Having been forced to abandon our plans to go to East Africa in the October Half Term, it was with some relief that we managed to put together at relatively short notice a running trip to Chamonix in the first week of the Half-Term Exeat.
Having never been to Chamonix before, arranging the trip was something of an unknown quantity for me. Thankfully I was very ably assisted by our guide, Simon James, who was able to make some excellent recommendations for both the accommodation and itinerary. Given that we would be arriving in the middle of the off-season, however, we were warned that there wouldn’t be a huge amount to do in the town except, well, run!
In the event, we did find plenty of things to distract us from our aches and pains and to fill the time before the next big trail, and a good balance was struck between getting in plenty of training for the season ahead, and enjoying the chance to relax, admire the scenery and get stuck in to some Alpine activities.
At the core of trip, though, was of course the running. We were hugely fortunate that for almost the entirety of the trip, the sun shone gloriously above us, basking the valley in a beautiful warm light. It wasn’t difficult to drum up the enthusiasm to get out on the trails with the promise of such gorgeous views. Once the sun had risen above the peaks on the southern side of the valley, our runs were pleasantly warm and the gloves, hats and extra layers we’d brought with us soon became superfluous. Given the time of year, this could have been so very different, and there’s no doubt that the training we did benefited hugely from the very favourable weather we enjoyed.
There’s little option when beginning a run in Chamonix but to climb. Usually these ascents are so steep that running up them is nigh-on impossible, so we usually began with a bit of a hike as a warm-up before getting stuck into the more flattish and downhill sections of the trails. In doing so we were given excellent training tips by our two guides, Simon and Alistair, whose enthusiasm and extensive knowledge both of the area and of trail running generally were to prove invaluable.
In total, many of the pupils on the trip managed to run in excess of 100km over the course of the week, which would be an impressive enough achievement on flat ground, but to do so on steep, rugged Alpine trails was a remarkable effort.
To add to this, we were also put through our paces in two strength and conditioning sessions by our expert in this field, Miss Walker. The beautiful surroundings soon faded into oblivion as we negotiated exercises involving LEW’s dreaded resistance bands, much to the amusement of the many onlookers.
Following this, we could make use of Chamonix’s excellent leisure centre and kick back in the pool, have a sauna, and in the case of Tom Jackson, slice off half his big toe as he all-too-eagerly climbed the stairs to the water slide.
The afternoons were usually spent resting our legs, though that didn’t prevent us from having a go at a terrifying-looking luge contraption (brakes optional, apparently), some bowling, a surprisingly competitive game of pétanque or taking the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi, a vertiginous climb involving over 2,500m of vertical ascent in less than ten minutes. The views from the top were simply stunning, but with tired legs from the ten miles that morning, and very little oxygen going around, there were a few rather light-headed moments as we climbed the stairs to the look-out point! (Shamefully, many retired to the restaurant before getting even this far, willingly handing over €12 for a sandwich and a Coca-Cola.)
As well as the tremendous boost to their training, this trip really provided all who went with the chance to form a wonderful team bond that should prove invaluable as we prepare for the season ahead. The group were unfailingly good company throughout, and I thank them wholeheartedly for their enthusiasm, their efforts, and their often-uneaten packed lunches.