Le Trail de Sauvageonne – Regaining the Freedom

Le Trail de Sauvageonne - Regaining the Freedom of Running

After my adventure up Canigou I decided it was time to rest; in truth I could do little else. I also had to go back to England to earn some money. This meant going back to 6am starts, 1 1/2 hour commutes and grabbing a run on a lunch time when I could or running at 7pm when I got back. For most of the time I am lucky enough to avoid this with its associated stress on mind and body. Whilst last September I had hoped to leave behind for good this stressful work routine, building a business is a slow process and as part of this transition it’s important for me to keep going back to maintain my lifestyle through this period.

However, as is usually the case it was not many days before my legs began to itch and my mind began to need the space that I can only get when running. Perhaps an interval session with the Wharfedale Harriers was not the ideal second run on my return phase…

That speed session practically broke me! For the next two days I felt like I’d run a marathon again, my body ached all over and the sensible voice which must exist somewhere within me broke faintly through the noise; I heard whisperings of previously read articles about how long it takes the body to recover from a marathon and how long it takes for the glucose to be completely replaced (6 weeks apparently). In this age where longer and longer distances are becoming more popular, it’s easy to forget that, just as it takes time to train for these events it also takes time to recover. 

Why I am routinely both surprised and dismayed to learn that my body is not a machine I do not know, somewhere deep within is a wise runner, but this person gets very little air time. The value of having a coach is that they can give that wise runner more air time. Many a session with John has consisted of him asking one pertinent question (e.g. how does this fit in to your overall goals?) to help the wise runner emerge. If truth be told sometimes John has to be the wise runner for me!

The following weeks were all about consistency, a little each day with at least one full rest day enabled me to start to feel the rhythm again. By the time I returned home I felt ready to train hard again so when a friend mentioned a small local trail race at Egat just an hour away I couldn’t resist; the smaller 10km race as some speed training seemed like a sensible option.

My favourite races are small, local events, run by local people. I knew this was going to be a good one when the race organiser explained that they simply wanted to share some of their beautiful countryside with others. Local runners and inhabitants of Egat turned out to ensure that the race could take place. It was, as is always the case in France, well marked and, more unusually for France, the majority of the descent was off the paths. I had followed Theo all the way to the top and as he surged easily away from me on the descent, I was reminded once again of my need to do some work on my descending skills. That said, I loved it; running across that tussocky grass, dodging or jumping over the bushes and shrubs I could feel the freedom return. Coming in first female was a small but welcome bonus; it showed things were on track and I’d managed my recovery well.

People who do not run often ask, ‘why?’ and my answer varies. I think for me the real addictive nature of running is the freedom I can feel when being out in the hills/mountains just running, I don’t have to think about anything else I can just focus on taking the next steps and being. Running is my time to think, my time to heal, my time to reboot and remind myself that my body can take me to the beautiful spaces that we often forget exist in the world.

Le Canigou

Sometimes I see a mountain and I want to climb it, I don’t know why, it's like a voice in my head that says, 'it would be good to climb that,’ and my heart begins to stir. My first encounter with le Canigou was on holiday in 2015. We visited Vernet-les-Bains and walked to the edges of the town built into the hillside and there she was peacefully watching over us, a great mountain bathed in the summer sun. And the voice began to whisper, ‘woulnd’t it be good to climb that?’. At that time I was not fit, I had over-trained during 2014/15, I was tired and I could not run for more than an hour. But the voice had spoken. It was John who told me that there is a race up Canigou but at that moment it seemed to me that I would like simply to run up Canigou to reach her summit would be enough. I looked at the mountain, took a photograph and went back to England, to work…with the image of le Canigou as my new screensaver.

There are those who believe that Canigou is sacred, I am neither religious nor superstitious, but without doubt the mountain seemed to mysteriously draw me to her. To improve our life and because we love to be in the mountains we moved to Casteil in November 2017. I started running with the local running club Trail Vernet Adventure and of course they asked me the question: ‘Tu va faire le Championnat du Canigou?’ By this point I was recovering well, John had put together some sensible training allowing me to recover and rebuild my fitness, mixing running with cycling and appropriate amounts of rest. I completed some local shorter mountain races and the little voice grew stronger, 'you can do it, it will be good to climb the Canigou how wonderful to race it.’ The mountain herself seemed to be watching me, every walk, every mountain bike ride she loomed over me, beckoning me, challenging me with her beauty and her magnificence. Even in the quietness of an evening read there she was: in Boff Whalley’s book ‘Run Wild’ he talks about Canigou and people who would run to the summit to find ice for the wealthy visitors to the spa town below. I started to train with the help of John.

I began to get fit and to see some good results in some races up to 20km; I began to get excited and to wonder just how fast I could run up this great mountain. However, despite our best intentions, training never goes absolutely to plan. I had to work in England a few times to support myself; I was sick in the month of July so I arrived at the start line on August 5th  without having ever climbed the Canigou, without  the training that I had wanted to do, feeling unprepared and nervous. I knew it would be hard and especially because I have typically struggled with longer distance races. This course was 20 miles long with 2300m of climb. Climbing has never really scared me but the distance…that could break me. 

This would not do, this was my dream, the voice had spoken, it must be completed! To turn myself around from the dark mutterings of negativity I said to myself, ‘it's an adventure, you'll realise your dream to climb Canigou in the race.’  I thought if I could pace it sensibly and keep positive in my mind I could do it. What I did not expect was the number of people on the course that day, ordinary people who had off early in the morning to be there to encourage and motivate us with the refreshments every 3 miles including water and fruit. Musical instruments were played with gusto, and the energy and joy of everyone cheering us on willed us to continue. It felt like the whole town of Vernet-les-Bains had come out in force to ensure every runner reached the summit, and to rejoice in the success of each of us. It was as though  the voice in my head and the voice of the mountain joined with the voice of the people to help me succeed my dream. Despite my lack of endurance, despite feeling sick during the climb, despite the weakness in my legs, the voices moved me onwards.

For me, le Championnat du Canigou was a real adventure, it's a difficult race with the technical pieces, not for the feint-hearted. Whilst there are wonderful running sections over the plain at the foot of the mountain, this is interspersed with ground so rough you are forced to walk and even scramble up the chimney. The descent is initially technical requiring lightness of foot and an ability to jump between rocks, no mean feat after 10 miles of climbing and legs like jelly. 

Undoubtedly the difficult goals always taste the sweetest, however, and I was very happy to complete the course albeit an hour slower than I had originally planned. I am proud to have finished this race and I have learned once again that with the power of my mind and the positivity and will of others, as well as perhaps the mysterious magic of the mountain I can reach amazing summits. I am determined to return in 2019 for another adventure!

What are your dreams

As Jenny Graeme whizzes round the World in her record attempt, inspiring us all to look differently at life’s challenges and adventures, I thought it would be interesting to reflect a little on goals and challenges. 

Throughout my life and particularly more recently, as a coach, I have met and worked with people with seemingly impossible challenges in mind. 

Perhaps the first real big one was when I went to see Karen Darke in December 2009 and she told me that she was thinking of trying to get to the London Paralympics in hand cycling, an event she had only competed in twice and both times been a resounding last place finisher. She got a silver medal in London and Gold in Rio 4 years later, having gone ‘off piste’, as we call it, a few times to escape the grind of specific training and achieve other amazing adventures.

Lee Craigie and the Adventure Syndicate are another group of amazingly inspirational people and athletes. I was lucky enough to work with Lee, Emily Chappel, Jenny, Paula Regana and the Adventure Syndicate team on the first Adventure Syndicate training camp at Girona Cycling, where I met many inspiring people who have gone on to achieve amazing things. Many of whom I have been lucky enough to stay in touch with. The second camp, this year was a self supported camp, different but forming a springboard for many to reach their goals, inspire each other and form longstanding relationships…. even connecting with the campers of last year - small world? maybe!

It was at that first Girona camp that I met Jenny Graham, at that time Jenny’s goal was to ride the Arizona 750; as the name implies a 750 mile, self supported off road race in Arizona. Jenny had completed the Highland Trail 550 the previous year so it was clear that she wasn’t too far outside her comfort zone with her goal. In fact, snakes seemed to be her biggest conceptual challenge. 

I started working with Jenny shortly after the camp and it has been an amazing journey since then as I got to know such a wonderful person. Even having got to know Jenny I was somewhat surprised when she told me she wanted to break the record for cycling round the world - clearly something a bit outside her comfort zone in so many ways but why not? Jenny told me her plan during one of our regular Skype chats and we discussed a bit of the detail and figured out how it might work. Over the following months we worked out more plans, training sessions, routes, logistics and now she is more than half way round the world.

Karen’s and Jenny’s stories are quite extreme and of course required a lot of hard work and some sacrifice but have also brought great rewards. However they are examples of people who took on seemingly impossible goals. 

My philosophy is always, why not try? If you aim for something and don’t achieve, you will have had an amazing journey. You will probably be a lot fitter, have some new friends, seen new places and have learned lots of things. In most cases you will also have done something you would never have done if you didn’t try. But let’s not dwell on what might not work, let’s think about what it will be like when you succeed in your dream. 

So what are your dreams? Don’t hold back - amazing things are possible - why not give it a go?

Good luck and please get in touch, comment on the blog, start or join a discussion on our Facebook Group or message me directly if you have a personal question.

This week I am off to Battle Mountain in Nevada, where I am hoping to help Karen Darke break the land speed record for a hand cycle - exciting times!

Back in the Pyrenees


Quest 79 group photo
Quest 79 Mallorca Training Camp 2018

After the last blog I rushed off to Mallorca for a training camp with two hand cyclists and one paratriathlete; all amazing women (Lizzie from the UK, Svetlana from Russia/Austria and Arna from Iceland). It was a great experience to finally see the ideas I had discussed with Karen come to fruition and what a success.

Unfortunately the weather didn't smile on us during the week but the group worked so well together. The workshops were lively and interactive, the one to ones were readily adopted by the interested and committed athletes. Everyone had their own training plans and helped each other to find suitable routes with our help. Some rides in groups and some solo to make sure that when specific sessions were needed they were done to perfection.

Karen climbing the final stretch out of Vernet closely tracked by Helena
Karen climbing the final stretch out of Vernet closely tracked by Helena

Next up was our own camp in Casteil, a pilot for what we want to do here in our new Pyrenean home. The camp worked in a similar way to the other camps, self led with workshops and one to ones. I even did a bit of massage, which was a pleasant and rewarding reminder of another way I can use my skills to benefit people. I am planning to do a bit more once we get a bit more organised.

Four athletes attended, staying in our apartment upstairs, which was perfect in many ways. We can accommodate more athletes using the same format and local accommodation but we want to keep things small so that we can give a great service and maintain the interaction in the workshops that we hold in our living space. Endurance cyclists, Jenny Graham and Karen Tostee I have worked with since January 2017, see previous blog, Karen't friend Helena who is just about to do the London Marathon and then I will be helping her with her cycling as she builds up to the Ironman World Championships in Kona and our competition winner Amy White who is looking forward to some ultra-trail races over the summer as well as our local race the Championnat du Canigou in August.

You can learn all about these camps on our camps pages and read about how it went for the athletes in their testimonials. Suffice it to say it was a great success and we are looking forward to running more camps as soon as we can tempt people to come and join us. If you are interested, have a look at the camps pages or send me an .

Amy enjoys the view from a mountain trail
Amy enjoys the view from a mountain trail

As well as the more predictable workshop requests such as understanding training zones, intensities and planning, the discussions highlighted some interesting common themes. Lifestyle challenges were highlighted in both the Mallorca and Casteil camps, even amongst the full time athletes. It is apparent that juggling life commitments and training into an effective package is difficult to achieve and a specific workshop helped identify priorities and understanding that could be worked on more specifically in one to one sessions. Although not planned as such, both camps were female only and this made it appropriate to focus on nutrition and training cycles specific to women's needs, something that definitely merits further time and effort. On the whole an interesting and wonderful experience.

Please let me know what you think, get in touch if you want to discuss anything further or feel you would like to contribute to or benefit from our activities in JHCoaching. You can email me at , or follow one of the links on the website.

What Clare thought:

What Clare thought of our first Endurance Workshop

Chilling out with Karen Darke's sports psychology book
Chilling out with Karen Darke’s sports psychology book

What a lovely experience to watch four determined and committed athletes come to us in March tired and stressed and leave more like themselves. The transformation was visible, as people began to relax and enjoy the simple structure of training, eating, workshops and resting.

Throughout my professional life I have strived to help people become better at life, better at coping, to become the person they really want to be. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a transformation happen so quickly. This is a credit to the commitment that each person gave to the camp and its processes. It worked far better than I could have hoped.

I love working with people and seeing them develop and grow; it’s a real pleasure to provide a setting in which they can do that. Rather selfishly it also gives me an opportunity to learn about myself and be inspired by the strength and talents of others.

You can find our more about our camps on our web pages or email for more information, to check availability or book a place by clicking .