Last year was a big year for me with wins in the Viking Way and Hardmoors 110, and possibly bigger was my 10th place in Trans-Europe. My best year results wise for sure. My recovery from Trans-Europe took just under six months. It made a real mess of me and the prolonged break was frustrating but I was relatively disciplined about it and once I had realised the extent of the damage, I waited patiently until I felt I was truly recovered.
I had already picked out a few races for the year, but then a major life change was about to happen. While I was away from work on Trans Europe for a couple of months, I realised that not only did I dislike my job, but I hated it. I felt it had nothing positive to offer me. I gained no satisfaction from it, but felt deeply trapped. I think I already knew, but the fact that I needed very much to escape now became even more prominent. A change was needed and it may as well be something extreme (for me at least).
On May the 13th, Lou and I found ourselves driving South in Doggo (My car still stinks of dogs from the previous owner!). We had both left our jobs, the house we had rented together, and had got rid of the vast majority of our belongings. Our final destination – Chamonix. Well actually the apartment that was waiting for us is a few miles up the road in the smaller and quieter town of Argentiere.
We had no future plan and even now don’t have too much of one. Mountain life is good. Almost everyone here has the common desire to be in or around the mountains. It is of course incredibly beautiful, and the same view looks different every single day. The seasons are more pronounced which is one of the most beautiful things I have seen. Winter to Spring to Summer and now into Winter. The changes are utterly spellbinding.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, life is different now. Running is still a massive passion for me, but I am very fussy now. I don’t want to run on the flat or the road. I still like it but I can not even compare the two. I am running for fun still but the mountains on my doorstep make thing infinitely better. It truly adds something very positive to my life being here.
So how do I view my year in running in comparison to last year? Well I think it has been more rewarding and exciting. Results wise I don’t think I have much to shout about, but then again the races are so incredibly hard here I wouldn’t expect to make a splash when the locals I have been racing against have not known any different. I have been learning to travel fast in the mountains. Not to worry if you need to walk an up (can often be faster than running), and occasionally accepting the fact that sticks are a good idea for certain conditions.
My big race for the year has to have been UTMB. I had set a target of sub 30 hours which I thought was rather ambitious but managed to come in around a half an hour under that. It was an incredible experience and I was overjoyed to have beaten my target, but knew that I could go plenty faster seeing how slow it felt.
So where do I go from here? What can my next challenges be? What excites me? Well, my next two races are close enough together that I will be treating them as one. One expedition. I will not favour one over the other as I want them both. First up will be the Spine in mid January. For those that don’t know, this is a full traverse of the Pennine Way over a week in one hit. It is over 260 miles and being in midwinter is the real factor here. I need to get myself around this thing without totally destroying myself as a couple of weeks later I will be flying to Norway to take part in the inaugural Frostskade 500. This is a 500 mile trek through Norway, Sweden and Finland dragging a pulk and being self sufficient. Again the main factor will probably be the fact that this will be held in midwinter. Being so far North means that the hours of daylight will be very few and the temperature will be as low as -40. This will be a whole new experience for me and for this fact alone I am incredibly excited. I may adapt well but there is also the chance that it just may not be my cup of tea. At least I will know for sure!
How hard do I think this will be? Well, I’ve had a few comments stating that this will be harder than anything I have ever done and that what I have done simply doesn’t compare to the expedition. “It will be harder than I expect”. Well, actually I am expecting a completely new experience here. A new level of suffering which I will not have known yet. A mental test beyond what I have ever had to deal with. I am not saying that I know what is coming, but the scale of the challenge will not overwhelm me. I can’t let it. I will need to develop new skills and adapt fast to the new and harsh environment. I am not going to say I will definitely finish this as that is not my style. I like to genuinely feel humbled and respectful about the challenge ahead. I will give it my best shot as always and whatever happens, as long as I feel I gave it my all I will be content.
I nearly had to pull out of both races as my lifestyle change has meant a drastic cut in my income. I have been very fortunate with the magnificent Likeys supporting me and supplying a load of kit. There has been a seemingly everlasting list of needed items beyond this though which has been giving the poor credit card a good hammering. It has certainly been a challenge trying to gather everything together on a shoestring. Ebay has been my friend! Many people have shown much generosity though by lending me expensive kit. What a beautiful community the ultrarunning one is!
Do I think that the cost of living somewhere so amazing is worth it then? Without a doubt! I don’t even need to think about it. Racing is secondary to running. I do love to race, but having such inspiring trails on my doorstep is worth its weight in gold for me.
So that’s my little end of year round up and a little glimpse ahead at the challenges that lay waiting. Where will these challenges lead me in the future? Well I guess if I get on with the challenge that the Arctic offers maybe something else there. I would love to go to the Himalayas for a run/expedition/adventure. Other than that I don’t really think about it. I just follow the path that presents itself that attracts me most.
I hope you enjoy the end of your year and have exciting challenges of your own ahead.