Alpine Apocalypse

This year I set myself a number of fitness goals to link to Challenge 639 and my efforts to raise awareness of muscular dystrophy. I was determined to prepare for these properly and follow a progressive, structured training programme. Project 639 was born. Things started well with positive actions matching my good intentions. Progress was being made, then I picked up a dose of pneumonia and pericarditis through running with a cold. This resulted in a spell in hospital, an extended period off work and wiped out all the fitness gains I had made and some.

Perhaps unusually for me I followed the medical advice given to the letter in respect of my recovery from this setback. This involved a period of inactivity, then the introduction of walking. Initially the walks were short and gentle. I was later able to develop their length and intensity before finally being allowed to commence running again. In the intervening period I had been forced to miss or withdraw from a number of events that I had entered in preparation for my two 'A' races, the Mozart 100 and the K78 ultra mountain marathon in Davos, Switzerland.

If I had maintained a sensible approach I would have withdrawn my entries for these, written the year off and continued with small steady steps in my pursuit to regain fitness. Unfortunately bravado got the better of me and I decided to give these events a go, albeit with significantly adjusted goals and expectations. I also decided to enter another ultra in October to 'save' my year.

I had a wonderful time at the Mozart 100 thanks to all involved, and, in truth, a gentle cut off time which allowed me to manage my way around the course. I treasured that finish. It is among my happiest, most positive 'race' experiences. It also gave me added confidence that I would be able to complete the K78 a few weeks later.

I travelled to Davos, Switzerland, for the K78 with a firm race plan in mind. I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to secure a finish. I would be greatly assisted in this by the company of my good friend and all things being equal we would hook up with Ali who was running the K42 before the finish. The script was written. It was going to be a good event and a great set of memories.

The day started well. The first 30km passed smoothly and went exactly to plan. I was relaxed, moving easily and the company and scenery were great. We (I) slowed a bit as we neared 40km but we reached that within my target time frame and without breaching any of my self imposed heart rate limits. I was happy with my fluid and fuel intake. All was going as I had hoped, to the extent that on reaching 45km I was confident of the securing a finish and was picturing all the good stuff that accompanies achieving a goal. A finish that would definitely be one to draw pride from. Unfortunately my body and the Swiss Alps had a different ending in mind for me.

By the time we reached 50km my pace had slowed significantly and a pain was developing in the area of my kidneys. By 53km this was acute and my pace non- existent. I had an awareness that ultra running can cause kidney damage. Whilst I could not recall the research findings in their entirety I knew I was presenting some of the warning signs, most obviously pain in the relevant area! I also knew my lack of preparation going into the event and the intensity of exercise relative to my recent exercise regime (both absolute and in terms of duration) potentially predisposed me to this type of risk. Given my recent spell in hospital I was reluctant to ignore these warning signs. This accompanied by the fact a race official who had been shepherding me for the last km was advising me to withdraw raised the sceptre of a DNF. I asked for a few minutes to re-group. Jim was encouraging me to re-group wanting us to progress and for me not to be pulled from the event. I got up intent on proving the marshal wrong, proving I had what it takes and securing that finish but there was nothing nothing there. I had to accept the advice of the official and pull the plug, both out of acceptance of m own current limitations but also out of respect for Jim to enable him to finish within the cut offs. It was with great sadness that I bid Jim farewell. As he made off the realisation of the moment hit me like nothing has hit me before and my world unravelled in spectacular fashion to the extent I had to be 'evacuated' to the medical tent by quad bike. Lying on an improvised stretcher being attended to by a Dr and paramedics was a very inauspicious end to what had started as an amazing day.

The truth from which I cannot escape is that bravado does not make up for inadequate training and that experience can only mask such failings for a finite period. In addition to the obvious benefits of training, consistent endurance training leads to important and significant physiological changes that impact upon variables such as fuel utilisation and thermoregulation. These changes take time to achieve and can be lost or fade if regular, relevant exercise ceases. Ignoring this fact is a case of wilful blindness at its kindest, or stupidity, at its bluntest.

The physical pain of my efforts has already eased but the mental scars will take much longer to heal. Regrettably I have been here before and that really is stupid. I do however have the chance to regroup, repair and go again. Not everyone is as fortunate as that. The Alps aren't going anywhere (Teutonic plate movements aside) so I can lay this ghost to rest in the future.

In my training pages I use the quote, 'success is not a chance event', it really isn't. My athletes prove this time and time again. I would do well to heed and follow my own advice ;)

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