Monday, 5 June 2017

SURA Europe

SURA Europe
Having several friends (and GB teammates) who are part of the international Salomon running team, I was honoured and delighted to be invited to take part in the first Salomon Ultrarunning Academy. They have been running camps for young up and coming runners for a few years but, in response to an obvious demand, decided to run 3 camps this year aimed at slightly older runners. There was an American camp in April (for runners based in the Americas, Australia and NZ), one in China in May (for Asian runners) and then 16 of us were invited to the final European one, held in Annecy in late May.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but hoped to get more of a glimpse into "the other side" of my friends' lives, meet new likeminded people, pick up some tips from the pros...and just hang out in a beautiful place!

And what a beautiful place it was....
Unfortunately for me, I wasn't in the best shape (with physically or mentally) when I got there, having been under the usual work stressors, combined with not being well and having had minimal sleep (I worked it out as less than 20 hours in 5 days) due to helping out as a medic on a multiday race in Wales, but I'd forgotten how stunning Annecy is.....and was, as ever, awed by the beauty of the lake surrounded by mountains. We were desperate to get out and explore so my room mate Katie and I went for a short jog to loosen up before dinner......and were hit by the heat (about 28 degrees at 5pm).

Arrival dinner

People arrived at various times over the afternoon so we all congregated at dinner and then had an evening of introductions. It was interesting to meet the other camp participants, as we really were a varied bunch (Brits and Dutch outnumbering other nationalities), though I never know exactly what to say when I'm told to describe myself and my running background. We got the week's programme, a few pieces of kit that hadn't arrived beforehand, and met several of Team Salomon who'd be helping out over the next few days.....

The next 3 days passed in rather a blur of activity....

Morning yoga

We started at 7am with half an hour of yoga on the grass, led by Ida Neilsson. Some of the balancing positions were rather "interesting", especially for someone as stiff and inflexible as me, but my top tip for the relaxation part is to make sure you're nowhere near an ant's nest (and to be somewhere you can hide from the cameraman's drone)!
Breakfast with a view

I do love a good French breakfast - and the dining room balcony had an amazing view of the lake, but there was little time to linger and chat as we had to go and get ready for the morning run/workshops.

The Brits on tour

On Wednesday the run was about 15k in total, though it was stop/start to keep the group together and take pictures (and, as we climbed about 1000m in total, there was walking involved). Partway through the run, we stopped in an alpine meadow and plait into 3 groups for the "uphill workshops". Max King, Ida and Greg Vollet each took a group in turn to teach us about uphill running, power hiking and how to use poles (as you can guess, the Brits weren't exactly naturals when it came to pole-use!). We were all looking forward to a quick dip in the lake when we got back down to the valley floor, but unfortunately we had to skip that as we were already late for lunch.

We split into various groups for the afternon - some seeing the physio (Kristin Berglund - currently injured with a stress fracture), and the others at different workshops to meet clothing technicians, shoe designers or to learn about social media. Then came dinner, a marketing talk from Greg, a discussion of the next day's activities and finally to bed, ready to up bright and early for yoga with Ida again.

Katie at the downhill workshop
On Thursday morning we had a "downhill workshop" with Greg partway through the run, but unfortunately I wasn't feeling too good and so did not take part (and also had to have a lie down in place of that afternoon's workshops). I managed to go into Annecy a bit later with Max and Mira Rai so that we could attend the public lecture about Salomon's antidoping policy (luckily this was all translated through headphones so I did not have to concentrate on the French too hard).

There's always time for a group photo
After a "cocktail dinner" (some lovely canapes and wine) we settled in for an evening of Salomon videos/films along with a sold-out crowd. Each film was introduced by the athlete that it featured (so I was kept busy translating the French introductions and descriptions to my fellow Brits). My favourite one was of Dakota Jones' trip to Patagonia, as it's somewhere that I've always wanted to go to...and want to do so even more now! What was even better was when he said that he was interested in seeing the "Savages" of Patagonia rather than the "wilds" but fair play to him for doing his own intro in French!!

Follow-My-Leader on Friday's run
Unfortunately it meant that it was nearly midnight by the time we got back to the hotel, so there were some tired faces at Friday morning yoga! We just had an easy run on top of one of the mountains that morning as the aim of the day was to let people prepare for the 110 or 83k races the next day. Unfortunately I was still feeling rather rubbish so decided that it would be foolish to try to race that kind of distance and so pulled out, missing out on the boat trip across the lake to the elite presentation and bib pickup. My room mate Katie was going to run the 83k so although I wanted to curl up and go to sleep, I tried to give her the space and time to prepare.

I hardly got any sleep that night as I could hear runners (and cameramen etc) getting ready to leave for the 110k race at midnight, and then those taking part in the 83k event started to get up from about 2:30am. Not much after they'd got the bus to their start (leaving at 4am) than I started to hear from people who'd had to pull out of the longer distance, be it due to exhaustion, lack of sleep or injury.

Admiring the views en route
It appeared impossible for me to get out on the course to support so I headed down to the start/finish area with Kirstin and Ida. Kirstin and I went for a quick swim in the lake (refreshingly cold) before attending one of Ida's yoga classes (rather hot in the sun.....which meant that all 3 of us felt we'd earnt another dip by the time we finished). We cheered the winning men in from the 110k (both pro Salomon runners) and then I was asked to get back to the hotel as soon as possible to help out with transport.

I had no means of getting there except under my own steam, so I changed from flipflops to running shoes, left my bag with Kirstin and headed off for a warm 10k back. I admit to stopping a few times in the shade and grabbing a few drinks, but I covered the distance relatively quickly. Too quickly as it turned out, as I wasn't yet needed to drive the minibus around, so I got a bit of chilling, eating and drinking time first.

Celebrating the trails
We gradually picked up people from both races....those who'd had to pull out, and those who'd run well (including Katie who came back with a huge panda and prize for finishing 3rd)....and everyone gradually congregated by the bar for some liquid refreshment. Our special last night dinner was held up in the mountains in a kind of yurt. People were rather tired after such long runs and little sleep, but everyone made the effort to celebrate the end of the week together (with me even piggybacking one of the girls who'd twisted her ankle mid race).

Running with fellow Scot Georgia -
a great pic to remember a great week!
Another late night but it was worth it for the chance to hang out, chat and eventually say goodbye to the lovely people I'd met over the past few days (my airport transfer was early....pre breakfast...the next morning). I was upset to have not been able to take part in all the week's activities but what an amazing few days.....with such a variety of interesting and talented one of the most beautiful experience I'll never forget!

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