Big Alps Run - a short (ish) summary!

So, here it is... A short summary of a very long run! I have been back for a few days and have many photos, videos and diaries to work my way through. There's a lot more to say, so maybe one day there will be a longer write-up or a nice video medley, but here we go for now...


Big Alps Run – A month in tights...

As some of you may know, this summer I was taking on another challenge to raise money for Water for Kids, in order to help their brilliant work in securing clean water for the world's poorest communities to continue.

The challenge this time was to run  across the Alps, from Vienna in Austria in an easterly direction to Lake Geneva, then south to finish in Nice on the Mediterranean coast. It would be a journey of over 1000 miles, through six countries, running solo and carrying my tent and camping gear. I planned to run off road as much as possible, over cols, passes and mountain summits.


I flew to Vienna and on the morning of 12th May left the suburb of Perchtoldsdorf. It wasn't quite the start I imagined as the campsite I'd planned to use the previous night was closed and I ended up camping in a park, but at least I was on my way! The first morning was one of the hottest of the trip, but after that the first two days were long and wet and when I reached the town of Mariazell I wondered what I'd started. I spent the night in a hostel trying to dry my kit with a hairdryer! After the relatively low level of the pilgrim trails I'd been on for the first few days, the remainder of the first week saw me heading up higher, and as I climbed up my first pass (still below 1000m) I was in a freezing blizzard. In the Alps, late May and early June is certainly still Spring!
Lovely weather at the Seehohe pass
The village of Hinterstoder was a fantastic mountain location, from here I had intended to begin a three day route up and over the mountains via the Prielschultzhaus hut before descending to the Konigsee lake. Again though, late snow caused me problems. I wouldn't be able to get past the first day without snowshoes or skis, so modified my route to detour around the highest summits. This meant my days were longer than planned, but I was beginning to enjoy myself despite the very changeable weather! The days were warm and wet, but the nights were cold - one morning I had to scrape a layer of ice from the inside of my tent before packing up. Reaching the Konigsee on day 8 the sun finally came out again, and I met a very generous family who gave me food for the next few days. By this point my life had been simplified, and daily activities became running, eating, shopping and sleeping.


Through drifts on the Pragelpass and waking up in an icy tent
Now moving along the Austria/Germany border, I continued West. Memories of this middle section have now merged, but there were good days and bad days; sometimes the sun would shine and I would feel physically and mentally strong, and some days the thought of another three weeks of continuous running was impossible to imagine. On these days I tried to concentrate on the spectacular places I was in, and just take each hour at a time. I had a particularly grumpy day on my 27th birthday, but the next day had a fantastic run over the mountains of the Kitzbuhel ski area. The snow was beginning to fade now, and I was able to safely go over 2000m, though one day I nearly pushed my luck too far when I found myself lost on a steep ridge at 2500m. There were a few hours of very genuine fear that day as I clung to trees whilst sliding down snow and scree. A few days later I left Germany for the last time, and thoughts moved towards Switzerland, Italy and France. Before then though I would have a final few days in Austria, and a quick (just over 1 hour) trip through Leichenstein, which was the most boring country I have ever visited.

Climbing from Interlaken
On the third weekend I was joined by Ed Melbourne who ran with me for two days, and my brother who came out to support. After a long time alone it was very strange to have people to talk to, and even stranger to be surrounded by Americans when we arrived in Interlaken! I was pleased to be back in “real” Switzerland on the Sunday evening, and in a reasonable physical state, despite cuts and bruises from a fall and shin splints in my left leg. I was very aware of having a long way to go, but began to believe around this point that maybe I could do it. My belief was tested by hard days and stormy weather around Zweisimmen and Aigle, but another brilliant day to Morzine reminded me what it was all about. The view from the top of the ski area was spectacular, and the long descent into Montriond left me with a half day over the Col du Joux Plane to the village of Samoens and the comfort of a ski apartment.

Col de Joux Plan before the descent to Samoens
The climb up and over the col was so wet it killed my mobile phone and soaked all my kit, but at least I knew I had a warm dry place to stay that night. I restricted my luxuries so I didn't get too comfortable, so no TV or baths, but leaving Samoens the next day I felt refreshed. Not too long to go now... But the last 10 days were certainly not the gentle descent to the coast you might imagine. Another snow detour from Samoens left me with a 65km day to Praz-sur-Arly, followed by a week of seemingly endless Cols! First I climbed the Roseland, then descended to Bourg St Maurice, where I met a group of cyclists aiming to reach Nice on the same day as me. Over the next four days I climbed cols including the famous Iseran and Pt. Mt. Cenis, and the Col du Savine into Italy. The descent into Oulx reminded me of the wet slippery scree of the Lake District, and required care to avoid a long fall! After the worst night's sleep of the trip I left Italy over the Col du Montgenevre, and through more deserted ski towns, through Vars and to the village of Juasiers.

Fantastic day at 2500m over the Morzine Ski area
After making more great friends at a B&B in the village I was waved off and headed for Europe's highest road (although I would climb off road), the Col du Bonette at 2800m. I was feeling relatively strong, and managed to pass my target for the day to finish at St. Saveur de Tinee. This meant it was just about feasible to finish the next day. Thursday 14th, day 34, was the longest day of the entire trip. I followed the GR5 hiking route over five cols, from 480m up over 2100, then gradually down towards the coast. Along with Morzine, Kitzbuhel and the Iseran it was one of the best days' running I had, though the sharp stones and long hairpin bend descents did leave me with cuts on the soles of my feet. But I didn't care, and after 13 hours I eventually passed through the suburbs of  Nice, through the old town, across the Promenade, down a set of steps onto the beach and to the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

The village of Utelle on the way towards Nice
It felt very strange to finish; my simplified life had come to an end and I would soon be back in the complicated real world. I feel very privileged to have been part of the Alps for a short time, and have had a fantastic adventure. In the end I ran over 1100 miles, with a total ascent of around 50,000m. The highest point was just above the Col de Bonette at 2900m. I passed through six countries in 34 days, averaging about 53km a day. Most days I ran up to 10 hours, the longest day took 13 hours. I camped 28 nights, spent two in huts, and two in B&Bs, and one in an apartment.

The final few metres!
The aim of the challenge was to raise money for Water for Kids, and I would be very grateful to anyone who can to donate to the charity. Please visit www.justgiving.com/bigalpsrun, or text “ALPS70 £10” to 70070 to give £10.

I’d like to thank everyone who encouraged or supported me and has donated so far, as well as Accelerate running shop in Sheffield who have been fantastic, New Balance and Injinji toesocks. I wore out three pairs of shoes but did not get a single blister, that’s got to be good! Thank you also to the people at home whose life was made harder by me disappearing for a month...






Comments

  1. Wow!! That's all I can say! I'm in the middle of reading your blog from start to finish - I don't even know how you start to mentally get ready for something this big.
    Who would have thought that 'Flash' from Kirby and Great Broughton would actually end up being quite speedy!!
    Well done Stuart
    Hannah Smith (Mrs Smith's daughter)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Hannah! I just had a look at your blog too - Great North Swim looks fun, well done!

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  2. Stuart - well done and sorry to hear you have to sell the bike to fund the trip. I will put your blog link and some pix onto runfurther.com and the next newsletter and onto the beta website for the Injinji Socks bit. It would be good if you could put a slide show together for the Ultra-running Champs end of year do and hopefully we can get some sponsorship for you to boost that fund. Hope the legs are recovering. cheers karen

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    1. Hi Karen, I need to sell that bike anyway as it's much better than I will ever be... Quite embarassing! Talk would be cool, sent you an email.
      Thanks for your help!

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  3. Stuart - Well done, great effort.

    I camped in new Zealand with the same tent that you were using. I only managed 2 days I can't imagine how you managed to use if for 28 nights. An endurance feat in itself never mind the 1100miles.

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  4. Just stumbled across this blog post whilst looking for Injinji socks to feature on my new website http://www.feetus.co.uk, and I am glad I did!

    What a fantastic adventure in such beautiful surroundings. I'm looking to do something similar in 2015 - The Camino de Santiago de Sompostella (Spain/France), but want to do a recce on the bike next year. Blogs like yours inspire people to do stuff like this. Great work.

    I'll pop a link on my business' Facebook page for others to check it out too!

    Lee from Feetus.co.uk

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