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.
A very silly idea
It’s Tuesday evening and Suze Walker – IML and ROLFer extraordinaire – is telling me about how her parents are getting on on the hiker’s Haute Route traversing the beautiful trails from Chamonix, France, home of Mont Blanc to Zermatt, Switzerland, home of the Matterhorn.
Depending on the way you take the route is 170km with about 11,000m of vertical. No walk in the park. Most hikers take 12 to 14 days to complete the iconic route, stopping in small villages and mountain refuges along the way.
Ever one for a slightly crazy idea, I decided to set about running it in 4 days, timing my arrival in Zermatt with Suze picking up her parents.
The plan was to run from Chamonix to Le Châble, Verbier on day 1 covering 49km and 2,700m+. Day 2 would take me up and over Mont Fort to just passed Arolla covering 40km and 3,700m+. Day 3 on to Gruben, for 48km and another 3,500m+ and finally day 4, 34km and 1500m+ up to Zermatt.
Just a little run, then.
Why try and run the Haute Route
I want to answer with a dismissive “because it is there”, which it is, or maybe some sort of Chamonix humble brag of “oh it’s not that much if you break it down”, actually it bloody well is, or simply that it is a stunning route and would be a fantastic adventure, undeniably so on both counts, but in all honesty, I’ve found myself in a pickle as of late and have been searching for some clarity.
There is nothing like alone time in the mountains with hours and hours of hard work, paired with some stunning views to help you discover what is what, and where your head is at.
This summer has been a great one on so many levels; wonderful friends sharing awesome mountain days but it has not all been plain sailing. Work has some fantastic aspects but for all my championing of a life less ordinary, it can take its toll when things do not go to plan – and a recent contract falling through really threw a metaphorical spanner in my financial works.
Add to that tearing a tendon in my finger and an inability to climb and I have found myself lost and directionless, lacking purpose and looking over at greener pastures.
Yes, I know that the grass is greenest where you tend to and water it but I think we can all honestly say we struggle with this at times.
For me, these hurdles and humps realised themselves as a lack of motivation to get outdoors and maybe a few too many happy hour beers – with the inevitable motivation-sapping next day hangovers.
This has lead to a pretty steady decline in my base fitness and I wanted to break the cycle. I wanted to commit myself to something I didn’t know I could complete, see what state I am in physically, and give myself the time and space to solve, or at least start solving, the Rubik’s cube that is my mind right now.
Anyway, what is the worst that can happen?
Long story short, I had a superb and epic day out running in the mountains but one day was enough to break me.
Setting off at 5.30am from Chamonix, the dwindling batteries on my head torch lead me a wandering and circuitous way up out to Argentiere and Le Tour. Sure, I could have changed the batteries but where is the fun in that.. Error 1, this took me a little longer than it really should have. Error 2 swiftly followed as a wet left moob highlighted one of my water bottles had a hole in it. Oh, well, I can get by on 500ml of water per refill.. Never mind, hey?
Besides these initial hiccoughs, the first 15km went pretty smoothly and, as is ever the case, the sun always rises. As I made my way up to Col de Balme, at the end of our valley, the sun came up, rewarding my hard work with the stunning Mont Blanc Massif in all her glory.
I briefly savoured the view and, saying goodbye to my beloved mountains for a few days, I turned and descended into Switzerland.
From there I wound my way down the valley to the quaint and lovely Chalet du Glacier where good fortune would have it that the kitchen was already open. Time for a second breakfast of cheese, ham, a Snickers and a Coke.
Towering above me while I ate and drank was the Trient Glacier. An immense sight, if ever there was one, seemingly going on and on. Looking up and knowing I was heading somewhere up there for 1,000m was intimidating to say the least.
As I started up towards the Fenêtre d’Arpette at 2650m, my high point for the day, I climbed beside this beautiful but clearly receding glacier. The signs of where the glacier once lay showing just how much this whole area has changed, especially in recent years.
I took a last look back at the stunning yet sobering view as I crossed the col and descended deeper into Switzerland, the image of the dying glacier sticking in my mind.
From here it was all downhill – figuratively and metaphorically. 1200m of descent lead me into Champex-Lac, a beautiful little village, where I stopped for lunch before heading down to my final destination of the day, Le Châble. The rest was much needed as the boulder hopping descent from the fenêtre was quad-burning and knee-wrecking.
As I start on the gentle last 13 km and 700m descent to my end for the day, I pretty quickly felt that something was not right. An all too familiar pain quickly developed in my left knee and I new I was putting my body through too much. As most people who run (I run but am not a runner ;)) can relate, my IT band was mega tight and pulling my whole left leg out of sorts. Easing off and settling for walking out the end, every time I felt the urge to run, I was swiftly reminded to back off.
After 10 hours, 49km and 2,700m of up and down I made it into Le Châble. Tired but in good spirits, I needed to have a serious think about what I should do.
Support, encouragement, and deciding what to do
I had been sharing my plan and journey on Instagram Stories and had been receiving so much amazing support and encouragement. As I ‘fessed up to the current state of play, the messages quite literally came flooding in; from messages of belief and support to advice on resolving the issue, the positivity and encouragement was simply wonderful.
But it showed something I have long felt and worried about; the disparity between what we see online and what is real.
That Instagram is all smoke and mirrors.
Messages saying “I know you can do this” and “‘You’ve got this” sharply contrasted with the reality of my physical state at that moment.
In all honesty, I think I have run no more than 100km this summer. This is not meant as some humble brag, it is simply that I have not trained enough. As a result, my body did what it should do, and put me back in my place.
I have been complacent this summer having rested on residual fitness, just pushing through rather than putting the hard work in. However, if you were to take my Instagram feed you might easily get a very different picture.
I think it is only natural that we share what we are proud of, moments we are happy, and the positives in our lives, but it delivers a very different perspective than what might be the reality. This is a conflict I have struggled greatly with the last year.
How do we honestly and openly share on social networks?
I have very little time for the faux-honest posts we see now and then of X or Y in a perfectly staged and professionally taken photograph proclaiming how life is not all candies and nuts for them but the heavily manicured delivery of these posts destroys any credibility of the underlying message – no matter how true.
When I am sad or unmotivated, I am afraid I do not want to share pictures. However, neither do I want to contribute to someone’s sadness or depression by only showing the shiny happy Charley.
I feel like a hypocrite – hey, even this blog post feels hypocritical – but I also feel this needs to be talked about.
I know I am part of the problem but is it better to try and address it from the inside or remove myself entirely?
Waking this morning, questions have been racing though my mind. Should I share my life as I do online? What am I doing to help and support my fellow humankind? And, lingering from the views of the dying Trient Glacier, what am I doing to protect this environment I love and call home?
As I reflected on these questions I knew I was done. I have clocked up 49km of rugged trails climbing 2,700m in a respectable 10 hours but my body is not ready for the whole of this adventure.
Could I have pushed myself on, sure. But why and at what cost?
This is a stunning place and I want to come back to enjoy it properly prepared, enjoy the views, maybe share the journey, and definitely think some more.
The run has done something though. It has raised questions for me about who I am and who I want to be. What do I do, though?
Right now I don’t know. Maybe I need to go on a long run to figure it out..