So were you ready then?
Well, no – clearly I wasn’t given my Spine race ground to a halt at 75 miles. And while 75 miles is no mean feat in the normal scheme of things this jaunt is so far off normal that you almost have to invent a new language just to start to describe the thing. So given the goal was 268 miles, 75 feels pretty pathetic.
Clearly someone thinks I’ve still not earned the right to finish the thing yet.
Mrs Mouncey was most put out given that she’d planned A Week Without Husband that – so she said – revolved around checking the live tracking every 7th minute then sharing OMG etc messages with her other Spine groupies. The children might get cursory attention every now and again but that would be a bonus.
‘Bit of a bummer when I shuffled in late on Monday night then.
I was quite philosophical Tuesday – then the slide began:
Wednesday: Questioning, reviewing and generally starting to pick at the scab of my race wound.
Thursday: Starting to growl as I collect way more questions than answers that make the Situation-Choice-Response at 75 miles look increasingly shaky.
Friday: Starting to stew.
Saturday: Stewing nicely.
Sunday: Resolve to black-bag the whole damn thing and move the f*** on (sigh).
Which is a shame because it was a record-breaking week on lots of measures:
Largest field ever to start
Most mud ever encountered on the course: It was pretty much a 75 mile mile quagmire
Warmest – and therefore most low cloud/extensive poor visability
Record-breaking Mountain Rescue Team challenge
New record on the 108 mile sprint distance
Most international competitors
Largest ladies field by a big margin
Ladies record obliterated
Most lady finishers ever
Probably the most nail-biting racing at the top end ever seen
Social media coverage through the roof
And that’s just the stuff I know about.
Both mens and ladies winners work in the medical profession – he’s a doctor, she’s a nurse – so clearly there’s something about working long hours on little sleep and making decisions where the stakes are high that is perfect preparation.
(All us Spine DNFers are gonna be making a beeline for the NHS recruitment line then. Heck, it’ll save on the training!).
My fun and games? I’m still not really completely sure. Here’s what I do know:
Lotsa stuff did go well – I was much better organized and checkpoint transition was slick, for instance. (Though I’ll admit to some world class faffing the day before and in the hours before the start that amounted to packing and repacking my bag a ridiculous number of times. Nerves had made basecamp in my head – lots of them).
I was short of running – my hiking was fine – and my contact points failed at the working interface. I could feel familiar symptoms starting to spiral: First pins and needles in the soles of my feet that over time progress to something akin to broken glass. Meanwhile sodden tissues continue to swell till the soles of the feet become unbearable to touch.
The choice I was given at 75 mile by the medic was framed as black and white: We can drug you and strap you and you might get 2 or 20 miles up the trail. What happens after that and what trouble you might store up for long term problems is unknown. We suspect nerve damage to the balls of your feet and the saturated tissues are making it all worse.
Or you can stop now.
It was a career-ending scenario that was painted that threw me – genuine rug-from-under-feet stuff: ‘You might have to change your sport…’
Sufficiently shocking that I had a big cry embarrassingly in front of big boys and hard gnarly bast***s that rather annoyingly didn’t seem to help me at all.
So I had another one just to be sure.
Some days later from the luxury of a warm bath and after consultation with trusted folks and a serious bout of structured reflection I’m less than convinced and starting to rue what is starting to look like an opportunity lost.
And yes, I know: You don’t second-guess decisions taken on the battlefield from the safety of a bunker, and you gotta work on the basis that you take the best decision you can at the time with the information you have and the resources at your disposal.
That’s all fine and dandy – and it still all feels abit s***.
What DOES stand out is that I have to be even more proactive re footcare (and foot wear) on the big stuff in crap conditions. Because it’s damn certain that if I can reduce the water-logging in the feet what nerves I still have in there will thank me for it. And this is a far simpler way to start than the orthotic or surgical options that were floated.
What THAT means is that the project continues with some tweaks.
Winner reports from www.grough.co.uk
Stacks of clips and pics https://www.facebook.com/TheSpineRace/
A question I’ve got used to fielding over the last few weeks. Used to but not entirely comfortable with. The enquirer is always well-meaning - though there’s a hint of eggshell-walking - and the gaze is always discerning.
That’s because it ain’t a casual question.
That’s because the questioner generally knows.
Next week The Spine Race is back and I’ve got baggage.
268 miles on foot south to north along The Pennine Way national trail is a fun enough undertaking in summer. In the middle of winter with a seven day cut-off makes for some serious sh**. My mother – bless her – threw in the towel long ago trying to figure out why on earth No 1 son insists on getting his kicks this way. I swear this time she’s genuinely entertaining thoughts of Danger Of Slow Lingering Cold Death.
‘But why, Andrew?’ (only my mother calls me ‘Andrew’).
‘Because it’s hard, Mother.’
And this is the lady that proudly dug out a very old school report when I was training for my Arch to Arc / London To Paris triathlon jaunt in 2003:
‘Andrew likes a challenge’ it said.
(I was never ‘Andy’ in those days. ‘Had to move away and be someone else for that one).
I know what’s coming: After two starts and two DNF why on earth I would want to go back is completely beyond my mother’s capacity to process. She’s black-bagged these and my other silly stuff and had clearly hoped that now I’d reached the respectable age of 50 I’d be turning my attention to more well, respectable pastimes.
Truth be told I’d been wondering myself periodically since autumn rolled around…
It’s been right back to the fright-fest that was the early months of my English Channel swim prep in 2003:
Periodic cowering in cave.
Focusing on what I hadn’t done – what I thought was missing.
Knowing I have to do the key sessions and dreading the prospect anyway.
And above all to switch my mindset from Competing – which clearly hadn’t worked the previous two times – to what it would take to Complete the damn thing.
The last time I had a number on my front was January 2014, and apart from the ‘Well Have You Still Got It?’ ironman field test Wasdale X this summer I’d been off-games with two and a half years of foot injury.
Meanwhile my head has been full of work stuff as progress to launch a new business accelerates and efforts to find public funding periodically tie me in knots. On my big list of twisted priorities I kid myself it’s the work stuff that counts and use it as an excuse to weasel out of the other stuff. Charlotte lets me get away with this once, watches the inevitable wallow in self-loathing that follows that the boys see as Grumpy Snappy Daddy, then throws me a lifeline.
I love that lady.
START AGAIN notes my diary on Sept 30.
It took till Dec 11th for me to transition from a state of abject terror at the prospect to mild trepidation. Confidence Is (Indeed) The Currency and I’ve had my work cut out building up the value of mine. Here are some of the highlights:
Oct 1: Benchmark power hike up and down my local 700m mountain Ingleborough carrying 20kg. I’m slow, in a box at the end – but it’s the first notch on the belt.
Oct 19: Arriving home at 7am white, shaking and barely able to string a sentence together after a two hour hilly power hike with 25kg on my back. ‘Kin ‘ell!
Oct 29: The first successful back-to-back weekend. Time On Feet still feels forced, slow – I’m knackered but that’s four sessions in two days DONE.
Nov 4: Feeling the benefits after a one week diet re-set
Nov 12: First day-night biggie: 12 hours (the night half with friends to make it less scary) on Three Peaks of Yorkshire ground. Company, clear skies and full moon make me smile, but I struggle to sleep afterwards, my feet are abit of a mess, and I’m no use to anyone the next day. The day after that I’m down with full cold symptoms that make for a grumpy snotty Daddy all week. Lovely.
Nov 25: Baulk at the prospect of the planned all-night-day solo jaunt. After a full-on head-bursting workweek I just cannot summon the motivation to head out into the darkness on Friday night. Beer with my favourite lady wins. Saturday morning and I’m still squirming. Saturday afternoon and I’m finally out. A rookie error has me losing my map after 3 hours that curtails activities somewhat. I’m home some 5 hours later – actually delighted that I’ve done the whole thing on no fuel at all. A new max duration for me and further proof that the nutritional changes I’ve been making have really worked.
10 minutes later I’m slumped on the floor light-headed and slurring as the euphoria fades and my brain registers the deficit I’m in.
Ah. Not quite the completely finished product yet, then…
I recover fast, sleep soundly, and 5 hours later I’m out again for a 2 hours at-pace run and am back before the family are up. And still do the fun-to-be with Daddy for the rest of the day. While it hasn’t been Plan A it has been a number of significant firsts and my first real indicator that stuff is starting to line up.
Dec 2: Another pb at crossfit I’ve been setting new marks in key exercises all autumn – torso strength is the goal – and at 50 years old I’m lifting way heavier in the gym than I ever did in my 20’s. And I thought that was training…
Dec 3: A training day with Ranger Exped as I choose to park what I think I know about the damn race and go back to Spine School. It’s exactly what I need and a few more pennies drop.
Dec 4: Buoyed by the previous day I push out another pb: A 2 hour hilly power-hike with close to 50% of my bodyweight on my back. And I feel OK.
Dec 10-11: A corner well and truly turned courtesy of a beyond-all-expectation 14 hour solo night-time jaunt with 3 hour rest/transition followed by a 2 hour run. And after a one hour sleep I can even do sustained, responsible interactive parenting.
So am I ready? Heck, I dunno. But I’m a damn sight further on than I was – though as the great man said:
‘Any fool can be fit.
It’s being hard that’s hard.’ Joss
Can I still think clearly under pressure with miles under my belt and miles still to go as the elements rage in the dark of another Pennine night?
Guess we’ll be finding out.
Live Tracking from Jan 15: http://live.thespinerace.com
Read Andy's latest piece for Run Ultra