Morzine Training Camp 2009
When I read about last year’s Morzine camp it sounded like exactly the kind of thing I would have loved to do during the first couple of years of my training. An opportunity to travel to the beautiful Swiss Alps for a week of hard training and an escape from the everyday routine sounded like the perfect getaway to me.. so naturally, when asked if I would like to be an instructor for this year’s camp I said yes, without any hesitation.
After speaking to Thomas and Forrest about the 2008 camp, I realised there were some traditions already in place that Forrest wanted to include again this year and I was only too keen to experience them myself. Of course, I also wanted to inject my own flavours of hard training in to the mix and perhaps create a few new traditions that would live on and become a part of the Morzine experience for the Summers to come.
Fast-forward a month and I’m stepping from the plane in Geneva with Forrest and greeted by many friendly faces. Inside a nearby restaurant, we all gathered together as the planes landed and brought 23 individuals with a common passion together from all corners of the globe and as always, our common interest in Parkour quickly transformed strangers in to friends as we shared handshakes, travel stories and training experiences.
It wasn’t long before we all hopped in to the mini buses and were driven deep in to the Swiss mountains to Morzine, a tranquil and picturesque ski resort with a population of around 3,000. Our chalet lay on the mountainside and would be home to us all over the next week, and we would soon come to fully appreciate the hospitality of our generous hosts there.
The next day I woke up to the familiar sound of my alarm in unfamiliar surroundings and remembered that it was time to kick start the Morzine camp with our first run of the week. It was before 6am and the sun was yet to peek over the horizon, and here we were, all gathered in the car park looking either slightly nervous, slightly confused, tired or a humourous combination of all three. And then we ran. It was a short run of around twenty minutes through a ghost-like town that had few residents during these Summer months, and even fewer visible residents at such an hour.
With Morzine lying at around 1,000m, the clean, crisp and thin mountain air made the run a welcome change to running through the boroughs of London and the stunning views around us stopped us from noticing the drizzle falling from the dark skies. We didn’t know at the time this would be the only rain we would experience during our training sessions this week and a few of the students looked like they were trying to convince themselves that it was such a good idea to commit to a week of this.
Our chalet rested at the very top of a long and extremely steep, winding slope that we would grow to know intimately over the course of the week and at the end of our first run we were faced with this unforgiving trek back to our beds. Before this of course we were going to make sure we were not going to forget our first morning in Morzine, so we all adopted the press-up position in a small square.. beads of sweat dripping from our foreheads to leave 23 curious little puddles of unexplainable water for the next passerby. The pressups would accompany the run each and every morning and just as the runs would become longer and more intense, the pressups would also increase in difficulty and number.
Satisfied that everyone was now thinking only of their arms and chest, rather than the slope ahead, Forrest and I led the group up the steep incline and at the top Forrest suggested that each and time we returned to the chalet, we should all take the chance to sleep, rest and recover, for over the coming week we would train three times per day, for eight or nine hours in total and with our pre-sunrise run each guaranteed every morning, sleep would be an elusive old friend we would need to work hard to keep up with.
My alarm sounded again and I realised it was breakfast time, and still day one. We gathered together, ate a hearty meal, changed our clothes and ran in to town again for the morning workout which would consist of a furious arm training session in the form of double taps, climb ups and traversing. With various levels of experience and fitness in the group, adaptations were made to ensure everyone was working hard and being pushed to a suitable degree.
A couple of hours later and the morning session was over, forearms were left feeling like blocks of wood and callouses were either being formed, torn or removed from hands. Tape was passed around to hold folds of skin in place and Forrest and I shared a smile at the bond already being forged in the group, who were forced to work together and encourage one another to get through the toughest moments of this first real test.
Back at the chalet, we ate a fantastic lunch and returned to our rooms. Those who were sensible fell asleep again to try and repay some of that sleeping debt and a few hours later we met once again in the car park for the afternoon session of the first day. With arms feeling like jelly, the students were relieved, if only for a short time to hear that this afternoon’s focus would be on leg training.
First training session of the afternoon saw us assemble at the base of an intimidating grass slope that was even steeper than the incline that led to our chalet. I decided we would sprint to the top, touch the wall up there and then come down again whilst trying to avoid the potholes and rocks, all the while trying to remain upright. After a few trips up the dreaded hill each, we moved on to yet another slope, a concrete one this time that wasn’t quite as steep but one that was much longer, where Forrest instructed the students to repeat standing, two-footed jumps to the top, dynamically. The first time didn’t prove to be too difficult but after a few trips up the hill, quadriceps were filled with lactic acid and cardiovascular systems begged for mercy.
Hobbling, we made our way in to the woods where a fitness trail and parcours course was awaiting the group. Here, we split in to two groups and whilst Forrest repeated precision jumps with his group, I worked on two-footed jumps over high beams with mine. After 50 repetitions, my group was feeling tired but in good spirits as Forrest’s group jogged past us back to the chalet. Instead of heading back with them, I thought since I had been looking after the advanced group we would complete one final exercise of 250 squats in a row, usually a fairly straightforward task but after the afternoon’s activities, this wasn’t much fun for the guys. We completed each one together, taking turns to count 10 repetitions and the last count of 10 were screamed as loud as our lungs would allow as a group. With that, the afternoon’s training was complete and we finished day 1 with a 15 minute abs session and 45 minute stretch in the sun.
It was too soon that I heard that old alarm again, interrupting my deep sleep and bringing me from a warm and comforting bed to look outside at another dark morning. Here we go again. Shortly after, in the car park, stood the group.. looking a little shell shocked and sore. It was time to run again. A bit further today and a little quicker than before, we made our way down the slope and across the desolate town again. The pressups were expected but this didn’t make them any easier as repetitions were increased and already aching arms gave more than they wanted to.
The morning and afternoon sessions were filled with technical training at some of the excellent spots to be found in Morzine. Mixing natural environments with man-made obstacles always makes for interesting terrain and we found a great deal of both here. Although we wanted to keep the group together as much as possible, we split in to two groups for the majority of our technical training so we could tailor the training based on ability and experience.
Life became a routine of either sleeping, eating or training for that week, we all knew it was hard but we could do it. Together, we could pull through. With a variety of backgrounds, some exercises were more suited to some than others and in each, the stronger ones would help those who were struggling, knowing that tomorrow that same friend would repay the favour as they themselves struggled on something else. A strong bond was quickly created and friendships grow deep when difficult circumstances are overcome together.
It wasn’t just physical ability that was tested and pushed in Morzine, mental challenges were just as common and one particular test met the students early in the week. An old bridge over one of the faster flowing streams was the location for a long and slippery traverse, failure in which would result in a plunge in to the freezing waters and it wasn’t long before grips began to fail and the first student was soaked and frozen to the core as he let go and found himself up to his neck in fresh mountain water. With each traverse, the handholds became wetter and the likelihood of making it successfully became slimmer. Those who made it across were greeted with a lumbar traverse over the top of the bridge support whilst those who had fallen either dried out or if they were particularly brave, tried again.
There was only one rest day planned for the week and everyone took full advantage of it. After a good night’s sleep, we ate breakfast and boarded our mini buses once again, this time to head out to a day of white-water rafting. The freezing cold mountain water, although a shock to the system, was a welcome relief to burning muscles and made everyone forget the pain of healing fibres as we were all thrown down river in teams of six in our little boats. The faster sections where the boat threatened to capsize, gave way to gentler sections of the river where you could relax a little, and even climb out of the boat on to the rock features and jump in to the rapids before huge rocks channelled the water faster again and got the heart pumping.
That afternoon was spent relaxing and unwinding or trying out some of the other activities Morzine had to offer, such as paragliding, until the evening arrived when Forrest and I had planned a late-night training session. It was just a short session of technical training, mostly consisting of underbar variations and rail work, but it kept everyone on their toes and stopped them forgetting that this week was not over, by far.
As always, training resumed the next morning with yet another run and onslaught of pressups before the afternoon gave way to more technical based training, working on precisions, routes and basic techniques in the warm sun.
By now we had all accepted our temporary home and routine of hard work and we pushed through the hard times as one united group, and smiled in relief when there was a respite in the action. There was plenty of training still to come but there was a small light at the end of the tunnel creeping in to view, the week was coming to an end.
Our penultimate day was spent a little higher up in the mountains at an even quieter ski resort, called Avoriaz, where an entire town was ours to use as we pleased for our technical drills and games for the afternoon.
One particular game I played with my group was a game of tag that saw the group working their way through a long series of obstacles with another student hot on their heels trying to catch them. It was a fun but exhausting game, the kind in which you don’t realise you’re training hard until you stop and need to take a moment to catch your breath.
A long monkey walk on all-fours took us down to another section of Avoriaz where we repeated a leg-intensive route and then some off-ground challenges before we ended our session with a long and arduous abs session and a full body stretch that most would agree hurt more than anything else that day.
All week we had been hinting at a ‘final exercise’ that would be performed at the very end of the last day and we promised it would be the toughest test of the week and although it was always received with a smile, whenever we talked of it to the group we would see signs of dread creeping on to faces as people tried to guess what we had in store for them. So when the final day arrived, we decided to recap most of the week by doing a little of everything we had done before. We trained physically, we trained technically, we ran, we did pressups, we worked on our precisions, our wall runs and our routes. After we traversed the bridge over the freezing cold water again, we continued further down the river and stripped off to our swimming gear and began a 100m monkey walk that led straight in to the river. Once in, hands and feet were submerged in what felt like blocks of ice and with each pressup in the water, torsos and faces would be met with the coldest of waters and a sharp, stabbing sensation as that somehow felt as if we were lowering ourselves on to something that was burning our skin. Was this our final test of the week, some wondered?
As we made our way back to the chalet for the last time at the end of the afternoon, everyone realised the last exercise was waiting for them at the bottom of that steep and seemingly endless incline that led to our home. As I explained the exercise, and outlined what was expected of them, some were silent, others laughed and a chorus of surprised cries were heard. We would monkey walk backwards, feet first from the bottom of the slope to the chalet, some 500 metres in the distance. Forrest and I led, and both having done similar challenges before, simply took it one push at a time and didn’t think too much of the distance or pain ahead. Stay in the moment and just put one hand in front of the other. We weren’t sure how long this would take but we were sure it would be difficult. Twenty minutes or so passed and we were approaching the chalet when I decided we should keep going, not just to the chalet, but up the 15-20 steps of the chalet to the entrance, where Forrest and I completed 23 pressups, one for each member of the group before I ran and jumped in to the swimming pool to cool off. Over the next ten minutes, more and more members of the group appeared over the last ridge, crawling backwards and not contemplating considering giving up, their friends by their sides and safe in the knowledge that this was the last big effort of the week. One by one they reached the top of the stairs and completed the pressups for their friends before either collapsing or jumping in to the swimming pool. As hard as it had been, everyone agreed it was a memorable end to an unforgettable week.
Although I don’t doubt we’ll be cooking up some new surprises for next year’s Morzine camp, rest assured that the 500m monkey walk has firmly established itself as a tradition for the mountain camp.
Our last night saw us all gathered together to celebrate the end of the camp and we were treated to an incredible feast that went a long way towards helping us to forget our aching bodies.
Morzine 2009 was a great experience for all involved and we look forward to seeing you all in the mountains again, plus some new faces for next year’s camp!