In bed, I rolled over to get away from the ticking. Why was my watch so loud?! ...My digital watch... I suddenly realised that audible ticking was my pulse dealing with the leg pump and altitude. My mind had finally switched off after what felt like hours replaying the incredible mountain scenery, GCSE French and the worry that I'd probably get left behind, now my body was keeping me up. It was safe to say that my first day in the Alps had blown my body and my mind.
Before we headed off I was fearful I'd not be able to keep up with the three mountain goat-like runners who I was travelling with, that they'd have to abandon me for being too slow, that I wouldn't be able to cope with the altitude and I'd ruin it for everyone. But it's the unknown that makes it an adventure, so I acknowledged my fears and carried on anyway.
The plan was to run the CCC route in reverse over three days – essentially, running from France to Italy whilst tackling thousands of metres of ascent. As soon as we started our journey, the altitude had an obvious effect on my breathing. Mountains are incredibly humbling. Despite being at peak ultra fitness, I'd never felt more unfit! As I started to slip behind, I realised chasing down the group was going to be harder than I thought, and that's before tackling in the steep, technical descents and equally tough ascents.
After catching up with the resting group (again), I was given some much needed mountain running tuition – embrace your inner John Wayne, imagine oranges under your pits and get used to being brave enough to just throw yourself downhill. I was then encouraged to the front to lead our small pack at my slow pace. No longer panicking about catching up (but still worrying about not being fast), I finally remembered to look up.
My soul sang! I was in the most incredible playground, I just needed to remember to play. When I wasn't leading I'd quickly fall behind, only now my head and mood no longer dropped. I got used to bouncing along the trails (or hiking when the gradient got too steep or climbing ladders when the gradient got even steeper) on my own and it was really fun. I'd go for ages without seeing anything other than mountains and marmots and it felt like even more of an adventure.
A mid-distance run would easily take the best part of the day to complete in the brutal but beautiful environment, providing plenty of time to practice my new mountain skills. By the time we had to return back to reality, I was starting to feel more comfortable and I was falling in love with mountain trails. If I was in indoors at a refuge for too long, I'd peer out the window, just to check the mountains were still there. Looking out and seeing Mont Blanc from your bedroom window was surreal.
The quad DOMS on each morning was almost as spectacular as the alpine views. I've never felt so helpless at the top of a flight of stairs before but I wore the muscle soreness like a badge of honour. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, they say. So after the hardest run of my life, the fact that I survived, meant I begrudgingly left the mountains a much stronger runner, hungry for more adventure.