Before my next Man Vs Adventure, let’s talk a little bit of personal history…
I’ve been trying to keep pace during some races by running with the Race Fitness team. In the lead up to Man Vs Mountain this year, the team signed up for another race in aid of Chest Heart Stroke Scotland, this struck home with me specifically, as I at the ripe old age of 32 had a stroke.
Back in 2012, my world came to a crashing halt whilst in the UAE visiting a friend. Back then, I wasn’t the man I am today by a long shot; I didn’t eat particularly well, and admittedly I did drink a lot more than I do these days. I can’t say I really abused myself; I wasn’t out every night; well, maybe a couple of big nights a week, but I wasn’t terrible. I arrived at my friend’s late on a Friday night after a long day of travelling then proceeded out to paint the town red. We fell through the door at about 4am, very merry after a night of shots and dancing on tables.
Around 8:30 the next morning my friend woke me asking if I wanted breakfast, my head was fuzzy but I’d felt worse. I got up, went to the bathroom and that’s where the nightmare began - I fell, smashing my face on the door and holding it shut like an unconscious fleshy doorstop. Semi conscious, I was aware that my friend was calling me. I had no memory where I was or what had happened, it was like the very edge of being asleep.
Aware but unable to move, I knew I was struggling to breathe too but I was barely observant enough to the danger I was in. I tried to move but my body was like lead. I manage to flop over like an infant just enough so my friend could get around the door and help me up. He carried me to the couch and he called the emergency services, I couldn’t even talk to tell him what was happening to me - not that I had any idea. It felt like someone had my tongue with pliers and my right hand side was completely limp. He had already guessed what was happening but I was oblivious to the mess I was in, other than the frustration of trying to speak. A stay in the hospital confirmed my heart had stopped and I’d had a stroke. It was like being dropped in a deep, ice-cold pool.
I was casually confident I would bounce back, I always had before, but I was lying to myself, and some things were never quite the same again. Weirdly it wasn’t something I really spoke about until the last couple of years, I’d joked about it but never talked about to the stifling horror of being trapped on that floor struggling to breathe, but what do you say?
Fast forward to 2018 again and I figured my misfortune could be turned into good, and I would roll my races into one huge fundraiser! I worked out that I would aim to cover 250 kilometres of racing in 5 weeks - it sounded tough enough to generate money so I set the initial target at £1500.
It was two weeks until Man Vs Mountain – the week of the King and Queen Mountain Bike Enduro. I entered last minute for a “laugh” with a couple of friends Neal and Kat who really wanted a crack at one. I was the only person they knew who had ever taken part in an Enduro before so I chivalrously volunteered to ride with them. My only advice was simple “this will be more horrible and harder than any OCR you have ever done.”
Those who live and breathe mountain biking generally only undertake Enduro racing. The from around the country (and sometimes the world) descend upon Innerleithen to take part in the Tweedlove Triple Crown, including Danny Hart a Monster energy drink sponsored downhill champion, so no pressure then.
Enduros also don’t have thousands of entrants like OCR or distance races, there are normally only a couple of hundred and around half are sponsored or pro riders. It’s a bit like your five a side team suddenly rocking up to the World Cup. In fairness everyone really is super lovely and there are no egos, which is pretty awesome.
It transpired that I knew a few more entrants, so we were going to be all in the same boat - until a huge rainstorm hit hard the day before. The trails turned to mushy brown goo and the pros destroyed the place, leaving the 4500 feet of climb and descent over 20 miles a total slog for us. Of the six of us entered only two finished; Kat and myself. I had a few massive crashes off a six foot drop, broke a finger, damaged a tendon in my thumb, and a couple of days later realised I’d strained my Achilles tendon. Scraped and bruised I returned home remembering why I didn’t do Enduro racing anymore and more annoyed that I’d done so much damage to my body and my pride with big races still looming just on the horizon.