In its second year, the last weekend of June saw the adidas Infinite Trails Championships bring together world championship athletes and team runners from around the globe in a relay made up of three legs, each with different challenges, distances and vertical climbs.
Following last year’s cancellation due to adverse weather conditions, this year stars from the Channel 4 show ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’ took on the mountains in a gruelling heatwave as part of team Blacks Outdoors.
Channel 4’s hit TV programme SAS: Who Dares Wins aired earlier this year and saw recruits, each with a personal reason for taking part in the show, tackle a demanding course designed to emulate the real-life SAS military selection process.
Esmeee Gummer, Mark Peart and Milo Mackin formed a team and jetted to the Alps to begin their racing journey on the Thursday evening. After a successful qualifying 'prologue' – a 15-kilometre route that would determine their starting places – Esmee was the first to take on the main event.
Physical trainer to the stars, Esmee Gummer from Essex took on Loop One: a 25km and 1900m ascent. Esmee suffered paralysis when she was younger as an unexpected result of minor surgery. Refusing to quit, she fought her way back to fitness and is now respected as one of London’s premier fitness trainers. Esmee was one of the top performing women on this year’s SAS television programme, which for the first time allowed females to take part.
One of the top placing females on SAS: Who Dares Wins, Esmee yet again proved her strength and completed her loop in just four hours and fifty three minutes - well inside the time set by other competitors.
The next leg of the race saw South Yorkshire’s Mark Peart tackle an incredible 60km traversal of the mountains. Mark’s story is one of deep sorrow, having tragically lost his wife early last year. As part of his grieving process, Mark took on physical challenges to "project negative energy into something positive". The ex-RAF firefighter now uses his fitness to help tackle the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
By mid-morning, Mark proved why he was one of two male recruits to complete the SAS course, having battled scalding temperatures to finish his loop in ten hours twenty - a respectable time for such a demanding route with over 3,000 metres of elevation. Despite this, Mark remained undaunted. He commented:
"It makes you free to live in the moment, to feel your feet on the ground, the air in your lungs, and the rhythm of your stride."
The final loop undertaken by Milo Mackin from Plymouth consisted of 40km with a 2100m ascent. Milo was just 15 when his older brother and idol was killed in Afghanistan. He chose to combat his grief through throwing himself into sport and physical challenges, conquering Iron Man Wales at the age of 22.
Starting off just after 8pm, Milo was left with little time to reach each checkpoint before the rolling cut-off came into effect. Milo used his SAS winning experience to battle through 30km of his route but, sadly, fell just short of hitting the final checkpoint. With only 10km left he was forced to retire from the race.
Speaking about the team’s valiant effort, a spokesperson for Blacks Outdoors commented:
“This is a tough race and that's why we sent people who have proven they can do tough. It seems a bitter end after such a long, arduous battle against the mountain, but Team Blacks remain buoyant about their attempt. Each of them gave their best for their teammates, using their undeniable bond to help them battle through and we couldn't be prouder of their accomplishments.”
Reflecting on his experience, Mark Peart shared his thoughts on the weekend in Austria:
“The Infinite Trails is a really serious event. Nearly half of the runners didn’t complete the second loop, which proves this. The trail is incredibly tough and truly breath-taking, and not just because of the altitude. It offers everything that a runner could wish for. There were amazing highs and crushing lows, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
In her reflection of the Championships, Esmee Gummer commented:
“I tried not to think too much about the event before I went because it was the first trail run I had ever done. I didn’t want to freak myself out. I kept the whole thing as an element of surprise and it was just incredible. I loved the prologue because I got to spend time with Mark and Milo in the mountains, doing something we all love.
“When I went off on my own it was a weird feeling, to tackle something so strenuous alone, but I still felt the strong companionship between the three of us all the way around. I pushed myself even more for them as well.”
Summarising the team’s dynamic and Infinite Trails experience she added:
“Don't aspire to be the best on the team, be the best for the team."
The race went on to be won by multinational team Dimitrii Mityaev of Russia, Luis Hernando of Spain and Timothy Olson of the USA, finishing in an impressive time of thirteen hours, four minutes and twenty seven seconds.
View the full adidas Infinite Trails race report on the Blacks website.