I realise that the title of this article will aggravate a few people. Especially those that only read titles of articles before they start ranting. Those people can do-one. They are the biggest frustration to old fashioned writers and publishers, who desperately try to cling on to the dwindling audience of people who have more than a 30 second attention span. PLEASE STAY WITH US! Don’t let 21st century social media destroy your brains!
[…and breathe] Now that’s out of the way, let’s focus on to the subject in hand:
This is an article I’ve been wanting to write for a long time and, as I have recently been the victim of my own stupidity, now seems like a better time than ever. Over the last few weeks I’ve gone from the glorious heights of finishing the Marathon Des Sables (in a better position than I could ever have dreamed of) to the embarrassing lows of what was to follow.
24th April 2017 – The day after London Marathon
Last night I hobbled out of an Uber and struggled to ascend two flights of stairs to my apartment, having been completely unable to take the ten-minute walk from Eastcote station. My sorrow filled the flat instantly and I was met by the very concerned look of Dr Miller, AKA my wife, Mrs Rees. When I returned from MDS a week ago, she pampered me, cared for me, and was filled with sympathy for my aching body and rotting feet. However, since declaring that I would be running the London Marathon, only a few days later, the sympathy was gone. She is a complete machine and can push her body to the limits of what is humanly possible but, even to her, it was a very stupid idea.
I struggled to lift my massively swollen feet onto her lap, so that she could examine them. I was thankful that she simply kept her comments to “this isn’t good Pete”, rather than “I told you so”. Both my body and mind were punishing me enough, as I shivered and winced with pain.
10th May 2017 – Two weeks after SP-day (Stupid Pete Day)
The last couple of weeks have been hard. I’ve been unwell, filled with regret and embarrassment, and have been close to losing a toe. That all sounds a little dramatic, I know, but I have been surprised by how much it’s got me down.
I wrote the extract above en route to a work filming trip, where I was expected to run and scramble around the rocky coastline of Cornwall. However, later that day, when my toes turned white and started stinking of rotten fish, the depth of my stupidity became even more apparent. I ended up in hospital with a nasty infection and was sent hobbling away with antibiotics and instructions to stay out of trouble, put my feet up, and return for daily check-ups. My toes deteriorating badly in the week that followed, and my ability to do my job was very much restricted.
Finally, two weeks later, the infection has cleared and I’m now fully on the mend.
Why so down?
Since I started obstacle racing I’ve had a lot of injuries, as many of us have. In fact, I’m still dealing with the aftermath of a few of them now. So why should this relatively minor toe incident get me down?
Because I failed on a promise I made to myself two years ago.
The early days of OCR
The early days of Mudstacle were amazing. The fledgling OCR community was fresh and enthusiastic and I was very proud to have Mudstacle at the centre of it. Although our team of bloggers grew over time, for a long while I personally felt the need to experience and report on as many events as possible. In fact, it was even simpler than that, I just wanted to experience it all. I had a serious case of F.O.M.O. As a result, I raced every weekend for a few years. Sometimes twice a weekend. Sometimes three times a weekend. I raced even when I was injured, unfit or unprepared. I wrote stories about my hardship and how I had battled on through, even though my whole body was in pain. I was applauded for that and I watched and congratulated others that did the same.
Obstacle racing is, and always has been, built around people who love facing new challenges and get a buzz from pushing through boundaries. From the very beginning, motivational statements have buzzed around the community: “Never quit”, “Spartan Up”, “Don’t whine”, “Go beyond your comfort zone”, etc. As a result, we have often revelled in and applauded those who limp over a finish line or battle through the onset of hypothermia.
Over time I started to think differently. Some would say sensibly, some would say cynically. Although I had achieved a lot physically, I had done a lot of damage to my body in the process. My limitations were becoming more apparent and I realised that, by battling on, I was simply not respecting myself.
There is clearly a fine line between pushing yourself to the edge of your ability and pushing yourself beyond it. The latter can be stupid and often dangerous. I started to get worried and, at times, aggravated by the promotion of pain in the industry and community. Moderation was practically being shamed.
Everything came to a head for me towards the end of 2015. I decided that I should stop punishing myself and doing permanent damage to my body. Although I had faced long endurance challenges, I hadn’t ever properly prepared for them and, as a result, had suffered the consequences. I decided that I would take a step backwards and concentrate on running distances that I was more comfortable with – 10km up to half marathons. That was until somebody signed me up to Marathon Des Sables. 😀
At that very moment, my world changed. In the few days that followed my mind drifted focus from terror to determination. This was something I had to do and I was not prepared to ruin my body doing it. Over the space of 18 months I would have to transform myself into a proper endurance athlete. Ultimately, I would have to stop winging it.
The promise I made to myself in December of 2015 was this:
Respect your body, respect injuries, train properly, recover properly, and go into every event fully prepared. Most importantly: If you need to, quit and live to fight another day.
I lived by those rules for 18 months. I started by clearing out old injuries (as best I could), I then followed a structured training plan, I raced less, focused on specific targets, rested fully when I was injured, and ensured that I went into MDS in top physical shape.
My fitness and performances in that period speak for themselves. I have been in the best running shape of my life. I pushed myself to my absolute limit at MDS, yet physically I had prepared myself for it; I was ready to go through the hell that I faced. I came out of the other side physically and mentally exhausted, my feet had taken a battering, and I had a horrible cold. However, thankfully, I was uninjured. I simply needed to rest for a few weeks and I’d be totally fine.
Although I felt rough, I was on a massive high after MDS. Not only had I run for 250kms in horrific conditions, I had performed better than I ever thought possible. Temporarily, my mind got carried away and, in hindsight I realise, I might have had a bit of an invincibility complex.
When I was presented with the opportunity to run London Marathon, an event I’ve wanted to take part in for years, I pounced at it. I was sure that by the end of the week my feet would be healed and my cold would be cleared. Sure, my legs would probably still be tired, but really, what was another marathon in the scheme of things? There would be no sand, nor any hills. There would be water around every corner and the temperatures were likely to be far more civilised than I was used to.
“What’s another marathon?” Seriously Pete? Are you that much of a bell-end?
After all of my good work. After reaping the rewards of my promises. After proving that you should respect your body. I tossed it all away in an instant. Of course London Marathon is a fraction of the challenge that MDS is, but it was a challenge I was completely unprepared for, not fit enough for and, most importantly, not giving enough respect to. I don’t care who you are and what you’ve done, you don’t simply waltz into a marathon. And, if you do, you shouldn’t expect everything to be okay!
I realised I’d made a mistake the moment I tried to put my shoes on on Sunday morning. I then realised my ultimate stupidity at the half way mark. I battled on to the finish line, hating myself for putting myself in that situation.
People have congratulated me for completing London so soon after MDS. Some have said it’s inspiring, others have called me a hero. I’m very sorry and embarrassed to admit that that’s not true. I was stupid and reckless and, if anything, it’s tarnished what I achieved at MDS. It has confused everything I’ve worked for. I didn’t want to be the foolish hero that broke himself physically in order to achieve, I wanted to be the calculated and well prepared strategist that did everything he needed to do and more.
Although I’m not happy with myself, I’m to terms with what I’ve done. If anything, it’s strengthened my opinion and doubled the will of my promise.
I will continue to take motivational statements with a pinch of salt and my overriding goal will be to respect my body – I’ll only ever have one of them, after all.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, this is an issue that I’ve wanted to shine a light on for some time. Using myself as the reckless example makes it a slightly easier subject to cover and I don’t feel like I’m lecturing quite so much.
Over the last few years I’ve seen so many people racing when they don’t feel 100%. People are racing on injuries and sometimes even boasting about it, to the admiration of the community. Let’s put an end to that now.
Let’s turn a mirror on people and tell them when they’re being reckless, stupid, or irresponsible with their fitness. I’m not saying we should do that publicly; a private message or quiet word is far more appropriate. If you end up being on the receiving end of such advice, try to take it in the spirit in which it was given – advice from somebody who cares about you and your future fitness. Of course, they might be overly concerned – if I take advice from my Mum every time that she worries, I’d probably never run again – so just use it as a nudge to assess and show concern for yourself.
Don’t be afraid to drop out or defer from the race you’ve been looking forward to. Don’t be afraid to drop out half way through when an injury starts to tweak. It can be very upsetting but you’ll be stronger for it in the long run and you will live to fight another day!
Let’s all just look after ourselves. I’d rather us be walking and running in our old age, than hobbling around reminiscing about the demons we've slayed.
Anyway, thanks for reading this far, for old time’s sake. If you’ve reached this far you are entitled to rant if you don’t agree with me.
Lecture over. Love you all x