Monday, 3 January 2011

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Happy New Year and welcome back to the fivemarathons blog. Just when you thought it was safe to venture back onto the internet. So much has happened since the last thrilling instalment. Guiding the Lakeland 50 recce, summitting Mont Blanc and the Dom, marshalling the Lakeland 100, the Great Langdale half marathon, a last gasp away win in international backyard free kicks, and some sound advice to steer well clear of relating the Greek bank job I mentioned last time. That blog prompted the usual combination of quizzical emails and moral indignation. Maybe telling you about the bank job had better wait until the heat dies down.

Summit of Mont Blanc, 4,810 metres

This time six years ago, I was in Mendoza, Argentina, recovering from an abortive attempt to summit Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas. In fact, it’s the highest peak anywhere outside of the Himalayas. After almost a month of effort, we’d had the most terrible luck with the weather and had got snowed in at high camp, over 20,000 feet up. Minus 40 degrees Celsius outside of the tent, and never warmer than minus 13 degrees inside the tent. Three days and nights of that will put a few lines around your eyes. My beard went white overnight. Useful for the odd Santa impression at this time of year. On the third day, we finally got a radio message from camp one, relayed through camp two, that there was a brief window in the weather on its way, and we decided it was now or never to make good our descent to base camp. The air is desperately thin at that altitude which makes it hard to breathe. Having to cover your face with goggles and a mask, to keep the snow out, and the extreme cold off your face, makes it even harder to get the oxygen you need. Not ideal conditions to be carting a heavy pack down the mountain as fast as your aching legs will carry you. As a result, my then climbing partner fainted and slid face first down the mountainside. I ascended towards him, as quickly as I could, but the lack of oxygen made my progress desperately slow. When I finally got there, I attempted to turn him over so I could try to bring him around. My efforts were hampered by his limp body sliding down the icy mountainside. To resolve the situation, I prised his ice axe from his hand and set about forcing it, between his back and his pack, down into the ice. At that very moment, he regained consciousness and looked up to see me hovering the pointy end of the ice axe above his head, about to drive it downwards. He hurriedly shouted, “I’m alive!”. To this day, I haven’t asked him what he meant. Perhaps he assumed I thought he was almost dead, and was about to finish him off.

Once safely off the mountain, we made our way back to the relative comfort of Mendoza to shower and eat properly for the first time in weeks. On New Year’s Eve, we went for dinner with a fellow mountaineer called Aron Ralston. You may have read his autobiographical book, “Between A Rock And A Hard Place”, or even watched the new Danny Boyle film, “127 Hours”. The film is a dramatisation of Aron’s 2003 canyoneering accident in Utah, when his arm became trapped under a rock and he was forced to amputate his lower right arm, using only a blunt knife, to free himself. He was remarkably open and pragmatic about his accident. He even used the grip on his prosthetic arm to grasp walnuts, and break them on the table. This neat trick, prompted my climbing partner to lean forward, look at the prosthetic arm, point towards the broken nut, and venture with a smile, “Every cloud....”. I put the gross tactlessness down to hypoxia from the mountain, coupled with too much Argentinian red wine. Things took an even more bizarre turn, when another one of the team decided to relate the tale of a friend’s mother, who had apparently had a leg amputated several years earlier. He explained that, although she’d lost her leg, she’d found God. My friend commented that it didn’t sound like a very fair swap.

With Jim and Martin on the summit of the Dom, 4,545 metres

2010 was a great year for Wigan’s Jenny Meadows. In February, she broke the British indoor 800 metre record, a record she broke again the following month with her silver medal-winning performance in the World Indoor Championships in Doha. In July, she won the 800 metres at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona. You can therefore imagine how proud I am to be sharing an advert with Jenny for Harris and Ross: At first glance, Jenny and I might seem like an odd combination. After all, one of us is a world class athlete and the other one is running around at the back of distance races, vainly struggling to keep up with the chaps dressed as rhinos. I’ll leave you to figure out who is who.

Cosmiques Arete, Swiss Alps

2011 is shaping up to be an interesting running year for me. At the moment, I’m beginning a long road back to full fitness, after struggling ever since the Vancouver Marathon in early May. Running with a virus, really knocked me sideways. Although I’m feeling strong again now, I’ve lost a great deal of fitness and conditioning. I’m looking forward to the challenge, with the Coniston 14 (or rather 17) booked in for April and a possible relaxed marathon in the autumn. My brother-in-law, Vinnie, is threatening to run Dublin in October, so I may join him there!

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see

Noel Bresland - Bliss -

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NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004