Palermo

The GR20: Day 1

Polly FarringtonComment

The GR20, along with the TMB and the Walkers Haute Route is one of the classic mountain treks. It is 180km long with 10,000m+ of climbing and the terrain is extremely rugged e.g. during the Northern half there is not so much a path, just thousands of rocks to scramble over. It is commonly thought of as one of the most beautiful treks in the world and the unique geological properties of Corsica with the incredible mountain range running down the centre with miles of ridge line and the sea often within sight.

Alex (travelling companion/housemate/fiancée) and I are, more or less, reasonably competent at hiking long distance mountain trails  and having done a fair few now we went into this feeling pretty relaxed, too relaxed we would soon discover.

We arrived in Bastia the last week of June and caught a bus down to Conca, we would be hiking the trail in the opposite direction to normal (South to North) in order to have the sun on our backs and to do the more “gentle” southerly section first before moving onto the more rugged northerly section. I still maintain this was a good plan, what we weren’t prepared for however was the extreme heat wave heading for southern Europe during the 10 days we had scheduled for this trip.

I’ll be detailing our trip in this blog.

Back when rocks were still a novelty!

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Stage 1: Conca – Refuge d’l Paliri

Date: 23rd June 2019

Distance 13.8km

Ascent: 1228m

Descent: 431m

Weather: Hot (you will notice a pattern start to emerge here)

The trail climbs steeply out of Conca up an exposed tarmac road before eventually turning off and joining the trail, the official start of the GR20. We had spent the night at the Gite La Tonelle (the traditional end point for most trekkers), testing out our home for the next 10 days, a small green tent held up with our trekking poles just big enough for two.

Everyone says the second half of the trail, from Vizzavona to Conca (the section we were doing first) is a bit of a disappointment after the dramatic scenery of first half. Don’t listen to them though, it was beautiful, lush and green with rocky mountains rising in the distance and pine cones as big as your head. It felt hard though, wasn’t this supposed to be the easy section? And it was hot, really hot. Sweat mixing with sun cream and running into your eyes, burning, something we would get very used to. We started to see people coming in the other direction, at the final stage of their hikes. They all looked very ready for the end. 

Sweat soaked.

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At one point we found ourselves walking behind a large cow and her calf, this is single track so there is no easy way around. And also cows are terrifying. We fell in line behind the cow and eventually overtook when a hiker much braver than ourselves created a human shield to let us past. We later saw the same cow/calf chilling at the campsite.

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We completed the final climb in the hottest part of the day and it was tough, heavy bags full of food, relentless sun. Wasn’t this the easy part? When we finally emerged into a shady campsite on the col with lots of tree cover it felt amazing, a freeze dried dinner, a glacier shower in a shack with a falling off door and it was time to call it a night.

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A Big Toe THUMBS UP

Simon Lamb

Here is an another exercise for you to build on your foot strength. It’s so easy that it doesn’t even seem like you are exercising. Take your shoes and socks off and stand up, look down at your feet and lift your big toe up (only your big toe) as though you are doing a thumbs up and leave all the other toes attached to the floor. Mmmm we thought you wouldn’t be able to do it, practice that until you can do it on both feet. 

Why is this important? Your big toe and the chain it belongs to is pivotal in the lift-off stage of your running gate, being able to mobilise it separately is vital in building strength and stability to push off the floor. 

Hopefully after a few weeks you will begin to notice all the tiny muscles in your toes that rarely get conditioned unless you often walk around barefoot. 

Practice this each day. Twice a day at least. When cleaning your teeth, waiting for the bus, waiting for anything really. Become strong through everyday movements.

A track repeat pace chart.

Simon Lamb

We have developed this chart to help you find the desired interval pace for your training. If you want to know how fast your 400m training repeats need to be when training for a 10K race, locate your goal pace in the 10K column and follow it left to the 400m column. For example, if your have a 10K goal 40:00, your 400m interval time should be 01:36.

Download the high resolution version here. To reference the original resources and to discover other pace charts please visit our bookmarks page.

Pick that weight up and lift it above your head. And repeat.

Simon Lamb

By now you have probably realised that when it comes to building strength around our training we prefer to situate it in our everyday lives. From wearing no shoes to balancing on one leg, we find we get more done if it becomes part of our daily routine.

What follows is one simple exercise that can easily fit into your daily life but at the same time works just about all the important muscles you need to keep you strong and mobile. So, find yourself a clear space and follow…

Find a heavy object and place it at your feet.

Squat down and lift that object in one continuous movement upwards until it is above your head.

Reverse that movement and place the heavy object back on the floor.

Repeat as many times as you wish.

You will notice in this movement that everything is getting worked on. Legs, Trunk and Back. Shoulders and Arms. A full body work out from one simple movement.

As with everything we suggest, start off slow and build up the weight, you can use a medicine ball or a kettle bell but you could quite as easily use a bag of rice or whatever you wish.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to move or lift just make sure you are doing it comfortably.

Become strong through everyday movements.

Simon Lamb

Last week we wrote about how to strengthen your feet. We encouraged you to take off your shoes, whenever you can, to let your feet naturally find their own strong and flexible condition, something they often don’t get when trapped in shoes for most of the day. 

Here is an exercise to build on that and to develop our idea further.

Next time you are cleaning your teeth. Stand up straight, level your hips and stand just on one leg. Sounds easy doesn’t it?

Good, now try holding it for the few minutes you clean your teeth and then again on the following leg the next time. Not quite so easy is it, maybe one leg is stronger than the other and needs more practice. Don’t worry, if you have to put your foot down, just start again.

Hopefully you will begin to notice all those tiny muscles in your feet and lower legs that rarely get conditioned, these are vital muscles in the chain of stability you need when your foot hits the floor as you run. 

Practice this each day. Twice a day at least. When cleaning you teeth, waiting for the bus, waiting for anything really. Practice and make a habit. Become strong through everyday movements.

Take off your shoes.

Simon Lamb

This isn’t a post about barefoot running, or minimalist footwear. At Palermo we don’t mind what shoes you run in, other than that they are comfortable, as that is all that really matters. This post is about the health and strength of your feet. 

Consider doing this, next time you are sat at a computer, go to Youtube and watch some climbing videos. You will notice that a climber’s hands are strong. Very Strong. So strong in fact that a climber can hang from vertical or over-hanging cliffs using just a few fingers. 

A climber’s fingers are her main tool for staying on the wall. A runner’s feet should be her main tool. However since the 70’s runners have cast their feet in soft bouncy rubber. Could you imagine a climber climbing in boxing gloves to protect her hands? No we can’t either. But, somewhere along the line, predominately due to myth and clever marketing we have been taught to protect our feet rather than strengthen them.

The body adapts by being strong, not be being protected. 

We are not saying to throw out all your shoes and run naked down the road! What we are saying is when you aren’t outside take off your shoes and be barefoot. Indoors, outdoors whenever you can, as often as possible. Being bare foot will allow your feet to find their natural position and strength again in an everyday way. 

If you find this uncomfortable and maybe even painful then that is a sure sign that your feet need strengthening. So take it carefully and add to your capacity slowly.



We are made of plastic.

Simon Lamb

No not that horrid stuff that is clogging up our seas. We mean that our bodies have plasticity. They have evolved over millions of years to be strong flexible and resilient eco systems. We often hear in clinic “I’ve got a bad back”, or “I can’t do that, that is my bad knee.” Stop letting people tell you this. 

Whatever state you find yourself in, either physically and mentally, you can change it. The ability of the human body to repair and remodel itself is endless and humbling. All you need is belief that it is possible and a plan to work towards regrowth with consistent movement and strength. Movement is the key to life and strength is the key to keeping us moving throughout life.

Pace Chart for Marathon and Half Marathon Training

Simon Lamb

This pace chart was developed with marathon training in mind. Locate your goal pace in the Marathon or Half Marathon column and follow it straight over to see the varying training paces for each type of run. For example, if your Marathon goal time is 3:30:00, your recovery runs should be run at 10:19min/mi and your tempo runs should be 8:01min/mi. Following this chart to vary your training intensities can help you avoid burn out and over training.