Hoping do to the Patrouille des Glaciers is rather chicken and egg: so many people want to do it you don’t know if you’ve got in until November when the organisers decide whose applications to accept. However if you don’t start training for this epic event till November you’ve left it too late. So the only thing to do is train anyway.
My autumn was incredibly busy with work across Europe, so laying the foundations meant doing lots of running in the evenings while working away from home. Then when home, doing higher altitude runs in the mountains. The big challenge was that running and me have not historically been a match made in heaven. In particular, my knees hurt badly after 30-45 mins jogging, so this was a challenge. However I found a way round this by following the advice of Iron Man competitor and friend Eugene Ventor, who advised me to give barefoot running a go. By easing into it over a period of months, before long I was managing 1 hour 30 to 2 hours of running without problems – in fact I even started enjoying it. Thank you Eugene!
I really dislike gyms, and while they can be convenient, I find them way too hot for a proper workout. The exercise bikes typically have saddles which are way too wide and are positioned far too far forwards, and they often have bent peddle axles, making them an injury risk. Gym owners, how often do you check this out? Virtually every gym exercise bike I’ve been on suffers from this. So my programme in the autumn during the week consisted of 3-4 weekly evening runs of 1 hour – 1hour 40 wherever I happened to be. This included runs around Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh, Ironbridge Gorge, the streets of Farnborough, various parts of London, and around Lac de Neuchatel. I followed my weekly runs with a longer run in the mountains at the weekends, usually up to 2000m, sometimes 2360m, taking 2 – 2 1/2 hours. When the weather was right I got out on the road bike with Nick, with our best outing being up to St Martin/Suen in Val d’Herens. This is a challenging climb of 1000m which goes on…and on…..and on. But it’s beautiful, particularly in the afternoon autumn sun. Nick and I also did runs along the bisse (irrigation channels taking water from the high mountains to the agricultural areas lower down) from Grimisuat, which provide a gentle downhill followed by a gentle slope back up again.
Then one weekend when I was out on my circuit to 2000m, the rain turned to snow. Before I knew it there was the first beautiful carpet of white of the winter. I carried on up to 2000m (feet soaking wet in my running shoes) and had to take care coming back down as it was very slippy. It was great to be out in the white stuff again though, and within a week the first big snows had arrived, so it was out with the running and in with the rando skis (mountaineering skis).
The first skin up (climbing uphill on skis with skins stuck to the bases to stop them from slipping backwards, not what you may have been thinking!) to our local summit 1000m above where we live was fantastic. The ski resort wouldn’t open for another week, but there was a bunch of like-minded mountain folk out skinning up the slopes to get first tracks in the beautiful powder. The going was quite hard to start with as I was the first one up from where we live, and the snow was over knee deep. Pushing that much snow every stride takes it out of you! But it was well worth it, and I met up with Alain and his buddies for first tracks down the steepest part of the mountain. What a way to start the ski season! First turns in knee deep powder. It bodes well…