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By Andy Mouncey, Oct 13 2017 11:23AM

Across the stream and I’m into the last 200 yards before the gate – and the gate is where The Contract starts. I put the finishing touches to the warm up as the wind continues to blow me up the valley and the rain starts to pick up: 20 short fast paces focused on toe-off, 10 easy, then 30, 10 easy…till I’m at the gate breathing hard. I take my time with the fastening and cue the timer countdown on my watch. What’s coming is already seared into my brain:

3 minutes hard / 1 minute easy all the way up the mountain.

It’ll be at least five times through and probably seven – and it won't be pleasant.

The watch will bleep every minute and it won't get there faster if I look at it.

(I’ve been trying that one for decades).

I know this but it’s easy to sneak a peek when the fridge jumps on your back and your world narrows to three meters of tube in front of you.

But this is 2017 and I’m fed up of playing easy - so f**k the watch.

Keep my eyes front and run to the beeps: That’s the deal and that’s the Contract.

So just keep the f***in’ Contract.

Shut the gate, roll the sleeves, finger on START.

‘Follow me’ whispers the watch.

Take a breath – press – Beep!

Legs pumping I drive away faster than sensible but knowing I need to commit early or the goal is lost. This session is all about heart and lungs - and the goal is to have me blowing out of my ass as early as possible and to just hang the f*** on.

Aerobic capacity is one of the things that slides with age and I ain’t getting any younger. Which means I gotta use it if I don’t want to lose it.

The trail starts to climb and I look for the rain-slicked rocks among the mud while keeping the intensity on. Ahead is the next gate and the first marker – through it and another 50 yards and that’s my first minute. I know this ‘cos last week’s fun out here was 3 minutes hard and a TWO minutes easy up this lump. Bloody luxury by comparison.

Sure enough:

Beep, beep, beep…

One minute. Eyes front and up the first stone staircase. Breathing hard now and really driving the elbows back with every arm swing as I tweak the variables:

Light on the feet – dance up the steps – tall and forward and DRIVE THOSE F***IN’ ARMS!

Brief respite as it flattens out except that’s my cue to put my foot down and keep the intensity. Starting to get interesting…

Beep, Beep, Beep…

Two minutes gone and - ‘Follow me’ whispers the watch.

The first rep is always grim however good the warm up and I’m now breathing out of my mouth, nose and ears.

Sounds of the snorting buffalo approaching have two walkers ahead leaping to the side of the path in seeming terror. I’m managing what energy I have so the best I can manage is a slightly droopy wave of thanks as my attention switches to holding it all together for the last bit.

‘Eyes front – c’mon: You’ve nearly cracked it…’

Until: Beep, beep, beep…

One down. Eyes front. Well done. Stay tall – calm the breathing down.

I’d entertained vague aspirations of a slow jog recovery.

No chance.

I need to walk – and very slowly at that.

Ahead the climb starts to get more sustained and on the next effort I’ll be under the clouds and turn into the wind. No worries – as I get closer in the lee of the mountain should give some shelter.

Until the last bit on the exposed summit ridge.

And then: Beep, beep, beep…

No, that wasn’t long at all – and here we go again: Into it fast so I’m committed as before and already the breathing starts to climb with the terrain.

I relax (most) orifices and practice the skills of getting oxygen in any damn way I can.

‘Follow me’ comes the machine whisper. ‘If you dare…’

Today’s the day and this is the session and I hold it through the first minute. Same with the second and then there’s just the small matter of a punishing steep short ramp and a false flat over the top.

Red lights are starting to flash by the time I’m up and over but I know I’m counting down and bully myself into accelerating into the final seconds until…

Beep, beep, beep…

Two down. Now we’re really into it.

Most things are heaving with a hint of wobble – but I’ve held good for two and allow myself a mad dribbling grin. Another two and I’m on four and that means only two more after that on the steep stuff before the last one on the flatter ground of the summit ridge.

Assuming the wind doesn’t blow me off, of course.

By four I’m locked in and oblivious to anything that’s not essential to keeping my feet and fulfilling my contractual obligations. The minute ‘easy’ is now a minute wobble with the only significant difference between this and the previous three minutes being that I’m not trying to run. By five and six my breathing feels like it’s just locked into Number 11 whether I’m wobbling or forcing myself through a red mist upwards. But my eyes stay front as the final countdown beckons…

Beep, beep, beep…

GO! The last one and I drive into it knowing this one will take me to the trig point. By now there’s no such thing as instant acceleration and despite the drill sergeant screaming in my head it takes me an age to get up to terminal velocity.

One minute.

The final big flagstone steps thoughtfully added by the footpath repair teams serve their purpose alright but they’re a bugger to tackle as the last bit on a ‘Death Or Glory’ session like this. I steel myself to take ‘em one step per stride and while it’s only short I’ve had to screw the lid down tight to hold it together. Once over it really is the last bit on easier ground, but that just means I need to keep pushing the needles into the red as the wind tries to whip me off the ridge.

‘Gonna have to blow harder than that.

Eyes straining and everything else screaming I keep my foot to the floor as the unseen timer counts down. Except I know I’ve nailed it so the last bit is done wearing a spittle-flecked insane grin till…

Beep, beep, beep…


Seven down. Job done. Contract fulfilled.

By Andy Mouncey, Sep 15 2017 09:29AM

Heading out for our first mountain hut experience. Dad and Number 1 Son on an overnight trip to Mosedale Cottage in the Lake District

You don’t have to pay for the privilege of a race number to have an ultra-distance adventure. Sure, it’s easier to just rock up after someone else has done the donkey work for you, promise to play by their rules, hand over the cash and then give it your best shot – but after you’ve done that for a wee while strange things start to happen (in some of us at least):

Confidence builds. Curiosity bubbles. We get to know what we like about racing and what we don’t.

And we start to wonder how else we might get the challenge-pride-fun trail-fix we need until we find ourselves pondering The Great Adventure Question:

‘Well, What If I Just Made This S**t Up Instead?’

Think of the advantages:

• Go – or don’t go – when you want

• You can cut it short without earning a DNF

• No entry fees

• Don’t have to wait for anybody

• No-one will check your kit and inform you that you can’t start ‘cos those lovely lightweight overtrousers are about as much use in the mountains as a…

• No rules – well, apart from public access, the requirement to be kind and courteous to the folks you meet on the way AND TAKE YOUR S**T HOME WITH YOU

• Don’t have to run with some muppet who just wont shut up

• Don’t have to suffer being tail-gated by the navigationally-challenged

• You can stop at cafes and without a race number no-one will think you are covering for being lost or are just not trying hard enough

• No well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided spectators shouting you look great (when you don’t) and it’s not far to go now (when clearly it is)

Inevitably of course, there is a flip side:

• No-one will hang a medal round your neck at the end

• There’ll be none of those nice checkpoints to look forward to

• You’ll have to sort your own feet out

• And your navigation

• And your route-planning

• The only applause you’ll hear will be in your own head

• You can’t ever say you missed a turn ‘cos some race saboteur moved a marker

• And you’ll be forced to think of some cunning way to open a conversation with a total stranger at the end so you can talk about what you’ve just done

Doing Your Due Diligence

Unless you have no responsibilities, no close personal relationships and have perfected the art of living off the grid, it’s just downright selfish and irresponsible to head out the door – assuming you have one, of course – with little more than a literal or metaphorical ‘I’m going out and I might be some time’ goodbye. Some homework is required and doing at least some of the following list will I suggest, simply add to the quality of your experience.

Do I Want To Be Alone?

Well, do you? Or will this be a sharing thing?

And if it is to be the latter remember the one guiding recruitment principle:

No Muppets.

Choose people who are abit like you, value what you value, laugh at stuff you laugh at, folks who have complimentary skills and experience and are just good to be around.

Start Simple

Self-reliance is key and confidence is the currency so if this all new to you a starting adventure could just be to head out one evening, sleep on a hill and be back before the world wakes up http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/microadventures-landing/ You’ll have a smug factor off the scale all day, I promise you.

Where On Earth?

This is an easy one: Choose somewhere that inspires you.

With this readership we can reasonably add ‘challenging’ and (whisper it softly) ‘fun’ to the list. That could be a familiar or a new place or route. And if it is familiar then tackling it like this makes it new all over again.

When On Earth?

Day? Night? Spring-Summer-Autumn-Winter?

And then there are the real world practicalities:

• Weekday or weekends?

• School term or holiday time?

• In/out of the busy periods at work?

And what have you got on the day/after you come back? ‘Straight back into childcare or that crucial teleconference at 2am Berlin time for the European sales division?

Your final window of opportunity will inevitably be a combination of what you want to do and what you need to do (to keep others happy).

Unless you live in a van, have a secret trust fund and hop at will from trailhead to trailhead, of course.

You don’t have to pay for the privilege of a race number to have an ultra-distance adventure. Sure, it’s easier to just rock up after someone else has done the donkey work for you, promise to play by their rules, hand over the cash and then give it your best shot – but after you’ve done that for a wee while strange things start to happen (in some of us at least):

Confidence builds. Curiosity bubbles. We get to know what we like about racing and what we don’t.

And we start to wonder how else we might get the challenge-pride-fun trail-fix we need until we find ourselves pondering The Great Adventure Question:

‘Well, What If I Just Made This S**t Up Instead?’

How Together Is My S**T?

This is where you look in the mirror and do the honest assessment bit:

• Can you look after your feet without having to refer to YouTube

• Do you regard a map as help or a hindrance?

• How deep in the s**t would you be if your favourite gadgets failed?

Essentially, you are doing a Skills Audit set against the nature of the challenge ahead – and while you want it to be a challenge you don’t want it to be a hopeless mismatch that scars you for life and badly frightens your nearest and dearest.

So get real – and be honest. You might have to start with something else.

Kit To Die For – Or Die With (or Without)

Do you have the toys you need – and how tried and tested are they?

Are you competent in their use?

And if something broke or you didn’t have it – would it just be funny or would you probably die a needless lonely death?

Remember there are no other competitors coming up behind you and no course sweeper picking up the fallen. So if the worse came to the worse and you are stuck you do need to consider your ‘Get Out Of Jail’ items:

Stay Safe: Emergency text option where phone signal is weak/non existent. In the UK this is http://www.emergencysms.org.uk/index.php and your phone needs to be registered in advance of your trip. Other countries will have their own service.

Stay Warm: Bivvy bag and emergency food - emergency food means if all goes well you will bring it home un-used – stove and/or firelighting kit.

Stay Intact: If you are injured and immobile one of the greatest dangers is leaking body fluids – blood being the key. You want to keep the stuff from the inside on the inside. That means a first aid kit and the skills to use it.

This clip is from Barclay Marathons veteran Gary Robbins. It’s top-end kit for serious self-supported jaunts but you can take the principles and scale accordingly.

I Am Going Out – I Might Be Some Time – And Here’s Where I’m Going & For How Long

Creating a route summary with approximate timings is not only good discipline for you in that it forces you to examine the terrain stage by stage, but it also provides reassurance for your Significant Other and – if things go south – will help the emergency services find you. That means you make two copies and you walk and talk your Signicant Other through it before departure.

Find Folks Who Have Done What You Want To Do

A fast-track to learning is to find someone who has been where you want to go and get all forensic with your analysis. These days that usually means that they have posted something on line that’s easy to reference. Not only can it be an inspiring exercise in it’s own right, but you will usually find some patterns and trends there that you can use in your own planning i.e.

When stuff goes accordingly to plan there are usually good reasons for that.

When stuff goes south there are also usually very good reasons for that.

Here are two folks who most definitely went out for a very very long time…

Sean Conway

Rosie Swale Pope

There are very very few genuine adventure ‘firsts’ left in this world. And while Ranulph Finnes has done most of them, this also means that someone, somewhere has done what you want to do – or at least got damn close.

All of which means that most of the answers to most of the questions you will ever need to ask about your own challenge are already out there. You just need to do your due diligence so that you have a trip you remember for all the right reasons.

By Andy Mouncey, Jul 25 2017 05:54PM

You’ve probably noticed some of these symptoms already:

• Feet wont win any beauty contests

• Toenails either a nice shade of blue-black or absent without leave

• And if you’ve come from a triathlon background you will no doubt be missing your biking quads, toned upper half and shaved legs

Welcome to our world, dear reader.

It’s quite fun here but admission costs and there’s always a price to be paid. You might be able to defer payment for a while but beware the small print: Rates of interest can get extortionate the longer you leave it, and The Big ‘G’ upstairs reserves the right to re-possess the goods if you default.

Ain’t no such thing as free fun, and odds are that if you ain’t paying now you will pay later.

Unless you start making some deposits to redress the balance.

Why bother? Because on the face of it we have all the ingredients for a Perfect Storm:

• A repetitive weight-bearing activity

• A repetitive weight-bearing activity completed over a very very long time

• A repetitive weight-bearing activity completed over a very very long time by highly motivated people

• A repetitive weight-bearing activity completed over a very very long time by highly motivated people who believe that pain is just information and quitting is a dirty word

• A repetitive weight-bearing activity completed over a very very long time by highly motivated people who believe that pain is just information and quitting is a dirty word – and where, on many fronts, the science is lagging behind the athletes experiences

In other words we don’t know what we don’t know and we can’t prove much of it yet either.

A Perfect Storm in the making for the runner it may well be. It’s also - to put it bluntly - a coaching nightmare. (Or a challenge, as we prefer to call it):

A sport where many of the normal rules of training don’t seem to apply and where at least part of success is down to the ‘more is better’ rule. It’s practiced by highly motivated and pain-resistant people with a big work ethic who are making it up as they go along at least in part because the science is lagging, and the sport is only now starting to see the first full cycle at the elite end of breakthrough-dominate-retire – and thus the full truth and cost of that success.

So pay attention if you want to be in this and enjoying it for the long term: What follows is for you.


Balance exists in a theory – in an equation. In real life I suggest to you it’s about managing an imbalance of your choice and being clear that you will and can pay the price. Think of it as the cost of an action/inaction/habit/behaviour – a cost that accumulates interest over time.

Cyclists will talk about the Cost Of Energy: In other words, you could choose that gear ratio/cadence on that climb – but how much energy would you have to expend in order to do so? And what would that do to your overall chances? All of which means that at least some of the key considerations in all this are:

• How proportionate the cost?

• How long you could sustain the cost?

• How willing you (and others who are affected) to pay the cost?

And the clincher: What’s the price of payment?

Short-medium-long term?

For your running, other areas of your life, and your close personal relationships?

‘Anyone getting depressed yet? Oh, don’t worry – think of this as the bitter-tasting medicine you take on first signs that prevents the real nasty stuff later.

For those of you who like equations I’ve translated as follows:

The Model: Training + Recovery = Performance

The Reality (for most of us) Family + Work + Training = Performance

The Privilege (for the elite) Training + Peers/Teammates + Sponsors + Recovery = Performance

And for those of you who wont get the message till you see how IMBALANCE creeps in:

1. More Training

2. Lots More Training

3. Lots More Training & Big Hard Races

4. Lots More Training & Big Hard Races Again & Again & Again

5. Lots More Training & Big Hard Races Again & Again & Again plus Work plus Family

Oh, and don’t forget the other stressors:

Guerilla Warfare: Work-Family-Life

Nuclear Strikes: Illness, bereavement, job-loss, lotsa big hard races (bonks included)

Remember my favourite ultra running twins ‘Compound’ & ‘Cumulative’ – in this game it’s never just one thing one time: Problems happen as lots of different stuff builds and combines over time again and again and again.

In A Nutshell

The big one is Over Training Syndrome.

(There are of course, all the kidney-related problems that can come with getting it horribly wrong in big races either by overdosing on painkillers or messing the nutrition up big-style. Park those and stay with me on the ‘ultrarunning lifestyle-related’ stuff).

OTS: Persistent poor performance and disturbed mood that can easily lead to depression – and it’s a function of over-training AND racing. (Think ‘sadness without purpose’ ) It’s ‘untreatable’ and recovery can take years.

Most of the high profile ultra running cases that have come to light have been men e.g.

Geoff Roes

Anton Krupika

And Steve Birkinshaw after his monumental Wainwrights Round a couple of years ago

Whether that’s simply a function of more men in the sport than women or whether it’s specific bloke-wiring is another matter. (As a coach, I know it’s the latter at least as much as the former – but that’s another article). All the cases above make for sobering reading and yet there is one unshakable truth to take comfort from:

OTS is absolutely utterly preventable.

All it requires is a big picture perspective, a willingness to put protective measures in before you need ‘em, and a mindfulness to pay attention and make adjustments when the warning lights start to flash.

All this of course, pales into insignificance in light of the most crushing news of all. Gentlemen: Your sex life will take a nose-dive. And the science is right up to speed on that one.

By Andy Mouncey, May 9 2017 12:07PM

So – apparently – said the great Killian Jornet currently girding his loins for a speed attempt on Everest Now I get where he was going with this – really I do – but here’s the footnote:

‘But If It Really Really Isn’t Fun – You’re F***ed.’

Last weekend was supposed to be Redemption.

After a third aborted Spine Race back in January www.thespinerace.com I’d picked out a 110 mile jaunt on The North Yorkshire Moors as a chance to reset the dial. (film of Hardmooors 110)

Now if at this point you are expecting me to regale you with a warts and all take-it-right-to-the-wire account where our hero digs into his soul to drag his sorry ass once more over a finish line and Salvation…


It wasn’t even close.

‘Cos I binned it at 21 miles.

By Andy Mouncey, May 4 2017 12:00AM

There needs to be a pretty special reason why I’d want to let a guest loose on my blog, and Steve Birkinshaw’s account of his attempt to beat arguably the most intimidating ultra distance fell running record - 300 miles over 214 Lake District mountains - fits the bill.

Those in the know thought that this record - a shade over seven days - would never be beaten. It had stood for 28 years. The person taking on this superhuman challenge would have to be smart, willing to push harder and suffer more than ever before. There Is No Map in Hell tells the story of a man willing to do just that - and a family and support team that made it possible.

I like it ‘cos it’s much more than an account of a bloke haring up and down mountains. Contributions from family and friends bring it to life. Steve has also written about the price he paid. Two years on he is still paying and has used this book launch to share some of the aftermath as well.

This extract is part of the Blog tour for the publishing of There is no Map in Hell

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