Simon James is an International Mountain Leader and Founder of the trail running holiday company, Run The Wild and above all a lover of exploring trails. Dividing his time between Chamonix, France and the UK we catch up with him at the start of the Christmas holidays to find out what makes him tick.
what3words (like the app) describe you right here, right now?
- That’s easy – Run the Wild!
Who/what got you into running off road and what is it about trail that does it for you?
- I grew up on Gower in south Wales. I spent my childhood running around the beaches, wild camp-ing on sand dunes, scrambling around on the rocky cliffs, and swimming in the sea all year round. We were quite wild my friends and I; we had no money but we had everything we could ever dream about. This was where my passion for the outdoors and the sense of freedom it provides started. As many do, I found myself pursuing a career in London, in order to change my fortunes. After a few years of long hours, my career was taking its toll on my health and one of my clients (and now a best friend) suggested that I should take on a hiking challenge he was arranging across the 54 mile West Highland Way. Except it turned out to be a run. It was the toughest thing I’d ever done, but it reawakened what I’d discovered in my youth many years earlier, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Trail running, reconnects us to our beautiful natural world and yet at the same time connects our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual elements and similarly can connect us to other people. That’s massive! Ultimately, for me and to quote our mini-film “Trail running is the ultimate pursuit of freedom, of feeling alive.”
What kind of runner are you? Are you a lone wolf, an explorer, racer, chatter, groupie?
- I love trail running in all its guises! As a trail running guide I have to be adaptable. I also think that there is a time and a place for all those elements, just like music, so sometimes it’s great to share those moments with big groups and sometimes it’s perfect to be just running that alpine ridge on your own. My ultimate path is running something new, so I suppose explorer. Exploring places… not running racesTM is our strap line!
Run The Wild has gone from strength to strength as a provider of fantastic trail running holidays. What are you most proud of it achieving?
- It’s been a lot of hard work a long the way and I’m so grateful for everyone’s support! I’m most proud of how we’ve been able to reach so many different people and help them to discover a passion for trail running or indeed just be part of their journey. I am really fortunate to get to hear about what our RtWilders (Run the Wild clients) say about our trips and also what they go on to achieve. Every so often I get a particular message which starts… “Run the Wild gave me the confidence to…” and those are absolute gold. We get a bit teary then!
What do you get from Run The Wild?
- For me it’s hearing those stories from clients who have completed a trip and how it’s inspired their love of running. When I had major hip surgery a few years ago and I wasn’t expected to run again, those stories kept me going. I love running and I love the outdoors and sharing those passions is a real privilege.
Why do people choose to combine running with holidays and sign up to Run The Wild?
- I think for many reasons! It’s a really sociable way of running, and because it’s professionally guided our clients learn about the area they are running through from edible flowers to local history and of course trail running techniques. It also provides them a level of confidence, we know the routes, we manage the dangers and provide a level of confidence, just as you would with a ski guide or climbing instructor. I come from a mountaineering background and it’s the feeling of ‘team’ which really heightens the experience of running trails together in the outdoors, that and connecting with nature, both aspects are really good for our mental well-being. Many of our clients become great friends and return year after year as the same group despite having once met as strangers on their initial trip! The cheese and wine tastings on our Alps trips are maybe another reason too!
How do you encourage runners to connect with nature when they are out and about with you?
- It’s so important that people learn about and connect with nature, for both our good and also for nature too. Given the fragility of the areas we run in, the more we all understand nature and learn to care for it, the better. I have a real passion for natural environment, as do our guides, it’s infectious! We also try to make it fun, interesting and memorable.
What is the thing which has changed the most about your own running?
- My hip operation was a massive thing for me and it caused me to reassess my own identity which was all about running. I’ve come out of that experience with a new perspective and I very much believe everyone has the potential to run and that we should be defined by our attitude and not our ability.
If anyone in the world you could run chat with, who would it be (they don’t need to be a runner) and why?
- My wife and 2 german short-haired pointers – Bailey and Lottie! It’s my downtime and I love that we are able to share running and the outdoors together.
What is the funniest /weirdest thing you have seen/happened to you whilst out on the trail?
- A guy who was walking his dog early one morning this year in Chamonix valley, wearing nothing but walking boots!
Simon will be spreading his enthusiasm on the Trail Zone at the National Running Show in Birmingham, Jan 2020. To get in touch and search for Run The Wild adventures click here