All my life, sport has been my ticket to something better. At age 14, I ran away from a dysfunctional home to play football for a youth team in the West Country. When my footballing career hit the skids at age 17, I joined the military because someone told me I could ‘get paid to play sport.’
Fitness has always defined me. But it wasn’t until I undertook SAS selection as a scrawny 20-year old, that I came to appreciate the connection between physical strength and mental resilience. When you’re tabbing over the Brecon Beacons in the dead of winter and your body’s in bits, fitness alone won’t cut it. You have to believe in yourself to get through it.
I continued to train hard after I retired from the SAS. The only thing that kept me from running in the hills was injury. It wasn’t much of a problem in my forties, but it was a different story when I hit my mid-fifties. I turn 58 next month, and like many people my age, old injuries have a nasty habit of wreaking havoc on my training routine. In recent years I’ve suffered from recurring muscle tears to my lower legs. No sooner would I get into a good run than bang—the scar tissue in my calf would rip open like a zipper and I’d be grounded for weeks.
The first few times it happened, I was annoyed. But as my injuries occurred more often, my recupperation time grew longer and I could feel my fitness tanking. It did my head in having to lie up for weeks on end with my muscles wasting away. I felt old and useless. Washed up in every sense.
I knew I couldn’t go on that way, so I made the hard decision to give up hill running in favour of gym sessions that included the Concept 2 Rower and weight training. But there was something about exercising indoors that just didn’t satisfy. No matter how tough I made the workouts, my mind still craved a good run over the hills. The impact on my mood was tremendous and I was rapidly turning into a grumpy old man.
I can’t imagine why, but my wife suggested I take part in a cross-country adventure race in Herefordshire called the Mud Runner Classic. I dismissed the idea straight away, arguing (grumpily) that I’d never stay injury free long enough to train properly. But she refused to let it go, convinced it was exactly what I needed.
Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I had a sneak look on the website. When I saw the photos of previous mud runs and read the course description—7.5 miles over undulating countryside with streams, mud and water pits as obstacles—I couldn’t resist. I registered, paid my fee and started training.
I had three weeks to get myself fit for race day. Instead of hitting the hills cold, I spent the first week training in the gym. Since I was aiming to complete the Mud Runner in an hour and a half, I combined 45 minutes on the Concept 2 or the bike with 45 to 50 minutes of weight training. I also sought out other runners who’d suffered injuries similar to mine to get their advice. All of them preached the gospel of long, deep stretches before and after a workout, and in between—something I’d dismissed in the past to my detriment.
Two weeks before the race, I met a runner who swore by magnesium oil applied to problem muscles before and after a run. She also suggested I invest in a pair of compression socks to feed more oxygen to my lower legs and limit injuries. I said I’d look into them, then went for a run that evening without either—only to tweak my calf and limp home.
The next day I bought compression socks and magnesium oil and started using both religiously. With a week to go to race day, I was like a man possessed, sticking with a low impact gym routine to give my leg every chance to recover, and doing 5 to 7 minute calf stretches whenever and wherever I could—on the steps, getting out of the shower, watching telly.
Two days before the race I attempted a short hill run. To my astonishment, I completed it without a problem.
Race day dawned with perfect cross country conditions—mild temperature, no wind, sun pushing through fog. I lathered my legs in magnesium oil, donned my compression socks and running tights and headed off to the event. There were well over 2000 people taking part and the organizers were planning to set us off in groups of 400 at ten minute intervals. I decided to run near the back of the first group so I could take it easy and—fingers crossed—build up my pace.
As soon as we started, a few runners from the back of the group started overtaking me—which I admit got me biting. But I had to be disciplined and maintain a sensible pace until I was certain my leg could hold out through the mud. After two miles, I felt really comfortable and began to pass a few people (ha! ha!). Some serious club runners were stretching away ahead, but to my delight, I was putting more runners behind me.
The course was as brutal as advertised. Bogs like deep pan pizza, mud pits, steep hills, water holes that swallowed me up to the shoulders. I kept thinking that whoever designed it must either be an extreme sportsman of the highest order, or a complete nutter. Either way, I found it exhilarating—the toughest physical challenge I’d encountered since my time in the SAS.
By the last mile, I was shattered physically but back in my prime mentally. When I heard a crowd cheering runners into the finish line, I was sure the hard part was behind me. Then I turned a corner and found three runners struggling to clear a mud pit I can only liken to quicksand. I edged around the hole, sinking knee deep before hauling myself out on hands and knees. My body was spent by that point and I struggled to get back to a modest jog. No sooner did I regain my stride though than the course threw up one final obstacle—a stream.
For a moment I was under the delusion I’d simply have to cross it. But the course was not that forgiving. I had to run down it, into water that came up to my waist. Hats off to whoever threw in that spanner. Brilliant stuff.
With 200 meters to go, I had nothing left to give and three runners passed me (gits). But I crossed the finish line injury free, which was victory enough for me.
That evening, I went online to see the results. I came in second in my age group (over 55’s), and 272nd out of a field of just under 2,300 runners. Not bad, but now that I’ve learned how to manage my injuries more effectively, I know I can do better. This sportsman isn’t washed up yet. I guess that’s the ultimate take away from my mud running experience. It’s given me back my self-belief.
33 thoughts on “FINDING MYSELF IN THE MUD”
I am now into week six of my second total hip replacement; the first in June and the second in September. So I truly understand the frustrations you mention in the blog. When I asked the specialist about the physical restrictions after recovery, he said no running on concrete and no singles tennis. I said I could live with that….Ha Ha! As if I was any good at either of those things through my whole life!
Great to hear from you mate.
All the very best with the hip replacement. So you won’t be performing at Wimbledon 2013 then, ha?!
Big well done Wayne, and take good care.
Very best regards.
very nice article, good job Sir.
Inspirational! – well done Bob – fantastic………..
Fantastic result Bob. So nice to hear how well you did. This will help boost me into the next 6 week sessions of bootcamp and who knows, maybe a local event similar to your one????? Congratulations and fingers crossed for the next one.
Loved your article, thank you for sharing. Lately my back has been giving me hell and sciatica – it’s simply telling me to get out there and do something! Inspiration is all around if we choose to see, hear and feel it 🙂
Great achievement Bob.
Like you, I too had my fair share of injuries. I was forced to incorporate cycling and swimming into my training. It was after I completed my event, that I thought, I am swimming, cycling, and running … why not do an Ironman event. Its a great event, and something I recommend you look at.
All the best
Well done with the Iron Man. I’ll look at giving it a go.
Nice one mate.
Good to see that there’s life in the old Bob yet!
Sandy read the article and pushed me out of the house,throwing my old boots after me and yelling “Get out there and come back when your not so grumpy!”
When have you ever been grumpy!?
Nice one with the Mud Run!!! I’ve just been med discharged from RAF Regt after nearly 30 years service having worn out my right patella. I need a new one but am too young to get it on the NHS (age 47). I’d recommend you look at barefoot running techniques as a means of reducing the impact on your knees. I’ve managed to get back to running 3 miles a day by learning how to run on my forefoot/mid-foot during my rehab. The Docs have said to stop all running and cycling but that ain’t going to happen!! Also lots of stretching too and don’t ignore your ITB either. The cause of my injury was the ITB shortening over the years and pulling my patella slightly out of track which caused the end of my femur to grind into the underside as I ran. So now it is 5 minutes a day on my foam roller to do the old deep tissue massage on it. It’s a real man test!!!
Great stuff, big well done mate for looking for another way to continue training. I know a laddie who trains around a running track barefoot. No more running on roads or hills, but he has his fitness back and it’s all outdoors for him too.
Very best for the future.
kia ora Bob,
Nice one mate, i will take away a few top tips from your article to re-energise my fitness regime (or lack of it).
Kia Ora Rayner,
You’ve made my week mate, great to hear from you, hope all’s well your end.
I think most of the top tips have come from people who have kindly commented on this post. Some terrific stuff so far.
Take good care Rayner, where ever you are mate.
if old scar tissue is giving you jip maybe try some myofascial release with a foam roller/cricket ball, that could help loosen up and break down the scar tissue (i’ve seen a youtube video of someone using a car buffer to get really deep as well… not tried that though)
i’m new to reading your blog (found after reading the circuit and the infidel is next on my ‘to read’ list) but already find it interesting and informative. Thank you for all you’ve done.
Thanks for the great advice, I’ll give that a go.
I hope that you also enjoy the reads.
Very best regards.
Hi. I’ve done the. Mud runner classic and the mud runner oblivion and loved it. Have you seen the nuts challenge in Dorking? It’s a good race with more obstacles. Also with your military experience, have you looked at events like the OMM and SLMM? These are 2 day navigation/hill races.
Thanks for this, I’ll take a look.
A lot of what you have written Bob rings bells with me. I also suffer with calf injuries and mine went again 7 days before the event. 1 week of intensive Physio got me to the start line only for it to go again on the first hill. I managed to limp around in 1:38 egged on by lads that I was in the RN with. I have already bought the socks (strange looks) and will try out the magnesium oil. Can’t wait until next year.
Hope it works for you Steve.
Certainly for me, it’s a combination of long and plentiful stretches along with the socks and magnesuim oil now being added religiously.
All the very best.
Well done! You should look at doing the Ice Breaker… Its organised by the same people but consists of a 10km run ( same as the classic but backwards ) a 20 km bike and a final 3km run to finish. Check it out.
Well done to you, as someone who has completed mudrrunner Classic & Oblivion with horendous back pain, you have put my aches into perspective, massive achievement! I have done half marathons, road & trail & still always suffer lower back pain, but hey battle on, you’re an inspiration x
We ran it too (trio of sisters) Had the best laugh ever! Actually forgot we were in a race most of the way around. We were too busy laughing at each other falling over! Roll on the next Mudrunner!
Loved the blog – and sympathise with the dodgy legs! I find trail running much easier on the knees and am a recent convert to chiropractic treatment too. I’d really recommend the IceBreaker – fantastic challenge, and cycling is much kinder on the knees! I didn’t stop smiling for a week after I’d completed it last year! Sarah (http://got-a-sec.blogspot.co.uk)
That’s fantastic, Bob. I’m glad to hear you found something to sate your hunger for endurance training. Me, I’m quite the opposite… I’d rather be training in doors. I don’t know how much I’ve told you, but I am schizophrenic/schizoaffective and physical activity has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself — as it would be anyone, really.
In the punk rock scene we use the word ‘hardcore’ a lot. It ain’t what most of the kids today thinking it is — it ain’t all about scrapping. Hardcore to us is born of a mental toughness. It’s being hard-headed but soft-hearted, in the end. I bring this up because I think that’s where you’re going with some of this; you’ve got to be hard in the head to do the kinds of things you have in your life, and I know from personal experience once you’ve had those experiences you can’t let them go.
I also know that as we meander through life the playing field changes. I think on top of everything, you’ve adapted to all the changes in your life admirably — whether it be mud running or your stance on security politics. A big part of this whole ‘hardcore’ equation is self-belief, and you have that ad infinitum. It’s hard to have views that are unique to us as individuals in the end, but it’s the hard-headed who simply refuse to put them down. Kudos.
I remember at the age of 17, wanting to give up on the first day of my pre-pre Para selection after coming in last from about 21 blokes on our first run. Our instructor turned up at the block were we were billited, to ask me how I was feeling. After telling him that I thought I whould not manage the selection much longer; he talked to me about determination and convinced me that If I wanted to, I could complete the cource. He did convince me to stay and had another go at it.
Our instructor treated us in a quite (non military) manner, coaching us to improve our performance and giving his time to the lads who where making a real effort.
He told us that he trained in his military plimsolls without socks to harden his feet; which without hessitation we copied when training in our spare time.
The cource lasted about 5 or 6 weeks and we grew stronger and stronger and learnt for the first time in our lifes how to give our everthing and to go on even when it hurting bad until we were over the pain barrier. We were young, fit and I had learned for the first time in my life to realy believe in myself and that one can only lose the race when the race is over, not before it has started. I completed the course in the top three and remember standing in front of the CO doors to hear him telling the Boss how hard I had worked on myself.
For many years I kept up with my physical fitness and being fit gave me an advantage over others to accomplish tasks in my job and at home.
I celebrated my 50 Birthday in 2011 and looking in the mirror and saw someone who was grossly over weight and had become a fat slob. After reflecting over my situation I realised that I wasnt going to reach 60 at this rate and knew that it was time to act. I registered with the Alpine Society (I live in Germany) for a five day trecking event over the Italien Alps.
Colleges and friends sniered at me saying that I was a dreamer.
The only thing I did still have, was my determination and belief that I could still do it.
After six months and losing 38pounds of fat I went on the treck carring my 24 kilo Bergen and being 11 years older than the next youngest Alpinist; I kept my own without a problem.
Before the event I had trained determined and often thought about what our Instructor had said to me –
He was a Scott known to the lads as BIONIC Bob (Shepherd)
I hope this does not read to cheesy Bob (I think it does), but you where realy an inspiration to a lot of us.
Thank you Bob, please keep up the good work and I wish you every success in your aims. I know it has being suggested before, you should
go into politics to get the forum you deserve.
Yours in respect
Firstly it’s great to hear from someone from the past, and terrific to see how you’re doing.
Mate, I’m absolutely blown over by your very kind comments. I’ve always tried to help people over the years, simply because there was always enough people trying to help me.
As for politics, I would be ucky to last two minutes with the “Right Honourables”
Anyway Fred, thanks you again and take good care.
Great article. I’d just like to make a quick recommendation for the scar tissue in your calf and any other injuries you may have.
Try searching ‘Graston Technique’ and/or ‘Active Release Technique’ in Google or YouTube.
These techniques have completely reversed injuries such as yours and I’ve personally had good results with these for over-use injuries, especially in my legs.
Huge thank you for this Sharif,
I’m onto it right now.
Because I have had injuries, which I now believe were caused by chunky running shoes, I cannot recommend them but have heard that they are the real deal………. heres the link> http://www.invisibleshoe.com/
Never had the opportunity to meet you Bob but when a young lad on 2 in the raf regt your name was often bounded around the idle times of lecture room down time. Several have since followed your example and pathway and it is to your credit that you inspired them to do so. Hope i get the chance to meet you at a Raf Regt function at some point and thanks for some great reading.
Thank you Fletch,
It was down to some very good JNCOs and older lads who rallied round and gave me the confidence to give selection a go. I’ll never forget them.
Glad that you’re enjoying the reads too, thank you again mate.
Hope we catch up sometime soon, meantime, take good care.
I find myself 6 hours in to my 10 hour shift on a saturday and i’m slowly getting through your blog. This one about the mud run has really ammused me, I can relate to your struggle with the rawly dry and mundane routine of the four walls of a gym! It truely grates me. I, like you find myself much happier running outside.
My father (who I believe you know), 3 years behind you, an Ex RAF Regt Gunner, an advocate of THE CIRCUIT and all things Shephard/Ryan/McNab is also suffering from some well earned twinges, aches and pains. But who still has some serious gritt about him and much like your wife did with you, I am resentlessly reminding him of this. I am determined to get him back out running as he used to be a great runner. I am very active and have recently done a similar type mud run as yours, called the Wolf Race. I can just see my Dad and I beasting through this together, in an effort to up his motivation to get back out training I have emailed him this ‘Finding myself in the mud’ entry from your blog.
It probably doesn’t help that I hide his favorite fudge quality street in his work trouser pocket to find.
Note to self..Bob Shephard entires are better motivation to get you through a dull day than fudge!
Thanks for the great read