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By Andy Mouncey, Oct 8 2021 09:00AM

The clock does not lie – and the only way to really see where you are on the racing -snake stakes is to put yourself on a start line and give it yer best.

Because when the flag drops, the bullsh** stops, as we used to say in our triathlon heyday.


So on the day before London Marathon last weekend I found myself huffing and puffing along with a few other soggy folks round my local 10km road race. Now I can’t remember the last time I did 1Okm on the road – and one that wasn’t part of a triathlon.

I can remember zipping round Warwick University campus sometime in the late 1980s in 33mins and change – but between then and now?

Not so clear.


And, y’know, I thought I was in OK shape – I mean, nothing scary-fast but okayyyy-ish at least.

‘How long will it take you then?’ asks Mrs Mouncey.

‘Well – I’ll cry if it’s anything over 39mins.’ I said.

Oh dear.

I cried.

And the boys nearly left home ‘cos they had Dad down for the win.


Recognising that I had some work to do managing the expectations of my offspring, I was just thankful I had two positive stats in which there remained a hint of hope:

No-one came past me.

I managed to pass a few folks of my own.

So if it was process over outcome there was some stuff to cheer about.

Except it’s a short race – so it wasn’t.


And I never ever thought I register a time that slow for that distance.

Ever.

(sigh)

START AGAIN.


Fortunately the day after proved one of significantly better cheer as marathon news of (real name) Badr (see previous post) came through:

First there was the 4 minute documentary film the BBC had made of him last week when we had all gathered in Burnley for a final trouble-shoot session.


Then the texts:

He’s passed halfway!

Then: He’s finished!

Then: 3.57!

By Andy Mouncey, Sep 21 2021 11:17AM



Displaced peoples.

Economic migrants.

Refugees.

Call ‘em what you will – just have a care to check the labels you use.


Sections of the popular press and the ignorant fearful who spew bile from the cover of social media would have us believe that they’re all leaches here to suck away our national resources or closet terrorists hell bent on murder and mayhem.

Hmm.


Family Mouncey have now done homestay twice with Bentham Area Refugee Support Group, for refugees who are being looked after by the Red Cross hub in Bradford, W Yorks. The first for a single Eritrean young man, the second for a young Iraqi family – and all with way more in common with us than they had differences.


In both cases the decision to leave was agonised over and in both cases at least part of the journey was made as a stowaway in a lorry – yes, that sh** is real – in the knowledge that the reception at the other end would come down to a wrestling match between a humanitarian pull, the push of professional duties and the noise of a polarised shouting match from the watching populace.

So I am in awe of these people – of those that die trying and those that live and who go on to carve a new life against odds we can barely comprehend.


Earlier this summer I got a call from Active Lancashire

Could I help a young man who they were supporting get ready for the London Marathon in Oct 3?

Well, yes.


Except Ben (not his real name) was a somewhat different project.

Not yet 20 he’d left his family behind in the Middle East – many of whom had been killed as fighting continued in his homeland – to make the trip to Europe*. He eventually found himself in the north of England where AL picked him up.


Smart, articulate but with basic English, he’d enrolled in college and got involved in a range of sport and reportedly had a work ethic to die for – but his running was somewhat of an unknown. AL had been gifted a funded place from London Marathon Charitable Trust under the ‘sport for development’ bit and Ben had said yes.

That was the easy bit – now we just had to get him ready and failure was not an option.


Turned out my biggest problem was holding him back.


A few weeks in to the training program I’d carefully constructed – knowing full well that it would be so easy to have him doing too much too soon – I had a conversation with one of his support workers that went something like this:

Me: ‘So how’s he coping with the training?’

Support: ‘Well…he told us he went out and did the full marathon distance last week just to see if he could – then a few days later he did it again…’

WTF ??!!???


Work ethic? Tick.

Embrace challenge? Tick.

Self-motivated? Tick.

Tolerate prolonged discomfort? Tick

Fear of failure? Delete that sh**

Resilient? Tick.

Etc. etc. etc.


Yes, dear reader: Getting him to the start line healthy and ready to run was and remains the biggest challenge.


So here we are with a couple of weeks to go and we’re still ripping up plans and schedules and doing our best to wind him in without resorting to leg irons. My biggest fear remains eleventh-hour onset of over-use injury in the lower legs – while Ben clearly doesn’t do ‘biggest fears’ anymore having been there, done those and got the T-shirt many times over.

And while getting him get to the start line with all his running bits intact will be Something, I suspect that the finish line will simply be the start of something else again.


He is a remarkable young man.






*I know little else about his story ‘cos if they don’t tell I will never ask: I start with what’s in front of me and where they want to go.

What little else I do know of his origin is this: Think Middle East version of displaced people as in Kurds or Palestinians i.e. no one wants to give you a home and all your neighbours want to kill you.




By Andy Mouncey, Aug 17 2021 02:20PM

It’s July 20th and as I write this, yesterday – July 19 - was Freedom (from covid restrictions) Day.

Apparently.

Though not if you were serving time inside.


And while I recognise that our system of justice would be somewhat undermined if we just threw the odd Freedom Day in there for everyone periodically my point is this:

July 19 2021 was just another normal day under extraordinary conditions that are now some 16 months old:

In-cell for more than 20 hours a day

Education reduced to in-cell learning packs

Work-based training reduced to essential on-site tasks

Family visits limited


And while there are exceptions – because each prison has to make a case for a progressive relaxation of its operating restrictions - it would appear that this generalization holds for most of the 80,000 people we have behind bars.

I’ve read the reports* and I’ve seen it with my own eyes.


Reasons & Restrictions

Outbreak of infection in a closed environment remains the main reason why restrictions persist. Prisons are charged with safeguarding the welfare of their staff and of those sentenced by the courts.

Another reality is that a policy of restriction and confinement in prison has been very successful in containing infections in what is a highly vulnerable population – general health levels would not be described as robust or resilient, for example.

Such a policy has kept the death rate down and way below the levels modelled by Public Health England at the start of the pandemic.


Remember back in Feb-March last year when cruise ships became a petri-dish writ large?

Forced to anchor off-shore?

That was a stark early example of infection in a closed environment and a prison is just a land-based version of that nightmare.


Despite the push to vaccinate we are seeing infection spikes and virus variants in specific places around the country. The path out of Covid is not linear or finite - prisons are no exception to this – and the Prison Service has made it very clear very recently that the path it prefers to take will be a careful (and ultimately reversable) one.


Regular readers will know that Chris and I - former trouble-shooter with Shell turned Run For Your Life CIC advisory group member – have been coaching prison governors during the pandemic.

This was in part because the in-prison work I was doing all stopped in March 2020 as prisons went into lockdown and well, I felt I had to find a way to continue to contribute.

We’ve learned some stuff, had our eyes opened and refined our methods – and all our 9 governors tell us that however stark the last 16 months have been the real fun stuff is just beginning:

• Leading their people and institution safely out of covid restrictions

• Designing-in the lessons from the pandemic into a new operational normal


So in the interests of making this post even more meaningful I’ve decided to make it interactive by putting you in the shoes of a prison governor.


Pop quiz, Hotshot: What would you do?


Leadership Dilemma Number 1: Control Infection v Relax Restrictions

Phone a friend?

Ask the audience?

50-50?


Not That Simple

This is not a binary position or an either/or – prison governors are charged with both and more besides. What might look like a black and white administrative position is also a moral one as well. Here’s an insight into the blurred space between what is actually multiple stakeholders – it’s just that for the purposes of simplicity I’ve given you two poles.


In the blue corner we have the Safety lobby: This is the ‘More restrictions are good for staff and prisoners’ view – and this is pressure to have more men spending more time in-cell as part of a so-called ‘new normal.’

Key advocates: Staff, officers, unions.


In the red corner we have what I will call the Sanity lobby: This is the ‘In what universe where rehabilitation is the goal does locking more people up for longer make any kind of sense?’ view.

Key advocates: Families, Humanitarian & Prison Reform groups.

In the middle: The prison governor.


Let’s dig a little deeper.

SAFETY

There is data to back this up: Violence in male prisons** (prisoner-prisoner / prisoner-staff) has gone way down during the pandemic, and there is plenty of documented anecdotal evidence that staff and many prisoners do feel safer and relationships between staff and men have been strengthened. Therefore, goes the argument, this is a good outcome and we need to do it more.


SANITY: ‘Well, what do you expect?’ ’comes the counter. ‘If you put people in boxes for longer and stop them mixing when they’re not then of course person-on-person violence is going to drop.’


Here the Sanity lobby goes Big Picture to the human health cost of confinement – only now starting to become clear as inspections resume – and that Safety should actually be a starting point not an outcome to be sought somewhere in the future.


Meanwhile the MoJ is consulting prison officers on this very question – The Prison Reform Trust has stepped in to do the prisoner-ask bit – while restrictions continue to lift in society in general and stay in place for prisons.

In the middle: The prison governor – and once again this Safety-Sanity is not an either/or.


So what would you do, Hotshot?

Hang on ‘cos I’m going to muddy the waters some more…


GIVE A S***

This is the bit that requires you dear reader, to park what you think what you believe about crime and punishment and just recognise that people in prison during a pandemic have little/no agency: They rely almost totally on other people to keep them free of infection and informed.

Because:

They’re inside and not going anywhere – people are coming to them (from outside)

They’re not generally in great health

Their living conditions are not exactly 5-star

Their ability to stay objectively informed and think clearly under pressure is somewhat compromised


Their safety and sanity need other people who have power and capacity to Give A Sh**.


I’ve been privileged to visit some prisons in the last few months and I can tell you that there are good people on staff teams and from the voluntary sector who continue to do their best to humanize this awful experience for the people in their care.

That’s what you can see on the ground.


From above? Here’s a perspective on what could be possible within current resource levels – once you decide that the key features that defines the quality of life these people experience add up to ‘Vulnerable.’


If we work our way up from there here’s what that could look like given a shift in priorities within current vaccination resource levels:


On July 1st 345, 591 vaccinations were given in the UK as either a first or second dose.

That’s around 14, 400 per hour.

At that rate you’d need less than half a day to get round all our prison population once.


Our prison population were not included in the ‘Vulnerable Population’ category when the vaccination program first rolled out. And while all people serving sentences and prison staff have now been offered the vaccine and been given information about their choice, the issue – just as in wider society – is not availability.


It’s take-up: Less than half the prison population have had a covid jab compared to the 90% of the general population who have had a first dose and 70% or so who have had a second.


Once again: It’s Not That Simple – and in the middle? The prison governor.



Supporting Prison Governors

Our work with governors has been on pause for various reasons and I’ve been casting about for ways to get it un-paused.

And hitting way too many brick walls / blind alleys way too often while trying to maintain the momentum of the work even if I have to hold it together with my own spit.

And then someone who also gives a sh** threw me a lifeline.


The PwC Foundation will from September step in with some ££ that will allow us to continue the work and put senior leaders from PwC alongside some of our governors in reciprocal mentoring relationships that will complement the online group work from Chris and I.

And the origin of that gift? Playing the long game in a professional relationship that began some 5 years ago.





Notes

*The discipline is to remember that reports are written retrospectively from a certain point of view and that events and the situation on the ground may well have moved on.

** By contrast self-harm in women’s prisons has gone up.



Sources & Further Reading

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/her-majestys-prison-and-probation-service

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk

https://insidetime.org

https://www.russellwebster.com

https://www.clinks.org

http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk

https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk


Beware! Bias

Just because I do my homework doesn’t mean this is an objective piece of writing.

For the sake of transparency this is where I’m coming from and where I’m going:


• As an educated middle-aged white bloke with economic means I am operating at the least level of difficulty in this (my) society.

• I’ve never served time – I’ve just walked in this world and have been moved to act.

• My writing is designed to get more people to give a sh** about this subject so public opinion shifts and politicians pay attention.


For the sake of clarity this is what you should know:

• With very few exceptions, the purpose of prison is to return men and women who have committed a crime back to society ready and able to contribute and participate.

• With very few exceptions, those people deserve that chance.

• Our system of justice is broken, consistently neglected by our elected leaders and in need of wholesale reform.

• And yet there are good people doing good great work in almost impossible circumstances.

Thank god.



By Andy Mouncey, Jul 30 2021 11:32AM

‘Has he ever done anything like this before?’

The race paramedic looks up from the pale gasping fish incapacitated on the floor masquerading as an ultrarunner and across to Mrs Mouncey who is by this time, verging on the ‘somewhat perturbed.’


‘Well…’ she looks down at the pale gasping fish masquerading as her husband ‘He has a history of fainting at finish lines – a big sugar crash – but he usually recovers quite quick: sweet tea seems to work. But this…’ she waves at the thing she promised to love, honour and obey all those years ago, ‘is er, unusual.’

No shit, sister: I’m in the ‘somewhat perturbed’ space here too, y’know?


‘Here’ being the 89mile point on the Lakeland 100 www.lakeland100.com and the Ambleside checkpoint in the heart of The Lakes. Well aware I desperately needed to lie down in some shade, I’d propped myself up on Charlotte and lurched inside before collapsing like a rag doll in a quiet corner. My body however, was just getting started: My heart rate suddenly went through the roof and my breathing threatened to spiral out of control as the Heat Stroke Monster applied the final choke hold.


This the latest twisted chapter in what had been 24 hours of off-script mind-body games that I’d mostly managed to keep hidden.

Until I’d seen Charlotte and the boys here at Ambleside.



The fun stuff had kicked in early: We’d started at 6pm and it was still hot and stayed oppressively warm through the evening. I was drinking more than usual and still dripping.


The first signs of trouble came as early: I’d started slow and near the back and – god, PEOPLE!

NOISE!

People everywhere! Hordes at the start lining the roads and being part of a 500 strong field of runners again was vaguely unnerving. I was torn between blocking it out and taking it in so in the end I just walked and did both – which was a bit of a rollercoaster too.

‘Bit rusty with this crowds thing, then.


While I was working my way through consistently it was still all slow – I did my best to control my focus but for some reason I felt unsettled. And it unsettled me that I couldn’t figure that unsettled shit out either. The big picture was that forward progress was being made. But…


20miles came as darkness fell along with the first real nausea and stomach cramps that somewhat soured my appreciation of a stunning full moon rising behind us – and had me grumpy and even slower for the next 6miles through the mountins to the checkpoint at Buttermere.


Well aware I’d ate hardly anything and still didn’t feel like much I settled for attending to the fault light that was flashing brightest on my dashboard: I stretched out on my back on the ground to ease my cramping stomach muscles and just stayed there among the checkpoint traffic.

I wasn’t the only body stretched out either and I could hear lots of other tummy-related grumps.

Not just me then…


One final lumpy stage and 7miles would take me to the next CP at Braithwaite near Keswick and after that it becomes more runnable for a while.

This has got to get easier, right? Even if I bloody walk the next bit I can get a decent feed and recover…


In the back of my mind even I’m not sure of my powers of re-set after 6 hours through the mountains with very little fuel and lots of f**king about. First things first though: Stand up – eat something – start walking away.

I find I can get some soup down – and tea.

Lots of tea.

Then I chance it and go for a frankenfurter.

Which stays down.

Now the walking away bit.

Yep – that works too.


That frankenfurter is good shit – who knew?!

I manage to walk then shuffle then trot then actually feel like I was getting close to respectable running again on the long drop from the high point of the stage at around 600m. So I arrive at 33miles feeling the most ‘less-shit’ I’ve felt all race and even looking reasonably chipper judging by the comments from the CP crew.


Still don’t feel like eating much though – so it’s soup and tea until I put my big boy pants on and put away a small rice pudding as well.

‘Cos I know there’s trouble building if tummy keeps giving me the finger.


The other thing I notice is that I really need the sit down.

Really.

And as a rule I stay standing through a CP.

I also have rules about Eyes Front, Not Talking That Much & Preferring My Own Company – and I’ll break all those today as well.


It remains vest-only warm through the night.

The headtorch goes off at around 40miles and I’m in a pattern that I’ll hold to the big 59mile CP that is known as halfway on this 105mile route: Hike anything going remotely uphill, chug along the flats, be better than average on anything downhill, eat very little, swing between feeling okay-ish to okay-less – and be almost unbearably slow while still steadily passing folks.

It’s still almost bloody transformational compared to the first 30miles.


I find it very difficult to be consistently at peace with my present state without getting emotional leakage from my speedier races here. This is not helped by the fact that everything about my recent training indicated I was in good shape and not the Mr Misery that is currently trying to take over the party.

Or that I’ve been building up to this for 18months and it was supposed to be, well…

Er, a bit better than this??


Grind It Out mode really hits at the 66mile CP and my race dynamics change for good as I’m joined by two people I know of very well through their race achievements but don’t actually know at all:

Ben Abdelnoor is a top fell runner who also won the 50mile version here a few years ago when it was the UK Trail Running Champs, while Karen Nash is arguably the best F60 veteran ultrarunner we have racking up finishes and placings at most of the top events in Europe and this country over the years.


We’ve been crossing each other periodically during the first part of the race and we all arrive at this CP within a few minutes of each other. Ben’s on his first 100 miler while Karen and I are both way beyond that and just nursing our rebellious tums.


As we sit side by side minus any visible signs of urgency, one of the crew remarks along the lines of ‘in the presence of ultrarunning greatness…’

We look at each other and Karen says it for all of us:

‘Well, I don’t feel that great just at the moment, I can tell you.’


We hook up – and while there is some chat it’s mostly companionable silence. This, we decide, is the defining difference between the experienced folks and the newbies – so we bathe in our shared smugness and it carries us for a while.


This section takes us up and over the high point of the course and back into the mountainous stuff again. Our group rotates the lead periodically and the elastic will stretch and shorten and we still arrive at the 76mile CP more or less together. The heat has been steadily building, we’re all slow and only Ben is really eating anything like half decently.


But the mutual distraction is working to stave off the deterioration in us all that would have come earlier had we been flying solo.

So we stick with the threesome and two dodgy tummys.


It’s just really f**kin’ slow – and I have to drag myself up the next two huge climbs hanging off my poles. Fortunately Karen and Ben are locked in the same gear. Descending is better – remarkably we’re still passing people – but I know how much faster I can go / have gone on this bit and it chafes: Of my previous 5 outings in this race the last 2 have been beset by progressive power loss caused by energy depletion – and here I am again this time with tangible nausea and an even bigger disconnect between my expectations and reality.

F**kwit.

(sigh).


Compassionate self-care is clearly something I forgot to pack but it seems I did remember The Fridge. It straps itself to my back which delights Mr Misery and has me contemplating the Dark Side as the heat builds to oppressive once again in the final few miles into the next CP at 82miles. Ben and Karen are already there sampling the best thing we’ve all encountered at a CP all day: Bowls of fruit salad.

Finally! Something I feel like eating AND I can actually get down.

But I can only manage one and it’s a small one at that.


Karen knows it’s curtains to linger at this stage so she heads out.

Ben and I know it’s curtains to linger but we’re both still wrestling with it.

I’m really very happy just to sit inside out of the heat with my eyes closed and a wet something over my head.

But it’s gonna be curtains: Ben and I do the ‘I will if you will’ dance which has us both heading out onto another big upward haul followed by and even longer drop into the valley below. Then another haul – then another drop.

Then Ambleside – and family.


Very quickly I find I can’t hold Ben without a huge effort and am forced to let him go.

I go full Dark Side while what feels like walking in the fires of Hell. I stopped sweating ages ago and now I’m just burning. I can soak my hat periodically but what I really need is something big enough to throw myself in – and despite this being The Lake District that option doesn’t exist on this section.

Just when you need a lake…


I am one very sorry, stumbling emotionally-fraught excuse for a seasoned competitor that eventually emerges into the outskirts of the town desperately craning ahead for the first sight of wife and boys at their usual spot.

Not there.


I have to ram down a sob that threatens to burst out and choke me and I almost fall.

‘S’OK – they’ll be along the street somewhere. It’s busy – maybe they couldn’t…’


Turn onto the street – it’s packed with people and cars and… NOISE.

Crane ahead – can’t see...

Not there.


‘They’ll be at the checkpoint then. S’OK…the checkpoint…’

I walk-weave between people and cars and dogs and NOISE desperately looking-craning-searching for…Charlotte – where’s Charlotte? Where…?


And then she’s there 50 yards ahead of me and control goes like that as I collapse into the nearest wall great full-body gulping sobs breaking out all over the place. And then she’s right there holding me up so I trade the wall for my wife and cry like baby all over her as our boys look on:

‘WTF, Dad??’


It ain’t over yet.

I have to walk the final 100yards to the CP through throngs of cheering people with Charlotte still having to prop me up.

Which is nice.

‘Lie down. Shade…’

‘Drags me up the steps and inside and…

Lights out.


It takes a wee while (and some fish and chips) until the paramedics are satisfied that enough of my lights are back on and the combination of race-long progressive energy depletion mixed with a nice helping of heat stroke is no longer a danger.

Unless I choose to continue.


And y’know? The prospect of a 16mile death march to the finish is just not something I could make matter enough.

Could I have done so were Charlotte and the boys not with me? We’ll never know.

They were and I called it.


For the record, Ben and Karen both finished – Karen to take 7th lady and top spot in her age group and Ben to record his first 100mile finish. Meanwhile at the sharp end on a day when 1 out of 3 starters did not finish, the course record of nearly 10 years standing was taken apart by some 40minutes.

After 5 finishes from 5 starts in this race I got to chalk up my first Did Not Finish.

Or Did Nothing Fatal.

And while I almost certainly will do something like this again, I’d really rather not experience something like this again.

Pass me that drawing board, will ya?




Race Video (6mins) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT6Jd6CQ3g0




By Andy Mouncey, Jul 6 2021 12:55PM


Alright smartarse, let’s see you get out of this one.

Because I am quite literally stuck – and it’s entirely of my own doing.


I’m a few minutes into my post-race reactions and rituals the latter of which involves heading to the nearest river for a full cold water bath.

Usually a thing of unbridled pleasure after a period of physical exertion.


This is particularly needed today as I’ve just finished 24miles and 6500’ of up-down that is a brand new race in The Lake District by my chums at Ascend Events - Thirlmere Trot

It’s been a bloomin’ hot four and a half hours of race effort, and while my training has been going well my racing is somewhat rusty: The last time I pinned a number on in anger was Feb 2020 just before the curtain came down on the world as we knew it.


The result of that is that I’ve neglected some stuff on the fuel front today which has had me battling the onset of full and repeated cramp attacks in both legs for the final 5miles or so of the race.

This was a real pisser as far as I was concerned ‘cos the final bit is a huge rocky plummet from 3000’ feet up on the top of Hellvelyn all the way to the finish in picturesque Grasmere in the valley below.

And I’m quite good at plummeting so my plan was to well, plummet.

Hmm.


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