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By Andy Mouncey, Mar 2 2021 01:49PM

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – just go with me here please - came into force in the early 70’s. Essentially it boiled down to the nuclear powers at the time saying to the rest of the world: ‘We’ve got them, you can’t have them and you gotta promise never to try get them.’

Or scoring the winning goal in the first half and then declaring the game over taking the ball home with you.

‘Kinda feels like that here at the moment albeit with somewhat lower stakes.


We’d been about to go public with news of our partnership with one of the big four London-based auditors who will be supporting our work with prison governors. This has been a long time in the making and has the potential to transform our work: This firm will bring their people (as professional mentors) and funding to the partnership.

So it’s big stuff.

Unique for the sector.

Probably gonna shake some trees too.


Then some people who we respect and who know about these things said:

‘Er, do HM Prison & Probation Service know about this?’

Well, I have been trying to give them a chance to support the work – I was asked for a formal proposal back in October, remember?

(The reply to that arrived early Feb but that’s another rant).


‘Really think it would be a good idea to get their blessing before they read about it in the press’

Well, I have been trying…

‘No Andy, you’re listening but you ain’t hearing: Pause the work, get the blessing from the right people THEN you can do the fanfare bit. There’s too much at stake here.’

Silence.

Bollocks.


Then around the same time some more people who know about this stuff and who we respect said:

‘And after doing this work for nearly a year now it would be a very good idea to be formally contracted.’

Well, I have been trying…

You get the idea.


Eventually I wound up in touch with The Keeper Of The Big List (of approved suppliers to HMPPS) who also happens to be one of those very big firms that provide professional development services to very big firms.

‘I’m told we need to be on this List,’ I said.

‘The List is closed’ came the reply.


Well that sucks.

Apparently we need the blessing and we don’t get the blessing till we’re official and we can’t get official ‘cos someone’s called time on the game.

Meanwhile the need for the work is escalating and still no-one else is doing what we’re doing in the way that we’re doing it for the people we’re doing it for.

And having the impact.




Time to pull some levers then and share the problem with folks we have touched.

Please solve it for us, we said.

And off they went.


Then we did the same with our intended future partner who we knew was wise in these matters.

Please solve it for us, we said.

And off they went too.


In the meantime we had a decision to make about the work:

Do we just stop? Continue? What about fees? What about our governors?

What about the commitments we’d already made to them?


We are acutely aware that through this work we have a unique insight into what is happening inside our jails: To the leadership, staff and serving prisoners.

This is arguably a once-in-a-generational challenge – the scale and human cost of which is still emerging. Studies are now starting to quantify that cost for those behind bars https://www.russellwebster.com/impact-of-lockdown-on-prisoner-mental-health-devastating but here’s the thing: We’ve not seen an equivalent carried out for prison staff and their leadership teams.

But we know.


We know because we’re speaking to prison governors damn near every week and have been for the last 10months.

We know because we’ve learned that actually the most powerful thing we can do - once we had their trust - is just to shut up and let them speak from the heart to us and their peers.

Because they don’t do this anywhere else, they really need to do it now and they’re gonna need it in the future.

We know because they tell us.


It didn’t take much thinking about: We make good on those commitments and continue the work on our time to Easter. We’d figure out the rest along the way. Everyone we respect on this tells us that they think There Is A Way – and when I pause between bouts of teeth-grinding so do I.


Then this week I’m introduced to someone at HMPPS who seems to get how we are stuck and gives a damn enough to help us get un-stuck.

In part because he can see how we can make his life easier.

Please solve this for us, I said.

There Could Be A Way, he said.

And off he went.




Timeline RFYL CIC

So you think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in.

This is what it takes for a new social enterprise with One Big Idea to get going in our Justice sector – as lived by Andy Mouncey of Run For Your Life CIC www.runforyourlife.org.uk


Timeline To Date

2012 First invitation to a Category C prison. Project pulled pre-start

2013 First short pilot delivered (unpaid) at a Cat D prison

2014-16 More testing – more pilots – still no ££

2016 RFYL Conception. Doors open–doors close-funding bids/rejected

2017 RFYL Community Interest Company formed. Doors open-close/bids (sad face)

2018 Doors open–close/bids etc: Getting boring now. Still no ££

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut

2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP Brinsford


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37

Funding Bids Successful: 1

Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1



By Andy Mouncey, Feb 1 2021 10:31AM

It’s way too quiet.

There should be background hubbub punctuated with the occasional shout and sometimes in some places the frisson of a fragile surface tension stretched to almost…

Gone.


I’m back in a prison nearly a year into a global pandemic and while somethings remain the same somethings are very different.


A little over a week ago I clocked another milestone that has taken 8 years and 37 attempts to achieve:

WE GOT FUNDING!


Just before Xmas more monies suddenly became available from HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) https://www.clinks.org/community/blog-posts/new-funding-available-covid-19-winter-support-grants which prompted yours truly to utter something along the lines of ‘f**k it – you gotta be in it to win it’ and dash off what was actually my third application to this pandemic-related fund.

Someone must have given me points for perseverance.


Since then more reports have been published highlighting the hidden human cost of a successful policy of containing the spread of Covid-19 in the prison system https://www.russellwebster.com/the-state-of-the-criminal-justice-nation/

In my experience doing Something is almost always better than Nothing – and while Nothing might look like an easier option in the short term, it usually means you’re trading it for a big nasty Something in the future.


My application was to do Something so here I am doing the rounds at a prison in the Midlands starting to figure out exactly what that Something could look like in a site housing some 450 men who have been mostly staring at their cell walls for the last 10 months.


Nobody’s doing.

Nobody’s moving.

It’s way too quiet.


I check what I’ve read previously with my staff escort: ‘So…this confined-to-cells normality?’

Pretty much – can be 23 hours a day…

But what has been less well reported comes next:

It’s actually given us more time with the men: We’re not moving them around from one activity to the next, they’re spending more time in-cell so it’s easier for us to talk to them – build relationships, give them individual help…

‘You’d want to retain that then in the new post-covid normal?’

Absolutely…

Add that to the New Something list then.


The Morning Meeting

Every prison holds a first-thing brief for the senior people. Pre-pandemic this would be seated cosily round a table sipping from a hot beverage of choice with a familiar hubbub of professional-personal exchange around the formal business.

Not so now.


I’m escorted into the prison chapel which – as one of the largest floor spaces in the prison (once the chairs are cleared) – now serves as the venue of choice. The reason for that is that the dozen or so people attending are seated 2-3m apart around the edge of the room which puts them at least 10m from the person opposite.

They deliver their updates in turn through a facemask.


What exchange there is is brief, purely transactional and at the governors’ direction – and it’s all over way faster than normal.

This is bad news for me ‘cos it means I have even less time than normal to decide what to say – and this is important ‘cos as we walked in I was casually told that I’d be introduced and that it would be nice to say something.

Please Andy.

Except I’m rusty after 10months off games in the real world and I really should have anticipated this and come prepared rather than just open-minded.

Muppet.


So while doing my level best to project calm compassionate authority, inside I’m frantically trying out and discarding options for opening remarks. I’ve quickly shifted from What do I want to tell them? to What do they want – no, need – to hear?

Then it’s the staff member closest to me and then it’s the governor saying my name and then it comes to me. I stand, pause, take them all in cross everything and say what I think they need to hear:

Thank you.

Thank you for continuing to find the energy from somewhere to do a difficult job in almost impossible circumstances…


People Want To Talk

Almost everyone I met wanted to talk. Some even sought me out to talk. And without exception they wanted to talk about how to make it – the experience and operation of the prison – better.

I found it uplifting and humbling with a hint of surprising thrown in – this last one because I’ve always experienced fear projected as hostility from some staff in every prison I’ve ever been in. That tends to be the wanna-be dominant males in the PE team.

Not this time.

This time people speak freely and from the heart – and it warms mine.


Rules, Regs & The Space In The Middle

HMPPS has rules and regulations. Lots of them – down to the enth degree.

There is good reason for that because one of its’ central reasons-for-being is keeping the public safe: A big expensive job with high stakes and even bigger consequences if it goes wrong.

This means there are also lots of rules for how to operate a prison during a pandemic – and because the nature of the pandemic changes those rules have been changing too.

To the enth degree.

Sometimes every few days.

By people who are in genuinely uncharted territory.


So I’m expecting to be heavily choregraphed and limited in what we can do – but it also becomes increasingly apparent that there is some wriggle room to be had as well.

IF we can make a case, manage ‘risk’ and influence those who ought to have work like this already tagged in the ‘Essential-Urgent’ column.


My big picture question coming in was how possible would it be to deliver a covid19-safe version of my 24 hour intensive program I refined at HMP Wymott nearly a year ago https://www.bigandscaryrunning.com/blog/4584755693/A-Glimpse-Of-The-Real-Inside/11437358 Or am I reaching for that proverbial blank sheet?


I’m left with a blurred picture of my intended operational landscape and an elusive sense of opportunity.

And some very specific questions:

Can I do a full day contact time through a facemask?

Does the facemask rule totally f**k us re meaningful in-person communication?

Can my stuff still work as well without physical contact? Handshakes? Hugs?

Physical exertion + facemask = route to disaster (surely?)

After 10months relative isolation and inactivity will I simply be working with men who are presenting symptoms that are more post-traumatic stress than anything else?


And some stark early realisations:

I need to shake out what I don’t know.

We’re gonna need a full rehearsal (to shake out most of what I don’t know).

With staff – and unions.

Probably.


Bottom Line: I’ve really missed the work – and it’s a joy to be back inside.


Timeline RFYL CIC

So you think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in.

This is what it takes for a new social enterprise with One Big Idea to get going in our Justice sector – as lived by Andy Mouncey of Run For Your Life CIC www.runforyourlife.org.uk


Timeline To Date

2012 First invitation to a Category C prison. Project pulled pre-start

2013 First short pilot delivered (unpaid) at a Cat D prison

2014-16 More testing – more pilots – still no ££

2016 RFYL Conception. Doors open–doors close-funding bids/rejected

2017 RFYL Community Interest Company formed. Doors open-close/bids (sad face)

2018 Doors open–close/bids etc: Getting boring now. Still no ££

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut

2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP Brinsford


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37

Funding Bids Successful: 1

Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1


By Andy Mouncey, Nov 20 2020 09:26AM

So.

The last blog entry was very definitely in the upbeat category but it’s taken me 5 weeks to post again. This either means I’ve been skipping around leaving sparkly rainbows in my wake…

Or.

Sh**’s gone t**s up again.


OK.

Sh** hasn’t gone T.U.A. by any reasonable measure but one has been back to a cycle of up and down and up and down.

Again.

I’ve been OK with the task-orientated stuff but anything requiring any remotely creative element is another matter.

Which is all my coaching work.

And what am I mostly doing at the moment?

You got it…


Now I’ve puzzled at this pattern for a while ‘cos if I look back in my diary to the start of first lockdown in March the evidence is all there: the start of a week can feel like pushing water uphill and I very definitely have had a pattern of getting more productive as the week goes on. Monday is worse if I’ve had a relatively inactive/unfocused Sunday and the pisser is that even if I do successfully grasp and follow my Absolute F**kin’ Minimum Start Of Day Thread at the appointed time…

Wake.

Toilet.

Shave.

Water.

Tea 1.

Read.

Tea 2.

Wake plus 30mins: Start mobility routine

Wake plus 60mins: Finish mobility. Cold shower. Dress.

Start breakfast for Small Boys & Wife.


…I can drop into an abyss once the boys leave for school (sigh).

All of which means that the first 24-36 hours of the week I can be mainly shouting at myself inside my head along the lines of:

‘FFS GET A F**KIN’ GRIP AND GET ON WITH IT!’

But come Friday I’m f***in’ flying.


Not every week by any means but more times than I was comfortable with given the following:

Family Mouncey are all OK on any measures that matter.

Our shit is definitely in the ‘First World Problem / Inconvenience’ category.

I teach this shit and therefore have more strategies than most.


And in my defence those strategies have been in use – honest:

Get ready the night before.

Get ready to start before anyone else is up.

Get ready to start with exercise.

Write your intentions.

Share those intentions with Significant Other.

Remind your S.O. that they have permission to poke you with a stick.

Make those Intentions Activities that you can move through in sequence without thinking too much.

Make your list.

Reduce that list.

Order said list.

Etc.


And yet I still wasn’t exactly a role model for consistent productive practice.


The last few weeks especially have seen a cycle of arrangements made and unmade. Chinks of light have been emerging in the criminal justice world as prisons moved slowly back to some restricted version of normal. Visits re-started. I knew some providers were back in and able to do Something… and suddenly I had opportunities to visit and do scoping work in readiness to re-start working on the inside as well – and to actually see people in the flesh: At last! Because god knows that Something is desperately needed…


But with the pandemic situation still very fluid, site status and access would change suddenly as Something Else Happened and government reacted with another round of restrictions. The invites went on hold and it was clear that Zoom would be in ascendency for a little while longer.

Something was missing and 8 months on it was pissing me off that I still hadn’t figured what that might be.

And then came this:

Over the summer I’d found a new author and quickly hoovered up anything of his that I could find. John Scalzi is a US sci-fi author and commentator on all things social and political. He pulls no punches. His commentary is recorded in his blog and after I’d done with my hoovering of his back catalogue I started dipping into that. Of course there is a US-focus but many of the questions he addresses have a wider application.

‘Sure made me think.


Then in one entry for 2017 he dug into his own ‘feels like pushing water uphill’ thing.

His conclusion? Trump infects all and everything all the damn time even if you’re a wealthy straight white guy not in the crosshairs of his spewing bile

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2017/10/02/2017-word-counts-and-writing-process/

And that was before Covid.


Of course there is individual responsibility to choose to get our own shit together.

And yet.

Bring the Scalzi insight to this side of the pond in 2020 and instead of Agent Orange we have Boris & Chums-Brexit-Covid every f**kin’ day on a 24 hour rolling cycle of news and views.

And – like Scalzi – I’m a healthy educated white guy with means so I will ride this out way better than most and I’ve also ’unplugged’ and changed how I consume my news:

I don’t do social media.

I only buy a paper on Saturday.

I check the BBC website once a day for a few short minutes at a time.

And yet the evidence is there in my records: I continue to struggle periodically to rise above the bollocks. But at least now I have ‘why’…

And a reason/excuse to work with.


But the redemption piece to all this is that there’s also an antidote available free on demand thanks to the BBC: DIY SOS The Big Build

Here’s a clue if you’ve not seen it: it’s not about the DIY – it’s about people and their amazing capacity to give a shit about other people who are struggling and then choose to collaborate and do something amazing to help.

‘Tops up my Hope Tank and makes me proud to be human every single time.




Timeline RFYL CIC

So you think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in.

This is what it takes for a new social enterprise with One Big Idea to get going in our Justice sector – as lived by Andy Mouncey of Run For Your Life CIC www.runforyourlife.org.uk


Timeline To Date

2012 First invitation to a Category C prison. Project pulled pre-start

2013 First short pilot delivered (unpaid) at a Cat D prison

2014-16 More testing – more pilots – still no ££

2016 RFYL Conception. Doors open–doors close-funding bids/rejected

2017 RFYL Community Interest Company formed. Doors open-close/bids (sad face)

2018 Doors open–close/bids etc: Getting boring now. Still no ££

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37

Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1

By Andy Mouncey, Oct 8 2020 10:18AM

Whisper it quietly but it’s all starting to click.

It really is.


After years of recording a depressing catalogue of setbacks and frustrations in this blog – with a few victories sprinkled in to keep the Hope tank topped off and the sense of jeopardy alive for my readers - I’m faced with a blank page and the prospect of telling you about, well – good stuff.

Spine tickle-ingly good actually.


Of course there is irony here as well: The pandemic has hit a great many people in the criminal justice sector disproportionally hard. No surprise there: Right now you can go grouse shooting till your trigger finger falls off but if you are released from prison you still only get £46 in your hand but this time while you were staring at walls the world shrunk, turned upside down and writing the ‘How To Navigate’ manual remains a work in progress.


In my sober moments it has not been lost on me that at a time when the need of many is escalating and still only just becoming apparent even now… https://www.russellwebster.com/capptive2/ I seem to have turned a corner and I’m doing more than OK thanks.


I’ve switched up my work, it’s starting to fly and that’s not really fair – is it?

Sorting that repressive shit out has been quite important.

I’ve donned my Thinking Clearly PPE and wriggled inside to work on that sneaky building inner conflict:


This is me putting myself into the best position I can to make the best contribution I can.

It’s been 8 years in the making – shut the f*** up and follow it through: The time is now.


It sure seems that way.

Anyway.

Are you ready? Here we go…


Full Court Press

It has felt that way for these last 4 months. I would describe it as getting a sniff of really being onto something - the Supporting Prison Governor work – and realising that no-one else was doing anything like it AND reminding myself through the early stages of the work that I really was very much at home in this space.


I could do this shit really well – hell, I’d been practicing for 20 years!

I could get hold of senior people because they were at home and/or part of reduced operational regimes which meant they were there, talking and I was listening, checking and testing.

And whatever else I had in 8 years in the sector I knew damn well that I’d nurtured a professional network stacked with good people.

The rest was running down the leads and checking what I was hearing and doing it all wrapped up in a layer of courteous relentlessness – if indeed there is such a thing.


Of course it helped that most of my paid work had stopped – concentrates the mind – but as a partnership Mouncey Inc was still doing OK because Mrs Mouncey was busier than ever www.bookstyle.co.uk Seems like in lockdown folks just want to get that book out…


It felt like I was pushing – FINALLY – at an unlocked door, and the more I pushed the more it opened.

So I f***in’ pushed.

And pressed and was generally all over it like an orange-clad shaven-headed rash.

Now there’s a picture.


There were setbacks and stonewalls for sure – multiple unsuccessful grant applications / Powers That Be utterly uninterested – but this time it’s been all fuel to my fire:

This Is The Way – sometimes you just need to find another route.


Play The Long Game

We are – yes, really - in detailed discussions with one of the Big Four London-based auditors about a partnership that supports the governor work. This will bring some of their senior leaders to work alongside our governors in our Reciprocal Mentoring model.

And they’ll match-fund.


I have to go back 5 years to find the origin of this: I did two half day workshops for them – thanks Michael - at their London base and I knew then that the end game was to find a way that they could support my work in the criminal justice sector.


The rest has been keeping the connections alive without coming across as a needy pain in the arse and building a track record in the sector that would give me credibility.

‘So…what’s got your attention about this chance to work with us?’ I asked one of their senior people last week.

‘We’ve never done anything like this, it scares the shit out of us – and we need to be shaken’ was the gist of the reply.

Well, I can help you with all that…


Do The Work

I bless my partnership with Kebbell who continue to give me some ££ every month for this work. It means we’ve had some funding to work with though the majority has been on my time and expense.


My choice: Just do the work. Set a limit, park any worries you think you have about ££ and just do the work. You need to wow ‘em with the work – It Is The Only Way.


So that’s what I did – started back in May with 3 prison governors with whom I had the strongest relationships, set limits and grew it through their say so to a total of 10: Our original 3 plus 7 of their peers.

We reached those limits last month – since then it’s been squidgy bum time or holding my nerve, whichever you prefer.


Invite Them In

The one thing that has tipped people from a position of Interest to Advocacy has been a chance to participate in the Zoom group coaching sessions. That means joining a live coaching session with 3 prison governors and being willing and able to join in without really knowing what’s coming.

Squidgy bum again.


We’ve had 3 expressions of interest in the Reciprocal Mentoring model and each time I’ve invited our senior contact from that private sector business to join us on Zoom. It means the participating governors have to be OK with it – they have without exception – and our guest has to play by our rules.

(Which gave me a few broken nights figuring a way to keep everyone and everything safe).


For all our guests this has been their first contact with the criminal justice sector – it has, they tell me, been an incredibly moving one - and it has been the experience that has swung it for our Interested Auditor.


Have A Wingman

Or Wingwoman.

I have Chris – a wingMan.

I recruited Chris to RFYL CIC advisory group a couple of years back.

‘You wont have to do much ‘ I said – which was just as well as he was just ending a career with Shell as a senior trouble-shooter around the world and was looking for a bit of the quiet life to play with his big boy toys.

And then this started to go – and I asked a first question – and he got hooked.


He’s been a bloody godsend: He supports me when we deliver – we’ve figured out how to back each other up on Zoom to make it look like a seamless same page thing – and he’s a voice of considered reason during those time I just wanna jump first and figure it out after.

Working with me is no small ask: I have expectations, opinions – and lotsa orange shirts.

Bless him he’s rolled with it also far.

Big thanks, fella.


And Finally, Know That People Talk

You just want ‘em to talk about the shit you want ‘em to talk about in the way you want ‘em to talk about it to the people you want ‘em to talk about it to.

‘Cos then you get a call like I did this week from the people who employ our prison governors in one particular part of the country:

‘We’ve heard about your work with our people.

We want to support it.

Can you put a Proposal together please?’





Timeline RFYL CIC

So you think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in.

This is what it takes for a new social enterprise with One Big Idea to get going in our Justice sector – as lived by Andy Mouncey of Run For Your Life CIC www.runforyourlife.org.uk


Timeline To Date

2012 First invitation to a Category C prison. Project pulled pre-start

2013 First short pilot delivered (unpaid) at a Cat D prison

2014-16 More testing – more pilots – still no ££

2016 RFYL Conception. Doors open–doors close-funding bids/rejected

2017 RFYL Community Interest Company formed. Doors open-close/bids (sad face)

2018 Doors open–close/bids etc: Getting boring now. Still no ££

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37

Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1



By Andy Mouncey, Sep 22 2020 08:56AM

Just because my last few posts have been all about fun and games in the criminal justice sector doesn’t mean there haven’t been fun and games elsewhere in my world. So by way of contrast I thought I’d dilute the serious Mission stuff with some of my silly self-inflicted stuff.


I’ve had little desire over these last 6 months to run lots of hilly miles chasing Fastest Known Time records. Plenty of other folks have been doing that – some very VERY impressive new marks have been set and it’s still happening.


Like these…

Donnie Campbell sets new time for running all 282 munros

Carol Morgan breaks lakeland 24 hour record

John Kelly completes grand round

Finlay Wild sets new Ramsey Round record


And previously we had these…

Beth Pascall on her Bob Graham record

Damien Hall the quickest man on the Pennine Way

Sabrina Verjee becomes first woman to run the Wainwrights

Kim Collinson breaks lakes 24-hour record


Quite frankly I’ve not had the mental or emotional energy for anything like this – our two boys have been home for the duration so my focus has been on them, the household and on trying to figure out (for the zillionth time) how the bloody hell I’m going to get over the latest bump in the road to criminal justice salvation.


That meant figuring out what I could do at home inside and out in our tiny yard, with little/no special kit and when the rest of the family wouldn’t really notice. Oh yeah – and it would have to be quantifiable so I could see progress (or not) which would be the motivation / kick up the arse.


So I’ve been mainly working on my strength-conditioning and staying interested by setting myself lots of silly challenges. Some have been a breeze and a blast and some I’ve had kittens at the prospect – genuine nerves 2-3 days in advance: Proper butterflies!


Three sessions in particular have been periodically scaring me stupid – less now that I’ve hit the marks that I set all those months ago, but let’s just say that that the prospect of doing them again will never exactly fill me with deep joy.

It’s just that they really work – and they’re good for the soul: Mine at least.

And you gotta do the work.


A word of warning to those of you who are into this sort of stuff: Don’t FFS try these at home.

I’ve been strength training since I was a teen and I’ve been working on these exercises and variations of them for the last few years. This is just the latest incarnation – but it’s been decades in the making. You need to find your own starting level and own rate of progression. Please.


Stay alert.

Control the urge.

Save it for the future.



Hello darkness my old friend...
Hello darkness my old friend...


Reason To Be Fearful Part 1: 40kg Sandbag Get Up 10min Test Without Warm Up

The Get Up is arguably the most time-effective bang-for-your-buck conditioning exercise I know that integrates the torso and lower body. It has everything. Add a sandbag and it just gets better and better.

This version is right at the edge of sane and it is an utter head-f***.

The goal is simply to do as many GUs in 10mins as possible.


I’ve seen good athletes throw in the towel before they even start and/or after 1-2 reps at the prospect of long drawn out minutes of soul-crushing agony. You need high levels of emotional intelligence and some smart head strategies. Getting safely from start to number 8 is vital. After that it just gets worse.


The weight bores down on you through every part of the movement. Your technique needs to be solid through extreme fatigue ‘cos grunt alone wont cut this. Though you can grunt horribly beyond 5minutes – I do. The discipline is to ignore the watch and just grind it out – being absorbed in each rep and the now is the only way to stay sane. The gold standard is 60 reps which I have now hit once and exceeded once – once I figured that each rep with this load over this time actually needed 3-4 breaths and an appalling amount of mono-syllabic bad language. And sweat.



Reason To Be Fearful Part 2: 30min 20kg Loaded Step Up Test + Intervals

It’s amazing how much discomfort can be had from something that seems so simple: Step up and down from a bench with a bag on your back until it’s time to stop.

Except 20kg against gravity at pace is bloomin’ heavy.


Now I’d done plenty of 500 step tests with 20kg on my back for time before I started wrestling with this. I’d also done 1000 step tests. I’d even -one cold winter morning 2-3 years ago- attempted a 2000 step test with 20kg. (Keeping count is interesting – I was using chalk to tally-mark on the wall in front of me that was getting progressively damper from my snot and spit. Anyway, I failed and ground to a halt at 1750 reduced to a hobble for a week afterwards that took some serious physio to sort out. Silly man). But this baby…


Max reps in 30mins means finding the line between heel to the steel and smart pacing that has you consistent through each 100 steps. If you’ve done 500 steps for time before you will know that in most cases it will be 500+. In my case it’s get to 500 and keep going for around another 10mins. That’s just Part 1.


Part 2 is days away after the 30minute fun and has you with a calculator dividing your 30mins step total by 3 then adding a certain amount for extra fun-factor. This gives you a 10minute step target that has you going at it harder than your 30min pace and had me wobbling with fatigue in the final few minutes spraying sweat, snot and gob everywhere and generally being a danger to myself and other users of our yard. Then you take a short rest and do it again. And again.

Holy f***in’ Christ!

To date I’ve only ever hit target once consistently through the reps and oddly enough it’s not something I’m all that keen to repeat.



Reason To Be Fearful Part 2: 1000-Up

This one is all out of my sick and twisted imagination and is bodyweight only. It started out one late afternoon when I needed to blow the cobwebs out, try something new and smile again. And I had 20mins. So obviously I chose 100 Get Ups followed by 100 Burpees as continually as possible – so breaks were allowed.

Then I started thinking…Could I do 500 of this? More?


What eventually evolved was this:

As continually as possible and for time…

100 High Step Ups

100 Get Ups

100 Burpees


The HSU is the max height I can handle without looking like Bambi.

The GU is alternate leg leading

The Burpees are Crossfit style

– so you belly flop rather than strict press up which makes it a little easier ‘cos you get a tenny tiny rest.


Repeat by adding layers of 100 in sequence. So 400-Up is:

100 HSU

100 GU

100 BP

100 HSU


…and 500-Up is:

100 HSU

100 GU

100 BP

100 HSU

100 GU

…and so on to 1000 movements.


Everything is unbroken and continuous except for the burpees: No flippin’ way can I do 100 BP straight off even with a teeny tiny belly rest – I have to break ‘em up and I do so like this:

5 x 20 the first time through

6 x 15 + 10 for the second 100

10 x 10 for the 900 mark


The next evolution is to be brave enough to use these as benchmark sessions – so instead of a progressive build up to the gold standard I simply come back to ‘em periodically to test where I’m at relative to that gold standard.

If I’m brave enough.


That also means that my training continues to have a healthy dose of other stuff apart from the running. One reason is that so I can actually jump back in and test myself against these monsters without too much shame at the outcome AND without doing myself an injury.


The other reason is so I can continue to pick up gauntlets that are periodically cast in my direction:

When a prison physical training instructor challenges me to a gym workout thinking that they can grind this weedy runner into the ground – I need to be able to step up. (For the record they do and so far they haven’t. it’s a blokey pissing contest thing).

When our boys want to do a speed version of The Floor Is Lava around our house I need to be able to wriggle out of the kitchen window 3 meters off the ground and bridge for 5 meters down the length of our hall.

And when I get invited to hook up with the local roadie bikers for the death-or-glory club run it would be really nice do be able to do so without being dropped off the back on the first hill.

Leverage – ‘tis a wonderful thing.



Thanks to www.mtactical.com for inspiration. Bastards.




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