It’s a little over a week since I completed the Verbier St Bernard Marathon Trail in the beautiful Swiss Alps – ascending and descending 3,500 metres – in just under 13 hours. I’ve had plenty of time now to reflect on the experience – the ups and downs, and the highs and lows – physically, mentally and emotionally.

The greatest realisation and respect I have is for the mind, and the role it plays in endurance challenges like this. Physical fitness is of course fundamental, it’s what gets you to the start line, but it’s mental fitness that arguably gets you over the finish line… when you’re out there, pushing the boundaries of physical endurance, it’s our thoughts that are keeping us going, or slowing us down. Why then don’t we put as much time and effort into our mental fitness as we do our physical fitness?

Up until recently my mental fitness came solely from my running – a time for me to completely switch off, to think about nothing more than the hypnotic rhythm of jogging. While this still plays an important part, I also now see the benefits of being still and being totally present – either listening to a guided meditation, focusing on my breath or listening to the sounds of the waves to help me to unwind.

Being mindful and self-aware of your thresholds and stress triggers helps in so many situations – from the mountains to the boardroom… it also plays a crucial role in motivating you to head for the mountains in the first place.

Stands to reason our mental fitness needs way more respect, time and training than we realise. Whether taking part in an endurance sporting event or getting through a challenging project at work, the difference between achieving your goals or not, starts and finishes with the mind.

Set your intention for today, and discover what you can achieve through a total fitness approach in mind, body and soul.

To help get inspired, pop along to one of POINT3 Wellbeing’s health and wellness events on 4 & 5 August.

Today, the 7th of April, is exactly three months until my next big running challenge and my toughest marathon to date. The new Trail Verbier St Bernard  marathon race takes place on Saturday 7th July between Liddes and Verbier, high in the Swiss Alps.

With four ascents (the largest two of which are at the beginning and the end) and four descents, this marathon climbs 3,570m over the course of the 43.21km route.

Back in 2014, I took part in the baby race of this series, a 2,500m ascent over 30km. Even the baby was a challenging experience (read all about the “Trails and Tribulations” here!), with the obvious key take-out being the need to build more endurance in the legs to tackle those mountains.

I’m quite used to building up the mileage to tackle a distance race around London but how do you train for such a series of climbs in a relatively flat area?

Over the last two years I have found balancing my running with HIIT workouts to be a great way to not only improve my speed but also my strength and endurance – seemingly the perfect complement to an outdoor running programme – and hopefully the answer to this quandary (coupled with as much hill training as I can pack in around Richmond and the surrounding areas).

With 13 weeks to go, I’m now a couple of months into my training programme. But as regulars to running will I’m sure sympathise, getting hill ready is currently the least of my worries, as I’ve recently sustained an injury to my ankle! I started physio this week and the problem is actually with my hips and glutes which are not strong enough (particularly on my right side), so my lower leg and ankle are having to compensate. I’m now tasked with a number of exercises which coupled with regular foam-rollering should hopefully see me able to build up the mileage more significantly over the coming weeks.

While I work through my physio exercises to improve my hip strength and technique, I’ll continue to complement my running with a couple of HIIT workouts a week focused on building more endurance in my quads, glutes and arms, to hopefully help propel me up those mountains come July!

There are a few morals to this story but the main one for me is accepting that nothing ever goes quite to plan when training for a marathon – in fact – when aiming for any goal in life… What’s important is how you respond to inevitable challenges along the way. Keep the faith that every mountain top is within reach if you just keep on climbing.

Wishing all those taking part in the Paris Marathon (a favourite) and other Spring marathons this weekend, all the very best! Enjoy, and relish every mountainous moment.

On Saturday I took part in the Liddes-Verbier 29km trail run in the Swiss Alps, the baby race of the Trail Verbier St-Bernard family.

Trail Verbier St Bernard

In the lead up to the run, I’ve been following a 14 week training programme of around 500 miles, and definitely not enough hills! It was my friend Tori that first introduced me to trail running – when in 2012 and 2013 we took part in the Eco Trail de Paris and the Beaujolais Villages Trail together. With their combined ascents of 1,250m, this 29km at 1,498m altitude, with a climb of 2,500m+ was always going to be tougher…

Liddes to VerbierThe run consists of two big ascents, the first of which is higher than Snowdon (1,085m) and the second higher than Ben Nevis (1,344m)! And with fog and rain welcoming us at about 2,000m on both climbs it sadly meant we missed out on enjoying the stunning scenery of the St Bernard region.

The view

The descents were pretty treacherous also – technical terrain made very muddy and slippy by a number of days of persistent rain. Given all of this, I was pretty pleased to arrive in Verbier in 6 hours 31 mins, in 127th place (27th in my category) and pick up my finisher’s t-shirt!

Sarah Mayo in Verbier

Throughout, I had a lot of time to think. When not trying to work out how long until the next check point or where to plant my next pole, I began thinking that trail running is a great metaphor for life. There are ups and downs, there are twists and turns, slips and tumbles, blood, sweat and tears, but there is always one constant… the people around you, the people that help you through the tough times as well as the good times.

It’s these people that helped me complete this challenge, and my heartfelt gratitude goes out to them all:

  1. My support crew of sister-in-law Miki and nieces Sana and Fumi – from the start at Liddes, to the half-way point at Lourtier, to the end in Verbier – it was such a welcoming sight to see their smiling faces supporting me come rain or shine! (And sorry Sana for “STILL talking about that silly run”!) My running support crew
  2. Organisers, supporters and fellow runners – races like this take so much organisation, especially in inclement weather as it was this past weekend. My thanks to all those supporters/volunteers who were out in force along the route shouting “Bravo” or “You crazy trail runners!” and my fellow runners who picked me up with words such as “Courage” when I paused to rest or literally picked me up when I slipped and fell… Start of Liddes
  3. The BeaRCat Running Club – I was proud to wear my BeaRCat running vest, promoting this great running club around the Swiss Alps! I’ve been a member since the end of last year, and this fab community has provided so much friendly support and sage advice over this short space of time. Sarah Mayo Bearcat Runner
  4. Family and friends – A huge thanks to all my family and friends who have patiently been there for me over the last few months throughout all my training. For all your encouragement and lovely words of support, I’m forever grateful. Colin of the Collines
  5. And finally, my brother Colin – as I said earlier, my event was only the baby distance and it is with awe that I write about my brother who completed the daddy of the races – a gruelling 105km route, over a 7,500m ascent, in an incredible time of 22 hours 38 minutes, finishing in a staggering 46th place (12th in his category). I thought of him a great deal throughout my race, having started 8 hours before me, and knowing that he would finish around 8 hours after me (at 3.30am). When the climbs were tough, the thought of Colin somewhere nearby in the mountains kept on driving me forward. What an achievement Col, I’m massively proud of you. (It’s also just occurred to me that ‘colline’ in French means ‘hill’ – very apt that he should be so at home in the hills!!)

My closing thought may seem clichéd but I can’t argue with it… We all run our own races in life… We can’t compare our chapter 37 to someone else’s chapter 40… So, whatever your goal or race be proud of what you achieve, and don’t forget it’s the people around you that are important. They are the greatest prize of all. And so it’s to them and you, that I wholeheartedly thank and dedicate this post.

Santé!

G x