*Disclaimer* – As will become apparent, Salomon paid for all of my expenses and experiences for this weekend, as well as kitting me out from head to toe in new trail running gear. That said, the below is a blog post, not a review of gear etc, and there are no affiliate links.
*Photos* – This post also uses a mix of photos taken by myself (the rubbish ones), and Philipp Reiter (the amazing ones). The latter are used with permission and all credit goes to Philipp. His website is here.
A few short weeks ago I received a rather unexpected email. Salomon Running had opened a campaign several weeks previously, asking for people to register their interest in attending the first ever Salomon Unexpected Run Weekend, to be held in Barcelona. Naturally I jumped at the chance, filled in the form and, expecting to never hear anything more on the subject, promptly forgot about it.
Then, out of the blue, an email dropped into my inbox saying that I had been selected. I very almost didn’t open the email, believing it to be spam but then remembered the entry from weeks before and clicked through.
Over 12,000 people had applied. Eight of us had been selected (although only seven of us would actually make it, due to one’s illness).
The information we were given was intentionally vague – the theme of the weekend was the “Unexpected Run” after all. Basically, Salomon would pay for my flights, hotel and food, whilst kitting me out from head to toe in new trail running kit. All I had to do was get myself to the airport.
At first, I thought I was going to have to regretfully decline. Naomi and I had booked a break in Budapest for the same weekend. Naomi, being the amazing little supporter that she is, basically demanded that I went and so we rearranged Budapest for mid-December.
Salomon booked the flights, I packed my bags and at 6am on the Friday morning I was making my way to Gatwick, arriving several hours early due to my usual paranoia. Through security, I grabbed a coffee, got my book out and waited for the flight.
Day 1 – Friday
A few hours later and I touched down in sunny Barcelona. It was 2 degrees in London when I left and when I landed in Barcelona it was rather different. Jacket off, sleeves rolled up and off through security and luggage collection.
Heading out of arrivals, I was met by Mireia bearing a Salomon Unexpected Run sign. She handed me a bag full of kit (Jacket, long sleeve top, gloves, hat, running tights, trail shoes and a running vest) and said we were picking up one other participant from another terminal (the other five had arrived earlier in the day and were at the hotel).
I was also given an envelope including very limited and cryptic information about what would be in store. We picked up Christophe, drove through Barcelona into the hills and stopped part way up one of the hills overlooking Barcelona.
A quick change in the back of the van and we were ready to go, being told to follow one of the running guides. Up we went, onto the trails and running up the rocky paths towards the top of the hill. We had no idea where we were going or what to expect but part way up there were photographers and video cameras waiting. A few shots, some more running and we arrived at the top, at the hotel.
Here we were asked a few questions about our knowledge of Barcelona and demonstrated the tie-free laces on the Supercross GTX and in exchange received our room keys and a temporary Salomon tattoo to go with my real ones.
Up to my room. dump my bags and then down to the restaurant for a late lunch and to meet the other runners: Myself (UK); Christophe (Switerzerland); Remy (France); Rosa (Spain); Michael (Austria); Hannah (USA); and Hakon (Norway).
A three course lunch, a break and then back down for a “get to know you” session before heading out for a run.
The theme of the weekend was the “Unexpected Run”, Salomon’s view that running isn’t always about going furthest or fastest but the best ones are where you come across something unexpected, that makes you stop, think and remember. It’s fair to say that, with the exception of some actual running, we didn’t expect anything that happened that weekend.
The run took us along the trails through the hills around Barcelona, getting used to the hills, humidity and everyone’s paces. As we were heading down one trail there was a sound of cheering and clapping ahead and, turning the corner, there was a mass of children applauding. They were from one of the local children’s run clubs and had come out to cheer us on, before pelting down the hill behind us. They were faster than us.
Reaching the bottom of the hill, they peeled off to much applause from us and we headed around. Climbing another hill, we could see a lit up tree. Salomon had hung Petzl headlamps from the branches, creating a makeshift Christmas tree. We jumped up, grabbed them, filled up on water from a fountain and, head torches on in the fading light, carried back on along the trail.
Zigzagging up the hill, we stopped for some photos at the Ferris Wheel before one final push up the hill. I had no idea where we were at this point, but soon there were flashlights being waved in the distance. The Salomon team had set out a table of sushi (including veggie sushi – yay) and beers overlooking the city. All gladly received.
After we’d refreshed we had time to go back to the hotel to shower and rest, with an instruction that we meet back in reception at 19:30, not in running gear. With absolutely no idea what was in store, we all piled in to the mini-vans. A short drive later and we pulled up outside the Royal Observatory. Salomon had arranged a champagne reception, private dinner in the main room and then a private guided tour around the observatory, including the opportunity to use the main telescope for a bit of star observation.
This was basically my idea of heaven. I love all things space and astronomy related and someone had just laid on a massive telescope, combined with food and running. I was sold.
The views from the observatory were needless to say stunning, both in terms of the sky views with the lack of light pollution perched on top of the hill and in terms of looking down on the city at night.
Eventually we headed back to the hotel and off to bed. We were to meet in the lobby at 7:25am the next morning, wearing comfortable clothes but not for running. After a good night’s sleep, I woke up to this rather stunning view.
Day 2 – Saturday
Then I headed downstairs, arriving in jeans, to find that they hadn’t meant quite that comfortable. A quick run upstairs, change and we were led into one of the function rooms at the hotel for…. yoga!
I can fully appreciate the benefits of yoga. It is probably in fact something that I should practice more. However, anyone who knows me will also know that flexibility is not my strong point (hence the need to actually do it).
I genuinely really enjoyed the following hour, although in a rather painful and masochistic way.
Yoga, breakfast and then we were told to meet in the hotel lobby, bags packed as we wouldn’t be returning to this hotel. We loaded up the minivans, jumped in and were driven for a couple of hours out into the countryside, in the general direction of the Pyrenees mountains.
Eventually we pulled in to the Mas Prat Hotel and Spa. The views were quite literally stunning, overlooking the mountains and with mist rolling across the valley. A snack and a coffee later and we were ready to head out on the next adventure.
We were told that at 9pm we would need to make a phone call using the laptop provided, but that we would have to find the four digit code in order to unlock it.
Following our guide, we headed off road and across the trails, quickly coming to the first of the hills. This was a new type of trail experience for me. I’ve done a fair few hill and trail ultras and general runs over the past year, but in the UK that tends to involve a lot of mud. Even in the summer, it tends to be compacted dry dirt and mud. In the hills of Catalonia it was rocks and stone which makes for a rather more technical and high impact run.
Running up the initial hill we were also exposed to the sun, which (compared to the last several weeks in London anyway) was blazing hot. I was a hot and sweaty mess by the time we reached the top and made the most of the shade as we headed back down the other side through the treeline.
Coming out of the treeline at the base of the hill, we faced the next climb. All the way to the top. The path was at times less a path and more a scramble up through bushes, trees and rocks. The path was cooler, with the trees providing shade for the majority of the climb.
The effort was more than worth it. The views from the top were amazing, looking out across the surrounding hills and mountains to the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance. Along the way we’d found two of the four numbers needed to unlock the laptop, both connected to balloons which had popped on the scramble up.
The way down can often be harder in many respects than the way up. Speed gives less time to reach to obstacles, especially when you’re running in a group. If you’re running solo then there’s usually time to mentally plot your steps several feet in advance as you fly down. With someone in front of you, you get relatively little notice of obstacles or rocks etc, sometimes not until your upon them.
There were fast sections, some sections of sliding and some bits which felt more like controlled falling. We all made it to the bottom without incident.
As we turned a corner we spotted the Salomon van parked up and beside it a crepe van which they had hauled half way up a mountain just for us. Blankets were provided and we ordered as many freshly made crepes as we wanted, which turned out to be many.
Then, stomachs full, we continued with the run, trying not to feel too ill. I was at this point carrying the third number for the laptop, connected to a balloon. Given the previous balloons had popped I could have popped this one which would have made running rather easier – but somehow that felt like cheating.
From here it was a downhill run though, running behind one of the Salomon vans which was filming us on the run.
Eventually we reached the hotel. The outside swimming pool was absolutely freezing but somehow the temptation was just too much. Five of us shed our running gear, lined up and went for it. Cold is an understatement. It was the kind of freezing that takes all the breath from your lungs as you generally scramble towards the edge of the pool before your legs go numb. Naturally we jumped in again.
A couple of yoga poses by the pool later and the hotel manager had brought dressing gowns out for the five of us. Somehow we warmed up almost instantly and sat by the pool chatting and admiring the view. One coffee later and it was time to get showered and ready. We received a message saying to pop on our head torches and head to a set of co-ordinates in order to find out what order we needed to enter the numbers into the laptop in order to unlock it.
Wandering off along the road and into the woods, we found members of the Salomon team and, after answering some Salomon related questions, we had the code and order. Back to the hotel.
As we approached the hotel we could hear drums coming from an area of grass. We wandered over and stood at the top of the raised bank looking down into a kind of natural bowl. Salomon had thrown in yet another surprise – a full fire dancing show. It was another one of those moments throughout the weekend when the seven of us all said to each other that we couldn’t quite believe how much time and effort had gone in to setting things up just for the seven of us.
After the show we sat outside on the terrace with the rest of the team having drinks while the hotel set up dinner. And what a dinner. Inside were numerous “stalls”, set up with different types of foods, from soups, risottos, cheese, breads, sushis etc. It was a feast’s worth and yet the staff continued to come out carrying plates of canapes and smaller dishes for us, before bringing out a table full of deserts.
After eating far too much, we realised it was almost 9pm and time for the phone call. We went upstairs where the laptop had been set up with a projector, entered the code and found ourselves on a video call with Kilian Jornet.
For those who do not know, Kilian Jornet is a Salomon athlete and generally considered by, well by everyone really, to be the greatest ultra runner of all time. We had a rather surprised question and answer session, with a few technical difficulties with the connection, before dialling off and heading for bed.
Day 2 was done and the event had yet again lived up to its name – Unexpected.
Day 3 – Sunday
The instruction was to meet for breakfast at 5:30am, ready for a 6am departure. At 5:30 we were at the breakfast table, coffee in hand and shortly thereafter back in the mini vans, wondering where we were off to now.
About an hour’s drive later, back in the general direction of Barcelona, and we all disembarked on the outskirts of a town, down by the river. It had been raining when we left the hotel but the weather had cleared and, looking around, it looked as if we were going to run along the river and then perhaps over into the hills which rose not far away.
Off we went, running along the river bank until we came to an area of allotments. The dirt track around the allotments formed a kind of oval race track and we were lead around it for a lap. Then another. And another. And another.
It felt slightly like it was a test, seeing who would protest first. Having run a 50km ultra around a 400m race track previously, I was actually rather enjoying it. At the end of I think the 5th lap the Salomon team peeled off and told us to run on ahead over a grassy bank.
We did so and, coming over the top of the bank, we were met with four hot air balloons being inflated. Our running for the weekend was done – air trip time over Catalonia!
There’s probably not too much that can be said about the hot air balloon trip, as the pictures speak better.
None of us had ever been in a hot air balloon before. It was remarkably quiet (except when the flames were going), remarkably smooth and not really cold at all despite the height.
The views were, predictably, amazing. After an absolutely fantastic trip we started to descend, landing in a field just as the vans turned into the field.
We helped to pack up the balloon canvas before the air balloon crew cracked open the champagne and biscuits.
And then we were almost done. Back into the vans, a further drive towards Barcelona and stopping one final time, this time at a lake with Montserrat looming in the background. Unexpectedly, there was a 10km race going on at the time and I think the organisers and the participants were somewhat confused at a group of people turning up in full Salomon kit with cameras and video cameras, cheering them over the finish line.
We shared some snacks and drinks, with the lake in the background, before the first group moved off to the airport and the second group shortly thereafter. Arriving at the airport we said our farewells and then I was off through check-in security, back to the cold of London and life as normal.
It’s genuinely difficult to do justice to the weekend – it still feels incredibly surreal. Massive massive thanks to Salomon Running, Lymbus and everyone else that made it happen. I’m incredibly grateful.
Likewise to Remy, Hannah, Rosa, Christophe, Michael and Hakon. It was a pleasure and the company made the weekend as much as anything else.
It’s a weekend I will never forget and whats more, totally Unexpected.