Mass participation events are back! It’s what we’ve been waiting for for months. It has been so great, over the past few weeks, to be back out, on the road, and at all the events we know, love, and have missed dearly. We also love hearing YOUR stories. Finding out about your adventures and achievements on Sports Tours International trips. A few weeks ago was the Mont Blanc Marathon. This iconic trail race, on one of the world’s most famous peaks, is always a highlight of out trail running calendar and it was great to be able to send runners off on this ‘once in a lifetime’ challenge once again this year.
Carolyn (pictured below, training her handstand) was one such client. Despite numerous challenges, detailed below, Carolyn was determined to be at the start line of the MBM this year. Although her race did not entirely go to plan, she still got to have her Mont Blanc adventure, raised vital money for charities close to her heart, and best of all documented her journey to share – we hope you enjoy it as much as we did …
If you’re thinking of signing up for any Sports Tours International trip, I couldn’t recommend a better and more caring organisation to book with. Equally, for those who wish to, I would wholeheartedly recommend taking part in the Mont Blanc Mountain Trail events. Just because my tale is more an ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Story rather than one of Medal Winning Glory should not deter you. As we move forward, and learn to live with the presence of COVID-19 in our world, to actually stage events we are used to taking place is an achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated. I spend my life aiming for things somewhere between the miraculous and the virtually impossible, but it doesn’t mean that things can’t and shouldn’t be done. Admittedly, I didn’t expect quite the number of curved balls to come my way but nonetheless, I’m glad I was able to make the decisions I did. They were the right ones for me. Hopefully they will also help me raise funds for a charity whose ethos has very personal significance for me.
If we’re honest, we all have low points in our lives. It’s both normal and natural. it proves we’re human and is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. At times, when I feel things aren’t quite going my way and the gradient of my life is a little uphill, my innate response is to look for inspiration. Even those who we perceive to be able and successful rarely get to be so by sheer good fortune. I’ve long believed that the best ideas are those ‘borrowed’ from others. This probably accounts for how I’ve come to do a lot of things I’d never have believed I could, each giving me insights into aspects of life I had no idea existed. New experiences may bring new challenges but these tend to be far exceeded by the often unexpected rewards of meeting them.
I love and value my life, but it is like crossing a river using stepping stones. I inherently believe it’s possible to get safely across, but some ‘stepping stones’ take a bit more finding than others. Searching for my next stepping stone to enable me to move forward from a specific emotionally low point, I smiled wryly as I’d certainly ‘given myself a mountain to climb with this one!’ In search of inspiration, aka YouTube! I followed a trail which led me to https://www.gotcha4life.org.
People are very important to me and I’m incredibly fortunate to have some amazing individuals amongst my friends. I watched further clips as the cause being championed was one that personally resonated with me (for why please see www.carolynjasher.co.uk). I have the attraction of a moth to a lamp regarding anything that invites me to help others. When people get low, I feel I should aim high! I read the list of fundraising suggestions … Climb a mountain; Run a marathon … Apparently, evolution has resulted in traditionally ‘hunter-gatherer men’ being less able to multitask than women due to the latter needing to fulfil a broader range of roles. Whilst I couldn’t manage all items on the list, I thought 2 would be a promising start. I’d already decided that I needed to a more ‘global’ approach regarding my ‘life challenges’ so, living in Europe, The Mont Blanc Mountain Trail seemed a natural choice. Enthused, as not only would I climb my mountain metaphorically, I had a way and a reason to do so for real.
The next stepping stone across my life’s river, started to come into view. Navigate COVID-19 regulations, fly to Switzerland, do a marathon distance involving a French mountain for an Australian-based charity! Perfect! I’ve done a few marathons before (15) so I’ve had a bit of practice. I’m lucky in that I live in Devon, surrounded by hills and moorland terrain. Should I need anything bigger and steeper to help me train, Wales has some mountains which are not that far to drive to. Having had a knee replacement in February it was important that I trained appropriately but having completed a marathon distance walk less than 14 weeks post-surgery without problem, I’d been certified as sufficiently sound in this respect, even though operating table to Trail was only 5 months!
I got into completing marathons about 20 years ago, having realised that some health conditions can’t be effectively treated with conventional medicine alone. However, appropriate and regular exercise/physical activity can literally be a life-saver and certainly hugely enhance quality of life. What began as a necessity became a profound interest. When deciding to do my first marathon (London), it genuinely never occurred to me that I could start with a far shorter distance. A marathon distance was what I felt was needed, so that is what I did. Safety and sustainability are key so I have a team of people who help me keep in shape and, just as often knock me back into it! How I live my life could easily be perceived as being disciplined and dedicated. Whilst my keeping fit and well isn’t under sufferance (although whoever came up with the ‘no pain, no gain’ idea, I wish hadn’t!) in truth, I’m fundamentally lazy. Incorporating a high level of exercise is by far the easiest way for me to live a fun and enjoyable life. I may groan much and often, but in reality it’s an easy choice, given the alternative! Marathons became my way to raise money for charitable causes close to my heart because I saw an opportunity to give extra purpose to my training. I was going to be putting in the effort anyway!
The Mont Blanc Mountain Trail (42K) was originally scheduled for 27 June. However, changes in the French COVID-19 rules at the end of June meant that by delaying everything for a week, making a few adjustments to ensure social distancing,and ensuring all taking part had tested COVID-19 negative within 48 hours of the start of the event, the 42K run could take place in its recognised format. The weekend involves numerous events of varying distances. By changing the date to July, each of the various events could be take place with the normal number of entrants. If the June date had been kept, the total number of entrants for all events combined would have been limited to 500. When I originally signed up for the 42K I planned to take a friend with me as Support Crew. The date change made this impossible so I would be travelling alone. The one consolation was that the airline we’d booked our non-transferrable flights with cancelled them, so the ticket costs were fully refunded! Also, the remainder of the UK group who had booked the trip via https://www.sportstoursinternational.co.uk, decided to roll their entries forward to 2022. Having decided to ‘keep the faith’ that taking part would be possible, albeit not quite so straightforward as hoped, I stuck with it! There was also the possibility that I would have to quarantine when I arrived in France which would have been a deal breaker. Fortunately, this didn’t materialise, so it was still ‘game on’.
It was patently obvious by now that the true marathon was getting to the Start, rather than the event itself but even I couldn’t have written the script for this one! Ever changing COVID19 rules said I could only fly to France. This meant that flying to Geneva, the nearest airport, was not possible. It may be within sniffing distance of the French border but is still in Switzerland. My only flight options were London Heathrow to Lyon – leaving on Friday 2 July, returning on Monday 5 July … or so I thought!
I carefully worked out how much time, including a suitable contingency, I would need to reach London Heathrow for early afternoon. However, I could not have anticipated the amount of traffic congestion. Apparently it was affecting both major routes (M5 and A303). After 3 hours I should have arrived at the airport when in reality I was only half way there. I was clearly not going to make the flight. I tried to get hold of British Airways Customer Services for advice. Despite getting a friend to Google as many phone numbers as possible I was totally unable to get an answer. No other suitable flights were available for Friday. After phoning a general Heathrow number I was transferred and booked a Paris flight for Saturday morning. French geography was clearly not on my school curriculum and Paris to Chamonix was likely to take over 6 hours, even with a hire car. This meant I wouldn’t have time to register and get my race number. I cancelled that flight and amazingly was able to book a flight to Geneva! What a difference a couple of days make! When making the reservation I stressed that I would be returning from Lyon on Monday, as I had already paid for a return flight. I still had to work out how to get from Geneva to Chamonix but, for yet another ‘small sum’, this was easily achieved. I duly arrived in Chamonix, tested COVID-19 negative and collected my race number for Sunday’s event.
Walking to the start at 5.50 am the sun had just risen, giving a soft glow to the snow on the tops of the surrounding mountains. Whilst the weather was forecast to change around midday, the day had definitely started well. To maximise social distancing, entrants for the 42K event had been split into 6 groups which set off at 10 minute intervals. I was in the final group. The overall time to complete the event was 9½ hours but there were 2 checkpoints en route. These had to be reached by a certain time to enable competitors to continue to the next stage. I’d agreed with my ‘Training Team’ that I’d walk at maximum constant pace rather than opt to run/walk. This would probably give me equivalent average speed, certainly minimise my knee loading and maximise my endurance. However, being in the final group meant that I had the least time to cover the distance to Checkpoint 1. I missed the deadline by 15 minutes so was disqualified from the race. Had I been in any of the first 4 groups I would not have had a problem! Not only was I disqualified but one of the organisers unpinned my running number (I expected to lose a corner if I was disqualified but felt the way this was done was a little excessive!) I was literally abandoned and left to fend for myself. (I’m sure Bonnie Tyler [Lost in France] had it easier!) I had money in my kit bag but I’d handed this in at the start and I couldn’t access Google maps on my phone.
It was still fine, so as I had some unexpected time to spare, as well as water and other provisions, I decided to go mountain trail walking on my own for a short while and admire the view. Picking well signed paths and taking photos every so often so I’d know where I’d been, I continued for about 1½ hours before the weather began to close in. Time to head down the mountain into the valley at Montroc. I still had to get back to Chamonix but with a precise location, I rang a friend in UK, got her to look at a French map and confirmed that I needed to turn right and just keep following the valley. It had also begun to rain heavily by now but the great thing about being out in near monsoon conditions is that you can only get so wet. Having achieved this within 10 minutes at most, it wasn’t going to get any worse so I may as well settle into and enjoy the 3+ hour walk back to Chamonix! I then resolved the issue of getting my kit bag back (as I no longer had my running number), wrung out my clothes and hung up my trainers to dry.
Monday dawned, breakfast was enjoyed (fortunately!) and I met up with Paul for a lift to Lyon Airport. He was flying from there to ultimately get home to the US. I arrived at Check-In as it opened (2 hours prior to departure) only to be told I was not booked on the flight – despite having evidence that I had paid for a ticket. Apparently BA had decided to cancel my seat and not tell me. I organised a second ticket for the same flight (get home first, reclaim later!) and returned to Check-In. Where’s your Passenger Locator Form? Ah – that must be the one you hadn’t told me I needed! I had been sent an e-mail link when I made the repeat booking but the one thing I do not do on my phone is e-mails. I prefer to do them all from my laptop. Had I known I’d been sent a link I would have unpacked my laptop and hastily filled in the form! I managed to arrange the necessary PLF but it didn’t arrive on my phone until 5 minutes after Check-In closed. France has many lovely people but a few clearly don’t view customer service as a priority! I was now stranded in Lyon and had to find a hotel for the night. Having found accommodation near Heathrow Airport on Friday night to ensure I made Saturday’s early flight, I was getting used to this! I also needed to work out how to get back to UK as nothing was flying anywhere near the following day. Had I known, I would have made the Geneva flight a return. Where is hindsight when you need it?!
The best way back was via Athens. I’d never been to Greece before but there’s a first time for everything! I booked on an early morning flight, had about 2 hours to change flights and catch a Ryanair flight to London Stansted. Although my car was at London Heathrow, at least I would be in UK! Unfortunately the Athens flight was about 1¼ hours late leaving as they couldn’t detach the boarding jetty from the side of the aircraft. Consequently I missed my connecting flight.
I was now stranded in Athens – fantastic! I scanned the Departures board and there was a British Airways flight to London Heathrow, leaving at 16:35. Purchasing yet another ticket and getting a revised PLF, I was finally able to board an aircraft that was going to take me, and did, in the direction of home.
As we flew into London Heathrow we came through a fairly hefty shower. Having disembarked, as I walked through Terminal 5 to officially re-enter UK, I looked out of the huge glass windows and there was an enormous rainbow embracing the airport. In terms of ‘heavenly signs’ I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome home. My route through immigration (I had no COVID-19 related difficulties), collecting my luggage and retrieving my car were all essentially trouble-free. Including the very slight detour via a Starbucks drive-thru, it only took me 2¾ hours to get home – less than half the time, half the distance had taken me on Friday.
So I may have only completed part of the 42K Mont Blanc Mountain Trail but for me it was all about doing something in recognition of a very worthy cause. I may have THE most expensive T-shirt as a result of attending any event ever, but, when I was stranded, some very special people were there for me and my appreciation of that cannot be conveyed in words. Admittedly, it wasn’t planned to be quite such an ‘adventure’, but I think it’s important to be prepared to ‘go the extra mile’ or in this case maybe a few extra miles! In the way that others have continually been there for me, I will continue to aim to be there for others. Please join me in doing so by investing in a Snowball Share for £1, $1 or €1 (more if you wish) by following the links on my website (www.carolynjasher.co.uk). Should you have any difficulty doing so please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org. A little effort and you could contribute to help saving a life and, equally importantly, no French mountains are involved!
Thanks Carolyn for sharing your experience with us! You are living proof that positivity can go a long way, even in the most challenging of circumstances. WE will be continuing to follow Carolyn’s story, as she trains for the 50th edition of the legendary NYRR New York City Marathon later this year. Keep up with our blog and socials to follow her on her journey.
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