As I was cruising up yet another stunning crack splitting a 300m granite face up high off the Aiguille du Midi, I felt truly in my element. Recent life events have really knocked my mental strength and the first thing to suffer is my ability to climb, or at least feel comfortable climbing.
Do I write about the awesome cookies we tasted in a small Amish bakery in the middle of nowhere in Idaho? Or the perfect breakfast in Missoula, Montana? Maybe the long open roads that gave us both time to relax, reflect, and rebuild?
The States is really a stunning country and one I’ve wanted to explore further for many years. Here are some highlights from our road trip.
They don’t call this place Big Sky country for no reason – photos just can’t do it justice and we have completely lucked out with the weather and the time of year. It is quieter than just a few weeks earlier and the wide open roads are ours alone. Well, and the monster trucks cruising around..
35 people stare at me expectantly. I’m standing in The North Face Store in Chamonix with their professional athletes by my side. I’m about to go running with them and a group of runners from seasoned ultra veterans to newbies like me in the lead up to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, one of the most famous and toughest ultra races in the world. How did I get here?
In design and engineering there is an acronym K.I.S.S – or, keep it simple, stupid – which states that most systems work better if they are simple. I came across it in web development where overcomplicating not just programming but design and user experience can have catastrophic effects for your end goal.
The more I find myself in difficult situations, or getting stressed out, the more I realise I just need to simplify what I am doing and, when I ignore that advice, how I end up in a pickle.
What better way to start your day than with a proper espresso and two scoops of real Italian gelato? As we fled the poor weather in Chamonix, driving through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Courmayeur, it never fails to amaze me how different this side of the mountain can be.
As Mike left the first aid station, to say I was worried, is an understatement. Here he was, 33km into the 119km of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and he was suffering from food poisoning – I was unable to even get off the sofa when I had something similar yet here he was, with 86km to go – more than two marathons to run.
This is the story of me supporting Mike Foote at the 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Part 1 of this awesome event can be read here.
We’re 103km into the enormous 119km of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and Mike Foote crosses the brow of a hill with Rory Bosio and they jog their way into the last aid station. They both smile. It is clear they are still suffering but somehow they are both still smiling, both still cracking jokes, and both still positive. Mike and Rory are champion ultra runners, tipped to win this incredible race but food poisoning has knocked racing on the head, now they are just fighting to finish at all.
Fighting to fill my lungs, the magnitude of what I had let myself in for started to hit home. We were barely 2.5km into the 20km of the Cortina Skyrace and we were only just reaching the first climb.
How was I suffering so much already?
My last long run is done and the race is just around the corner. My legs feel strong and my mind is psyched to get started now. I’ve wanted to return to Cortina since discovering this beautiful alpine town last year while climbing the classic Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Now I’m heading back on Wednesday to race in a stunning and difficult trail race.
Running is hard on your body, there is no doubt, and, your body needs to develop the strength and resistance for the miles you put it through. However, putting your body through too many miles without the relative strength, stability and mobility opens you up for injury and, potential, missing your race.
Here is a session I completed with a group of ultra distant runners using body weight movements.
David Göttler is an IFMGA mountain guide and professional athlete who splits his time between Spain and Chamonix, France. He has been on a massive 31 expeditions and is currently camped out at the South Face of Shisha Pangma with Ueli Steck, waiting for a weather window to attempt a bold new route. He kindly took a little time to answer my questions.
When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George Mallory famously replied “Because it is there.” There is something undeniably attractive about scaling both massive peaks in the Greater Ranges and more humble hills in the British Isles. Sadly, the question now seems to be, “But for how much longer?”
Yep, after going on about feeling stronger and the benefits to being stronger in the mountains, I headed out and got firmly put back in my place. And it’s not a bad thing at all.
I headed up to climb a stunning but very challenging route here in Chamonix, the Supercouloir, with Graeme – mentally, physically and technically this route pushed me, harder than any other route before.
“I can’t work out if this was a good idea or a bad one..” said Matt. Tomorrow the Cabane des Dix, high in the mountains above Arolla would have a full staff, prepared food, and be a hive of activity as a key stop on the Haute Route, a classic alpine ski tour. Tonight, however, we were tucked away in the winter room, burning wood to stay warm, heating boil in the bag meals, and we are completely alone.