If you were to tell me it had been a year since the inaugural Pyllon XP, I would have told you quite simply “no way.” But it has, give or take a few days. Those days spent in Aviemore, as the Beast from the East tore into the mountain side, doing it’s best to hamper runs and dislodge spirits failed. If anything, it united all who attended and made our basecamp at Rothiemurchus Lodge a sanctuary.
A year on and I was happy to see the 2019 edition would be in the heart of the Lake District, nestled in the small village of Grasmere, with an abundance of trails and fells within 30 meters of our accommodation. It also meant a lot less travel (remember the 13 hours each way spent on the sleeper last year?), though, I’d be happy to travel as far as I can afford to make it to the XP.One final change. This year, I was part of the team. I’d be bringing my camera and as you will see, despite being offered an easier option, I took the bold, some could say stupid, idea of running with said camera for 20 miles on the fells on Saturday. In 2018, I took my camera, as is habit, and on the Sunday shot part of the skills session (above), so knew there or there abouts what I was letting myself in for. Anyway, I’m rambling.
2019 – No Snow!
As I made the journey up the M6, listening to a conspiracy filled, hilarious Joe Rogan podcast, I had plenty of time to think about what the next 3 days would be like. 2018 was an unknown, I didn’t know what to expect, hadn’t met anyone from Team Pyllon outside of Paul and for someone who shys away from going out and social occasions, it was a step into the unknown. The last time I can recall such a feeling was driving to RAF Kinloss for a GB Bialthon Training Camp back when I was 20. Fast forward a year and the feelings were more reminiscent of pre race nerves. Travel day of any race, my mind battles with anxiety and once packed, there is a mental barrage of thoughts telling me “not to go,” “you wont enjoy it,” “it’s pointless.” Getting to registration often feels like a relief.
A car loaded with more running and camera kit than I could possibly need for a week, let alone 48 hours including sleep…. the landscape was changing as I passed Lancaster, before the first glimpse of the Southern Fells emerged from a grey sky. Winding through twisting lanes, the tops were engulfed in a sheet of grey, sun doing its upmost to burn off and break through. On arrival, ahead of the meeting time, I had a chance to stretch my legs, inhaling Lakeland air and listening to the sound of nothing. Despite living in a small (some could say rural) village, my rental has single pain windows, leaky doors and “character”. I can hear every conversation within 40 meters of the front room, let alone cars passing by.
Silence. I’ve missed this.
After settling in, the grand hello and admin, it was time to hit the trail. Head torches on. The evening run was a real Lakeland “Best of” or “Now that is what I call Wet Feet 19.” We had rock, hard pack, mud, a stream and of course, bog. Only, you couldn’t see it coming under head torch, nor read the terrain the same way in daylight. I may have also lost my footing and slid on a slope a wee bit, but that was part of the fun and I’d leave anything serious to Saturday……. and you think I’m joking.
A trip to the ablutions then dinner courtesy of the her majesty’s finest Graham. Vegan burgers and the dip challenge, which saw such as turn out, we had leftovers for Saturday’s lunch too! I’m afraid to say, I did not contribute, though given the sheer quantity on offer I’m sure some will be thanking me. In my head, I was going to capturing the judging….. I made that up in my head prior to the event and didn’t think to ask Paul or anyone in the team what the plan was.First day over, the majority turned in for the early start to Saturday’s run. Myself and Matt (Hunterfit) stayed up, Matt programming, myself editing, getting work done.
0450 – Sound the Alarm
How my room mates Fabien and Jeevendra must have hated me, as neither needed to be up this early. There were 3 run options – an idilic 10 mile trail route, 20 miles with 4000ft of climbing or 19 miles with up to 7000ft of climbing. Leading up to the decision of which route to run, my last day running in the mountains was when I raced the OMM in October 2018, so without hesitation, I picked the last option. To spice things up further, I carried my Fstop Kenti and Canon 7D / 16-35mm F/4L IS USM, with camera combo adding 1.56kg to my back. I won’t lie the challenge and blurring of Type 1 and 2 fun has always had something on an appeal. It also didn’t compute that I hadn’t run on anything close to a mountains for four months…..
0600 – Go time.
Our group setting off into a deep black morning, negotiating gates, greasy rocks and navigating out of small side paths and lanes, onto the fell and up. Darkness gave way to mist and fog, a wet blanket of hanging precipitation doing it’s best to saturate layers, to run with a jacket or not was a constant question in the mind, do I overheat slightly or saturate from the outside? In the end, I settled to keep the jacket on. The route chosen by John was stunning, well, what we saw of it. The terrain wildly varied, the bogs ****in deep and numerous. I may have had a slight tumble on Harrison Stickle or there abouts, when the ground beneath my right foot gave way and all I know is I fell, tumbled a couple of times, stopped myself abruptly and looked up to see Gavin looking down, some 50 or so meters along the trail, to which I immediately gave a thumbs up. I had no idea if he’d seen my fall (turns out he had) nor how I fell. I also bonked hard. I was eating another burger on the way back to the bunk beds the night before at 11pm and had two bowls of cereal and a mouthful of soren before the off in the morning. My selection of edibles on the run had kept me pretty constant in terms of energy levels, but man, I was hungry. With about two hours to go, I could feel my stomach rumbling and my pace starting to ease off. I knew I could make it to the end, but my energy was spiking then dive bombing with no warning. Bollocks.
Fortunately, as we looked down upon Grasmere, on the final ridge, Kaz gave me a couple of shot blocs and Paul, a swig of his flask. He’d also given me half a bar prior to descending some 30 minutes prior. It’s good to know you have team mates and your coach looking out for you, but I will admit, it was a little embarrassing feeling like you needed to be looked after.
Back into town it was time to feast, and feast I did. 3 portions of soup, a burger, wraps, salad and a down right rude quantity of cake later, I was recharged and ready for the talks.
The PTL of Talks
Gavin Bussey, once rock star now ultra runner, shared with those in attendance his story into running, what it has taught him, the battles along the way and his run at last years UMTB PTL. Gavin’s personal story shall remain with those who were present and having met him at last years XP, I now see him in a different light. I wasn’t aware of the man behind the face. But I am happy to share the PTL.
For those who do not know, the PTL is the kind of race that many talk of entering one day, few put their money where their mouth is, a subset turn up and a dedicated fraction accomplish.
“The PTL® (Petite Trotte à Léon) is one of the events on offer within the framework of the UTMB®.
Its conception is original and its unusual specificities distinguish it from other races. The spirit of the PTL® depends upon mental engagement, an adventurous team spirit as well as sporting values and also those of the mountains.” “PTL® is realised in teams of 2 or 3 inseparable and loyally supportive people, without final ranking. The teams move through a rough, technically exacting and mentally and physically demanding mountain environment.”
In short, it’s 300km and 25,000 meters of ascent to be completed in a maximum time of 152 hours and 30 minutes.
Race breakdowns for those on the receiving end, can be a pretty dull and egoistical experience, full of excuses, could of been moments and filler for the sake of it. I don’t read race reports for this reasons, other than the occasional race directors.
But, Gavin’s was different. There was no ego, no playing to the crowd for sympathy or moves to belittle given the magnitude of his achievement. Instead, points that resonated, mixed in with hilarious anecdotes and moments that left you in awe. A momentary look into his psyche, breaking down motivations at key cross roads, but physical and mental, finding solace in the most unlikely of places, a bin and how those runs, choices, decisions and commitments since Gavin started running all played their part in reaching the finishing line outside the church in Chamonix. He may has blown the allotted time allocation (hence the PTL of sessions), but every word was considered, each act meaningful, the take away powerful.
Thank you Gavin.
Did someone say Moab 240?
Kaz Williams, who probably had everyone in deep lust and envy when they found out she is a Chamonix resident, has completed some of the longest and most arduous races in the world, including the Tahoe 200 and moab 240 (yes the race Courtney Dauwalter won outright by over 10 hours in 2017!).
An architect by trade, it should have been no surprise organisation is one of Kaz’s strong points in both training, race build up and during the race itself. Below are a handful of takeaways form the talk that you may find useful in strategising your next race or general life;
- Print off the course profile – write your own notes on key areas, break it down into your own race
- Write on everything – shoes, drop bag, legs – what ever will help guide you when things get tough and remind you why you are doing it.
- Checklist in your drop bag – write when you are not stressed, before the race, so that even if chaos is breaking all around you, you have a list to follow that will provide normality and break you out of the cycle
- Use a drop bag, no seriously, if you’ve got the option make the most of it. BUT, don’t overpack it
- Prepare when you are calm, you will get decision fatigue during a race
- Label kit – stick your name on anything you are going to put down, just like being at school, most trail runners use a lot of the same kit in a race and checkpoint
- Sports psychology – be prepared not to freak out. Process your response for the worst case scenarios i.e. kit breaking, no drop bags. Visualise what you will do in the event of such an issue occurring.
- Hallucinations – focusing/embracing them can lead to frustration “they don’t talk back”
“Have your drive, have your love for the sport, have your tribe, be honest with yourself, be confident, be brave, be a warrior”
Oh and be like David Goggins – If anyone has read or listened to the audio version of Can’t Hurt Me you’ll understand what I mean when I say “Fucking Goggins.”
And with that, it was dinner. The coaching team were on hand for one to one discussions, from anyone attending the weekend and this gave those intrigued to have a chat over any questions they had, as well as those who train remotely to have a catch up. Intelligently, I managed to leave it too late for a second year and failed to have a conversation. 3rd time lucky at the next XP.
Climb Every Mountain
0700, time for more morning goodness. The entire XP collective went on a quiet warm up lap of the quieter backroads of Grasmere, before breaking up to focus on speed or hill climbing drills. Unsure which to go with, Debbie called out “you’re with us.” I was off to the hill.
The concept behind both groups is to get you the runner to think about their form and how they are tackling the objective, sticking your head down and powering through is inefficient and will also not necessarily benefit you in training or racing.
To end, both groups joined for a hill time trail, one by one taking on the hill to shouts of “Allez, allez, allez!!!” Full of energy and almost crying with laughter as the team members orchestrating the race, encouraged those in their pain caves with increasing levels of enthusiasm and vocal power.
Breakfast and downtime, before Paul took to the front of the room to discuss “owning your story.”
The above kicked off the session and personified perfectly the theme. Its not necessarily the act of running, your hobby or what you do to express yourself, but the way in which others interact and resonate with it, and how it may positively rub off on them without you knowing. We learnt about the origins of Pyllon and the deeper meanings behind the brand, right down to the significance of the logo…. its not a mountain range as assumed up that point.
How we chose to tell our own story is up to us, but we most own it. Gavin and Kaz both exemplified this is their own ways and you could say that this website is part of how I tell my story. These pages aren’t who I am, but a part of me and a way I share my story, combined with instagram, youtube and in person. Embracing who we are, being true to ourselves and those around us is key and many of those who came along have continued to do so since getting home.
To end the show, James and John held a quick fire quiz and role playing exercise, getting people to pair up and look at working through how they are going to achieve their goals, the steps they will take and how they will execute. To anyone walking in, they would have thought it was speed dating.
Now, in truth, I missed out a huge amount from the weekend and to fit it in, I’d need to construct a novel. The PXP2 was an eye opening weekend, one which I didn’t want to end and would have happily stayed in the area for longer. To summarise the above, I’ll finish with the text taking from an instagram post I made a few days ago
“It’s not about who can run the furthest or fastest, nor who has the biggest win. Community, shared knowledge & collective experience defines the XP.
International athletes learn as much from those who chase cut offs, everybody brings value with their personal stories”
So, if you like the what you have seen and read, keep an eye on Pyllon/Paul Giblin’s website for news of the next Pyllon XP and if there is one thing I would encourage you to do is note down any lessons that have resonated with you from the above. Enjoy exploring them, experiment and comment below on the outcomes.