Welcome to 2020: You Got This!

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Your trips look really cool! But… I’m not sure I can really handle something that challenging. I’ve run a few trail races, and the longest I’ve ever run was 15 miles. What do you think? Thanks.

That’s the most common concern we get emailed to us here at Run the Alps, from prospective guests.

To which I say… I get it. I totally get it.

The Dents-du-Midi Range, as illustrated in a century-old postcard. (Image courtesy of lesdentsdumidi.ch.)

For me, that feeling dates back nearly 20 years, to the first time I ran around the Dents-du-Midi range above the Swiss village of Champéry. The sun barely up, the narrow, chalet-lined Rue du Village eerily quiet, I donned my trail running vest and settled into a slow jog on the start of the 57 km-long trail that winds its way around the imposing range not far from the Swiss-French border. All the pressure was off– I was by myself, I had my bailout options all figured out, and there were plenty of mountain hut stops en route with food and drinks. Still, I wondered if I had finally picked a challenge for which I was not– and might not ever be– ready.

The Lac Salanfe aid station during the DDM trail race around the range, which is held each September. This is the wilder “backside” of the Dents du Midi range (Photo: Run the Alps).

The sun arced its way through the Alp summer sky that day. I passed Cabane Anthème, cruised on single-track under the seven rockies summits that define the range, and rounded the corner to the tiny mountain hamlet of Mex. I climbed over 1,000 meters up Col Jorat, stopping at Auberge Salanfe, then pulled myself up on the chains scattered up the steep headwall leading to Col Susanfe. From there, I coasted past the local Swiss Alpine Club hut, down the steep and technical Pas d’Encel, and through high pastures and then forests back to Champéry, hitting the steps of my apartment just as the last rays of the sun fell behind the ridge.

A few years later, I found myself at the starting line of my first big Alps trail race—Sierre-Zinal. At that moment, all at once, I had many of those same fears — and some new ones — flood over me.

What the $^&@*( am I doing here?

I am going to be crushed.

I’m pretty sure I made a mistake.

I’m way over my head.

I’m going to get crushed.

What was I thinking?

Well, this is going to be humiliating.

And, yes

I’m going to get crushed.

I finished, and with a respectable time, too. I don’t want to whitewash it, though. It was really hard and it hurt. It was probably one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I had done at that point in my life. The final 3 km—a technical, dive-bomb of a descent into the end-of-the-valley village of Zinal, Switzerland, on the Italian border—was so hard for me, I ran into town on fumes, my quads in agony. The next day, I could barely walk.

Run the Alps staff members Doug Mayer, Troy Haines, Abby Strauss-Malcolm and Zach Dahlmer, at the Sierre-Zinal finish in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Cédric Pignat.)

That was a dozen years ago.

Since then, I’ve felt that same foreboding on other occasions in my trail running life. It came at the pre-dawn start of the technical, snowy, Ice Trail Tarentaise. (And it didn’t help when Salomon trail runner Max King texted me “Good luck at Ice Trail. I hear it’s brutal!” as I was waiting my turn to grab ahold of a rope to climb an icy gully on the course.) And I felt it powerfully three years later, when I first ran UTMB®.

I understand those emails when they come in, because I know that feeling intimately.

And to all of you out there who might be thinking of a challenge that’s a big step out of your comfort zone—a Run the Alps trip or something entirely different– I say, You Got This.

Our fears wend their way to the surface of our thinking when we consider moving out of our comfort zone. Overcoming those voices is a first victory. So, the next time you’re trying a trail run that’s longer, or has more vert, or is more technical than anything you’ve ever done, high-five yourself. There are a lot of people who might not take that dare. They are, to use one metaphor, in a large house with a thousand rooms, and they are slowly closing all the doors whether they realize it or not.

The Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön likes to point this out. She observes that it’s is in our DNA to find reasons why something’s not possible. There’s safety in that, of course, and our urge towards self-preservation is rightfully strong. So, if we do nothing, the doors close, seemingly of their own accord. (Here’s a great ten-minute video of Pema talking about this exact topic. Added bonus: she’s very funny!)

Once you say yes, however, friends will come out of the woodwork to support you in your goal. And you will not be alone. Others are taking the same risk, too. You’ll find each other, and that will be comforting.

There’s a reason why they call it the Ice Trail. (Photo courtesy of Ice Trail Tarentaise.)

Back to those emails that come in to us. At Run the Alps, when someone emails us who wants to go on a trip but is worried it’s a leap too far, we let them know we’ll be there for them, every step of the way. We’ll help them pick the right trip for them, with our Trip Rating rating. Our Guide to Trail Running in the Alps offers training tips to get ready for your trip, and a full training plan from US ultra runner Krissy Moehl. We’re always available to answer questions, from the moment they sign up through to the start of the trip. And our guides take this spirit of inclusion and self-challenge to heart. They’re not about going fast. They’re all about helping each person find his or her right degree of challenge.

Wherever 2020 takes you, whether to the Alps or somewhere else, when that nagging doubt finds its way to the forefront of your thinking, tell yourself, “I got this!”

Odds are you’ll be right.

These days, when I recognize that feeling, I smile. We’re old friends. Sure, the outcome might be uncertain, but I know one thing when I have that nervous tension in the pit of my stomach. I’m pushing my boundaries. And, whatever the outcome, that’s a good thing.

Happy 2020. You got this.

Trail running. Looking down to Chamonix from Tete aux Vent (Photo: Sam Hill)

One challenge done: Taking in the view of the Chamonix valley after the climb up from town. (Photo: Sam Hill.)

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