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When you Fight with the Mountains

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

About two months ago I decided to have a fight with the mountains. I’m not sure why, but apparently, for a split second I thought it would be fun. It wasn’t. It hurt like hell. It left me extremely parched, in desperate need of a (bottle of) wine and chaffed in all the wrong places (granted, there are no right places to be chaffed but you know what I mean).

I’ll tell you what happened… I entered the Shotover Moonlight Marathon in February. Well I signed up for it in November and was put on the waitlist. Five weeks before the race I got the email saying I was in. 42km. 2,500m of elevation. Five weeks to prepare. Sure, why not.

I’ll tell you how it happened… Last September I came back to Queenstown and I started running up hills and stuff. Mainly because elevation is a way of life here and I realised I actually quite like it, when you go up you’re guaranteed a cracking view. Plus, I like food and wine and ultimately when you’re blessed with the body of a hobbit you have to really look after it to enable increased consumption of said food and wine. I started going on a few ‘adventures’ and exploring the trails and realised it was my kind of fun. Don’t you just love cramp? And muscular soreness? Me too, it really gets me going. Also, when you work at a physio you’re surrounded by people doing weird and wonderful stuff, so really if you don’t join them you feel a bit left out. Apart from all the elite athletes and hardcore patients at the clinic the staff are a bit mental too, so basically, I feared if I didn’t up my sporting game I could be fired. Ok, so that’s not technically true. In fact, I just lied, however, being there did present me with a strange urge to compete again. An urge to undertake a physical challenge. And I’d been waiting for this urge for five whole years.

A quick history lesson in the life of me… I used to race (short and standard distance) triathlon professionally, trained very hard and was a dedicated, organised young athlete. I quit years ago. Got bullied into doing an Ironman (long distance triathlon) by my family, entered the competition using the wrong name, signed up as a male, entered the wrong event (to be fair it was all in French and I’m only fluent in Mancunian), would have been European champion for my Age Group or won prize money as an elite had I entered either race correctly, instead I did none of the above and collapsed over the finish line of the open race category only to be wheelchaired off by a very sexy French man. I gave up racing for another two years. Then decided it would be a great idea to enter a 112km ultra marathon across Mallorca with my cousin, got injured and couldn’t run for two months. Started the race – fell over and cried, blew up at 21km, didn’t have enough batteries for my headtorch, got a good talking to from my cousin, came back from the dead, finished the race in one piece in 17hrs50, had very smelly feet. Left the UK and went travelling for five years, haven’t done anything competitive since.

Good, now we’re all up to speed. So now the urge was back, I was settled into Queenstown life and ready for a challenge. Five weeks of epic runs under my belt, trails shoes I hated, absolutely no nutritional strategy and a bit of dry needling to the glute and I was ready to go. All I needed was a positive mental attitude and a lifetime in sport to get me through.

So, on Saturday 15th February off I went on my latest venture that was the Moonlight Marathon, armed with slightly below par preparation and two hobbit sized legs full of steely determination.

It was hard. Like really hard. Up ridgelines. Down ridgelines. Across ridgelines. And back up them again. Up surfaces so steep I swear even Spiderman would have broken into a cold sweat. The views were incredible but unfortunately I couldn’t look at them for fear of falling off the edge of whatever surface I happened to be scaling at that particular moment. I definitely developed vertigo. These mountains were beating me up good and proper. And it was hot, really hot. My energy levels were low. And I needed Coke (the legal stuff – although I’d have accepted anything at that point). Then I saw a marshal being all chirpy and supportive. “Where’s the coke?” I dribbled as one eye involuntarily decided to spin around in its socket and my limbs held about as much form as piece of spaghetti. He kindly informed me the coke was at the last aid station, 400m away. Up a hill (obviously). I felt like Frodo taking those final steps when delivering the ring to the depths of Mount Doom as I staggered that 400m to the coke. I probably looked like him too.

6hrs30 minutes after I started I finally stumbled across the finish line, slightly delirious and wondering what the hell had just happened. Eventually I concluded that I had just had a rather lengthy fight with the mountains. And lost. But on a positive note, had lived to tell the tale.

So here I am, two months later in lockdown wondering what I’m going to do with myself when we’re allowed back into the real world. And I’ve decided it felt good to back challenging myself, back seeing what my body and mind could do. And on reflection, maybe my fight with the mountains was sort of fun. And maybe I never lost at all, maybe I held my own but the fight just hurt. Maybe, after my five year hiatus, surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the southern alps and a great team of active people I’ve got the racing bug back. Maybe I’m ready to take on some more challenges and maybe I’ll actually prepare a bit better for them. Maybe I’ll set myself some more goals and maybe now is the time to think about these goals.

But in the meantime, while I’m busy thinking and goal planning, I’m going to look out of my window at the mountains I’m not climbing, have a glass of wine, eat a piece of cake and remember that time I had a (very lengthy) fight with the mountains…

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