With Pyllon (Paul Giblin) taking the win at Istria 100, part of the Ultra Trail World Tour, it was about time I posted my blog about the Pyllon Experience or #PyllonXP (look it up on Instagram/Twitter).
Held in the depths of the Rothiemurchus forest, outside of Aviemore, Scotland, the Pyllon Experience was the first camp/training weekend/gathering of it’s type held by Paul. Open to any runner, not just his team of athletes, it was a chance to disconnect from the digital world, enjoy the highlands of Scotland and above all, connect with like minded people. Now, I had made plans to be in the area to make the travel a little easier, however, plans change and I found myself booking a last minute sleeper train to minimise time taken off work. What would come next was 13 hours of travel, 11 on trains, running to catch the sleeper and an interesting first night trying to sleep. However, it provided me a lot more time in Aviemore, a chance to visit my favourite cafe (probably in the world) The Mountain Cafe and a few hours catching up with the team at Mikes Bikes. Laden with running and camera kit, I was fortunate to get a lift from the town up to the lodge by John, James, Graeme and Stewart, all fellow #TeamPyllon athletes.Helping get the venue set up for the other attendees; goody bags were organised, flags put up and bunks secured. After a relaxed introduction and one of the best ice breakers, in which my answer for being here met rapturous laughter “I live in Milton Keynes,” we all got started on a mobility session, before heading out to trails for a night run. Matt from Hunterfit led the session, with an emphasis on activation before we ran. The noises and murmurs expressed when positioning a lacrosse style ball to activate and release glutes will stay with me, as will the expressions across faces.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the weather. The #BeastfromtheEast made a comeback. Winds whipped across the mountain faces surrounding the lodge, bashing into tress and walls. though the initial plan had been to go high on to plateaus and explore the high country, the weather dictated we stuck to passes and lower trails.
The night run. Petzl supplied NAO and REACTIK head torches to try out under the cloak of darkness and with the fresh snow all around, beams spread far over the frozen precipitation. The pace was easy, as we took time to get to know one another, it was a race. It was social. The snow gave, but didn’t slide, as we meandered down the main drive and onto singletrack, blinkered by pine. 4 or 5 miles later, we returned to one of the highlights of the weekend.
Paul is vegan and the catering would be home made, a blend of vegan and vegetarian offerings, expertly crafted by by his secret team, headed up by his mum and dad. I am pretty sure I am going to adopt them. i
f not, kidnapping may be in order….
There’s something special about freshly prepared food from scratch, even more so when in the mountains. 2 and a bit portions later, I was stopping myself only because of the run first thing in the morning. Set your watches, it was an early one.
An early start for some, the alarms spun into action at 0530, with fresh porridge already ready if you wanted to indulge (hotels, I hope you are paying attention, no 8.30am start here!). Trying to not give into the buffet that lay before me; the mountains were calling and the need for digestion, not a feast.
Corralled at the door for a 7ish send off, we made our way onto the trails once again and this time started to ascend to the Lairig Ghru. As we ascended, the snow been to increase in depth, with drifts disguising puddles and streams. The twisting, winding trail was fun and incremental, no harsh climb or hard efforts required to continue forward momentum. Your whits and attention were all that were needed for navigating the concealed path.Leaving the protection of the pine forest, the snow took hold, large drifts stood on flanking slopes, as I found out to my cost, disappearing up to my waist after 3 steps, looking to gain a vantage point for a photo. With the depth and spindrift getting picked up and launched in our direction, the call to head back was made. Progress was slow and it was safer and more enjoyable to explore the lower lying trails, where the beast had yet to gain superiority. The lower trails and descent from the Lairig Ghru allowed legs to open, gaits to alter and speed to re-enter the equation. I held back, looking to clear the path ahead, only to find Paul would be following my down, as we negotiated the small technical sections and flowing trail. Thanks to Ross for the image
Circumnavigate a small loch, I attempted to make a sprint train on the way back, but my legs were toast. Or more over, I needed toast! Time for a second breakfast/lunch, shower and warmth.
Debbie Martin-Consani spoke about how she got into running, her career but more importantly women in ultra running, where women have advantages and the reasoning behind why we may not see as many on the start line as men.
Paul spoke about some of the races he has run, his experiences, how he got into running, the crazy tale of frozen corneas while bagging the West Highland Way Winter record and the spiritual connection he feels from running and the community with it.
Next followed couples stretching, or should I say paired stretching, utilising a partner to allow for a greater range of movement and a deeper stretch. If there was one way to get the collective laughing, this was it, as we took time to get to know our partner for the session, that bit better. It also showed how limited my hamstring flexibility was. Matt & Paul, I did tell you.
An optional run followed, where those who went explored trails and well, took photos. Curry & Quiz night.
Four curry options, with the accoutrements and little touches greeted everyone, followed by a pop quiz about the West Highland Way race, Paul’s achievements and some Yes/No answers. I failed big time, but it was interesting to see who had paid attention earlier in the day and where peoples respective knowledge was based. Mine was firmly south of the border.
A screening of Unbreakable followed and for those who wanted to, the chance to speak to Paul, James and Matt individually about training, coaching or any questions they had. If you haven’t watched it, I thoroughly recommend it.
Hills & Drills.
Another early start and this time I opted to take my camera, rather than just my phone. Setting off back down the drive, the aim was like the mobility work, to focus on small actions that have much greater benefit. You can increase your efficiency and speed, by increasing your mobility and executing drills properly, without the need for crazy long runs and punishing sessions. It’s not going to make you elite overnight, but the benefits are profound.Splitting into groups for flat speed drills or hill work, I opted for the later and we hunted for a suitable incline. For a second it was like being in Milton Keynes, where was something long and steep enough?!
What followed was a series of drills, utilising different techniques and cadence, to stimulate mind and body. For anyone wondering, I completed the majority of the drills, legging it up the incline after the last group were half way up.Ellis Brigham had provided an arsenal of Salomon and La Sportiva demo shoes to try over the weekend and many had taken the opportunity to try them out.
Leki had sent up a collection of poles for using when things got steeper and this is where the technique session really came alive. “Cheat sticks” as many in the UK may refer to them can make a real difference when enduring long distances in mountainous terrain, but knowing how to use them is paramount to having a successful run. If they are good enough for your heroes… From power hiking, to running up ascents and controlling descents, the gentle slope provided a great training ground to hone the technique and skill required to execute on the trail.
And with that is was back for a bumper breakfast, before watching short video on physio and injury prevention, followed by James Stewart’s talk on goal setting, focus, the mental challenge and what controlling these variables has allowed himto achieve.
Before finishing off with a final quiz, Paul gave a debrief and thanked everyone for attending. Personally, I would like to thank Paul and everyone who helped him make the Pyllon Experience a reality. After travelling to Aviemore from Milton Keynes, via London and back again, I felt I had a truly rewarding experience and it reignited the flame that fuels my pursuit of this sport. That’s not to say it was dwindling, with a wick almost consumed, but assembling a superb team in the background and attracting such a diverse group of participants sums up trail and ultra running for me. It is inclusive. A sport where anyone can toe the line with an elite, where there is as much respect from the elite runner for winning to the last person making it to the finish. We all share the same hardships, challenges and low points. It was also great to see my coach after 10 months under his wing.
If this seemed like a list, I apologise. With so much on over the weekend, I could have easily made this 10X as long, if not longer. You’ll be thankful I left it almost a month to write, and therefore my memory isn’t as expansive as it was.
I look forward to the next Pyllon experience, where ever it may be and recommend if you can get on it or other experiences with athletes or race organisers. Do it. There is something to be gained for all abilities and aspirations.