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A lesson in leaving the ego at the door

I am not the fittest, nor the strongest, never have been, but I am competitive, and stubborn and boy do I lack patience with myself, especially when it comes to training, fitness and sport! That’s not to say I am egotistical, not by a long way but I am someone that uses those around me to push my training. Leaving this competitive stubborn streak at the door when training is a challenge, a mental challenge that rivals the physical ones I enjoy so much, only this challenge is less enjoyable. 

Exhibit A: I was out early one morning this week “enjoying” a steady run, when this older lady complete with curly grey hair, Lycra shorts and a Tshirt from an event dated well before I was born jogged passed wishing me a good morning without so much as a break in her breathing. Now every ounce of my being wanted to speed up, overtake her and win the “race”, but no I smiled, politely nodded and took the next turning so I didn’t have to stare at the constant reminder of my inferior running ability. This event ate away at me (I know what you are thinking, no it’s not my proudest moment) I was annoyed at myself for letting her overtake me, I was angry at myself for being annoyed. 

Exhibit B: Pilates, now forget the stereotypical elderly ladies quietly working their way through well rehearsed routines. This is not the case with this class every class is different, different focuses, different challenges. I’ve done the class at various times on and off for a couple of years, never the top of the class but rarely the one struggling at the lowest level. This is where current frustration lies; learning to accept that whilst an exercise was well within my capabilities not that long ago it’s now well in advance of what I can even attempt. Whilst others in the group male/female older/younger are moving their bodies through slow coordinated exercises my body is crying out for me to take a step back and re-evaluate what is realistic. Sometimes regressing techniques other times stopping completely, starring wistfully at the ceiling waiting, hoping the next exercise is something my body will let me do.

These are just two examples of how my approach to training and motivation has had to change. No longer is it about using those around me as a yardstick to measure myself or push my training, no matter how much I miss that side of training. Motivation now is about putting myself in the best place for the challenges that lie ahead. In someways I suppose I am having to be more patient with myself, more mature in my approach. Some days the slightest improvement can make me feel on top of the world, other days the simplest task leaves a level of frustration far beyond what is proportionate. Yet everyday is a fight to be better prepared, stronger mentally and more motivated to look forward to what lies ahead. 

I only went and did it! 

A week after what was one of my toughest physical and psychological challenges this year and I am actually still smiling at what I achieved. If you have read my previous blogs you will know my relationship with water and open water in particular is a rocky one. From waking that morning to finding myself treading water waiting for the signal to go I was continually questioning my sanity and will to even attempt this challenge. This was not helped by a rather pessimistic looking sign at the start forbidding swimming. 

As the start signal sounded we were off, it took me ages to get into my stroke, breathing every other stroke just to keep the panic away. This was working I was starting to settle and dare I say enjoy the swim. Suddenly there was a hand on my head and down I went, as I resurfaced the safety kayak was asking if I was ok, before I had chance to answer Becky announced I was fine whilst pulling me back into a swimming position. The rest of the first lap went without incident, sighting was an issue but boy did the sight of the water exit give a huge boost! Getting out I felt like I’d just done my hardest work out ever, Becky announced we were to run the 100 m and we were soon back in the water. 

The second lap was actually enjoyable, as I relaxed and realised all the work in the pool was paying off, I was still alive and all I needed to do was finish this lap to have finished. With around 300m left my arms were dead, my shoulders burned and my head dreamt of getting out and into dry land. Aiming for the pylon and then the water exit, the stroke felt good, breathing relaxed and I began to feel a sense of pride. Here I was about to finish my first open water swim event. 

I crossed the finish line, got my medal, watched Becky go back in for her third lap and smiled. I had done it! Yes it was the shortest distance of the day, yes I stayed with Becky the whole way but I had swam the whole way, nobody can take that away. I have completed a few OCR events this year but nothing rivalled that sense of achievement! 

This event was well organised, had a great atmosphere and the location was great. If you like open water swimming check out Amphibian events. Dare I say I am even considering signing up for their short course next year. 

Spartan Sprint – you’ll know it at the finish, or will you?

With the Manchester Spartan Race cancelled my wait for my first Spartan experience was extended. By the time I was on my way to the venue I was excited and anxious to get going after all a race with the tag line “you’ll know at the finish” leaves you with high expectations. The start line set the tone for the race, yes you had to clamber over a small (4 foot-ish) wall just to get into the starting pen. As Spartan newbies we didn’t really know what to expect baring a fire jump and spear throw, thankfully the duty Spartan quickly discovered our wave was indeed a wave full of Spartan Virgins. It wasn’t long before “I am a Spartan” was ringing in the ears of everyone within a mile radius and we were off. Months of anticipation and excitement were about to unfold.


One thing I have noticed in the events I’ve done is how amazing the marshals are and baring a few that looked like someone had stole their last jelly bean they were smiling positive and full of advise (does “30 burpees” count as advise?). The guy dishing out the burpees at the monkey bars had some good banter and inventive burpee variations to keep everyone smiling following a good old British downpour. The lady at the barbed wire crawl dishing out advise and hugs. The ladies at the penultimate double wall were amazing, all day the supported, lifted pushed and encouraged participants over the wall yet their enthusiasm never dwindled, they were still going as we left the event village. The only real criticism  was the extended wooded section where not one marshal was to be seen and very little tape marked the route.


If I’m honest I was a little disappointed by the variety of obstacles, there was walls, rope climb, walls, spear throw, object carries, walls and drags, did I mention walls? Yes there were lots of walls, initially this was fine but having to clamber over wall after wall when fences also had to be climbed just got us wishing for a little more inventiveness. Admittedly they were varying heights etc but walls are walls. The main obstacle was terrain, rough, uneven and full of stingy plants, at the end of the day it’s there so use it and it did add to the course.

Karli log.jpg

Overall I enjoyed the race, it wasn’t a massive challenge but it was only the sprint. It showed me that my training is working as walls were much less challenging than in previous events, I was even successful at the two overhanging walls. The rope climb was one obstacle I had been looking forward to and dreading in equal measures. It was made slightly trickier by the downpour that left the rope wet, muddy and slippery yet surprisingly I made it to the top and rang the bell (if you know my dad feel free to ask him how he got on). The remainder of the obstacle were challenging but realistic, and lets face it anything that finishes with a fire jump is going to make you smile.

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They say “you’ll know at the finish” but what did I know? I was left still questioning it. Other events I’ve done have been better organised, offered more variety of obstacle and a more welcoming atmosphere. Spartan is a brand known to the general population, its reputation is one of toughness and challenge, not for the faint hearted. Spartan race, for me, was similar to some big brand shoes, they do the same job as a cheaper version and from time to time you’re left wondering if what you’ve really paid for is the name. Having said that I’ve still got that nagging feeling that I’m missing something, there is still a part of me  that wonders if I am/could be tough enough to complete the trifecta? I can see where the “cult” label comes from, once you’re in you are left wanting to delve further into the community, see what the longer, harder races have to offer, see if you are strong and fit enough to take on their challenge or if you are just destined to a life of lesser known challenges.


So where to now? Away from OCR I have a mammoth 2km “swim” in 10 days time. OCR wise I am returning to the Suffering Race at the end of October and am looking for another race before then. I am already compiling a wish list for 2017. I started this blog to track my progress to Rat Race Dirty Weekend 2017 and help raise awareness and funds for two charities, the Royal British Legion and Scotty’s little soldiers. What I am finding is that this journey is one that will continue beyond next May.


If you would like to donate to our two worthy causes please use the link below.


Accept, adapt and overcome. 

Training has always been an escape, an opportunity to forget “real life” and just focus on one more rep or putting one foot in front of the other. Lately though it’s not been that way, it’s a battle, a battle between what I want to do and what I can do pain free. It’s a balancing act between being stubborn and pushing myself within limits. The truth is training in accordance with common advice on exercising with fibroids is frustrating, in reality nobody knows my body as well as me. Having initially been advised against high impact, heavy lifting and core work. What I’ve found is that whilst running is fine cycling is a form of slow painful torture resulting in abdominal pain for up to 48hours. Lifting and core work is more complicated certain exercises are fine others aren’t, anything face down is off limits whereas anything overhead is fine.  Every workout is a lesson and that’s what I’m trying to take from this period, even if, at times, I’m frustrated, annoyed and want to hide  away kicking and screaming (does that count as cardio?), I’m hopefully this experience will also make me more understanding when helping others on their fitness journey.

So what has my training involved? Running Wise I’ve dropped the volume and frequency whilst aiming to maintain some consistency. I’ve discovered that I can actually swim(ish), prior to he summer holidays 4 lengths would leave me knackered, I’m now up to 60 lengths, happy days. I have also found a fantastic ladies fitness class based in Whiterose crossfit, Horsforth. The ladies are so welcoming and the class allows you to work as hard as you want, usually whilst using what little breath you have left to have a laugh. There have been some tough workouts that have pushed me to the limits. I’m looking forward to more sessions with this great bunch.

Overall I’m learning to have some patience, to take a workout, listen to my body, adapt exercises when I need to and keep pushing forwards. This will, I’m sure, be tested this weekend at my first Spartan Race, there will be obstacles, there will be burpees and there there will be fun. Bring it on. 

Olympic Dreams

This week came the long awaited announcement that karate had been accepted as an Olympic sport, a sport that will be showcased on the highest stage. Fantastic news, ultimately hand to hand (and foot) combat is the original definition of sport. Karate offers so much to its spectators in the precise and controlled execution of techniques in the unpredictable kumite  arena and the grace, power and poise of Kata (my personal favourite).

Why do I care? This announcement brings together my two childhood passions. The olympics, the ultimate proving ground for any athlete, the history and the psychology surpass that of regular competitions. For me nothing beats the Olympics the ability to plan training and competitions to not only gain selection but peak performance for those few days. It’s a feat of genius from the coaches but also unbelievable resilience, strength, ability and work ethic from the competitor. As a teenager I earned my black belt a week before my GCSEs but limited competitive opportunities affected my motivation. After finishing my rugby career I returned to the art I loved (Shotokan Karate) reigniting my passion after 10 years break. I was training at Leeds Karate Academy’s Hombu dojo in Farsley. The club boasts an impressive honour role of international athletes with the uncanny ability to share knowledge and experience as effective Sensei. Lining up at this club and you are often rubbing shoulders with high level international karateka yet the friendly, welcoming nature of the club provides a safe and unassuming backdrop for those new to the art.

Life, injuries and work have restricted my training to independent practice away from the dojo, but I still watch out for LKA results at major competitions. My competitive involvement was heavily restricted by circumstances but for youngsters around the country just getting involved in karate it is exciting times. Oh how I would love to have those competitive opportunities again, to see how far I could push. Those dreams may not be a reality for me, but having seen, taught and applauded some fantastic young karateka who now have the opportunity to follow the path marked “Olympic Dream” it’s an exciting time for all involved in the sport/art that offers so much to the social, physical and psychological development of its participants.

I ran, I swam, I conquered

Well this week has been full of milestones! Firstly I conquered the open water swim, well sort of. After some practice and acclimatisation between the jetties I got back out of the lake, across the pontoon and jumped in. Feet first and scoring around 1.5 for grace but I did it, and the success continued. Setting the goal of hitting the next buoy I swam a recognised stroke the whole way around the course. Yes there was tantrums, yes there was panics and yes I still wanted to get out but  after successfully making it around not once but twice (yes my wife is that pushy) I left feeling knackered but just a little bit proud of myself. Does this mean my fear of water is conquered, not at all but it is a positive memory to bank away for when the fear kicks in. 

As for running I set myself the target of running a sub 90minute 10km by the end of July and today I achieved just that. I acknowledge this is not a fantastic time by “runners” standards but for me and my short legs it’s a far cry from where we were a few months ago. There has been less success on the pull up front I’ve achieved two unassisted with a slight kip but fallen short of the 5, not only that but having spent so long on pull ups my chin ups have suffered too. Overall though training appears to be heading in the right direction.

Ratrace have had a few events recently and each one looks so professionally ran, the reviews are always top notch and they really seem to go the extra mile for participants. I cannot wait to get in on the action next year at the dirty weekend, I can see this being the start of the journey with so many cool challenges I think a season pass maybe in order. And getting to raise awareness and funds for a couple of worthwhile causes makes it all even more fun. 

the return of mojo


My training mojo has returned! I’m not sure where it’s been but prior to the last week or so I was having real difficulty convincing myself to train. I forced myself to go for a run, just a steady 10km I told myself, yet somehow I hit a PB (1:10:29) still slightly above my target of 1:10, which I will be having another crack at this week, but a whole 2 minutes faster than my previous best. The whole run felt horrible, I felt like I was running through treacle the whole time. Psychologically it was hard to keep going as my trusty strava reminded me just how hard going it was. I have strava set to give updates every 1km, usually these updates are great, they motivate you, remind you to keep pace and allow you to keep track of how far you’ve gone. On this run however every update was a reminder that I was running on average 30sec/km slower than I have been recently. The key for me though was to remind myself just how far I’d come. Two months ago a 10km run would have been out of the question (a non-stop 5km would have been a challenge) yet there I was running a steady 10km as an easy run feeling disappointed by my km splits. You just can’t please some people.


Away from running I have been combining Zuu (a primal bodyweight training system) with Crossfit style training. Zuu is amazing, it’s all about you controlling and unlocking movement patterns. The animal based movements look so easy yet put together it quickly chops away at your breathing pattern and quickly gives you a good dose of lactic. From that point on the choice is simple, listen to the headtalk and stop or ignore it and continue. There are a few movements that I struggle with technically that when combined with the metabolic demands of the workout are guaranteed to have me questioning the way forward. Crossfit wise I do a Crossfit style session a couple of times a week, I enjoy the way it tests aspects of strength when you’re already in a fatigued state in much the same way you get on obstacle courses. I’m no expert at planning training for obstacle course running, having only completed 4 before with very little preparation, so my training is very much a big experiment. So far combing running, Zuu and crossfit are providing me with some great progress. The next opportunity to check my progress is the Spartan Super in September.


I can understand how some people book weekly events, it’s not even one month since my last event yet it feels so long ago. I have also discovered a previously unknown addiction to obstacle race magazine, each edition is read and re-read to gain every ounce of information that may help. In addition to the knowledge, you get race reviews and upcoming race calendars. Now all that is needed is a bank account as large as my todo list. Well we can all dream!

Fear – Fight, flight or flap!

Fear, such a short innocuous word, yet its effects can blur the boundaries between rational and irrational, send heart rates soaring and leave its victim frozen in their steps. If you have read my previous posts you will have gathered I have very little love for water, in truth anything involving more water than a bath is something I would rather avoid. A great deal of persistence, hard work and patience from my partner (now wife) helped get me into a pool and to a point of being a relatively competent swimmer. Yet still, on any given day the irrational part of my brain tells me I can’t swim and that the swimming pool is the most dangerous place in the world to be and should be exited as soon as possible. Over the years I have developed techniques to help overcome this from writing shopping lists, visualising Kata to doing maths. Recently these techniques have been tested to the full.


I was told that the first time you try open water swimming you will hate it, the second time you will still hate it, the third time you will hate it but by the fourth time you will love it. In reality the first time shock and fear left me making very little progress towards the “open water” portion of the lake, the second time I made it around and towards the end even managed to string a few strokes together. That brings us to today, the third attempt; in reality it was never going to be a success, for three days before I have thought of little else other than reasons why swimming was a bad idea. Little sleep was had, and the journey to Pugneys left me dry mouthed and sweaty palmed. Climbing in I was hit by a wall of cold water made tougher by a tsunami of fear. I am an incredibly stubborn person who hates being beaten so despite the fight or flight pressuring me to exit as fast as I entered I set off to the first buoy. Attempting first breast stroke, then doggy paddle then front crawl I just couldn’t get into any rhythm. The rational and irrational parts of my brain were arguing constantly, yes I can swim, yes there are a safety boat, spotters and my wife nearby but still this is WATER, and not just any water, cold dark open water. Technique after technique was tried, then quickly pushed to one side as I couldn’t help but notice there was a current taking me, and no matter how hard I worked I didn’t seem to go anywhere. Making it back to the jetty some 400m and 30 minutes later all I wanted to do was get out, get dry and hide somewhere thinking of my failure. What actually happened was my very persuasive wife convinced me to spend some time between the jetty’s working on stroke and head talk. Twenty minutes later I was just about stringing some strokes together, controlling my breathing and there may have even been a slight smile on my face.



It would have been easy to leave the water after the lap from hell, would I have felt better? probably in the short term, but longer term I would have been kicking myself. To add extra pressure/motivation I had previously signed up for The Amphibian long course open water swim, a 2 km open water swim. Why have I done this, in all honesty partly because I see how much my wife and mother in law enjoyed the Great North swim, partly because I like a challenge and partly because when I accomplish it, it will be an achievement I know I’ve worked for. You see we live in a push button society, you want a meal – put it in a machine push a button and ping there it is, you want a movie? just push the button, you want to get from ground floor to top floor? push the button. So much in life is about making things easier, sometimes you have to take yourself back to raw emotion, challenge yourself and push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of.


PB’s and mental health

This week had been a strange week training wise. I have been struggling to get back into my pre-suffering level of training, I can’t put my finger on why but it’s just not there. Despite this I achieved two milestones; the first one was a new 10km PB at a time of 1 hr 12 minutes. I am confident I can get this below 1 hr 10 minutes before the end of the month as the first 2.5km was ran with my partner at a slower pace than my normal pace. Secondly I ventured beyond the jetties and out into the open waters of Pugney’s lake to complete a 450m “swim”. It may not have been 450m of recognisable swimming strokes but it was 450m on top of the water.


In addition to my normal nominated by my dad for the PTSD awareness challenge, 22 press ups everyday for 22 days. Why 22? On average 22 Veterans commit suicide every day a staggering statistic. Press ups won’t bring these guys back or take away there suffering but knowing people are aware of their battles may help even a little. Away from OCR my sport is rugby league, recently a young Leeds Rhinos player who has suffered tremendously with injuries has spoken out about his own battle with depression*. In a sport renowned for it’s toughness and masculinity this must have taken a strength far greater than that displayed on the field. But should it really be headline news that a player has mental health issues? should it be something people are afraid to discuss? Ultimately mental health is no different from physical health and sometimes our health lets us down.

*To read more check out Stevie Wards Mantality magazine here.

There’s no 56 days until my first Spartan experience. So much has been said about the Spartan races, how tough they are and the forfeits for failure. I have resigned myself to the idea of doing a few burpees along the way, I’m ok with it but the thought of what else might be waiting for us is both exciting and nerve wrecking. Ultimately though I can’t wait to be back on an obstacle course, in fact I’m not sure I can wait 56 days, it may need to be sooner rather than later.

This week I reached 300 vies on my blog, that’s 3oo exposures to my preparation for the rata race dirty weekend and 300 exposures to the charities I have chosen to raise awareness and funds for. If you have never read any of my other blogs and am wondering what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, follow the links and read more about my challenges and charities. If you have read my blog before you will be aware of the fantastic work Scotty’ little soldiers does. Today is Scotty’s Day with events going on across the country getting involved is easy. Simply text SDAY16 £5 to 70070 and support Scotty’s day and help put a smile on the face of a bereaved child.


Reflections, fears and future plans.


The dust has now settled, the mud dried and the aches and bruises are disappearing. A week has passed since the Suffering and as I reflect on my efforts I find myself smiling and booking onto the next series in October. Overall I am pleased with my efforts, I entered solo, it was my first event above 5km, and  my first event with walls and ropes. As with any event there were lessons to be learned;

  1. Nothing can replace perseverance, yes the 7/8 switchbacks were a psychological test however these repeated efforts were part of the journey to the finish line.
  2. The answer to a problem is usually in your hands. Yes it was me using the tyres as a step to scale the wall.
  3. Even when you are tired and think you’ve done all you can there’s always more in the tank.

These personal lessons and reflections can be applied directly to life. As we reach the halfway mark for 2016 life has thrown some curveballs in my direction. These have the potential to impact on my plans for the next 12 months however I believe that the strength and belief gained through hours in training and events can help my journey to my ultimate goal.


To keep me on my toes I like to push myself beyond my boundaries, whether it be conquering a fear, running further or lifting more. This weeks challenge was open water swimming. When you only learned to swim aged 25 because you fancied a swimming instructor, and you’ve never liked water there can be few better ways to spend a Thursday evening than plunging feet first into a cold dark lake. The first challenge is putting the wetsuit on, more of a workout than any session I had previously had in a pool. Wetsuit conquered we made our way down the jetty, as my partner dove headfirst into the dark water, I took the more cautious approach of sliding in. As I did this my brain hit the panic button! My heart rate soared, my breathing sped up and thoughts of becoming fish food flooded my brain. Composing myself I did my best to follow the coach from Wakefield Triathlon club through some warm up drills. For some unknown reason every time I put my head in the water I had the urge to breathe in, so here I am fighting the fear of water and my own brain is trying to drown me. Talk about battling the odds. Turn the clock forward and I’ve achieved 6 laps between jetties, actually jumped in and strung together 10 front crawl strokes with my face in the water. The next challenge is to tackle the open water part of the lake.


Training wise I set the target this month to run a sub 33 minute 5Km, I have managed this not once but twice. In addition to this my best 400m, 1km, 1mile and 2 mile have all been improved. Moving forward my aim is 5 consecutive pull ups by the end of July, I can do chin ups but pull ups have always escaped me. Upper-body strength has always been a weakness for me and whilst I want to work on strength I don’t want to lose the work capacity I have been working hard on. I have long been interested in Crossfit and recently discovered the Team Richey youtube channel. Unlike most Crossfit enthusiasts Craig Richey actually acknowledges other training styles and incorporates these into his training. Through reading and research I believe that with the right planning including Crossfit style training will facilitate the development of both strength and work capacity.