Before I share how trail running went in Mont Blanc (TMB), I hope you’ll bear with me and let me share the back-story of how this trip ever came about. I didn’t know at the time when I booked this trip last year, how profound and pivotal of an experience trail running the TMB would have on me.
Fear is not a natural reaction of mine. COVID hitting the world has made me feel uncertainty, doubt and fear in ways that surprised me. During these past three years, self-doubt and a constant state of confusion as to what to do next has plagued my psyche and spirit. I know this isn’t me, but I don’t know how to stop feeling this way. I’ve had temporary slumps before, but always bounced back and learned to do better. This time, I am having trouble shaking it off.
Restaurants are a low margin, high inventory, high cost business (in both materials and people). All the reasons not to go into a business, but I have this unshakeable belief that we are providing a service like no other (the best organic/vegan/gluten-free/kosher desserts), and we have a whole world to share what we do. I’m just not so sure the restaurant model is how we’re going to do so.
My 2022 strategy from throwing in the towel is going after everything I ever wanted to try. Life is unpredictable. Business is fickle. If I don’t do it now, it may never happen. Why wait until retirement to live my life fully? As any business owner knows, we don’t have days off. I’m learning that going away and getting a break from the day-to-day is my oxygen to keep the business alive.
This year, I’m trying many things on my bucket list such as ice hiking, ice climbing, visiting Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Germany, the Alps, and I also finally achieved side splits after trying for 4 years! Even though this has been the toughest year for the business, ironically, I’m having one of the best years personally. (There are two more things I’d like to learn how to do before the upcoming winter is over: downhill skiing and mountaineering a summit).
I’m happy to share that I’m officially out of my funk. My mental state of feeling uncertain and afraid seems to be zapped out of me. Do you know what finally did the trick? Doing something I had no business doing: my first trail running experience on one of the toughest courses in the world, the Trail du Mont Blanc!
On the first day of our trail running meet-up in Chamonix, France, we sat on the grass in the evening light introducing ourselves. My introduction was contrary to everyone else’s before me, “Hi, I’m Andrea from Philadelphia. I don’t drink coffee or beer and have never trail run before. I’m also vegan and brought a suitcase full of food in case you’re wondering why I have so much stuff!” Everyone was most likely thinking, what is this girl doing here… but the group and guides were so full of compassion and kindness, they didn’t show it.
I tried to rope many friends into doing this trip with me. They took one look at the itinerary and replied, “There’s no way I’m doing that. I don’t even run.” My response was, “Neither do I, it’s mostly fast power hiking. Besides, there’s plenty of time to train for it. We can do it together!” I failed at convincing a single friend, but that’s no surprise. I’m used to doing things by myself because my idea of fun usually isn’t popular! (If you’re wondering why Tommy doesn’t join me, 1) he’s more of a water sport guy, 2) he lost a toenail during our last hike together, so he’s kind of over it!)
I hope by sharing my amazing moments trail running Mont Blanc with Adventure Running Company will inspire you to go after your impossible. I hope this story may help conquer your fears, overcome your doubts, and to just go for it and live! There’s no reason to settle. See obstacles as steps towards success. I hope my experience may also help quiet the fear and doubt in your head. When those negative thoughts creep in, the best antidote is to take immediate action towards going after your goals. Commit to it, and don’t look back.
That’s exactly what I did last year, when I was listening to a podcast interviewing Courtney Dauwalter and learning how this torturous sport, called ultra running, is one of the few sports where women can be superior to men. As the distances become longer, it becomes more of a mental game than a physical one, and women are growing superior. This immediately resonated with my un-athletic self. I was often the last to be picked for dodgeball and never made the Presidential Fitness list as a kid. I was an uncoordinated disaster. As an adult, I have faith in the power of my mind. If this is a physical endeavor more influenced by your mind than your physical ability, then maybe, just maybe I can thrive.
I immediately started researching how to ultra run, trail run, where to trail run and kept reading about this route in the Alps that traverses France, Italy, Switzerland and back to France called the Trail du Mont Blanc. Perfect! I’ve always wanted to see the Alps. I like to cut to the chase and go all in. Why waste time building up to something. I would rather get a taste of the real deal and see if it’s for me. Many of the group trips I found didn’t complete the entire 106 mile route or were mostly hiking around 5-7 miles a day and took 10+ days to finish. You can also plan this trip by yourself or hire a company to book all the refugios (mountain huts) and transfer your luggage for you. Since I was new to longer distances and high altitude terrain I felt it would be safer for me to go with a group. In my humble opinion, any trip where the daily mileage is under 10 miles is going to be easy. I decided I’m going to hike as fast as possible to keep up with the trail runners. I’m okay with coming in last. When I found Adventure Running Company offered a 7 day itinerary, I immediately messaged Andy and Kim if it was okay to join given my limited experience - but I work out a lot and believe I can do it! They were very encouraging and said, join!
Well, I was in shock after our first day’s itinerary of 17 miles, 8,000 feet altitude and over 10,000 feet elevation gain/loss. I thought, what did I get myself into? I had no business joining this group and my friends who turned me down were right. This is crazy. My toes were squeezed with every step on the steep descent over 2 hours. My knees and quads were so torn up, I used my hiking poles as crutches. I nervously fell asleep thinking how am I going to endure 7 days of this?
Surprisingly, each day thereafter became easier and more enjoyable. Our fellow group mates and guides, Andy, Aaron, and Kim taught me how to actually run on the trails. Aaron started pacing me and helped me finish faster. He also taught me how to gain confidence on the downhills and taught me how to “dance” on the descents. I still hear his voice in my head when I’m attempting to run trails at home “Run whenever possible. If it’s flat, run it. If it’s downhill, small, quick steps are still more efficient than walking.”
The other group members taught me how to refuel so I wouldn’t bonk after 5 hours. I was becoming more efficient each day and gaining speed. Oh, also getting a pair of trail running shoes made all the difference. I actually showed up in hiking boots and completed the first 2-3 days in heavy, Gore-tex hiking boots. They were cute hiking boots, and super comfy, but I didn’t realize they were slowing me down so much. My group and guides were all quietly thinking, those are the worst things you can wear. Who knew? I guess if you ultra run or are a serious hiker, you know.
I ran most days alone because I enjoyed the solitude, and I also wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the lead group! There was always someone not far away if you needed anything. Each day we would stop through beautiful mountain villages and towns.
I had zero appetite during the days and had to force myself to eat. I can’t eat during long endurance activities, but I’ve also never gone 8 hours trail running, so I had to learn how to get calories in otherwise my body would slow down. I missed out on some amazing meals because I didn’t want to eat when I was not hungry or didn’t want to feel sluggish after a massive meal. There were beautiful farmers' markets along the route. I wish I had more time to devour all the fresh, seasonal produce. My biggest regret was not enjoying the meals at these two restaurants: Maison Vieille in Italy for their unforgettable pasta and at Le Peuty in Switzerland for their amazing vegan options. How I wished I could’ve tried one of their amazing vegan hot dogs and sausages! I want to go back and run this route just to eat at these restaurants.
Each night we slept in various lodgings ranging from hotels, dormitories to rustic inns. The most amazing experience was at Hotel Alpina at Champex Lac in Switzerland. The food was Michelin star quality and the hostess Marlene was like family. It was the best meal we all enjoyed and almost unreal. The mountain views from our room were also breathtaking as if we were in a fairy tale. We also had the pleasure of swimming in the glacier lake Champex at the end of that day’s tough climb. The cold water was so therapeutic, it immediately soothed my aching muscles. I never swam in cold water before and strangely felt the water surrounding my skin adapt more to my body temperature rather than my body temperature becoming unbearably cold.
My other meals weren’t the tastiest for vegans, but at the end of the day it was about having carbs and calories to get through the next day, so whatever I was fed was plenty, appreciated and helped me lean out, so I was happy!
Nearing the end of this epic trail run, our last day was our shortest day of around 10 miles. We would finish early on our last day. There was also one huge, final ascent to make it back to where we started at the top of Le Brevent. It was the first hot day we had. We were very lucky with perfect alpine weather up to this point. The worst heat wave of Europe was descending upon the Alps on our last day. The strength of the sun gave me energy. It was surreal to finally finish and look back on what we completed. I told everyone I’m never doing this again. They’re all crazy and a glutton for pain and suffering. I was like, no thanks. They all said, give yourself a week, and you’ll be hooked. I was confident that wasn’t going to be me.
Once again, they were all right. Well, it took me more than a week, but two weeks after our epic trail run together, I’m hooked and can’t wait to do more. Something about pushing your mental and physical endurance, embracing pain, and overcoming suffering gives me confidence in growing the business and to keep going after the impossible.
I hope after reading how someone as un-athletic as I am can do this and thrive, will encourage you to go after your dreams and goals however lofty or silly they may seem.
Hope these photos and videos of my amazing meals and my wonderful hotel - Grand Hotel des Alpes takes you to Chamonix, France, too. I can’t wait to go back!
*[Update: I'm hosting an Adventure Wellness Retreat in Chamonix from July 17-July 23, 2023 to bring you the best of this trip to you. We opened more spots due to demand. If you're interested in joining us, please click here.]