So what started as a conversation between my wife and I over dinner way back in the depths of winter, came to fruition in mid September with me flying 6,000 odd miles from UK to Wyoming to attend one of Eric Orton’s mountain running academy training camps. As in his book the story began as “You In Glorious Jackson Hole” with Eric meeting me at the airport and shuttling me to the Teton mountain village which would be base for the next 3 days.
Day 1 dawned with some light dizzily rain just to remind me of the UK! The morning was spent working on form drills in the woods on the lower slopes, this gave a good understanding of the cadence, pace and techniques that would be required in the coming days, and would also help cement what Eric would mean by his various ‘instructions’ during the camp. The afternoon of day 1 took us higher up the mountain for a HRZ test on a steep muddy logging trail – this would be used to set maximum HR targets over the next 2 days. This was followed by running a single track descent back into the village with plenty of time to practice some new found trail running skills.
The morning of day 2 dawned brighter and clearer and saw us take a longer run into the woods on the lower slopes, again getting used to pace and HRZs and incorporated an Indian running game that saw the 4 of us shuttling up and down the glorious wooded single track. After lunch we took the cable car to the top of the mountain – circa 10,000 feet – for some training in the newly laid snow – so new in fact we were making ‘first tracks’. The running was very technical with 6 or 7 inches of snow on top of loose rock, this combined with the altitude provided a number of running ‘firsts’ for me and was a tough but fantastic learning experience.
One of my big goals for the camp was to understand how to run all day, and also to run up a mountain! So over evening dinner on day 2 when Eric said we’d need to bring fuel and hydration for a full day on day 3 I realised that my key aims were about to be met! We met just before 9:00 am on the last day, bottles and run bladders full (with SOS Rehyrdate of course!) and with plenty of gels and bars. Although I didn’t fully realise at the time we were about to embark on a 22+ mile run over 7+ hours that would take us over a 9,700ft divide and end up at the top of the ski station at 10,000ft (this time without using the cable car!) The day was glorious, cool but with clear skies. The run would allow us to put in place everything we’d learnt over the past couple of days – pace, form, fuelling, hydration, HR zones and a whole stack of other things that were bouncing around my head! Initially we headed out through the woods on the lower slopes taking a rolling flat-ish course before turning into one of the canyons and staring a zig zag climb up through the woods and alpine meadows before reaching the 1st high point of the day, Mount Hood divide at around 9,700ft. There followed a long and truly gloriously beautiful descent down into the next canyon – during which we saw a bear and her cubs (another first!). At about the 5 hour mark we reached a junction in the path – straight on for a long ‘boring’ downhill into the village or right for a 5+ mile climb up the back of the mountain to the ski station – with the added thrill of having to be there before the last cable car at 5:30! In reality the way up was the only option we were going to take. Well it was a long old climb, again with a mixture of woods, alpine meadows and snow at the higher levels. And we made it with an hour to spare as well! The sense of achievement was matched be the startled looks of the tourists stepping off the cable car, in their thick winter coats and hats, as they saw us appear – in running gear – from somewhere round the back of the mountain!
“Where did you guys come from?”
“Hey did you just RUN up here?”
Yeap we did!
In a fantastic three days I achieved everything I wanted to achieve and also learnt a whole stack of other things about my running and about myself. I realise I was incredibly lucky to be able to make the camp – primarily due to the generosity of my lovely wife Sarah – but if you ever get the chance to head out West and ‘Run With Eric’ then grab that opportunity with both hands, believe me you won’t regret it!
(Thank you to Eric, Margot and Mike)