Running to Get There

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All of this is prospective. I’ve signed on to Run the Alps’ Tour of Mont Blanc from July 19-27, and I’ll know exactly what that means once I arrive in Chamonix, and the mountains fill my eyes. But even these many weeks before that arrival, a lot of my limited memory-Ks are taken up by imagined Alps and their imagined trails.

Getting my packet of materials from Run the Alps nudged these images to mind’s center, of course. And, as that residence grew larger, I also thought, “Those ups look large; time to raise my training, and time to hit my local trails a little more intensely so that I may climb the alpine ones.”

Not the Alps: Trail running on the coast of Maine. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Stott.)

Not the Alps: Trail running on the coast of Maine. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Stott.)

And so… I’ve begun my run-for-the-Alps prep program; so too, perhaps, have you. It’s hard to conjure an Alp from the coastal plain where I live, even as I have a happiness of trails to run on, and so I’ve begun to seek out “repeats,” those hillocks that can become hills, mountains even, through repetition. Not far away, there’s a 20-footer with the sharp incline of a breaking wave. Twenty is a convenient multiplier—5 ups become 100 vertical feet, 25s become 500, and 50s become the magic 1,000 that, for me, separates hill from mountain.

Confession: I’ve never run 50 repeats. Who could bear it, even in service of an Alp-dream? Still, stubbing my toes repeatedly into steepish ground, and then reminding my quads of their braking responsibilities on the way back down, is reminder that trails are not all dreamy seaside meanders.

"His own Legionnaire." Sandy Stott post-run, and fully sun-protected. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Stott.)

“His own Legionnaire.” Sandy Stott, post-run and fully sun-protected. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Stott.)

Along with ups, I also know that I’m missing rock, that the soft pine-needle duff of my closest trail isn’t as Spartan as the ripped and rippled rock I’m aiming for, and so I go to land’s edge. Here, the coast is a stony playground; there’s plenty of rock, lumped at all angles for practice.

And finally, I go inland when time allows. In the old hills-becoming-mountains, I pick out a trail, sort through my set of slow gears, and set out up. The little engine I am goes up to max, then settles back to something I can sustain, and, as I read the trail before me, a story begins. When I look up, I see July and the thin outlines of mountains climbing into the sky.

Writer Sandy Stott lives on the coast of Maine. He will be joining a Run the Alps trip this summer. Run the Alps welcomes short pieces from friends and clients. If you’re interested in sharing your trail running story from the Alps, be in touch!

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