Breaking My Spine (Part 1)

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Lovely picture isn’t it? Well, this is as close as I got to this particular scene because, it all went tits up again!

But we’ll get to that….

It’s also worth saying that no actual spines were broken in the writing of this blog. I mean, breaking a spine can be pretty uncomfortable as Mike Tyson knows so I felt best to remove the fear of that ‘eewwww’ feeling before we got started! (Ok, that was tenous but, surely that’s the best clip on the internet?)


Anyway…I digress…back to our previously scheduled programming –


January, this year, saw me toeing the start line of what, the organisers claim, is Britains most brutal footrace – The Montane Spine Race.

I add the caveat that this is the organisers claim because, there are always those who are likely to disagree with such a boast but, regardless of what your position may be on such matters, running 268 Miles, non-stop, unsupported across some of the U.K.’s toughest terrain through winter does certainly rank up there!

And, as if that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, we said that, a week later, I could run the Arc of Attrition which ranks as one of Britains toughest winter Ultras thus completing the  ‘Double’ which, up to this point has been attempted many times but never successfully!

And, as if that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, we said that between those two races, I could pull a 3 X BW deadlift as well as some other strength related antics in order to demonstrate that, not only can concurrent training be successful but that it can produce results beyond many expectations or coaching biases.

I’m not suggesting, by any means that I was likely to win any of these races, nor was I claiming to be the strongest man around but I was about to embark upon some of the toughest endurance challenges on earth whilst perhaps demonstrating being capable of wining a (Scottish) national PL title. (Shaw-affy wee Bam isnt he!)


So what are the next steps? How do we begin? Well…, I joined the army of course!!

I mean, that’s the obvious next move, right?

OK, to clarify, I ‘re-joined’ the Army but had to attend to the initial stages just like every other returning recruit. My history here is frustrated and long. Back in the late 90’s, my early career choice as Gunner in the RAF was stalled indefinitely after an accident which saw my knee smashed to smithereens.

No, not a heroic injury by any means, I hadn’t even completed what is now Bravo Training when I went ahead and broke it in a skateboarding accident! I basically did this, except I missed the board and my shin went right through my knee. OUCH!

So as far back as ’99, my knee was smashed and I was told I wouldn’t walk again. I spent some time in a wheelchair then, lots of time in various contraptions designed to stop my leg from crumbling and continued like this for a few years until eventually the cages were removed and only the metal inside was left.

At this point, military service was over and that was that. Walking around with metal in the knee excluded me altogether and I still couldn’t walk properly.

I finally convinced the surgeons to remove the metal from inside the knee, approx a decade after the initial accident, but even then some time must pass after such surgery before one can re-apply. Some years passed and I tried again and again but was contiuously knocked back medically, and admittedly the pain in the knee was still severe under certain stress.

By this point however, I was in great physical shape and was competing in various combat sports without any issues whatsoever. I did however get my shoulder torn off during this time so, that put paid to armed service for a few more years…but that’s a whole different story…

In 2014 the surgeons decided to intervene again, this time with microfracture (stem cell) surgery and the rehab from that spelled out another 18 months of frustration and rebuilding.

Ultimately the outcome here was great and with the amazing help of Alex, and our team at Complete Human Performance, I went from being emotionally and physically hampered to returning to levels of output I had thought never again possible.

The transformation, both physically and mentally, to return me to my previous capability (and well beyond) took the best part of 2 years but, I was ready.

Ready, and wearing awesome underpants!



Fast forward to last year and, after having successfully passed some serious pre-selection medical scrutiny and testing, I was invited to re-enlist (choosing this time to go via a reservist route).

And I SMASHED it! 30 Recruits, none of them less than 20 years my junior, and on only one test (physical or otherwise) was I beaten by any other recruit. Only one…one damn test…the 1.5Mile Run..HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN??

I was really quite annoyed about it, I mean, they (the two 18 year olds that beat me by mere seconds) giggled and called me ‘Old Man’ and consoled me for being slow! WUT?? Eh NAW!

So after initial selection, when we were sent to pick up with our units, this ‘failure’ started to haunt me somewhat. I now had P-Company testing to contend with as well as the aforementioned goals (remember them?) to attend to and therefore programming was VERY carefully planned and monitored by our coaching team.

So, I did what anyone would do and, despite the fact that I am (supposed to be) an experienced athlete AND an experienced and relatively learned coach, during a week where I had near max deadlifts, a 25 Mile run and on a day when I had a steady threshold interval session planned, I decided to casually retest the 1.5Mile Run…as you do.

And I SMASHED that too! 08:27 for the 1.5 meaning I’d shaved nearly a minute off my official time! I’m a friggin SUPERHERO!

So the next day, feeling smug as hell, I attended to my 10 Mile recovery run, as planned, and at Mile 5, I pulled up with a sharp pain in my lower leg. Really sore one. I tried to run through it and realised it was nigh on impossible so was forced to limp the last 5 miles back home in, not inconsiderable, pain.

I mean, I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t look like that :-/


I figured at first that I must have pulled something so gave it a few days and tried all the usual things but the pain was still pretty persistent. Eventually after some ‘light encouragement’ from my wife, I went to see my friend, who is a physiotherapist.

We decided that, perhaps, I had indeed pulled something but that there was potential for a tiny stress fracture. I didn’t want to attend hospital because of the implications for the military service (the LAST thing I needed to admit to was more broken bones!) so I *borrowed a moonboot from him and went about looking after it myself!



Training resumed but with some clear need to modify things for some time so, upper body work took centre stage (excellent for postural integrity with the extreme distance running and certainly vital for work with the Parachute Regiment) and I looked after maintaining, at least some, aerobic capacity by switching running, temporarily, for some weird looking rowing!

6 or so weeks passed like this and it came time to test the leg out with a little bit of light walking

‘Ok, good…a slow jog perhaps…HELL NO!

Ok, so 6 weeks was perhaps optimistic so, I put the boot back on again and kept it on for another 3 weeks.

~9 Weeks passed so, we’ll try again, first with walking.

‘Yes, no issues, a slow jog perhaps…HELL NO! WTF?

So, I decided to ignore it for a bit.


My wife (surprisingly) had other ideas though and ‘gently encouraged’ me to the hospital. Bear in mind, I’m still currently playing hide and seek with my regiment for fear of being caught with an injury but had to admit, we needed a second opinion on just how long I’d need to recover.

I went to the hospital, got my X-Ray and we all laughed together over a nice sugary cup of tea, before the results came through, about how it couldn’t possibly be a break of any sort. Even the stress fracture notion was scoffed at because ‘you came in here walking on it just fine and look like you’re out for a casual stroll!’.

‘Phew! He’s the expert! Now I’m curious to know what exactly I’ve pulled!’

“Erm, Mr Pain. Would you like to come and see your X-Ray?’

‘Oh, Yes please!’

‘Mr Pain, your bone is snapped right through. There’s a clean break right through the fibula. It’s not even connected, Sir. We’re going to have to put you in a cast immediately and refer you directly to a surgeon tomorrow morning.’

‘Oh. Right then. Best call the Army.’


And that, was that.


I spent another 10 weeks in a cast, then another moonboot, and any final chance of service was blown.

(This is the leg after the 6 week check, healing really well but its clear to see that it hadn’t been good.)


and NOW (if you’ve at all pondered the timelines) we’re around 8 weeks out from the Spine Race….


In ‘Breaking My Spine Part 2’, I’ll take you through the highs and lows of how it all eventually went tits up!


‘Wait….this isn’t how it went tits up?’


Nope! This is just the preamble! 😉





  1. James VanDemark on March 4, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    An awesome, hilarious, inspiring, Pain-full tale of incredible dedication. And this was just the preamble…

  2. Joe Roche on March 5, 2018 at 11:48 am

    “After I snapped my fibula straight through ending my career with the military things started to go wrong….”

    That’s about as ominous a preamble as I’ve ever read.

  3. Alex Viada on March 22, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    And it’s just the preamble!

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