and climbing, autumn saw me producing a feature film and filming on the north face of the Eiger, and then I skied 101 days in 140 over the winter. And that is all before this summer kicked off with tonnes of granite climbing.

I’ve been wanting to pick up writing here again for a long time but not felt I could. This post started out as some whiny and entitled post. I ranted about how I am conflicted with some people’s approach to social media – smoke and mirrors and doing it for the likes, and what I don’t like about it.

Crikey. If it wasn’t so boring it would have been comedy gold.

So, instead, I’m just here writing for the first time in a year about how I want to write again. Gripping stuff.

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Al Alvarez defined feeding the rat as:

“the need to get out, to test yourself, to flush out the system, and, above all, to have some fun.”

To feed that gnawing sensation in the pit of your stomach that drives our motivation for getting out and challenging ourselves, testing our limits and to quell our fear of missing out.

This summer has been quite an eclectic mix of sports and activities, work and life balance but what has been apparent is that everything I have been doing has been enough. My rat has been fed and, after this weekend, is in a food coma snoring away.

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The grin on my face is reflected in Waldo’s as he makes the last moves onto the belay. We have been climbing for 5 hours with a few more to go but the rock is simply stunning and neither of us want it to end. We didn’t know each other 48 hours ago but a strong partnership has formed on the route and we are very much in flow.

Our combination of skills and strengths balance each other out and we are cruising the 800m of impeccable granite that make up the Cassin Route on Piz Badile, one of Gaston Rebuffat’s 6 Great North Faces.

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“You’ve just got to run for the enjoyment of it all; the views, the trails, the people..”, Seb Chaigneau’s words were rolling through my mind as I carried on pushing myself up the last major climb of the Cortina Trail, the middle distance course at The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

I felt good – sure, I was tired, but my legs felt ok, my breathing was heavy but maintainable and, most importantly, I felt really happy being there, in the moment. My mind was fully present for the entirety of the the 6 hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds it took for me to cover 48km of wild mountain trails with over 2,600m of climbing and descent, and it was a whole new experience for me..

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Been a while, hey? I’ve been wanting to write on Digital Steak for months now but just not really been feeling it.

This blog has always been very personal to me, an insight into who I am and what I am going through but I hit a roadblock. I’ve not really been able to understand what I’ve been going through and that has left me feeling paralysed; not just writing here but in life too.

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ISPO 2017

Lost in a sea of bright colours, shiny objects, and cool new toys, arriving at ISPO this year has been even more impressive than my first trip here in 2015. With over 2,600 exhibitors, everyone from the biggest in outdoor and ski to the new startups are here to share their wares.

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I’m scared to go into the mountains. There, I said it.

I’ve enjoyed some of the most incredible, inspiring, and challenging experiences in the Chamonix hills but I have recently struggled to get out and make the most of this amazing valley. My reticence has been about embarrassment and a reluctance to talk about the challenges and dangers that are out there. Talking with a friend about it recently I realised that I am in the second stage of my concept of mountain experience and judgement.

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