The sun rises behind the mountains on our left and when I set out early for training the valley is shrouded in mist, low lying clouds offering a glance of a glorious day to come. Straight out of our door I can climb up 1,500ft within a mile. My legs often feel tired, my calves especially have had a brutal introduction to the alps. As I begin the switch backs through the forest I break cobwebs, listening to the dog bustling around as slowly my breathing steadies and I get into a rhythm as we rise and rise up to the first summit of the day, feeling the sun touch my skin as we rise through the trees, sweat beginning to drip off my face, down my arms, 1,2,1,2 I count as I switch to a hike. Running here is not easy, its brutal. My feet feel battered from the rocks and stones, my knees ache from descending, sometimes my shoulders and even fingers hurt from climbing up rocks, but I love it. I never thought this move would intoxicate me so much. The air. The water. The people. The space. The peace. The simplicity of life and training. Most of all the unrelenting mountains. The unjudging mountains. They beat me every day. But they are becoming friends, I am beginning to know their curves, their undulations, where to stop to gather my breath, to have a moment to think without a child. I tell them my worries and they reassure me that the world continues to turn, the seasons will come and go, stop your worries I hear them whisper. Enjoy this time, embrace life, stop, look, feel, take a moment, don't rush, breathe, breathe, breathe. They are helping me to get stronger both physically and mentally and both as a runner and as a mum. If I can do this I think, I can do anything. My boys love nothing better than pointing up the mountains and saying 'My mum runs up that! Soon she is taking us too!' (No rush I think!!)
I have already learnt so much from living and running in the mountains. I feel like a completely different runner from the one that ran the ACP in March. I wont lie, the training and the constant race broke my spirit a little. It was so so hard to get fit for that race with a newborn, I focused so hard on that one outcome that when it was over I felt a bit lost and that I had given up a lot of time and effort for not much reward apart from being really tired, sore and disheartened. It took me about 2 months to feel my energy levels rise again and to even think about running over a couple of hours. The thought of following a training programme, counting the miles, watching the pace, fitting it all in alongside a busy life just didn't excite me. I was offered a chance to race 100km aboard, but I couldn't face it. Somehow that 100km had stolen my love for running which had never happened before. Alongside this we were selling our house, moving our whole family to a new country which wasn't just a new life, it was a new life in the mountains with all the challenges that brings. So much learning, so much moments of huge doubt, of fear, of sadness, but alongside that the epic thrill that we are doing something so exciting. Many times I thought why are we doing this. This is too hard, this is too unsettling, but just like running, I focused on the end goal. Took it lap by lap, mile by mile. The journey is never easy, even harder with three small children in tow. But we both felt very much that this was right for our family, for the life we wanted to live- teaching our children to understand the seasons, to read the weather, to move in the mountains with ease and respect, to be strong, healthy and confident. So much of what running has already given me I wanted to give to my children.
In the last few months we have often felt like we have 'escaped' reality, are we 'cheating' our way out of life, by hiding behind the hills? But more and more now I think this is the real world, this is not man made, computer generated entertainment. Life here is simple, its quiet, its content. No one cares who you are, what you look like, what you do. The children are embraced as part of life. Being outside, running up hills, sitting at a cafe sipping a cafe au lait, its all normal.
So the summer time is passing, the sun is rising a little later over the ridge, the chill in the air lingers a little longer, the paths are well worn from hikers, I can bound up climbs now that I struggled to walk up a few months ago, I feel content in the mountains rather than out of place. I still have so much to learn, but feel I am a different athlete already. Every morning I take a breath, listen to the mountains and turn up the trail. I feel the strength seeping into my spirit This is real life, its hard, its relentless, its breathtaking, but the view at the top is always always worth the effort. I take a breath, pat the dog, turn and head down the trail. I am truly happy. We already call this place home.