Tracks and Trails / Booking & Info / Blog and Chat

Tracks and Trails caught up with lucky Torq competition winner Emma Attwood after returning from a week's trail running with us in the Chamonix valley to find out how it all went...

Emma, it was great to have you with us for a week's trail running in Chamonix! How did you find out about the competition?

I'd previously looked at the Tracks and Trails website and thought what a fantastic holiday it looked. It was a dream holiday that was financially out of my reach. I follow both Tracks and Trails and Torq on Facebook, and so when I saw the competition on Torq I had to enter!

I guess it was a surprise to discover out you'd won - how did it feel?

I was ecstatic, I couldn't believe it, and although I had email contact with Julie, I didn't quite believe it and kept in mainly to myself until it was officially announced on the Torq Facebook page. I really didn't' expect anything like this to happen to me!

Did you know what to expect?!?

I was expecting lots of running in beautiful scenery, and was hoping to learn lots of new skills to improve my running.

How did it feel taking part in all the different activities?

The week was so much more than I could ever have imagined. The team that Julia has put together were outstanding. All were incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. I have learnt so many new skills, gained so much knowledge. And the runs that we went on were truly spectacular. The scenery was like nothing I've ever seen. And on top of this I have made some fantastic new friends.

So, what's changed about your running after the trail week?

I am so enthused about my running, and have already put lots of what I learnt into practice. I have improved my nutrition and am really enjoying my food. I'm incorporating the running skills that we learnt into my routine and making sure I give more time to stretching. I thoroughly enjoyed the yoga classes and will continue with this. I have a heart rate monitor that I've never really know how to use properly but the session with Neil explained about heart rate training, so I will definitely put this into practice too. With my new map reading skills, I'm hoping to never get lost on a run again. And I will take away fantastic memories that will stay with me for a lifetime!

Thanks Emma, and happy running this summer!

Gretchen Reynolds has a good piece out today in the New York Times 'Well' section in which she interviews Mark Verstegen, the team fitness trainer for Germany's World Cup winning football team. Interestingly, his appointment was initially met with scepticism, but the results obviously speak for themselves. Here's a taster of his insight into improving your fitness:

Question:

Any suggestions on which aspects of the German team’s training program those of us at home might usefully incorporate into our exercise routines, even if we aren’t soccer players?

Answer (Mark Verstegen):

The broad elements of the training program apply to anyone. Concentrate on your mind-set, nutrition, movement patterns and recovery. On a practical level, get plenty of sleep, which is extremely important and often overlooked. Kick the electronics out of the bedroom. At the other end of the day, when you first wake up, do a few push-ups or yoga poses, anything that gets your body and mind primed for activity. You’ll be more receptive to activity throughout the day. Then try to do whatever exercise you do a bit better every day. You don’t have to be doing split squats with kettle bells, but do something that pushes you a bit. The point is that the body and the brain respond positively to having demands put on them. That’s really the key to fitness.

Read the entire article at the New York Times here

Update on trip availability and more info for our fitness and trail running activities here

Kirsty Reade, Run247 columnist and Berghaus Trail Running Team member, reports from the team's training camp in Chamonix - guided by our very own Julia Tregaskis-Allen. Read more on Kirsty's week in the Chamonix valley here.

Interested in improving your performance on a trail camp in the Chamonix valley - the new Mecca for trail running? Click here for for more info.

Tonight it's the World Cup Final in Rio, bringing to a close a month of frantic footballing action. Interestingly, aside from the skills and tactics, the finals have shown how sports medicine and, in particular, on the field advances in treatment, continue to push forward athletes' performance. A common injury amongst the players (and other athletes that high-speed stride, such as in basketball, baseball, marathons or even brisk walking) are hamstring strains and tears.

Thus news from Denmark on the advent of the Nordic hamstring exercise proves welcome. The New York Times has recently published a good article on the development of this stretching regime and a study of its benefits by the Sports Orthopaedic Research Centre in Copenhagen. Read more here.

Training at altitude over 1,800m has the ability to boost oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Even if you've only just a week to spare, training in the mountains can provide both physical and mental benefits that will last for several weeks after you return to a lower altitude. There's a good article on how altitude training can boost performance on the Runner's World site - click here to read more.

Find out more about our Tracks & Trails trail running camps this summer here

Wow, what a start to the summer season

450km's / 14,250m of Ascent and Descent

That's my training log and 'office diary' for the past five weeks! Some people's idea of hell maybe, but for a keen trail runner and mountain leader I guess you could say it's 'living the dream'. I'm lucky to be able to say that everyday the view from my office changes.

Following our spring break with friends and family in the UK's Peak District (where I love getting my running legs back!) I began my guiding summer in Slovenia's Julian Alps. For a small country, and one of Europe's newest nation states, Slovenia has plenty to offer for both active and more leisurely holidays. Joining me were a group of twelve women, all keen Nordic walkers, on a bespoke holiday arranged by Samantha Armstrong, of Core Concept personal training. With the help of local mountain guide Klemen Gricar our tour began at the country's capital of Llublijana for shopping, a traditional meal and cultural tour followed by three very different walks exploring the Karavanke Alps along the Austrian border and mountains and lakes Bled and Bohinj in the Triglav National Park. Klemen, like most Slovenians, is very proud of his country's history and cultural background. I enjoyed a few days prior to the group's arrival 'run reccing' numerous walks to add to my repertoire to find the 'Perfect 3'!

Next up, I can certainly say I was 'living the cream' on a week long trail running camp based in La Clusaz in the Aravis region of the French Alps. Staying in a gorgeous luxury chalet my job here, as with our Chamonix camps, is to offer a week of guided mountain running with specific training session in the art of trail running. As we ticked off the kilometres and soaked up the sun we explored the area's peaks, plateaus, lakeside trails and singletrack - certainly earning our subsequent Lake Annecy swims and ice cream!

Still in the French Aravis, my next 'job' was working with Olympian marathon runner Liz Yelling. Each year Liz hosts a unique, advanced running camp retreat. I joined to guide and advise on the trail running aspects. Liz is fun, inspiring and a true professional to work with. Using her vast knowledge, genuine enthusiasm and understanding of the sport together we help runners achieve their goals and find their running limits and future goals.

Rapidly becoming known as a world class trail running venue, the 27 to the 29th of June saw Chamonix host the Sky Running World Championships. World class trail athletes such as Kilian Jornet, Anna Frost, Emilie Forsberg (to name just a few from the Salomon team) could be spotted about the valley preparing to race the Mont Blanc Marathon courses. In conjunction with this marathon festival each year I run a Tracks and Trails Running Camp where all abilities can be a part of the running buzz! We train in the mountains, track and gym, meeting like minded runners to become gurus of the trails! Our runners stayed in the well located Runners Refuge enjoying superb healthy cooking and stunning views of Mont Blanc. I had a fabulous week guiding the trails in what has become my back yard, whilst also working with ultra runners and professionals Rebecca Dent, a performance nutritionist and clinical dietitian and physio Neil Maclean-Martin (both of whom work with Olympic athletes). We shared our insights and learned a great deal from one another!

Completing my running log this month was certainly no cool down - as I was joined by the newly selected 2014 Berghaus Trail Team. My brief: to offer a trail running camp around Chamonix and provide coaching, guidance and a trail route of up to 100km over three days. Sponsored for a year with kit, food and clothing by Berghaus, Torq Nutrition and LED Lenser the Trail Team are 6 non-elite trail runners carefully selected to be given the opportunity to enjoy some of the benefits usually reserved for professionals. On Day 1 the Trail Team were also joined by local Berghaus athletes Anna and Philip Gatta for an introduction to the Chamonix valley and perfect acclimatisation run, where we ticked off the Chamonix half-marathon course plus a little bit more! Then for days two and three we began on the Italian side of Mont Blanc in Courmayeur, where we ran 60km of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc's CCC® course from Italy to Switzerland over the Grand Col Ferret (2532m) with an over night stop in the mountain refuge of La Peule. Fuelled by French croissants, Italian coffee, Swiss cheese, Torq energy and a real passion for the mountains, the Trail Team completed an amazing 92km in three days with over 4,500m of climbing (and descending!).

That's what I call 'living the dream'!

Jules

Top 4 Trail Running Poles

Poles have become an increasingly popular piece of running kit both on trail & fell, in races and in training.

Now available in a myriad of different formats from cheap to sophisticated, ergonomic or basic, aluminium versus carbon, fixed length or collapsible - this all makes it hard to decide what to add to your kit wishlist. With the mountaineering mantra of 'light is right' it's no surprise that pole manufacturers have got the designers in to shed the grams and reinvent the pole!

So, what do we look for in a running poles and what to use in long distance races like the UTMB? As part of the June/July 2014 Trail Running Magazine bumper gear review I was asked to test 4 of the best poles currently on the market so here are the results. You can also download the full article here:

TR Kit on Test.pdf 547.40 kB

A Bit About Poling

When used correctly, trail poles transfer some of the stresses and strains placed on the legs onto the upper body. For fell and trail runners who regularly run long distances with sustained ascents, poles are an excellent bit of kit.

Poling Facts?

  • A 'must have' for ultra-distance runners to save the knees and distribute the work load across the body
  • Extra leverage to help on long hills & steeper terrain
  • Encourage a good pace/rhythm for stages where you need to walk
  • When only using the legs for long periods of uphill your stance can stoop forward, constricting air from getting into the lungs. Poles can keep you upright and help you breathe!
  • Stabilises you uphill on awkward rocky / uneven terrain
  • Excellent toning / strengthening effect for the shoulders and arms
  • If you decide to use them downhill (quite likely at the end of a long race for a little help) they help to save the knees from too much pounding/ confidence on awkward terrain. But using poles to descend does also slow you down (4 placements to consider not just 2 feet!)

Top Tips on which Pole to choose?

  • Full length - when choosing the right trail pole size remember they are designed to be more of a climbing aid rather than a descending aid. To find out your desired pole length calculate your body height in cm's by 0.68. Normally poles are measured from the top to the tip...but this can vary with makes.
  • Size when stowed/not used – if collapsible will you stow the poles in a backpack or carry them?
  • Weight – light is 'normally' right for running poles but are they strong enough for you if you intend to do any long periods of descending with them? If you have a history of sore knees and intend to 'trust' the poles to aid a long downhill section I would look at more durable pole to prevent a possible break. Does ultralight mean you loose power from the poling action because they bend?
  • Carbon vs. Aluminium – generally carbon will be stronger, stiffer and more expensive. It's not unusual to have a carbon pole break/crack. Aluminium is normally cheaper, can also be light but for heavier runners will have too much flex.
  • Fixed length or collapsible? I would only consider a fixed length pole if I was intending to use them for the entire training session /race in mind. Otherwise collapsible poles are far more versatile, easy to travel with and can be stowed when on flats and downs. Modern designs mean they are now far stronger and do not have 'heavy' joints between sections adding unnecessary weight. Which is the reason to go for a running pole not just a normal trekking pole.
  • Comfort – in a long ultra event you will want to have tried and tested your hand grip to ensure you won't get any blisters on the hands and you may even prefer to wear a lightweight glove.
  • Price – the most expensive is certainly not always the best.
  • Easy to use – pole management on the move needs some practice, if you intend on being out on the trails for some time you will want to know that your poles are quick and easy to assemble and stow.
  • Durability – if you have a number of events and rigorous training schedule ahead you will want something that lasts the test of time!
  • One or two poles - for trail running the poles are certainly designed to be used as a pair and work more efficiently that way.
  • Do beware of very cheap poles they are awkward to adjust, bend and the locking mechanisms fail easily.
  • Whatever your budget there are poles that will fit your needs and save your knees!

Top 4 Poles on Test

Leki - Micro Magic Poles

Most Durable

RRP. £139.99

Weight: 400gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 105cm,110cm,115cm,120cm,125cm,130cm.

Available in carbon grey/black only

Minimum packing size: 35cm for the 110cm version

The Micro Magic looks and feels like it will last the test of time. A 100% carbon pole with carbide flex tip that feels strong and stable. It features a cork grip and the Leki quick release detachable 'Trigger Shark' hand strap which neatly & comfortably wraps around almost any hand size but in my opinion would not be that easy to release once fatigued! They are comfy to use over long periods and you really feel connected to the pole. It folds to be quite compact with an easy to use push button release mechanism. Although not the lightest the extra weight helps give a positive swing and pole plant.

Uses: All terrain trail running pole tough enough for very technical/rocky trails. Very sturdy excellent to train with ideal for heavier/powerful armed runners!

Raidlight Carbon Trail Poles

RRP. £125.00

Weight: 280gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 110cm or 123cm

Available in black only

Min packing size: 37cm for the 110cms

The RL Carbon pole combines light with strong featuring ultralight carbon tubing, tensioned with a simple strong paragliding a cable and finished with a Kevlar tip. The hand grip is a light mesh grip with a quick release detachable hand strap (an important feature when having to change clothes/ eat on the move) and their design works really swiftly. They are reasonably compact once folded. On test the pole feels strong and not as soft as most of the classic lightweight poles. It's a shame they've not made more sizes.

Uses: Ultra light trail running pole ideal for racing & training long distances and routes like the UTMB.

Mountain Kingdon - Trail Blaze Poles

Superlight & Best Value

RRP. £75.00

Weight: 230gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 110cm,115cm,120cm,125cm,130cm

Available in black, blue, pink, magenta, green, orange and yellow.

Min packing size: 38cm for 110cms

The Trail Blaze poles are the only aluminium poles in the test and are noticeably the lightest collapsing neatly into 4 sections for easy stowing. The airflow hand grip is just a simple one sized wrist loop but very comfortable & easy to use it doesn't detach and for a small hand is a bit too big. They fix in place with a perlon cord under tension, finished with a carbide wear tip. They come in many sizes and colours with a mesh carry bag and mud baskets. For aluminium they seem particularly strong, whilst being as light weight as possible. They are extremely good value and offer replacement parts of all sections if needed!

Uses: Ultra light trail running pole ideal for racing & training long distances and routes like the UTMB. Heavier runners may wish to test the pole flex if you intend to use them for long descents.

Black Diamond - Ultra Distance Trekking Pole

Good All-rounder

RRP. £120.00

Weight: 285gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 100cm,110cm,120cm,130cm

Available in carbon/blue

Min packing size: 36.5cm for 110cms

The BD Ultra Distance Poles are 100% carbon and combine super lightweight with compact and sturdy. They are not the cheapest on test but I think you do get your money's worth in design. They feature a 3-section 'Z-Pole' folding design with a coated inner cord & single push-button release. They smoothly take seconds to put together. They have a foam grip with a breathable, moisture-wicking non-detachable strap, carbide Tech Tips and stow bag. On test they score well for lightness on the ups and stability on the downs.

Uses: All terrain trail running pole tough enough for very technical/rocky trails & long downhills. Both sturdy and light excellent to train & race suitable for all category of runner.

Verdict

For a combination of lightweight and light on the wallet the Trail Blazer is hard to beat if you have more to spend then Black Diamond would be my next on the list.

Happy poling this summer :-)

Julia

Hiking in Tuscany, Italy

We are sitting round the dinner table at Lavacchio when my mother jumps up to check the eggs. She’s not aiming to make an omelette; she’s just interested to see if the first chicks of the season are starting to break their way out of the eggs.

A sojourn at Lavacchio, the gorgeous Tuscan villa where we run our spring and autumn walking trips, is to spend time in your own mountain haven experiencing the Italian version of the ‘Good Life’. Every day promises the unfolding of a potential rural drama – the goats have escaped, the fox has got into the hen run, one of the cats is missing, or quite simply the figs are ripe, the roses have bloomed, the guinea fowl have laid an abundance of eggs, and all in the land of Lavacchio is rosy. It really is a slice of pastoral bliss in Tuscany.

Jamie and Ailsa Reynolds, our hosts at Col di Lavacchio, discovered the farm ten years ago, and despite the impenetrable jungle, which at that time covered the derelict buildings, they set about turning it into an agriturismo business. The aim to breath new life into the land which had been abandoned by two farming families who could see no future in farming on just 27 acres of land which had been laboriously claimed from the steep mountainside. For their predecessors it was a hand to mouth existence living off chestnut flour through the winter months, and whatever their pigs had provided them with in the way of dried meat and sausages.

The criteria for agriturismo are that you must spend more time working the land, than you do providing care for your paying guests. That’s not hard at Lavacchio where the day starts at 7am and is never finished until at least 8.30pm, though frequently I hear the hens being tended to until well after dark. For Jamie and Ailsa it’s definitely a case of ‘lifestyle’ before profession, with the goal of being as self-sufficient as possible. After a day guiding our guests on our Wild Tuscany walking weeks, I adore wandering the grounds biting into a ripe fig, or picking a few leaves of mint to add a zing to my cup of tea.

The produce springing from the terraces in front of the villa includes, olives, chestnuts, hazelnuts, figs, plums, quince, pears, apples., aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes, cucumber, lettuce, onions, rocket, herds galore, and not just one variety of some of these but up to several of each! Ailsa, who is a qualified chef, makes ample use of the fresh ingredients from the garden and your meals will feature many of the plants you will stroll past on your way through the gardens.

Livestock comes in the form of sheep, and various fowl – five different rare breed hens, which read like a list of old fashioned dishes on an English menu -Welsummer, Gold Laced Wyand Dotte, Silver Pencilled Wyand Dotte, Cream Legbars, and Buff Plymouth Rock. Then there are the ducks, the guinea fowl, the geese and the turkeys, no wonder the fox likes to attempt to scale the fence! But we reckon she has cubs right now, and in her own way she is just attempting to look after her own kind, but we would prefer not by snacking at Lavacchio.

Surprisingly, the EU does little to contribute to the continuation of agriturismo businesses in Italy. There used to be grants available, but sadly an abuse of the system by agriturismo businesses across Italy put paid to that. Now, funding is only available for threatened forms of agriculture, or specific uses such as bee keeping and the growing of spelt barley.

Of course at Lavacchio they now also have 400 vines, and are aiming to produce their own wine. The first vintage was, in fact, taken last year and pronounced by Jamie as “dreadful stuff that should have been chucked away” but apparently that’s normal for a first harvest from young vines and it can only get better.

After a day of hiking in the stunning mountain landscape of the nearby Apuane Alps or the Apennines I will be hoping that a well-earned glass of vino will be waiting on the terrace by the villa swimming pool. It always is!

Oh, by the way, there are now fourteen healthy chicks chirping happily away. All hatched in the few days I have been here. At Lavacchio the cycle of life is to be witnessed on a daily basis, and a connection to the land long since missing from everyday lives is re-born.

We have two weeks already Guaranteed to run this September, 2014. Book online here!

 

 

 

Chamonix is quickly becoming the trail running Mecca of Europe. While known for decades as the climbing capital of the world, Chamonix's vast network of trails suitable for running remained relatively undiscovered. Recently, though, widespread media coverage of events such as the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and the CCC (Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix) have brought trail running into the limelight and exposed Chamonix to a new legion of outdoor athletes keen to explore the natural wonders of the Mont Blanc massif.

Trail running is all about getting out into nature and experiencing the exhilaration of running along twisty tracks in forests, along valleys, over creeks and gullies and through beautiful alpine meadows. The Chamonix valley has a great trail network which has been further developed in recent years by the local commune, guided by the input of avid and experienced trail runners keen to develop the area's vast potential. Last year the International Trail Running Association was launched in Chamonix and the town now also plays host to a number of elite level athletes year-round who have chosen the valley as their training base due to the high quality of the trails and facilities. Visitors also benefit from the great number of sports stores that increasingly carry a large range of trail running equipment suited to all levels backed up with excellent advice from knowledgeable staff.

Tracks and Trails have been at the forefront of leading guided trail runs and we now offer a number of different week-long running camps in the Chamonix valley (in addition to guided trail running trips through the Juras and Swiss Alps). As the Guardian noted in its feature on trail running recently, Tracks and Trails have made it our mission to take daunted, determined and off-road-curious runners and open up our Chamonix playground to all! Find out more about all our trail running activities by contacting us if you'd like more information or guidance on which trip would best meet your expectations: we're always happy to help! Alternatively, you can email us at: info@tracks-and-trails.com or call: +44 (0)20 8144 6442.

As part of International Women's Day earlier this week Julia was interviewed along with another female IML, Becky Cole, about their experiences as working as an International Mountain Leaders. If you are interested becoming an IML or would like to know more about what our guides do then read the piece that was written for the BMC website called International Women's Work by Nicola Jasieniecka.

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