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By Andy Mouncey, Feb 22 2018 10:15AM

Silverdale Circuit with 20 mins to go: trying hard on a big hill!
Silverdale Circuit with 20 mins to go: trying hard on a big hill!

Competitive Bloke comes with me to races. He’s usually there at key training sessions as well. Sometimes I let him out just before the fun starts and sometimes he’s jumping up and down in his vault days beforehand, dribbling evilly at the prospect. We’re on intimate terms but I wouldn’t want to sit down for another pint with him because, well, he’s just not very…nice.

Saturday was a case in point. He knew he was going to be let out to play and was like a small manic child sedated for his own safety: Fine until the dose wore off but then leaping up and down in a froth-filled fantasy of anticipation at the prospect of THE RACE – until I put him under again.

It was like doing Jekyll & Hyde all week.

Ascend Events Silverdale Circuit was 21 miles of twisty coast-woods-limestone scars with frequent quagmires thrown in for good measure. A new event for me and so I’d been round it the week before taking my time to get the route nailed in strong winds and snow showers and it was still beautiful – and it confirmed what I suspected: Navigation was going to be crucial.

So I’ve done my homework, I know I’m in shape and I fancy my chances. Competitive Bloke knows it too – and he’s turned all the way up to Number 11.

800 yards in and three of us are off the front. The guy on my shoulder turns and gives Competitive Bloke his first opening:

‘Do you know where you’re going then?’

Oh dear.

‘Guess we’ll find out, wont we?’ A sideways look and an evil grin get thrown across the gap for good measure.

Competitive Bloke isn’t giving anything away because:

1. This guy has just telegraphed he doesn’t know the route and /or has no confidence in his navigation.

2. Odds-on he’s looking for a free ride

His third sin is failing to take responsibility for all aspects of his race – and Coach Mouncey is real pissed at that one.

Competitive Bloke’s reasons are more clearcut: He just hates freeloaders.

So now it’s two against one and that’s really not fair.

‘Points for persistence though ‘cos a few hundred yards further our man tries again:

‘Done this race before?’


All true.

But I do know the course – it’s just that Competitive Bloke ain’t sharing.

Having killed any prospect of conversation – CB really doesn’t do talking that much when he’s out and he doesn’t invite it either – the plotting starts in earnest:

How to drop him?

Stop for a wee?

How can I mess with his head?

We start with the last one.

I have my route notes to hand and make a show over the next few minutes to periodically refer to them. My pace is all business and CB knows that can be a give-away all on it’s own, so sprinkling seeds of doubt is just good misinformation strategy.

Meanwhile ahead of me there’s a bonus: I spot the leader missing a turn – and while he corrects quickly it’s all fuel for CB’s fire:

Someone else ain’t sure.

Someone else has something we can exploit…

A couple of miles in and the breathing behind me is getting louder. CB decides to test and just squeezes the pace up a notch over the twisty technical ground. And while we come together at the frequent kissing gates – and there’s certainly none of THAT - I can feel the elastic stretching…until I’m through a gate on my own.

Eyes firmly front we squeeze the pace again until I crest a hill and the terrain opens out for a first real open space ahead and – no one in sight. Which either means the leader has flown or gone wrong.

I figure the latter but CB wants to be sure so I drop fast down the hill and then light the burners over what I know will be about 2 miles of fast running over firm ground.

You’re first!’ shout a group of walkers who set off an hour before the runners did. Okayyyy…but I want to be sure and CB figures this is THE MOVE: My flat speed has come on in leaps and bounds over the last six months and I’m fit enough to floor it and settle again. So we shake on it and play the trump card that will open a gap behind and make sure in front.

All of which means after about 45 minutes of fun and games it’s all over as a race.

I co-opt CB to my cause that is now to stay relentlessly On Task all the way to the finish while keeping the flashing lights at bay. For all his psychopathic tendencies he’s good at keeping a bargain when our goals are aligned and after all these years I’ve learned how to stroke him and can recognize the signs of sabotage. This means that brief respites and deliberate leakage are essential pressure releases so I have the energy and wit to lock it all down again.

This time I hold the pattern all the way to the finish.

A win.

Course record.

And no freebies.



By Andy Mouncey, Jan 29 2018 12:35PM

Any fool can be fit. It’s being hard that’s hard.’ Joss Naylor

The cross country race.

You know you’re gonna be blowing out of your backside before the first 200 yards are up – which begs the first set of questions:

Could you blow – and still go (as it were)?

You think you are conditioned enough to handle it?

Do you want to find out?

Back to the short stuff last weekend and I struggled to remember that last time I’d toed the line on anything like this. Throw in a howling gale, snow flurries and lots of folks wearing an identical club vest to mine and we have the ingredients for a fun-filled Test Of Toughness.

Or is that Fitness?

Fitness implies a continuum – something that can be gained or lost – whereas ‘toughness’ has a more innate quality about it: More a static state. Heck – perhaps one feeds into the other…I suspect we can go round and round with this one so I’ll offer some observations instead.

Take Crossfit: The high intensity training format that combines circuit and weight training and a whole host of other requirements that yours truly has been frequenting for the last few years. I see some tough folks come through the door: Athletes, team players, fighters, emergency services and military personnel are among the everyday folks who just refuse to lie down and slow down and are resolved to do something about it.

And invariably that first group workout is a wobble. The ladies tend to come through it better than the men to my eyes – and the trend remains: Folks who are used to challenge, are in at least some shape and perform highly in their chosen field really struggle in the mental and emotional wrestling match. Their toughness is never in doubt – they proved that when they walked through the door the first time – but clearly their fitness needs some work.

Effective coaching, smart adjustments and some sobering and insightful structured reflection means that most get there over time. The new becomes familiar and the extraordinary becomes ordinary. It never gets any easier – I can vouch for that – it’s just that they become familiar with the discomfort and develop strategies to cope and capacity to meet the challenge.

Mental toughness – at least to my eyes – is clearly a quality that is time, place and activity-specific.

Switching back to ultra running mode at this time of year in this country there’s only one event that captures the headlines and triggers jaw-dropping en masse even among seasoned hard bast***s of the hills: The Spine Race 268 miles south to north on The Pennine Way as continuously as possible with just 5 checkpoints for support and all within a mid-winter week. This year the weather threw everything and the kitchen sink at the race which guaranteed another year of high attrition rate. However comprehensive the information to competitors about what the heck they can expect and what they really need to do if they want a hope in hell of seeing the finish, NOTHING can really prepare you for that week. I mean, you’ll understand what the words mean on the page of notes but emotionally it just won't connect.

Until it happens.

And that’s quite remarkable because there is also now 6 years of blogs and race reports, film and photos to color it all in.

As someone once said:

Experience is a hard teacher: You get the kicking first and the lessons after.’

Being tough is never in doubt – but being mentally fit enough for that race is clearly for many – me included – a Work In Progress.

By Andy Mouncey, Dec 19 2017 11:22AM

Unless you are a particularly stubborn so-and-so like me in which case you have to go through this cycle a number of times until you get REALLY REALLY pissed off – and have probably dragged your Significant Other kicking and screaming with you (sigh).

It’s been 6 years since I pinned on a number in anger.

My various attempts at The Spine Race during this time don’t count on this measure because (a) The damned thing is in a classification all of it’s own and its debatable whether the English language has all the words necessary to describe it (b) If you were being flippant you could say it’s just an outrageous hike with a bit of running thrown in.

No, what I’m talking about are the Death Or Glory Blowing Out Your Arse efforts that can have you home in time for tea:

There’s no faking

There’s no hiding

And I’ve actually really missed ‘em

Read more ...

You see, there have been some changes round here since the summer. Completely and utterly fed up with what was becoming a well-practiced cycle of Start-DNF with what few races I did entertain – the exception being a brief foray into my triathlon past with a brute of an Ironman last year just for therapeutic purposes you understand - I did the proverbial Blank Sheet Of Paper exercise taking about a week to check and challenge the content.

The result of all that was this:

• Something To Spark Me Up: A year long project where the specific goal is to go faster at Lakeland 100 in July next year than my fastest time set in 2011 after six years in the wilderness and now 51 years young

• Something To Hold Me To Account: Working with not one but two coaches – selection was a revelation: You wouldn’t believe how many candidates I interviewed who just talked AT me - both based on the other side of the world who would view my sh** without my baggage

• Something To Seriously Challenge Me: Being poked with a big stick personally and professionally so that I have to step up and do my homework and be big enough to open my beliefs and knowledge to alternative ways of doing and thinking

So it’s been interesting, to put it mildly.

The proof of course – at least for the running bit – is what happens when you stick yourself on a start line and are prepared to put the preparation and commitment to the test. And I chose three outings from end of Oct to early Dec:

The Lake District Ennerdale Trail Race 25km

Somewhat foul weather and what turned into a two hour threshold effort on good tracks round the lake and river – and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done anything like this level of effort! I’d had August working intensively on my mechanical efficiency with Coach No 1 then eight weeks On Program with Coach 2. I had no idea what to expect – but in training and almost to my shock I’d started to tickle my personal bests on my benchmark workouts set 8-10 years ago – so I knew the changes were working, I was in shape and figured the First Officially Old Bloke prize should be in reach. Shouldn’t it?

In the end I just missed it – but it was a huge effort and I needed 10 days for the soreness to fade as the body sent multiple messages on various platforms along the lines of ‘What The F**k Was That?!’

My reassuring reply was that we used to do this actually quite well, it was normal and we’ll be doing this again thanks very much. Objectively I put it down to lack of racing effort tolerance and while I could feel the difference from the running form changes I’d made with Coach 1, the lower limbs were clearly still adjusting to New Ways Of Working In A Competition Environment and had some catching up to do.

So lots of achy bits and a huge confidence boost going into the next test.

Andy at Ennerdale Trail Race
Andy at Ennerdale Trail Race

Northumberland Wooler Trail Marathon

…where I nearly came unstuck as I allowed the confidence thing to run riot and kid my brain into writing cheques my body couldn’t quite cash.

A new event organizer to me and a part of the world I knew very little about. Race day dawned clear, bright with ground frozen solid. Ahead of us was 6000’ of climbing and descending including over Cheviot the high point of the race. It was absolutely stunning and the route had everything and more while the organizing team were superb.

Yours truly however, was thinking with the contents of his pants rather than his oft-discerning brain. The brain knew that 4-5 hours over this terrain was a world away from a two hour thrash – but the pants were on fire and gagging for it, so to speak.

So I went marginal with the clothing and the fuel: Light and fast, right?

100 yards in and I’m already breathing hard.

‘This is not clever,’ whispers Brain.

‘Yeah – but this is FUN!’ retorts Pants.

And for a long time it was – for around three and a half hours anyway. And then some so-and-so pricked my bubble and slowly deflated me over the final third of the race. I didn’t blow to bits but I did slow, generally lose interest and could do nothing about the folks that chugged past. I lost 6 places, a top five overall and First Official Old Bloke in that last bit and that’s almost unheard of for me. I blessed my depletion training over the last few years that meant I could still operate at a semi-respectable level while existing on fumes, and while lots of things went well I drove home somewhat more sober resolved to have Pants in lock-down next time…

Peak District Dark Peak Trail Marathon

Another new organizer to me, another hilly one with 5800’ of up-down this time and a part of the world I had at least a working knowledge of. Clear and frozen solid over the first half but then the cloud came down, the temperature went up and we were battling to stay upright in the final stages through a combination of thick peaty mud, ice and nice pointy rocks. Once again the route had a bit of everything including a long flat and fast blast along the reservoir shoreline at about a third distance. And while my descending has always been relatively strong – and I have been relived to discover it still is – it’s my efficiency over the flatter stuff that has really come on since making these form changes. I have work to do on the climbs for sure but as Meatloaf says ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’ (at the moment).

Almost inevitably this was an altogether more measured showing that was set up by a conservative start and putting More Fuel Into The Boy over the next 4-5 hours. While I was on my chinstrap at the end big-style this was infinitely better than being on my chinstrap well before the end. The icing on the cake was that on the third attempt First Official Old Bloke status was achieved as well.

Andy at Dark Peak Trail Marathon
Andy at Dark Peak Trail Marathon

All this has also meant that our two not-so-small-boys-anymore have got used to Daddy bringing home race goodies again that they invariably claim the booty for their own uses. And while a ton of stuff has gone well over these three test outings the biggest thing I’ve taken is that how race-rusty my brain is – and in particular how much leakage occurred as I periodically drifted out of On-Task mode and caught my internal dialogue defaulting to sabotage mode when things got interesting.

Which begs a question and presents some stark reminders:

• Mental toughness is environment-specific

• Is it mental toughness or mental fitness?

• You can lose it if you don’t use it – and you need to train it to re-gain it

By Andy Mouncey, Nov 22 2017 12:56PM

There’s potential for explosion whenever A New & Cunning Plan meets Real Life for the first time. So if you don’t want to spend those first few weeks periodically picking the shrapnel out of your sensitive bits it makes sense to look ahead and do your due diligence before the fun and games begin in earnest.

Here are three ultra runner case studies which show how that can work: Andy's latest Article written for RUNULTRA.

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