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. Continue reading