Giles Thurston loves nothing more than a long run in the mountains, exploring new areas and photographing and writing about his adventures. Ultrarun.in charts his journey into ultra-running, trail running and endurance sports. His training, racing and the kit he uses.
A more detailed write-up of my experiences of this years Berghaus Dragons Back Race will follow shortly but for now, here is a brief photo diary of my five-day journey from Conwy Castle in North Wales to Llandeilo in the south.
In all, we covered 320km and climbed over 15,000m as we made our way across some of the roughest and toughest terrain the UK and not just Wales has to offer. It was an emotional and painful journey at times but was well worth it to be able to reach the finish, call myself a Dragon Slayer and receive my dragon trophy.
Pre-Race in Conwy
Day One: Carneddau, Glyderau and Snowdon Massif – 54km / 4,000m ascent
Day Two: The Moelwynion and Rhinogydd – 59km / 3,350m ascent
This was for two reasons. One, well I was keen to try video as an extension of the photography I already do during most of my runs. Secondly, I hoped it would provide an additional distraction and force me to hold myself back.
It was an enjoyable process, both filming and editing and I learned loads throughout and will definitely be doing more video. Below are the three videos with a little bit of additional detail/thoughts about each day.
If you’ve already seen these, feel free to jump forward to my closing thoughts on the weekend.
Day 1: Portland to Lulworth Cove
This route is usually day two, but with another running event taking place in the Lulworth area on Saturday, the Votwo team decided to switch their course around a bit.
The course was a day of thirds really. The first was a lap of Portland itself, which felt quite industrial in nature and wasn’t the most picturesque.
The second was all about tarmac, back from Portland and along the seafront through Weymouth.
The final third was back onto the cliffs towards Lulworth Cove and was beautiful, with the usual steep climbs and descents you expect from the south coast and stunning views to match.
The Cliffs Before Lulworth Cover and Durdle Door
This was by far the longest run I had done since January, with the ankle injury and flu, so I was worried if I could physically cope with the marathon (and then some) distance, not to mention the hills. Although my legs felt tired, I was able to keep running and was pleased to be able to cover the 44.1 km to the finish in a reasonable 5:35. My legs definitely felt like they’d run a marathon by the end and I hoped I hadn’t pushed too hard, with two more days running ahead.
Watch my video diary from day 1 of the Jurassic Coast Challenge 2019
Day one of Jurassic Coast Challenge
Day 2: Charmouth to Portland
A slight logistical issue with the starting dibber meant we were held at the start at Charmouth. I took the opportunity to catch-up with a work colleague – thanks for popping down Mark! – And pop for a comfort break while we waited for it to arrive, which it duly did, and everybody streamed off up the first climb onto the cliffs. I took my time, doing a warm-up and was one of the last to leave Charmouth as a result.
The scenery was again stunning, and I probably spent far more of the first hour stopping to film and take photos than I should have done. This had the added benefit of allowing my legs to ease into the day and I was surprised how well they bounced back and how well I could run.
The downside of starting at the back meant that by the time I reached the first checkpoint at West Bay there was hardly any food left. Feeling hungry I got stuck into the second section and rapidly made progress through the field.
The rest of the day was mainly flat and runnable all the way to the finish back at Portland. I felt strong between checkpoint one and three and was making excellent progress. I eventually forced myself into a walking break at around 35km, my logic being that I needed to try and save my legs for the final day. This seemed to really knock me out of my rhythm though and confirmed the old adage, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!”.
The finish line being visible way off in the distance probably didn’t help my mood either, but I eventually rallied and finished the 45.4km day in 5:40, just five minutes slower than the previous day.
Watch my video diary from day 2 of the Jurassic Coast Challenge 2019
Day two of Jurassic Coast Challenge
Day 3: Lulworth Cove to Studland.
This was definitely a case of saving the best till last, with the weather and coastline coming together on the final day to showcase the very best of the South West Coastal Path.
It was a shock to discover the shingle bach from the previous day had created a number of holes in my beloved Inov8 Race Ultras, forcing me to switch to the Inov8 Terraultra G 260. Not bad bad second choice shoe!
Trying to repeat the previous day, I again took it easy from the start to allow my legs to come to me and was the last person out of Lulworth, with the sweeper hot on my heels.
The SW Coastal Path, Dorset
A stunning day ensued, and I was pleased to be able to run throughout. I felt sick for about an hour around the ten-mile mark, but this didn’t stop me running, and it eventually passed.
Navigation was a little trickier today, with a couple of detours inland away from the coastal path. Dropping onto the beach at Studland Bay I found the tide was in, which resulted in an exciting scramble to reach the drier main beach for the final few miles to the finish.
Another cracking day out on the south coast, this time finishing the 45.6km in 5:47.
Watch my video diary from day 3 of the Jurassic Coast Challenge 2019
Day 3 of Jurassic Coast Challenge
Conclusions and Lessons Learned
What a fantastic running adventure! The location, time on feet and the fun I had playing around with video meant it was one of the best running trips I have made.
There are very few negatives I can take away from the weekend, other than to say that as each day progressed I felt my nutrition was increasingly off. The first day went well, the second I felt hungry early on but rallied. The third day I felt sick for an hour but again, nothing that stopped me running.
Despite focusing on my nutrition and recovery, I obviously needed more, and I will need to look into this before Dragons Back, which is – gulp! – less than seven weeks away now!
Everything else was a positive, especially how well my body held up after little training in the lead up to the event. Running by feel I was able to complete all three days in almost identical times, especially once you consider the differences in distance and ascent between each day.
It was also amazing how quickly my body adapted to multiple days running. Each night my legs felt sore, but the next day I could run again, which has to bode well for Dragons Back. My plan to ease into the second and third day, running by feel, seemed to work well and I will try and use that approach in Wales.
Giles Filming On Top of Golden Cap
Filming while running was a lot of fun, and a great way to record my running adventures. This is a totally new medium for me, and I took a while to get used to the camera and what I could do with it. I will definitely be doing more of these, so to keep up to date, why not subscribe to my YouTube channel. All feedback is welcome on my films, positive and negative, as it is the only way I can improve.
In terms of recovery, as soon as I finished, I made sure I started to drink a Mountain Fuel recovery shake and got into a change of clothes, including a pair of compression tights. On days one and two, where we took a minibus back to the event centre, I also made sure I did some stretching before getting on the bus.
On arrival back at the event centre in Portland, I took advantage of the massages available to give my quads, adductors and calves a good flush. Once I arrived back at my hotel, I did a recovery yoga routine, took a cold bath, used magnesium spray and wore compression tights through the night.
Some of these items will not be available to me on Dragons Back, such as the massage and cold baths. However, after discussing it with my coach before the race, we decided I should focus on maximising my recovery to enable me to get back in training as soon as possible after the weekend.
The good news is that this worked. Less than 36 hours after the event finished any soreness in my legs had gone, and by the Thursday I was back running, clocking twenty miles that week. I admit I am astounded by how well the recovery worked and I need to think about how I can replicate as much of the approach I used at this event in Wales.
Finally a word of thanks for the whole Votwo team and support staff, who were fabulous throughout. I have done a number of Votwo events over the years, and they are all really well run in a light-hearted but professional manner. As a weekend event, they cover all bases, and if you fancy a multi-day running experience, exploring some of the best scenery the south coast has to offer, I can heartedly recommend the Jurassic Coast Challenge.
Giles Running Along Studland Bay Towards The Finish of The Jurassic Coast Challenge
The reason? Yes, you guessed it, injury once again! As you can imagine, this got me quite down and that, combined with the fact you are probably sick of me banging on about a running related injuries by now, had me avoiding writing at all.
It was an ankle injury, something that seemed trivial at the time and I only became aware of as I got out of bed early one morning to go for my usual run. No recounts of some heroic tumble here, I could walk and it just felt a little different when I jumped out of bed.
As you’d expect I still ran, mainly because it didn’t feel like anything serious. By the end of the run however it was extremely sore and a few hours later, despite a lack of bruising or swelling, it was extremely painful to even walk. That was it, no running for nearly six weeks!
The pain was in my right ankle, the one full of metalwork after a previous rugby injury. The dislocation at the time meant there was a good chance there was some osteoarthritis in there as well but generally it didn’t give me too much grief, apart from cold days when the metalwork would drag the cold into my bones.
A scan showed a potential minor strain to the peroneus and small retrocalcaneal bursitis. Both tiny in comparison to the discomfort I was in but this seemed like the best diagnosis.
Over the next ten days, I saw Ed five times, as we followed an aggressive rehab protocol. This resulted in some sudden improvements, followed by equally sudden deteriorations, which was strange and not what you would expect from a typical muscular or tendon injury.
As we both gave up hope and talked about a referral for an X-ray and/or MRI it suddenly seemed to settle – hurray! We agreed to see how it went with a little running and at the first sign of any issues I’d be off for the MRI.
That was when the flu struck! After four weeks off running, I was desperate to get back running, with Dragons Back now less than twelve weeks away and my warm-up event, Jurassic Coast Challenge (JCC) just three weeks away. Three days in bed, following by generally feeling rough and below par for a further ten days ended up with me on antibiotics as I fought to clear my chest. Finally, with less than two weeks to go before JCCand nearly six weeks off running, I tentatively pulled on my trainers and headed out the door.
It was so frustrating. I had gone from probably the fittest I have ever been to back where I was last autumn. All the training of the last three months seemed to have evaporated as I slowly ran those first 30 minutes. Those first few miles felt like such hard work and my hips and adductors were grumbling like mad. The good news was that the ankle seemed ok, which was one positive at least.
There was no way I felt I could attempt three marathons back to back but a chat with Marcus calmed my fears and we agreed that we should build the running slowly back in and leave it to as late as possible to make a decision.
I identified this event as the perfect event for me before Dragons Back, to get some hills in my legs and also test out my recovery strategy in a multi-day event.
The event is run by Votwo, a company I was familiar with, having previously done a number of their duathlons and triathlons. With transport logistics handled from race HQ each day, it would be just a question of running, admiring the views, recovering and repeating the next day. Perfect!
My body responded well to the running and after covering 25 miles last week, Marcus and I made the decision that I would head to the south coast on tomorrow and give it a go.
I won’t be racing, this is all about time on feet, getting some hills in and practising that important recovery strategy. I will take it steady, walk where needed and see how the weekend develops. If I can only manage one day then so be it. I have the option of missing the second day and then tackling the third day as a walker. The key thing here is not to overload my body and enhance, not damage my preparations for The Dragons Back.
The Dragons Back has been my focus since last summer and this event was always a stepping stone to that. Yes back in January as my fitness was building I had ideas of really going for it and seeing what I could do but not now. This is a challenge event and I will approach it as such and have some fun along the way.
Apologies that this is a little later than normal but it has been a manic start to the new year, both personally and professionally. However, as yet another running year passes by, and what a rollercoaster it has been, it is time to take a look back at 2018 and forward into 2019.
My confidence was high, I had my diet in check and my running seemed to be back on track. I was running less than I had prior to the injury but using quality sessions, blended with a lot of core strength work, I was really seeing the benefits.
The Dragons Back in May 2019 was my next focus, a race I have wanted to do for years and entered the day that entries opened back in May 2018. This was the main focus of my recovery, with my completion of Lakeland 100 a pleasant surprise but not critical to this process.
During my rehab, I had decided to change things up a little after Lakeland and work with a coach for the first time. Despite being a qualified coach myself, I felt that I had taken myself as far as I could, and was keen to get an outside perspective and input into my training. I genuinely believed that I had more in me as a runner and after a brief search was pleased to be able to secure the services of my number one choice Marcus Scotney.
Unfortunately, my body had other ideas and as I tried to return to running following Lakeland, old pains returned with some new ones thrown in for good measure. What followed was three months of frustration, as I tried time and time again to return to running.
Marcus and I delayed structured training and eventually even races were canceled until finally, in early November, I was able to start to slowly build my running back up once again.
By this point, I had fallen off the wagon again in terms of my diet. As those that read my previous article about my diet demons will know, I am a comfort eater and when things are (seemingly) going badly in my life, it is the sweet treats I quickly reach for, paired with late-night raids on the fridge. All my good work in the spring and early summer had been undone, my diet was a total mess and the lost pounds were quickly piling back on.
Yoga was another big revelation for me during 2018. I would start each day with a short practice, blending this with the existing core work that I was doing. I also used this as part of my cool down after running, replacing more traditional stretching. As the year progressed, I would eventually use a short practice as a dynamic warm-up before some runs as well.
It’s difficult to tell whether this really made a difference or not but I enjoy it and also find it a great way to start the day, so that in itself is beneficial in my book.
As we entered the home straight for 2018, I was back following a structured plan set by Marcus. I also secured the services of Shane Benzie of Running Reborn to assess my running technique and provide some recommendations on how I could improve this. This was again something I had wanted to do for a while and as I was slowly building the distance and volume back up, this seemed like a perfect time to do this.
As the year drew to a close I could really feel the benefit of the work I had been doing with both Marcus and Shane. I was now running six days a week, my speed was coming back up and I was consistently logging fifty mile weeks, the first time since earlier in the summer. My diet still needed some work but this could wait until after Christmas.
I was finally feeling positive about my running again and looking forward to 2019.
Giles Running Above Ullswater in the 2018 Lakeland 100
2018 in Numbers
Looking back at my stats for 2018 (see below), it was a comparatively quiet year running wise. Hardly surprising considering for at least six months of 2018 I was injured, so doing little or no running at all. Another interesting statistic was that I spent nearly as much time on core work and yoga as I did running, something which I suspected and will be keen to continue into 2019.
Run: 210 hours / 2,012 km
Yoga and core work: 193.5 hours
Bike: 50 hours / 1,150 km
So that is 2018, a year with some real highs but also some real lows as well. There is so much I have learned during the last eighteen months or so and with the support of my family and the great team of people around me, I am confident 2019 will be a more productive year.
2019, The Year of The Dragon
As already mentioned, my number one priority for this year is fulfilling a long-standing dream of taking part in The Dragons Back race.
When I started ultrarunning five years ago, I was quickly aware of this iconic race. One of the things I love about ultrarunning is how it allows you to get out and journey through some of the mountainous and more remote areas of our beautiful country. This harks back to my day’s mountaineering, during which time I spent a lot of time in Wales climbing.
Despite my injury, the day entries opened in May 2018, I signed up for the race. As I tentatively returned to running in March last year, it was this race that I set as my focus for my come back and still remains the case today, especially considering my issues after Lakeland 100.
With the team I have built around me, including the 2017 winner Marcus Scotney, I think I am putting myself in the best position to have an enjoyable experience come May. I have no dreams of winning or even placing well, rather I just want to make it all the way to the finish at Llandeilo and have some fun along the way.
Obviously, living in one of the flattest parts of the UK has its challenges when it comes to prepping for a race which takes in all the major mountain ranges of Wales and includes over 15,000 metres of ascent across the five days.
My years’ mountaineering has given me quite good natural hill fitness but my usual approach of speed and strength work will probably still not be enough, so some creative approaches are going to need to be made.
The other major challenge is that this is a multi-day event, the first I have ever attempted. Usually, after an ultra marathon, I take at least a week off to recover before running again. This time, it will be five hilly ultras back to back, so recovery and fuelling will be key if I am hoping to make it to the finish line with a smile on my face.
Working with Marcus, I am hoping to gain some useful insight and guidance here. Also, I have booked to take part in the Jurassic Coast Challenge as a warm-up event, to not only get some vertical into my legs but also work on my recovery strategy, as I take on three hilly trail marathons on consecutive days.
Jurassic Coast Challenge | VOTwo Events - YouTube
Once Dragons Back is (hopefully) completed I expect to need some time for serious recovery and it is for this reason that I have opted to not sign up for Lakeland 100 this year.
This will be the first time in four years that I have not traveled to Coniston in July and it took an enormous amount of willpower not to join the online frenzy to sign up when entries opened last September. I am however happy with this decision, knowing that if I did do it, it’s highly unlikely I would be able to hit the heights I did this year off the back of Dragons Back. I will, of course, return but I will leave 2019 as the year for others to become Lakeland Legends.
Last year I had a number of UTMB points which were due to expire and while my desire to take part in the full UTMB race has wained over the years, I am still keen to get back out to The Alps and do some running out there. I have therefore submitted an entry into the lottery for TDS, the new 130km route from Courmayeur to Chamonix. The results are announced later this week, after which I will know if there is another race on my calendar in 2019.
If I do take part, I will again travel there with no expectations to compete, rather to just enjoy the experience and the high mountains once again.
Stress is a big part of my life and I have historically used a combination of running and poor eating choices to manage this, the later really a form of self-abuse I guess. So in addition to my diet, I also need to look into all aspects of my life and how I can reduce those stresses or eliminate them altogether.
Not a lot I can say right now but hopefully, there will be some big and exciting changes during 2019 to help support this and make all aspects of my life happier and more fulfilling.
Stepping over to The Darkside
2019 will also see me fulfill another dream that I have been mulling over for a year or so, that is becoming a Race Director and putting on my first ultra marathon!
We are keeping things quite closely under wraps for a while longer but with ultra running friend Mark Turner, we have formed Darkside Running and are really excited by what we are planning for the backend of 2019.
This year I would like to become more consistent at writing, a process that I enjoy a lot. This will require me to come up with content ideas which I can keep shorter, a few of which I am playing with.
I toyed with challenging myself to write something once a week and I while I may still do that, I do not want to put myself under additional pressure. See the previous section on stress!
Expect, therefore, more regular content, maybe of a different style and also using different mediums, as I toy with getting more into video and also podcasting. Watch this space!
There are a book and a long distance running project that I have been toying with for a couple of years now. Something that is personal to me but may also be interesting to share with others. While 2019 won’t see this completed, I am keen to move this out of my head and into the advanced planning stages, maybe for 2020.
For now, let us just call this one simply “Project Giles” until I think of a better name. Once again, watch this space!
My Objectives for 2019
So there we have another navel-gaze back at last year and look ahead, as I try to outline my plans for 2019 and what I would like to achieve.
To make it easier for me to check back on myself this time next year, a quick summation of my objectives for 2019 would be:
Remain running fit throughout 2019
Get my diet back on track and try and keep it there to the end of 2019
Publish content more regularly, including my first video
Last weekend I should have been in the north of England, battling the elements with friends, around the Montane Cheviot Goat. Unfortunately my body had other ideas and instead I was left to enjoy a local muddy twelve miles on my own and partake in a bit of dot watching (and cheering) from afar.
I haven’t written about my training and racing on here since I finished Lakeland and that is for good reason, I wasn’t sure what I should write. Just like last year, my autumn was a repeated pattern of trying desperately to get back into running, battling against a body that had other ideas.
I rested and waited for that familiar urge to run to return. August was always planned as a “run for fun” month, with a focus on recovery and only running when I fancied it. After a week the desire to return to the trails returned, so I set out for a short local run.
A New Plan
I had already decided before Lakeland that I wanted to step up my efforts with my running. Approaching my mid-forties, I was keen to really have a go and try and get the most out of my legs while I could.
The first step was to get myself a coach. Despite being qualified myself, I genuinely felt like I had taken myself as far as I could and would benefit from external input and impartial assessment of where I was with my running. I am a strong believer in the adage that you are “only as good as the team around you”, be that in work, family life or athletic pursuits. I was therefore excited to add to the already great mix of people I had supporting me with my running.
Over the summer I set about interviewing a number of coaches. Throughout 2018 I had been building a list of those that I wanted to speak to and who I thought could add to my training. Marcus Scotney was top of this list and chatting with him soon confirmed this choice. His running CV speaks for itself but it was his personality and approach to training that really resonated with me and I quickly secured his services, agreeing to start structured training from the beginning of September.
Unfortunately my body was already pushing back against my “fun runs”. My right glute and lower back had gone from the occasional twinge when running to constantly hurting. It was obvious there was something wrong and running was not helping matters. Rest was the only answer and Marcus and I agreed to delay starting structure training until October.
As September began, I took two weeks off and tried again. The pain was still there and after another round of rest, I turned to my good friend John Reynolds who identified a lot of tightness up my entire back. Hands (or rather elbow) on work released it and some of John’s kinesio tape magic allowed me to run pain free for the first time in months.
During this period I also agreed to work with Shane Benzie of Running Reborn for the next few months. Ever since my rugby career came to an end over a decade ago, I have been aware of the limitations the metalwork in my ankle brings to my running biomechanics. Getting my running gait properly assessed is something I have toyed with throughout 2018. With Shane’s expert advice, technology and insight, I am excited to see what additional improvements he can bring to my training and running technique.
The Bigger Picture
Slowly I returned to running, keeping the distances short and complementing my running with a lot of ball and flexibility work. Marcus was great throughout this process, offering advice and guidance on how to approach my training. I already knew that The Cheviot Goat was increasingly a long shot. It was now three months since Lakeland and I had done very little running and was way off being fifty-miles run fit.
In early November, with Marcus’ help, we made two key decisions. First, to ditch The Goat, and second to start some steady foundation training.
It was disappointing to have to withdraw from The Cheviot Goat. I had entered this on the day entries had opened and was looking forward to breaking out some of my Spine kit and enjoying a winter running adventure. A number of good friends were also taking part and it would have been the perfect end to the year and an opportunity to get out into the hills and have some fun.
Withdrawing from the race was the right decision, as although I am sure I would have got around the course, it would likely have broken me and I would then have had to take at least a month to recover, possibly even longer. This would have had a serious impact on The Dragons Back, which was now just six months away. It was all about the bigger picture and I knew I needed to remain focussed on my A goal for 2019.
On first speaking to Marcus, he had also strongly advised me against entering Lakeland 100 in 2019, something I dearly wanted to do, as its a race I love. Again it was all about the big picture and setting priorities for the season. Having two A races within two months and each over a hundred miles, was ludicrous to say the least. Yes I may have got around Lakeland but chances are I would still be totally battered after Dragons Back and it wouldn’t be the race I dreamed it could be.
So, entry day for Lakeland duly arrived and I watched from afar as friends struggled to get their entries into the system. Without Marcus’ guidance, I am sure I would have thrown caution to the wind and entered and hard as it was to keep my hands off the keyboard, I knew deep down this was the correct choice.
Bring on The Oreo’s
During my injury troubles, my diet took a major turn for the worse. As I have written before, I am an emotional eater and without the structure and discipline of training, I let myself go and Autumn 2018 was one big poor food choice.
Over the course of those few months I went from the lightest I have been in years to approaching the heaviest, adding over six kilograms of weight onto my grumbling hips. My morale was low and there were times I wondered if I would ever get back to running. However with the support of the dream team (my wife, Marcus and John) I slowly gained some self control back. As the running mileage increased, so did my food discipline and I started to bring my life back on track.
Looking into 2019
So while it was disappointing to not be able to travel north with friends to run across The Cheviots last weekend, for the first time in months I am positive about my running. It is all about The Dragons Back now, a race I have dreamed of doing for years and hopefully 2019 will be the year I finally make that dream come true.
The plan for the remainder of 2018 is to focus on building my fitness and ability to run consistently. Once 2019 arrives, we will then look to step things up as May approaches fast.
In terms of warm up races, I have a few ideas and plan to use a combination of events and my own trips to the hillier parts of the United Kingdom to supplement my local training. I am hoping to include a trip or two to Wales in the mix as well. While I have spent many years climbing and working as an outdoor instructor in Wales, it has been nearly a decade since I have run there and I am looking forward to re-discovering this beautiful part of the world once again.
So my apologies for the radio silence these last few months. Hopefully you can now see how my frustrations and lack of clarity about my running was the reason behind this. As 2019 draws to a close, I am feeling more positive, have added to the already great team around me and feel like I have a clear plan for the months and hopefully years ahead.
Finally congratulations to everybody who took part in the Montane Cheviot Goat last weekend. Speaking to a number of friend afterwards, it sounds like an epic event and everything I had hoped it would be. I am sure I will be back to pit my wits against the course but for now its all about The Dragons Back.
As the clocks go back and the morning frosts return, many of us turn our attention to next season and start drawing up plans for our 2019 running adventures. While there are adventures aplenty here in the UK, many are drawn to the larger ranges, with the European Alps a natural destination for those looking for bigger challenges and, the potential for, warmer weather.
Within ultra running races such as The Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB) are the dream of many and it certainly topped my bucket list for a few years. You don’t, however, have to commit to big races to get your taste of alpine adventures. With cheap flights and services such as Airbnb, trips from the UK are more affordable than ever and long weekends are equally doable with careful planning.
The Internet is a wonderful resource and browsing Amazon you will find many guidebooks on the subject, with Cicerone one of the most popular, with many different guides covering a range of activities and regions of the Alps and other popular destinations or routes across Europe. Cicerone has been kind enough to share with me two of their latest guidebooks, both of which could be helpful for those looking to explore popular regions of the Alps next year.
The format of this guidebook follows the traditional and well proven Cicerone format, starting with some background to the region, and information that will make your trip easier, such as travel and accommodation. As an International Mountain Leader, Kingsley is well qualified to talk about safety in the mountains and his section on mountain running, in particular, is an informative read for those that have not ventured into the high Alps before. He covers most areas that readers would have questions about, ranging from kit selection to running with both poles and at altitude, navigation and even recommendations on acclimatisation to the altitude.
The book then shifts to focus on routes in and around Chamonix, forty in total, grouped around various starting locations so you can plan your accommodation accordingly. There are some real crackers here, that will suit everybody tastes. From short woodland loops in the valley floor to higher routes taking advantage of uplifts. The inclusion of the Chamonix VK (Vertical kilometre) and Marathon du Mont Blanc routes are great additions, as is detailed coverage of all the races that make up UTMB week at the end of each summer, a really useful read for any planning to run those races or reccy the courses.
Each route is graded, using a 1-5 scale, allowing those unfamiliar with the terrain to understand what they are letting themselves in for and plan their kit or route choice accordingly. Where there are specific areas of difficulty, these are even highlighted within the grading, which is a nice touch. For instance, the Marathon du Mont Blanc route is described as Level 2 (2km of level 3 over Posettes).
As expected, there is a detailed description of every route, along with nice clear maps and route profiles highlighting the key climbs. The maps are at 1:100,000 scale which in some cases may be sufficient but in many, especially those in the higher mountains, you may want to consider taking a larger scale map with you.
Trail Running in Chamonix and The Mont Blanc Region
Finally, a really useful list of website addresses and contact numbers at the end of the guide will help those looking to find out more about the region and plan their trip.
The second book is slightly different, in that it takes a broader view than just running of a specific region of the Alps. It is Innsbruck Mountain Adventures: Summer routes for a multi-activity holiday around the capital of Austria’s Tirol.
Innsbruck, Austrian Tirol
Written by Sharon Boscoe, a Brit and now a resident of Innsbruck, this guide aims to give you a flavour of a variety of mountain based activities, that you may wish to do while staying in and around Innsbruck. From walking to climbing, from cycling (road and mountain) to via Ferrara, from trail running to fun family days out, this guidebook covers it all.
As with all Cicerone guidebooks, Sharon starts by providing a good introduction to the region, including not just the usual advice on travel and accommodation but also the flora and fauna, geology and local art and culture.
The focus of the book, however, is on the range of activities, with sixty routes to choose from. These are broken down into their various activities, so you can easily check-out what is on offer if, for example, you are travelling with children or road cycling is the main aim of your trip. There are a good range and variety to choose from, based upon your aspirations and skill sets. Taking walking as an example, there are easy family friendly valley walks, more stretching mountain/adventure walks, scrambles and even overnight hut based adventures.
What I loved is that the majority of routes are accessible using public transport, with details provided for each where applicable. As you would expect, there are easy to follow route descriptions, great photos and lovely clear maps, although as with the previous guide, you may want to consider a larger scale map for some of the routes. Each route also includes a profile, so you can get a feel for the climbs on the route and manage expectations, a great addition if you are looking to keep your children entertained and engaged during these mountain adventures.
From a running perspective, there are just five specific routes highlighted, covering a blend of street and trail running. Of course, for the more adventurous, the walking routes can also be easily be adapted for running, with twenty of these included, so there is plenty of inspiration.
Innsbruck Mountain Adventures
Finally, the inclusion of ideas for rainy day activities and information about local festivals is a welcome addition, as is the glossary of terms and some key local phrase at the end of the book. The detailed appendix with contact information for local restaurants and mountain huts is also a welcome addition. How well these lists stand the test of time it’s difficult to say, although as with all their guidebooks, Cicerone provides a useful online resource through which updates can be shared, ensuring you can have the latest information in the years to come.
If you are looking for more from your alpine trip than just running adventures, you are taking your family and are looking for activities you can share together or you are just looking to explore a new area, Innsbruck Mountain Adventures: Summer routes for multi-activity holiday around the capital of Austria’s Tirol, is well worth a read and I for one will be looking to include this in my plans in the years to come.