"A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to old dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
We came, we climbed, we conquered. It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves! Mont Blanc, what an experience, what a mountain. The mountain that just keeps going, incline after incline from rock climbing to pick-axing your way through ice and snow one step at a time. Pushing all your limits mentally and physically for 3 days in temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius. It takes pure grit and determination to reach the summit of Europe's highest peak, standing at 4834m, surrounded by the best team. But wow, what a view.
Before I delve deep into my experience, let's look at some facts. Mont Blanc is located in the French Alps on the boarder of Italy. It is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence. Although 20,000 adventurists climb Mont Blanc annually, statically 1 person a week can die trying to summit and only 1 in 15 actually reach the top per trip.
There are several routes up Mont Blanc; we took the Gouter Hut Route which is the classic and most popular route to climb Mont Blanc. Although sometimes referred to as the “normal route”, the Gouter route still commands respect, and requires fitness and acclimatisation as well as skills in scrambling and using crampons.
We took the Bellevue cable car from Les Houches and then the Tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle at 2372m to get to the start of our trek.
This part of the trek is around 3 hours long. The path gets gradually steeper and more exposed as it zig-zags up to the ridge to our first stop Tete Rousse hut, where we stayed for the night. We had to cross the Tete Rousse Glacier to reach the refuge and the first snow we crossed - we knew I would be warm in shorts! Starting here on day two allows you to cross the Grand Couloir in the cooler temperatures of the night rather than in the heat of the day which is much safer.
Summit Day, Friday 13 July 2018
Our day started at 4am with coffee and breakfast before grabbing our equipment and setting off before sunrise. We were harnessed together in groups of 3 - they chose who paired by assessing our fitness levels and of course me being me wanted to be up front! This is when we started on a steady incline to the Grand Coulior.
This is the most dangerous part of the ascent to the Gouter hut which was our next stop, and serious rockfall accidents occur here regularly so you have to be very aware of your surroundings and listen to your guides.
Some of the path before the Couloir is exposed to rockfall too, with only the very last few metres before the crossing being sheltered. It is glaciated terrain and crampons are required to help grip the snow. We also had our walking poles and pickaxes with harnesses and ropes for safety.
It is essential to move quickly up to the Couloir, pause to check for rocks, and then move quickly across it. Although it is only 30 metres, it requires the most focus. After this you have a 700m vertical climb to the Gouter hut with risks of stonefall so its important to keep moving and aware of your surroundings. The view after this hard climb is incredible, standing at 3800m with the sun still low in the sky. A true sense of achievement!
If you were lucky and quick enough up the vertical climb you could have a second breakfast before the final part of the ascent.
The final ridge before summit, the Bosses Ridge, is an exposed ridge which requires concentration and good crampon technique. This route takes about 4 and a half hours to reach the summit and it really is the mountain that keeps going - you don’t really realise the immensity until the descent!
I had to dig deep and use all the mental strength I had to get me up one very small step at a time but it was 3 steps forward 2 steps back for some parts, with gradients steeper than black ski runs. This is why I train my mind harder than anything because what your mind believes your body will perceive, your body can achieve anything, it is usually your mind you have to convince. For me, my fitness wasn’t the problem it was the perseverance on a challenge that only gets harder as you progress.
This challenge was possibly my toughest one yet, but that only excites me because I’ve pushed limits and understand what I am capable of. The mountain has made a new woman out of me, and a more fierce one at that.
Aside from the immensity of this experience, it was life-changing and unforgettable, my lungs did not complain once. They did not struggle in altitude at all - trekking with Cystic Fibrosis is always a little more challenging with having to take all your medications with you on the mountain but I must say, all the times I have found myself at high altitude I have never felt fitter or stronger and my lungs felt clear and healthy. I believe for me it is these extreme challenges that keep me motivated and alive, thriving for more. After all, this is what I am most passionate about.
It is true to say that a mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to old dimensions. If you have the courage to find a challenge that pushes your limits then do it because your life will be changed for the better, not only for the experience itself but for what you gain! You will know what you are capable of, who you are, what you want out of life and most of all no feeling can beat achieving something that tests everything you’ve got. Trust me when I say, do it once, you will be hooked on finding more.
I am a true believer that we are here for a sole purpose and mine is to leave a legacy behind by being happy, defying odds and living outrageously. I love adventuring despite what others think or what I am told by doctors because of my Cystic Fibrosis and doing extreme challenges such as climbing Mont Blanc which push my mind and body to grow.
I feel so happy, grateful, and lucky to not only have had this experience and stood on the summit that only 5% of the world will see, but to have been able to connect with my inner soul in the mountains with some amazing friends and laugh a lot and it’s only added fuel to the fire and my burning desire to keep adventuring and seeing what I can achieve.
Fill your life with adventures to have stories to tell, it will fill your soul with so much depth, connection to the earth, happiness and love and strengthen your mind knowing you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
About the author: Sophie Grace Holmes was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis as a child, a condition that affects the lungs and leaves most sufferers with a life expectancy of only 37 years. She is an inspirational speaker, trainer, and blogger and continues to show the world that through hard work and determination, you can defy the odds and prove that anything is possible.
Barefoot running is taking the fitness world by storm as the latest trend. But what exactly is it? Should you be doing it? We answer all of your questions.
What is barefoot running?
Barefoot running is exactly as simple as it sounds: running without shoes. However, our modern bodies have become accustomed to wearing shoes or at least some form of protection on our feet and so this isn't really an option for many people. However, barefoot-style running is the trend we are seeing and is where the running shoes have been designed to mimic running barefoot, while still offering protection from dirt and sharp objects that may cause an injury.
You may well have seen people wearing barefoot running shoes, such as the Vibram FiveFingers shoes which have five separate compartments for your five toes or the Sundried barefoot shoes. They are designed to be as minimalistic as possible and to imitate running barefoot as much as possible.
Barefoot Running In History
Running barefoot is to run as nature intended and people have been running barefoot for millennia. Historians believe the runners and messengers in Ancient Greece ran barefoot and legend has it that Pheidippides, the first marathoner, ran from Athens to Sparta in less than 36 hours. After the Battle of Marathon, it is said he ran straight from the battlefield to Athens to inform the Athenians of the Greek victory over Persia, all barefoot.
At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila ran the marathon barefoot as the Olympic shoe supplier had run out of shoes in his size, winning the race and setting a world record in the process.
Shivnath Singh was one of India’s greatest distance runners and would only ever run barefoot with tape on his feet. He placed 11th in the men's marathon event at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
South African Zola Budd was famed in the 1980s for her barefoot racing and she won the 1985 and 1986 World Cross Country Championships. She found international fame at the 1984 Olympics after a drama-filled 3000m final, which she ran barefoot.
Today, barefoot running is gaining more and more momentum. Organisers of the 2010 New York City Marathon saw an increase in the number of barefoot runners participating in the event.
But why the increase in barefoot running? Does it have the benefits that people claim?
Barefoot Running Benefits
It promotes natural movement
Wearing shoes prevents your body from getting natural feedback from the ground. As you feel the ground, you learn to walk lighter and strike with the balls rather than heels of your feet, which can drastically decrease the impact on your muscles and joints. Impact in a running shoe is the equivalent of 12 times your body weight with every step.
It helps to heal previous injuries
A lot of people don’t run due to prior injuries. Bad knees, shin splints, or even weak ankles can be relieved through barefoot running. By running with a forefront strike, the Achilles is strengthened and stretched along with the calf muscle which may reduce injuries, such as calf strains or Achilles tendinitis.
Running barefoot uses less energy
Running barefoot or in minimal footwear (usually lighter than traditional running shoes) means that there is less mass to accelerate at the end of the runner's leg with each stride. Running barefoot has been shown to use about 5% less energy than shod running. (Divert et al., 2005; Squadrone and Gallozzi, 2009).
Increased muscle tone
Running without the support of a cushioned trainer sole forces you to engage more of you leg muscles, particularly the calves. But it doesn’t just increase muscle development in your legs, running barefoot increases the level of effort you supply throughout the kinetic chain, so you’ll end up leaner in other places too.
Running with a barefoot style. At some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve fallen over. At some point on a run, I’m sure you’ve thought “where did that rock come from?” moments after you’ve tripped. Barefoot running allows you to feel the ground better, improving your proprioception and making you more aware of your environment.
Running barefoot forces you to switch on previously disengaged muscles and reverses you back to how you would walk and move as a child. By gradually reverting back into barefoot running or walking you strengthen every muscle in your feet and lower legs.
Reconnect with the earth
Some people believe that by running barefoot they become more “at one” with nature.
Downsides to running barefoot
Slow adaptation phase
Many people try a barefoot run, ache after and decide never to run in the minimalist shoes again. But why? Aches are an inevitable part of any new footwear, remember how you wear your new heels in, practice walking in them? It’s only the same as with any new pair of trainers, or any new training regime. Initially when starting a new barefoot running regime you should start with short distances and gradually build up a tolerance. Embrace the aches and know that it’s improving your technique in the long run.
Lack of protection
Trainers are now designed with technical features to protect your foot from injury, as well as keep your feet dry, maintain their temperature and make sure nothing sharp such as rocks, stones or debris has access to your foot.
It is inevitable that almost everyone who switches to barefoot or a minimal shoe will find themselves dealing with blisters for the first few weeks until calluses are formed. Whilst this can be frustrating, investing in the correct socks and some gel blister plasters can make all the difference.
Barefoot creates extra pressure
Running shoes also partially absorb the extra pressures created by foot misalignment (for example, highly arched feet). Without the absorption, higher pressure can be a direct cause of pain, which can cause a protective adjustment in technique that in turn could lead to injury.
You can only run in good conditions (which in the UK, are few and far between)
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine warns against barefoot running in all but ideal conditions, saying that on soft or slippery surfaces, shoes are required for traction, otherwise you are prone to Achilles or plantar fascia problems (ligament inflammation along the base of the foot).
Tips for going barefoot
- Running barefoot can make your calves tight and tire your feet to start with, since you're firing up muscles you’ve barely used since childhood. Foam roll your calves to help increases recovery.
- Start trying to walk without shoes or in barefoot shoes more. Try at least 30 minutes of barefoot walking a day to allow the muscles and ligaments to adapt before you start venturing on a run.
- Spend some time walking on the balls of your feet (tip toes) to strengthen the foot and ankle.
- Progress to jogging, then gradually increase time and intensity.
- Stick to smooth ground when you first start running and steer clear of trail runs until you have built up a little more resistance.
Any hayfever sufferer will know how miserable it can be to try heading outside in the summer only to be brought down by coughing, sneezing, and itchy eyes. We give you our top tips so that you can enjoy the benefits of exercising outdoors even when the pollen count is high.
Related: Best Relief For Hayfever Symptoms
1. Have a shower and get changed as soon as you finish your workout
Pollen and other allergens which may set off your hayfever can stick to skin and clothes. By showering and washing your clothes as soon as you finish your workout, you reduce the risk of these allergens prompting your symptoms. This does mean no more coffee with friends after a class, but you'll thank us!
2. Don't dry your workout clothes outside
As mentioned above, pollen and hayfever-inducing allergens can stick to clothes, so if you leave your fitness clothing outside to dry it will likely pick up these allergens and cause your hayfever to flare up. At Sundried, we always try to promote the idea of 'wash cool, sun dry' to protect your activewear as well as the environment, but in the summer, an airing cupboard or hanger may be better.
3. Exercise late morning or late evening
Pollen counts tend to highest in the early morning and early evening, so try to avoid exercising outside at these times as much as possible. If you really want to train outdoors during the summer, exercising late in the evening is usually better anyway as it is not so hot!
4. Wear wrap-around sunglasses
It can be very uncomfortable having itchy, watering eyes caused by hayfever and other seasonal allergies. By wearing wrap-around sunglasses, you can help to prevent as much pollen getting into your eyes and this should help to reduce the symptoms.
5. Exercise on the beach or in a paved area
As is expected, a grassy area like a park will be the worst for causing your symptoms to flare up. Especially if the grass has just been cut, you want to avoid doing your HIIT workout or sprint intervals here. Try doing a beach workout instead, especially as this comes with its own benefits, or find a paved area that is suitable.
Want to get beach ready? The snow is finally melting and spring is on its way, so there's not much time left to get beach body ready in time for summer. Hit the gym or the park with this 20 minute workout to torch the fat and attain your dream body in time for the best time of year.
The aim is to complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes, with every round followed by a sprint. No rest, just give it all you’ve got for this high intensity workout.
Summer Beach Body Workout
Stand with your feet hip width apart. Bend over and place your hands on the ground in front of you, as close to your feet as possible. Now walk your hands out until they are underneath your shoulders and you’re in the full plank position. Reverse the exercise by walking your hands back towards your feet, bum in the air and then standing back up when you can’t walk your hands back any further.
Start in a small squat. Jump sideways to the left, landing on your left leg. Bring your right leg behind to your left ankle, without letting it touch the floor. Reverse direction by jumping to the right with your right leg. Swing your arms to help build momentum to propel you further, like you were ice skating. A jump in both directions counts as 1 rep.
10 Lateral jump burpees
Start by completing a regular burpee, but then instead of exploding back to your start position, launch yourself sideways. Keep your feet together and jump laterally before completing the next burpee.
10 Roll back sit ups
Lie on the ground and curl your legs up towards your chest, using your bent legs as levers roll up onto your shoulder blades. Rock forward into a sit up, using the momentum to carry the movement on until you are stood all the way up. Jump at the top of the movement and then lie back down ready for the next move.
10 Split leg thrusters
Start in and extended plank with your hands under your shoulders on the ground. Jump your legs forward towards your hands, splitting them to land towards either shoulder and then jump to return them to the start.
10 Hindu push ups
This move looks like a cross between a yoga flow and a push up. Start in a downward dog position. Hand under your shoulders, legs straight and bum in the air so your body forms a V shape. In a swooping motion, leading with the head, drive your head through your hands and lower your stomach, arching your back so you finish in up dog. Reverse the fluid movement leading with your bum. Try to keep the entire movement smooth and fluid and don’t hold your breath!
10 Mountain climbers
Start in an extended plank, hands under shoulders. Run your feet into your chest as fast as you can. One rep counts as each knee moving forward and back.
10 Jump squat reaches
Start by coming onto all fours and then hover your knees off the ground. From this position jump your feet into a wide squat, they should land either side of your hands. Once your feet land, sink all your weight back into your heels and reach both arms up towards the sky. Pause in this deep squat reach, before bringing your hands back down to the outsides of your shoulders and jumping your feet back to all fours. This move requires good flexibility as well as balance.
Option 1: Sprint as fast as you can between two markers for 30 seconds.
Option 2: Got no room? Sprint on the spot, bring your knees up higher to add intensity.
That’s one round complete, the aim is to do as many as you can in 20 minutes.
Is your HIIT training better done inside or outside? Our Gym vs Outside series weighs up how we exercise indoors and outdoors.
Hills, stairs, roads, the park or simply up and down your street, sprints can be done anywhere and everywhere and are one of the best ways of cranking up your heart rate.
A simple and easy way to take your HIIT outside is by doing sprints. Doing sprint intervals on a treadmill can be great, but it can also be dangerous. Running on a treadmill always comes with a caution as you could slip or miss your footing and end up flying off the end of the conveyor as it carries on spinning. By taking your sprints outside you are making your training safer and you also benefit from the fresh air and freedom of the open road.
Related: Benefits Of Outdoor Training
Outdoor Training: 100m Sprints
The simplest way to measure out roughly 100m without a tape measure is to walk 130 steps. Mark your start and finish with something you have on you, such as a jacket and a water bottle.
Aim to complete 10 rounds. Exploding off from your start point and running as fast as you can.
Rest 30 - 90 seconds or until your heart rate recovers to around 130 bpm.
Take advantage of your surroundings; if you have stairs or a hill, crank up the intensity and push yourself all the way to the top. Sprinting outside on uneven ground is far more challenging than the flat of a treadmill.