"A real eye opener"
In June I went on my first ever running retreat, with Group Evolution Retreats. It really was an eye opener and for all the right reasons.
By Neil Rae
Chateau de la Motte Henry is situated in the northern Loire, near Laval. It is easy to get to, with direct flights to Rennes and Nantes from London airports. We were picked up on arrival and transferred to the Chateau (transfers were included in the retreat price).
On arrival, the Chateau and grounds were much more beautiful and imposing than I expected, even having looked at the website and seen plenty of images beforehand (www.groupevolution.com). Set in over 9 hectares the main Chateau has two lounges, a dining room and enough bedrooms to sleep 36 people. The social spaces are impressive, immaculately furnished and with well-preserved period features – it’s luxurious but not too over the top so it still feels very homely. There is a well-equipped gym, 25 metre heated outdoor swimming pool, a gorgeous lake and a beautiful trail around the grounds for running, walking or exploring. I was struck by the peace and tranquillity and the secluded seating and lounging areas where you could get away from it all and relax.
My bedroom was spacious with a comfortable bed, good quality linens and an en-suite shower room. The rooms are on a par with a good quality boutique hotel and I enjoyed the little extra touches - the period furniture; retreat T-shirt, water bottle and a personalised, laminated retreat program so I knew exactly what we were doing and when.
All the food and drink on the retreat was included in the price, even training snacks and alcohol. Before arrival I was asked the usual questions about food allergies but also asked for my food heaven and food hell, which was a nice touch. All the food was freshly prepared, with a good variety of options and nothing too much trouble. Our hosts did their best to serve up everyone’s food heaven and avoid everyone’s food hell and they were also very responsive to requests. One guest asked about smoothies for breakfast, and the next morning there was a smoothie station set up for us to make our own!
Our running coach for the retreat was British long-distance Olympian, and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, Liz Yelling. Liz and her husband, Martin Yelling both host running retreats at the chateau.
We were made welcome straight away and Liz spent time with each of us and got to know us, which made the retreat seem more personal. We were not coached as such, although Liz was at pains to ask if we wanted any input, so this was a two-way thing. Liz was relaxed and her insights informative and entertaining, she helped the group gel well.
The runs were varied, including a group run and optional second run each day. The group run was on trails, towpaths and tracks, but always away from traffic. We did have to travel to these runs and it might have been nicer to have some more runs setting off from the Chateau itself, but all the runs themselves were great, especially the long run along the towpath of the River Mayenne itself. Runs were designed to be flexible to runners of all abilities and often included sections which could extend the distance of the run and its level of difficulty. The optional runs at the end of each day were much more local and included an orientation run on the first day, repeats around the Chateau’s running trail and a speed session on a nearby athletics track.
In addition to the running program, a number of other activities were included.
Each guest had a 1-1 sports science assessment, conducted on-site. This was either a comprehensive gait analysis (including anatomical gait, walking and running biomechanics), functional fitness assessment or VO2 Max test. I had the gait analysis and this was both interesting and informative, with a detailed video and report prepared, highlighting the key findings and suggesting ways to improve.
Two yoga and meditation sessions were included, one was conducted in the spacious yoga studio in the Chateau and the other on the deck over the lake. Not having done yoga before I found these sessions challenging but also really interesting and the instructor tailored the session both to our abilities and to make them relevant for runners, so that they had genuine value.
Finally, we were given the choice to have a seminar on a topic of our choice and this ended up being a Q&A style session with Liz. It was great to hear about her training regime and get some tips on how to balance a busy schedule with training.
Although there was a written plan for the whole break and we did do a lot, it didn’t feel rushed and there was ample opportunity for free time. Nothing was compulsory, you could easily miss an activity, and we had plenty of time to explore the grounds, use the gym and pool or read a book in the rose garden. The hosts, staff and Liz made us feel welcome from moment one and this relaxed environment helped us really gel as a group. We all got on well, evidenced by several late night discussions and the plentiful wine that flowed.