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UNCOOL RUNNINGS - PART II - Catie Friend, Chamonix
Friday July 21, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

Our reporter is coming to terms with a week of summer sporting activity in Chamonix. After a wobbly start can she get it together? NEW

It's midweek, it's lunchtime and I'm anxious - again.

This time it's because I am standing 1,000m above the Bosson Glacier, with nothing but a sheet of reinforced glass stopping me from plunging into the receding ice field.

I am in the glass box known as the "Pas dans le Vide" (Step into the void) at the top of the Aiguille du Midi at 3842m above sea level.

It is a different kind of anxious.

It's a thrilling kind of anxious.

Catie in the glass box known as the Catie in the glass box known as the "Pas dans le Vide"



















See here for my first report:

The weather is perfect, the views are utterly breathtaking and, as I steel myself and look down beneath my feet, my tummy does a flip and a flop and I smile like a crazy woman.

I may have given the impression earlier this week that I don't like adventure.

Nothing could be further from the truth and this kind of adventure is exactly the sort of thing I have always loved.

Thrilling, but ultimately not terribly challenging.

What was holding me back on Monday was the fact that I have been sporty for less than 10% of my life.

I hated sport at school.

I hated being dragged up Munroes by my mountain-loving father (something I now regret beyond words).

I hated being out of breath, sweaty and generally working hard at anything physical.

So, despite now embracing sports such as cycling and ski mountaineering, when I am faced with a sporting challenge I am not sure about, I retreat back the unsporty, unfit, nervous me.

Let's rewind to Tuesday morning.

My first morning of running with the group.

After a terrible night's sleep due to a horrible head cold taking me in its grip (great timing...) and nothing to do with the top bunk, which is surprisingly comfortable, I appear at breakfast in ALL the gear.

I have borrowed much of it from my husband, but it's like armour and it gives me a smidgeon of confidence.

My fellow beginner trail runners are all there and we all eye each other politely.

I have the girl from the Swedish national Roller Derby team pegged as the fittest.

Or maybe the girl who is at least half my age.

Our instructor, Salome (young, smiley and a veteran Chamonix Cross trail run finisher), takes us to the bus and explains we are heading to the Flégère lift and will run from the top around the mountain and descend at Planpraz.

All of our transport is included in the price of the week - bus, train and cable cars.

An astonishing feat, given how cheap the whole week is at around €350 per person, full board.

Chamonix cable carChamonix cable car
















Chamonix's mountains should be classed as a wonder of the world.

They are truly magnificent and I have never really experienced them in summer.

So as we ascend in the cable car, the sounds of oohs and aahs abound and phones are red hot from picture taking.

After a group photo and some ankle swirling to warm up, Salome explains the main goals for the day.

We have one person who speaks no French and one who speaks no English but all instructors are proficient in both languages.

Group PhotoGroup Photo
















  •    We are to watch our feet, look a little ahead, go back to our feet, repeat.
  •    Look at the rocks and roots on the trail and decide in double quick time whether to step over, on or around them.
  •   Take little steps in the technical parts and the steeps.
  •    Put our arms out for balance on the descents.
  •    Relaaaaaax our shoulders and arms.

And then we start running.


No way.

This is fun.

It's not too fast.

I'm somewhere in the middle of the pack and all at once my whole self comes alive.

"I'm running in the mountains. I can see Mont Blanc - I am the Queen of the world!

I'm running in the mountainsI'm running in the mountains
















We stop regularly in a happy, sweaty heap, to tackle short technical sections while Salome films us and imparts more top tips.

The smiles only fade slightly when the first ups come into view, but that's mainly because it is hard to smile and breathe like an express train at the same time.

Despite being completely blocked in my left nostril and ear and my throat burning, I am feeling relaxed and in my element.

I'm not slowing the group down, I am feeling a bit like a (sporty) kid and every now and then when we can look up, the views just blow my mind.

I love the mountains and discovering a love for running in them is an absolute joy.

Pausing for breath - ChamnixPausing for breath - Chamnix










It isn't a long run but it's a great feeling to have got the first one out the way in such a successful way.

I head to Chamonix to have coffee with Tina Gale, General Manager of Action Outdoors who explains to me how the company works.

They bring mainly Brits (but other non French speaking nationalities too) to France to stay in UCPA centres all over the country.

Formerly a French government initiative, the UCPA is now a not-for-profit organisation with, at its heart, the same ethos it was born with: to get people outside and active.

To give people the skills and confidence to go out and take on new activities.

One of my group is on his 8th holiday in 2 years, going to different centres, trying new and different sports.

People often come on these holidays on their own and the communal living aspect is very much a part of the centres.

UCPA buildingUCPA building













Small confession time.

I skipped canyoning today.

I decided to go instead and visit the Aiguille du Midi's newest attraction, the Pas dans le vide, with some of the others.

It was absolutely worth it - especially because if I were to do it outwith this holiday the return lift pass to the top would have cost a bank-breaking €60.

My cold is making me feel rotten but tomorrow we head to the other side of the valley to run from the Mer de Glace at Montenvers all the way round to Plan de l'Aiguille.

It looked incredible from the cable car today and I cannot wait to get out and test my newfound skills, accompanied by my newfound friends.


Action Outdoors run trail running holidays based in Argentiere, France throughout the summer months from June until September.

Trail Running For Beginners: dates until September 10, 2017, from £418 per person including, 6 nights full board accommodation, 5 days instruction, lift passes, technical equipment. Travel to Chamonix - Argentiere not included.
Train Running Preparation: dates until September 10, 2017, from £382 per person including, 6 nights full board accommodation, 5 days instruction, lift passes, technical equipment. Travel to Chamonix - Argentiere not included.

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