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By Andy Mouncey, Aug 7 2018 02:45PM


There’s’ an inflatable sofa in the corner and I can’t take my eyes off it.

There are even cushions and a blanket for chrissake.

I’m at the ten miles to go checkpoint and I can barely keep my eyes open despite the rain trying to beat holes in the marquee roof and the wind doing it’s best to rip the whole thing free.

‘There goes the toilet!’ comes the shout, and we all turn to see the portaloo outside now lying on it’s side as most of the crew find a marquee pole to hang on to as the rain turns to hail making it sound like we’re taking machine gun fire.

Not that I’ve ever taken machine gun fire.


But by fate or fortune I’ve arrived here just as the weather has turned itself up to Number 11 (again) and the only place I’m going in a hurry is that sofa.

I turn to Angel Number 1 (there have been two of them looking after me as I arrived in somewhat of a uncoordinated daze and a fetching shade of white a few minutes ago).

‘I’m going to lie down over there’ – my arm shakes in the vague direction of the sofa because even to my compromised senses ‘lie down’ came out suspiciously like ‘Pie Gown’.

Oh good, so now we’re slurring as well.

‘Wake me in 3 minutes, will you?’

F**k it.

‘Wake me in five.’


To lie down is bliss – and then to be covered in a blanket is priceless, as they say – and as my eyes close I put my faith in my capacity to re-set: I am 95 miles to the good but this is a 100 mile race with 6,800m climbing to boot – actually 105 miles but that just sounds abit messy – so it ain’t good enough. Yet.


The wheels had come off big style as I left Ambleside 5.5miles ago. The weather had turned as I left Pooley Bridge on the north shore of Ullswater at around 62 miles early that morning and with a few brief respites we’d been getting our heads kicked in by the weather gods ever since.

‘Chance of a few light showers, cooler with squally rain in the hills’ I recall from the forecast.


Ha! Try plummeting temperatures, gale force winds and driving rain turned off and on at frequent intervals... a lovely surprise after weeks and weeks of wall to wall sunshine and warm weather training (sigh). I was just thankful that my last big race outing in the Lakes in mid June also took place on a god-awful weather day after weeks of sunshine. A timely reminder that a forecast can be wrong and that I can do bad weather and still push and still operate effectively.

And that’s what I’ve been doing.


It’s been very marginal at times but I HAVE held it together not least because one big carrot is that I will see the family at Ambleside (89miles) for the first and only time during the race.

At least, on the surface it appears to me that I’ve held it together.

What I’ve actually been doing is digging myself into a big hole that the checkpoint re-fuels have only been partially successful at re-filling. While I’ve been busy in another room the Energy Depletion Monster has come calling and is now camped on my front step waiting for the opportune moment to crash my party.


So Ambleside’s a pull and I’m getting there and still moving sweetly on the descents during a rare period of sunshine – until I’m brought back down to earth with a bang as I start the zigzag drop through the wood above the town. My feet go from under me and I hit the slick rocky path hard taking a big chunk out of my elbow.


I am seriously pissed off: I’ve stayed on my feet through all the tricky rocky sections through the night and the rain-slicked wind-lashed descents through the day to come unstuck on relatively easy going one mile before The Big Final Push is due to kick in. More immediately, it bloody hurts and is pouring blood that quickly turns my forearm red and my palm slick so I can’t grip anything.

‘F**ksake…

I can’t do anything so ignore it and get on with Getting There – but I wonder later if the blood loss is something that on it’s own is inconsequential but coming on the back of creeping depletion is another factor that will tip the balance.


Before that Ambleside is bathed in sun and jumping.

People pack the streets cheering and applauding. It’s another change from my last outing in 2011: There’s just more support out and about. Dropping down the final hill into the noise and there’s Charlotte and the boys waving madly along with our good friend Camper Van Steve. A fast hug all round and…

‘Run with me!’



Through Ambleside
Through Ambleside

We all set off through the cheers and the final few hundred yards to the checkpoint. I feel stupidly good and am floating along, her eyes are shining and we are both grinning like idiots as the boys hang onto our coat tails.

‘There’s so many people - blimey…’


Into the CP. By agreement there is no chat about times and places and I am completely oblivious to what time it is and where I might be in the race.

‘Don’t tell me unless I ask’ I’d said - so we generally catch up as I register that the fresh fruit on offer is exactly what I want. What I actually need is something more substantial as well - which gets forgotten in all the hormones flying about and the first aid patch up operation happening on my arm.


Ambleside checkpoint
Ambleside checkpoint

To more cheers we all exit and run out through the park still chattering away. Fast hugs and kisses send me on my way and I’m still floating when I hit the base of the climb out of the town.

‘Right then - let’s play!’

I change down, hit the accelerator – and…

Nothing.

Absolutely bloody nothing.

‘Ok, fine – be patient, lean into this and take your time. If that’s what it needs…’


But it needs a damn sight more than I have to give and I get slower and more demoralized as I head up and over the climb. My world narrows and Dragging My Sorry Ass has replaced the floaty feeling of a few short miles ago. To match my mood the weather deteriorates quickly again necessitating full shields-up attire for the umpteenth time. I am baffled at the collapse and seriously pissed as The Plan was to push from here: Most other folks will be slowing now – but that’s not supposed to include me.


Short ramps up assume the magnitude of mountains and I’m thankful that once the first climb is out of the way over Loughrigg most of this section is pretty flat.

Reaching the Chapel Stile CP becomes my world and I arrive – they tell me – looking like a ghost. The Energy Depletion Monster has not just rung the bell, it’s also gone and kicked in the door, trashed the rooms and shit in the bed.

It will take the combined forces of two Angels, an inflatable sofa, tea and chocolate brownies and a serious word or six to confine it to the naughty step. And with ten miles to go that’s what I’ll get.


Meanwhile while I’m doing drama queen in my corner, up at the head of the race another drama has played out in the final stages as Sabrine Verjee has come within 10 minutes and one navigational error of becoming the first outright female winner. Which, I suspect, makes her even more pissed off than I am right now.


The Montane Lakeland 100 start
The Montane Lakeland 100 start

Starting Sunny

It all started very benignly if somewhat more noisly than I recall that previous evening: Dry, warm and sunny – and the people! Ten deep in places for the first few hundred yards as 500 of us wound our way through Coniston. But was I the only person wearing a bumbag? It seemed I was: I was certainly the only person to go topless – a state of wardrobe undress I was to keep until darkness fell around four hours later and even then it was mostly vest only through the night with only a couple of full ‘shields-up’ mode as the heavens opened and cleared again.


Early in the race
Early in the race

and in the rain...
and in the rain...

The Plan called for steady, steady and more steady that could also be confused with ‘easy’ all the way through the night to the 59 mile point and ‘halfway’ at Dalemain by breakfast time. Then I could let Competitive Bloke out of the box with The Big Final Push coming at 89 miles from Ambleside.

As is my habit I race without a watch, on feel and with a strict ‘Eyes Front’/ selective hearing rule. By the technological wonder of live race tracking Mrs Mouncey was able to report afterwards that The Plan HAD worked – kinda: The first CP and 80 mins on the clock had me in the 30’s which I would gradually reduce to 13th at 89 miles to eventually finish 15th after my ‘wheels off’ episode. More specifically that boiled down to three actions:


1. Keeping everything feeling ‘just right’

2. Not giving a damn about what was happening around me

3. Sitting my ass down in the CPs and taking time to re-fuel


This last one was harder than you might think ‘cos as a rule I don’t – and have very very rarely – sat down in a checkpoint. Must be getting old…

First Signs

So the first 20 miles passed warm and sweaty and free from drama and I arrive at the head of a small group at Wasdale to be greeted by Spiderman, Superman and other assorted be-garbed heroes masquerading as CP crew.


There was another change as well: A new (to me) later race start time meant darkness earlier and specifically this meant two tricky, rocky descents – one short, one long – that I’d taken in daylight in 2010 and 2011 that were now to be tackled under torchlight. Throw some rain on top to make it even more interesting and it became very, well…interesting. So I’m very pleased to arrive at the one third mark sometime midnight-ish having remained on my feet, free from incident and navigationally on-task.


The only slight concern is that I seem to have left my extra climbing gear at home. I pressed the gas on the steeper stuff over the last 8 miles or so just to see and expected to be able to up the ante.

‘Cos to be perfectly honest I’d trained my ass off on this aspect.

So I was somewhat concerned to discover that I very definitely got a No Response. I wasn’t losing time by any means but I wasn’t gaining any either. At all.

And I expected to gain – but I was just getting same.


Still, one third distance in meant the big hilly stuff was over for a while and a lot could happen in the hours before the old mountain climbing legs were needed again. So double helpings of pasta and rice pudding later and I set my sights on the detour around Keswick and the northern-most part of the route.


Climbing out of Keswick on the lower slopes of Skiddaw and I’m lit up from behind by the world’s most powerful headtorch. Shortly after two figures glide past:

‘Lakeland 100?’ they ask

‘Yeah. You too?’

‘Nah. Bob Graham…’

‘Look great, fellas’

A short laugh as they forge ahead to the first of their 42 peaks, 66 miles and 27,000’ of climbing that is this iconic Lakeland mountain challenge: ‘Should do – only set off 5 minutes ago!’


It feels slow round this bit and analysis later will show that it is – relatively. The saving grace is that I’m quicker on anything remotely downhill and seem to be chugging along fine on the flatter stuff.


Except that I fizzle out just short of 50miles coming into the Dockray checkpoint and have to slow to do an emergency feed barely a mile out of the CP as daylight breaks again. Prior to that I’ve had to add another layer…two signs that all is not well though at this stage completely salvageable. Which I seem to do by having an extended stop and feed at the CP then a smooth and respectable 10 miles to Dalemain and 59 miles.


Examination later will show I arrive around 80 minutes later than I did in 2010 and 2011. In 2010 I was just getting slower from this point on, but in 2011 I was ready to play. The goal this time was to feel that way again at this point regardless of how long it took – yep, got that – and to push on for a negative split.


Conspiracy Brewing

A tag team of weather gods and the Energy Depletion Monster will conspire to push that last one out of my reach this time but that’s something for the next few hours. At this point I’m feeling good, on-task and head out after a full change, wet wipe shower and feed leaving a bunch of other folks in my wake.


Three miles later the heavens open, the temperature drops and the wind whips up to set the pattern for most of the rest of the day. And that’s just in the valleys. I’m still moving sweetly at this point and the highlight in the deluge as I head down the eastern side of Ullswater to the Howtown CP at 66 miles is that for a few precious seconds I’m joined by a red squirrel who runs alongside me atop a wall keeping pace quite happily.


I’m still smiling on the inside and out as I transition through the CP and set my sights to what I think of as the crux of the course: A long pull to the high point of the route at nearly 700m above Haweswater followed by a tricky 3 mile traverse along the lake shore to the next CP at Mardale Head and 76 miles followed immediately by a murderous exposed climb up and out via Gatesgarth Pass and an equally demanding descent. And you still ain’t at the next CP.


In the event it takes a chunk out of me and more: The weather is deeply unpleasant and I struggle on ground I should be moving sweetly over. Overall on this section I don’t lose time relative to those around me – and actually I take some and continue to chip away the places – but it’s here that I start to pay as I spend too long in a marginal state trying to stave off the cooling down cycle by upping the work rate but finding I don’t have the energy and the coordination skills to make it stick as well as I need.


The highlight (?) is being blown back down the steep climb of Gatesgarth by a raging headwind and driving rain and having to figure a way to present as low a profile as possible while bent double trying to breath and keep traction on a loose rocky path while cursing my decision to do without poles.

Happy days!


I arrive at Kentmere and 82miles warm and coherent again after working hard on the long descent into the CP but I’ve gone through too many cooling cycles on the way and unbeknown to me the rot has set in. I’m focused on the fact that I’m still pretty chipper underneath the soggy clothes and am still picking folks off – and next stop is Ambleside.


Mastering The Muppetry

Just 10 miles to go and it takes me a flippin’ age to get going again. There’s world class faffery going on: I’ve put way too many clothes on which means a few hundred yards out of Chapel Stile and as the rain eases I’m now too hot. To make matters worse I’m suddenly very aware of a chafing undercarriage – actually, make that a deeply uncomfortable tenderized undercarriage.

I shed a layer, make some clothing adjustments and trot on.

No joy.

I shed another layer, make a more detailed inspection that has me wincing and add some lube.

Still no joy.

Oh for f**ks sake, get a grip will ya?


Shoes off, over trousers off, shorts off then break the elastic in the leg of the pants. More lube. Shorts on, shoes on, trousers packed, wiggle and adjust and try again.

No chance.

Really?? Right – f**in’ Nuclear Option then.

First aid kit out, shorts off, scissors ready and …

F***!!


I slice my thumb open on the scissors and suddenly there’s blood everywhere again.

Thinking choice words along the lines of ‘I really don’t believe this’ and awarding myself a Certificate of Muppetry With Honors I get on with the task of cutting the crotch out of my pants using hands and scissors now slick with blood – as the eventual winner of the 50 mile race comes zooming past with a cheery greeting. ‘Had planned to be finished before he arrived (sigh).

Oh to be in the hands of bleedin’ experts…


Eventually I gain some semblance of order in my attire and comfort in the nether regions and shuffle off looking for a stream to clean up in.

And get going again.


Because remarkably I do get going again and manage some level of respectability over the final few miles which means that the net effect is someway short of a full implosion.

THAT happens at the finish: I hold it together all the way back into Coniston, buoyed by the welcome that includes a surprise visit from my friend Sharon and the sight of Joe (8) who has run ahead into town from the finish to do the last bit with his Dad.


His Dad however is too tired to do anything other than smile weakly and keep moving despite Joe’s excitement for a last ditch sprint. Once over the line the control goes and the crash comes as the Energy Depletion Monster makes a last-ditch attempt to escape the confines of the naughty step. It all necessitates a short recline with the medics as my system to helped into re-set mode.


Andy at Lakeland 100 finish
Andy at Lakeland 100 finish

It’s not exactly the finish I imagined but it’s a finish – and on a day where only 215 out of 500 will finish and after 7 years away – I’ll take that with pride, a smile and a cup of tea with three sugars and a nice warm blanket, thanks.


Done!
Done!

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Wth thanks to Steve Bailey, SportsSunday, No Limits Photography and Charlotte for the photos










By Andy Mouncey, Jul 20 2018 08:50AM


Head medicine
Head medicine

BANG! Something hard and unyielding punches me in the forehead. I hear my neck crack as I go down like a sack of spuds to lie blinking uncomprehendingly at the sky.

‘What the f..?’


Just short of half way in the Due North Skirfare half-marathon race I’ve been taken out by a low branch that never even registered on radar consumed as I was by the task of keeping the effort high on the tricky trail.

As you do when you’re leading and running scared.


A quick check above my left eye and there’s no blood but my head doesn’t feel right at all.

‘It’s only a flesh wound – get up and fight y’bastard!’

Thank you Monty Python.

I push quickly back upright and get my ass moving with a wry smile forming as I recall the parting words of Mrs Mouncey this morning mindful as she was of two weeks to go before hubby hits The Big One in the Lakes:

‘Don’t do anything silly!’

Bollocks.


I’d chosen the last test to be 20km and 1000m of up-down trails in the Yorkshire Dales and it’s yet another bloody furnace day. Not that we’re unused to that anymore after someone put the sun back in summer this year. A new race so no benchmarks to work off, but I wanted a blast and this had everything I wanted: Sustained climbing, two big descents and some flat fast stuff along the valleys.


I’d taken the lead part way up the first big climb then played my joker to drop like a stone off the other side. It had all gone very quiet behind so I knew I’d got a gap – but now I was committed.



Look - proper leg drive!
Look - proper leg drive!

In to the second aid station trying to get as much water in me as over me as task and haste collided, then straight into the second big climb. I have an ‘Eyes Front’ rule but that doesn’t apply to the ears. Cheers and applause below me as I climb but not that close…It doesn’t really register as my attention is firmly fixed on moving as well as I can on the steep stuff ahead.


All the water courses are bone dry – no surprise there but I’d kill for a periodic dunking option. All I pass are a couple of livestock drinking barrels with dubious looking contents. Good enough to soak my hat in which is enough for some temporary respite for my steadily cooking brain.


The second high point at 500m and second big descent and the brakes come off again. Then it’s a time trial along the baking valley road pursued by silent menacing ghosts. I’m still in charge and pushing but some of the needles are starting to hit the red.


The final stop with around 3km to go has more frantic water gymnastics. I head out OK but as soon as I’m into the final long sustained tricky drag out of the village I find someone’s swiped my last gear. It’s not an implode by any means but pushing on again has become a full smack-down wrestling match.

That I’m losing.


Then a gate slams behind me.

I’m not sure I heard properly as I hadn’t registered cheers as I left the checkpoint. Or had I…

Another gate slam and this time there’s no mistake as shortly after that we hit a switch back and out of the corner of my eye there he is.


Tom – we will do the introductions later – hikes straight past me and unknowingly collects a point for dispensing with the inane chat. I’m losing ground on the running climbs so switch to what I’ve been practicing: Hiking speed climbing. I’m not making inroads but he’s not stretching ahead much either.


Onto the false flat and it’s still broken ground that kicks up and drops periodically. Tom is ahead but still not disappearing. I know we have a steep downhill to the finish but I just need something to regain some momentum before that as needles are starting to wobble crazily now. Then a gradual grassy drop allows me to get my legs moving in a semblance of order again.


Dropping through steep, rough limestone clefts I’m starting to close before the final stile chucks us off down the last steep tussock-strewn slope. I checked this out before we set off and know we have a stile to sight on at the bottom before a hard right and 100 yards to the finish. Tom veers off but I line up on the stile, embrace gravity and hope my bottom half will keep pace with my top half. I hear children’s voices below us screaming for Daddy and they ain’t for me this time. The stile’s coming awful fast, Tom’s right behind, people are screaming and I remember that the top of the stile is wire not wood…

You can’t vault it – grab the post – f***in’ GRAB IT!

Over safely, arms pumping to drive the legs…

Get a gap off the stile – f***in’ GO!

Screaming voices, limbs pumping, vision narrows and I’m certain Tom’s right there – but to my utter relief the finish comes first and I dive just to make sure.

Hellfire.

51 years young and I’ve just won a sprint finish.

Thank f*** it was downhill!


Red mist and tunnel vision - Tom in pursuit
Red mist and tunnel vision - Tom in pursuit

By Andy Mouncey, Jul 16 2018 06:31PM

July 27th will see the 11th start of the Lakeland 100 and ten years on from toeing the line on that very first edition, yours truly will be back and ready to roll the dice once again. By the time you read this the taper will have started and the hard work - begun last August - will be over. Almost inevitably I will have done less than I wanted and more than I hoped - which in theory puts it just about right.

My record at this race stands at a 4th, 2nd and 2nd - that last result in 2011 - and since then many cubic litres of water have flowed under the proverbial bridge.

Of course I have a whole host of aspirations, and comparisons with 7-8 years ago have proved very difficult to quash.

On many levels I’m in a very different place now and it’s easy to forget how different that can be.

So just for comparative purposes and to warm you up for the fun and games at the end of this month, here’s what the first Lakeland 100 felt like for me in 2008.



Start line at the 2008 inaugural Lakeland 100
Start line at the 2008 inaugural Lakeland 100

By Andy Mouncey, Jun 20 2018 10:46AM


Descending into Kentmere at the 11 mile point
Descending into Kentmere at the 11 mile point

The weather’s back.

After weeks of unseasonally warm almost wall-to-wall sunshine the wet and windy stuff is back with a vengeance. I have 33miles and 10,000’ of Lakeland mountains to travel and for damn sure I’m going to get my head kicked in by the weather gods. One small consolation is that this will be a shared experience as around 150 other souls are lining up for the start of the inaugral Five Passes Ultra (the clue’s in the title) organised by Ascend Events Photos Results


Except I’m the only one in a T-shirt while everyone else is nice and cosy in a waterproof. Clearly I’m putting my faith in my internal heat generation and natural external waterproofing – though I know damn well full shields will be called on before too long as low cloud has covered the mountains and the wind is already ruffling my long flowing locks as we wait in the valley bottom.


My last race was back in Feb with this lot – and that was a win. I was flippin’ flying – well, to me I was – but since then my lower legs have thrown in the towel on a couple of occasions that has punched big holes in my much sought-after training consistency. In the end I threw the towel back at them and downed tools for two weeks while my calves got used to the idea that I wasn’t quite done with them yet. Two and a half weeks of radically different training later and I’m back in a good place and keen to see how it plays out. Today is to be a test and a confidence boost: I’ve had a word with Competitive Bloke and the deal is that he stays bound and gagged till the final third. I just hope the gaffer tape holds…


I jog off somewhere in the middle of the splashing horde as we meander through Grasmere and head for the first climb up Loughrigg. The plan is to control the first third and the first three climbs – I guess around two hours but I really don’t know – so I embrace Goldilocks and concentrate on trying to float my way upwards while trying very hard not to notice what is happening around me:

Who’s climbing strongly

Who’s blowing

Who’s all over the place with their footwork

Competitive Bloke has clearly got a drone up (sigh) so I pretend disinterest and file under No Further Action At This Time.


Up into the clouds for the first time and over the top at 335m already soaked to the skin. I’m now in the front few and then it’s my first chance to benchmark the descending skills of those around me. Okayyy…but still No Further Action...


Into the valley and still trying very hard to project the ‘I’m Not Really Trying Hard At All’ front. Except I’m actually really not: Trying very hard, that is. We’re straight into the next 480m haul up Wansfell and even quicker into the clouds. Still no drama and it’s a longer, faster more runnable descent this time so I let go just a little more to see what happens. My descending has been one of my consistent strengths and I’ve been deliberately working on it some more recently – so I’m pleased to see folks ahead who disappeared into the clouds on the climb emerge ahead somewhat closer.


Into a valley bottom for the second time and the front few suddenly cross me ahead. Ah! It’s a first sign of the navigationally-challenged and this definitely goes in the file. So we’re all together at the start of the long steady pull up Garburn Pass but by the time we top out at 450m the elastic has definitely stretched. I’m still pretending indifference and going my level best to keep it all under wraps as I chug ever upwards into the clouds for the third time…but I really will have to put another layer on once we hit the bottom again.


The eastern side of Garburn is shorter, steeper, rockier and once again I let the brakes off to test the dancing skills. Sure-footed equals smooth and smooth equals speed so I focus on the former knowing that this is a route to the rest.


Kentmere village at the bottom of the pass and one third distance. I am somewhat chilled around the edges but figure will warm up on the climb out. I plan to speed that process by stuffing my face here and adding a jacket. It’s not exactly a faff-free transition but I get the tasks done and walk out with hands and face full of jam butty. Then realize my bottle is only half full and the next aid could be three hours and change away. I’d unscrewed the top, put it on the table by the water in the CP assuming it would be filled. Except I hadn’t explicitly asked. I silently award myself a Certificate Of Muppetry and console myself with the realization that it’s (still) bucketing down, the streams are torrents – so it’s not as though I’ll be short of drinking options.


Hiking and munching means I’m caught by a group on the climb out but only the leader comes passed as I cue normal service. I ease past on the short steep drop to the bottom of the crux section and now I’m getting On Task: ‘So he climbs strong, he’s fluid on the flat but he hesitates on the descents…’ I can feel Competitive Bloke straining: Not yet, ole son…


We run together as we start the crux section of the whole race: The long long pull north up to the high point of Gatesgarth Pass at 600m and then up again to the high point of the whole route on Harter Fell at 780m. After that we have a difficult up-down traverse west across classic Lakeland exposed rocky terrain that will be made even more fun in these conditions before the drop down to Kirskstone Pass at around two thirds distance.


I play the silence game: I like silence – I’m comfortable in it – and I’ve learned over the years that most people don’t and aren’t. Sure enough, the inane chat starts and I chalk up another little victory to go with the descending pass earlier.


The elastic stretches as we get into the climb. He looks back and I chalk up another little victory. That makes it 3-0 to me – which would make me Mr Smug except he’s the one in front and slowly disappearing into the cloud.

Oh well. I am hiking strongly – that’s the second thing I’ve been working on – but to peg him will mean upping the effort to a level I’m not ready to go to just yet.


As he disappears upward I become aware that I’ve acquired a passenger who seems to be yo-yoing on and off my shoulder: He drops off then pulls back up – and as the cloud thickens he stays pinned. A glance across confirms it: No map or route instructions are in evidence.

Ah. I have a Freeloader.


Not much I can do about it as this stage because as we turn to head onto the exposed slopes of Harter Fell the full fury of the wind hits us. Bent almost double over the map as visibility drops to 10-20yards my focus is on staying upright and on track. To make matters even more interesting I really am starting to get cold again as the effort level drops below that needed to heat the soaking layer I’m wearing under my jacket.

Get cold – speed up’ reminds Competitive Bloke through the gag.

‘Working on it…


Except I can’t just yet ‘cos I need the summit cairn ‘cos that means a direct line off on a compass bearing down to the ridge path that will take us through the rock minefield ahead. I get the cairn, nail the bearing and head off down the slick rock strewn mountain side and mercifully out of the gale.

Except it doesn’t feel right.


Now I’ve learned the hard way to trust the compass at times like these and f**k the feelings as it were, but as the yards pass it doesn’t look right either on the ground. I stop, check and slither on again. And again. Finally a full stop – and Freeloader is right there. I dare him to say something so I can rip his head off for abdicating responsibility for his own whereabouts but nothing comes – and I have my head and hands full anyway trying to figure this one.


Wrong, wrong wrong! screams my brain and I have to agree: It’s a full 180 degree turn and retreat to the origin point back up the mountain. I’m briefly tempted to just turn and blast back up through the mist and leave Freeloader stranded but my humanity wins out: ‘I’m re-tracing’ and point back up. Competitive Bloke is disgusted.


Hauling ass back up and I briefly register that I’m moving well and thinking coherently despite the f**k up. Eventually back to the cairn and okayyyy…Start Again: Check, orientate, line it up and off we go…then through the mist there is shouting and pointing ahead – then figures on a line slightly above us. We come together and after a few more yards we hit another cairn identical size and shape to the first – except this one has a small tent pitched beside it that is sheltering the safety check marshals.


TWO summits? No – one summit and two similar cairns close together. And I’d gone off the wrong one. For the second time in a few short hours I find myself at the Muppetry Award Ceremony which raises a wry smile as I do a fast inventory: I’m cold but everything else is good – and I need to get rid of this group and get moving again.


So as the wind tries to rip us all off the mountain I page Mountain Goat setting and drop down through the rocks trying to find a balance between safety, staying on course and speedy enough to generate enough heat to keep me from freezing. The rocky route demands total concentration: The rocks are slick, wind howling and visibility marginal. ‘You’ll see Thornythwaite Beacon in the distance’, say the route notes: ‘You can’t miss it.’ The enormous slate obelisk on the ridge line is indeed normally visible for miles. Normally. When I finally get there I pretty much have to stand next to it to see any of it – and even then I can’t see the top! The good news is that I’ve dropped the group with Mr Freeloader. The bad news is that they all emerge out of the mist again as I’m stuffing sweets into my mouth thoughtfully offered by the valiant safety check team at the beacon.

Tagged again, huh? Oh well.


Coming next is a pretty hideous drop through slick scree and then a steep scramble-haul up the other side. I push on through the climb and emerge with a smile very much on my own at the top. Now there’s just the final section linking to Kirkstone Pass – and while it is broken and difficult in places I know it is runnable. I let Competitive Bloke have some air for the first time and nudge the needles up a few notches to catch and pass a few more folks before arriving at the Pass and two thirds distance somewhat later than hoped for but very much still ready to play. Conditions are still pants but we’re lower so at least the wind is less of a factor and remarkably I’m even starting to thaw.


A 300m steep stepped climb up Red Screes starts this section and my plan has been to hit this hard and then run all the way off the top to the finish. I’ve looked at this section last week and my recent training has all been geared to kicking on in the final bit – so it’s time to find out.


The extra gear is indeed there and I climb solidly. Voices float back and I catch the owners at the start of the long and final descent of the day down the other side. Another couple get reeled in as I keep the accelerator pinned and do my best to stay honest and committed to the task: ‘Keep the intensity high and run the whole damn thing.’ What’s gone before becomes irrelevant: This is the test of the day and what matters is now.


I rediscover warmth once again in the final half hour as the sun makes a welcome breakthrough as I head back to Grasmere. It’s been a significant 7 hour test and while I fluffed one question – many runners will be spread all over that part of the mountain and many will DNF in the conditions – I scored on a bundle of others and I did successfully work my plan.


Perspective comes later as I sort myself out and eat back in the village hall HQ with some of the first finishers and some early DNFs. One face stands out among the gnarly running blokes and crew: I’m sitting opposite a young Asian lady who is clearly on her own and finishing her food. I lazily assume she is waiting for someone partly because she looks clean and fresh…

‘I started with the walkers early but decided to retire at Kentmere’ she tells me. ‘It got a bit too much…’

Had she travelled far?

‘I live in Norwich’ she replies. ‘This is my first ultra…’

Bloody hell. I curse my assumptions and give her my full attention.

Turns out she has her sights on a 50mile event in the Lakes in October and wanted to get a first experience here. She’s staying in a hostel – it’s quite a trip by train to get here – getting to the Peak District is much easier but the hills are less than here…

You get the idea: Young Asian female living in a flat city has her sights on a 50mile challenge through the Lakeland mountains. ‘Kinda trumps the big scary stretchy goals contest, dontcha think?



By Andy Mouncey, Jun 12 2018 01:37PM

This one was first written early 2017 in which I attempt to put my spin on one of the central dilemmas of successful rehabilitation.



The Trouble With Transition


In 2016 Martin McGuinness died. Most recently known for his role as Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland, he was also infamous as IRA Chief Of Staff and as one of their senior commanders during The Troubles. His passing presented an apparent reporting dilemma for many in the media: On the one hand questions remain over the precise nature his IRA activities – and specifically how much blood was on his hands. On the other, he was one of the architects of The Good Friday Agreement and without him, many commentators have argued, Gerry Adams alone could not have brought the republicans to the negotiating table.

But what do you focus on?

What’s the mark of the man?

What is his legacy?


In the last 18 months I’ve met more people who have turned their life around on the outside after spending time incarcerated on the inside than in the whole of my first 50 years. Here are three: LJ Flanders who was inspired to create a fitness regime for the smallest of spaces and is now back working with inmates. Erwin James who got himself an education and is now a journalist with The Guardian, and John Macavoy who in a parallel world should have been talent-spotted by British Triathlon, but instead discovered a talent for ultra endurance by breaking world records on an indoor rowing machine. A few short years after his release he is now knocking on the door of a pro triathlete license and helping turn young lives around.


These men broke the rules, paid the price and chose a new path – and made the transition stick despite people like me.

Because here’s the thing: I was quite casually using labels like ‘ex-offender,’ ‘former prisoner’ or ‘convicted murderer’ to tell the tale of these encounters while knowing full well the preconceptions that those tags carry for most of us in mainstream society.

‘Cos we make assumptions and we carry baggage.

How confident would you be if one of the many hurdles along the way is to tick the box on the job application form to declare a criminal history? http://www.unlock.org.uk/projects/employment-discrimination/ban-the-box/


It took me much longer than it should have to remember to separate the person from the behaviour: These were men who had been to prison – who they were was much more than just that, and their turnaround – their transition - was proof.


Not all can be saved or will choose to save themselves. There will be those for which the solution is actually to lock the door and throw away the key, and there will be those that for some, nothing can be done or said that will eclipse the deed.

That still leaves and awful lot that can and will do their best to try. And perhaps – as ever – it is the small things that we can all do that can have the biggest impact.

Check our assumptions.

Separate the behaviour from the person.

Limit our labels to those tags that best serve to strengthen our society for the benefit of us all.


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