Image for Walking with the Wounded News - Marathon des Sables. Meet the team- Peter Mossop

Marathon des Sables. Meet the team- Peter Mossop

In our #MeetTheTeam series, we are introducing you to some of the people who are taking on the challenge on behalf of Walking With The Wounded. Next up, Peter Mossop.

In just under 3 months, a team of 35 elite athletes will head out to Morocco to take on the Marathon des Sables. An ultra-marathon that weaves through the Sahara Desert. 

Why did you sign up to the MdS?

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I think alcohol was involved.
Joking aside, counter intuitively, it all came about because I tore my Achilles. I won’t bore you with the how but suffice to say it was a bit stupid and doubly stupidly, I tried to plough on through thinking I’d just strained it, not that that is actually a medical possibility, as I now know. Eventually, as a result of generally not being able to walk in the mornings, I sought help from the professionals who broke the news that I had torn my right Achilles relatively badly. I’d actually done the left one too but that wasn’t so bad and was an older injury that seemed to have sorted itself out, sort of! The MdS was not even on my horizon at this point. Anyhow, I was given a load of instructions starting with “Do nothing for 3 months”. No bike, no running but lots of Pilates and stretching, the latter two being things completely alien to me at that stage, and then build it back up from there.

I am hopeless at doing what I am told unless I have something to aim for. My great mate Jules Roberts and I had done a fair bit of biking stuff in the prior couple of years and Jules had since had his share of health troubles too which meant he wasn’t doing so much at that stage either and was told he needed to change a few things. Long story short we agreed the MdS was big enough for us to have to get ourselves properly right and that meant sucking it up and doing what the doctors had told us we needed to do. Just to put this in context, I would not describe myself as an athlete. Enthusiastic and very amateur are more fitting. Not so for Jules. He was a serious athlete and his thing was ultra running! His list of 100-mile race credits and wins, amongst many, many other events, is long, very long. As many know, I hope, Walking With The Wounded have a Christmas challenge called Walking Home For Christmas which envisages people walking from the their place of work or the pub to their home a few miles down the road. However, Jules decided to run from London to his parent’s house in Cheshire. That’s some 165 mile…. in three days…. unsupported… sleeping rough in bus shelters and surviving on pork scratching and roadside bacon rolls. That’s further than the MdS in half the time. Admittedly it was mid- winter in England and not 40 something degrees in the desert, but I think it is fair to say he really wouldn’t be suffering too much on the MdS, especially shuffling along at my feeble pace! He actually said he only agreed to do it with me so he could see me crying. Nice! I am really chuffed that I have managed to convince two of my younger brothers, Harry and Toby, to do it too. I am really looking forward to it.

Why have you chosen to support WWTW?

Tragically, I met Ed Parker at Jules’ funeral this August. That’s not to say it was tragic I met Ed, but you know what I mean!

Jules took his own life after what we came to learn had been a long struggle with mental health issues and even just saying it now I still can’t get me head around it. If you knew Jules you would never in a million years have thought that this was a feature of his life. His grin and enthusiasm were infectious. I had known he was going through a tough time with a trial separation from his wife and his health was annoying him. We had almost daily messages about the MdS and other banter, we had events in the diary and we were both getting excited about kit choices and getting to the start line. We were even talking about what we’d do next.

He was such a good mate and it just goes to show it’s sometimes so hard to know what’s going on behind the curtains. Jules is the closest person to me who has taken this choice and it hit me really hard. I wish I had known more, been more aware or could have done something, anything! I will miss him a lot.

I knew about Jules’s close association with Walking With The Wounded. In fact, he was going to be part of the 2020 MdS team. He had a long history with WWTW, which started with helping to train the team who trekked to the South Pole. This was the inaugural WWTW event and he was immensely proud of his association with them and often spoke about what an awesome charity it is. Anyhow, Ed invited Harry, Toby and I to join the team and run in Jules’s honour. Both Harry and Toby served in the Army and already know a couple of other members of the 2020 team. We agreed straight away.

I wasn’t originally going to fundraise and was running the event with my brothers in places we’d secured directly with MdS earlier in the year. However, after Jules’s death and with the invitation from Ed, I thought, what the hell, let’s do as much as we can to raise as much as we can for a charity that Jules was so close to and a charity, which is now focusing more, and more of its resources on mental health. I am certainly no expert on mental health but it is clearly becoming a massive issue in whatever form it takes and there are many. It is indiscriminate and there is no shame in it and after Jules’s death I thought it would be crazy to do something like this and not use it as an opportunity to raise some funds, raise the profile of WWTW and just not be ashamed of talking about mental health and raising the awareness around it. Ultimately, I want to get people talking.

How’s your training going – what have you done so far, which milestones have you hit and are you happy with where you are so far?

It is going OK I think. Thankfully I seem to be through the Achilles issues so going back to how this all came about that’s objective 1 kind of done! I’m still mindful of them but I know what to look out for now and I’ll back off the training volume or intensity if I get any niggles. Arriving at the start injury free is crucial I think. I would rather get there fit and injury free rather than smashing it to get to peak fitness but carrying an injury at the start. I think the conditions and the intensity of the event will only exaggerate any injury ten fold so I want to avoid that at all cost I think.

I did a 50 miler a couple of months ago in a shade under 12 hours here in Jersey. It wasn’t particularly fast or pretty but I did it with a weighted pack and self supported apart from taking on water at water stations to try and simulate as best as I could what we’ll be doing on the MdS. Notwithstanding that it was beautiful cliff paths in 20 degree sunshine! However, that was a big test for the ankles and a key mental milestone for me. I ran the Jersey marathon in October and I think that’s kind of my start point for training for the MdS now. Having said that, I don’t have any long distance events planned between now and the MdS. I’m thinking about Druids although haven’t signed up yet.

I currently run about 3-4 times a week. One longer run of anywhere between 15-30 km and then two or three 5-10 km runs at varying intensities.

We are lucky here on Jersey in that we have some great cliff paths and a network of sand dunes on the west coast, so one of my shorter runs is in the dunes with my backpack and a 10 kg clutch casing out of my old Land Rover in it. Running in the sand is hard work anyway but add weight and it’s seriously hard work. First time I did it I remember thinking, “What the hell am I doing” and “I’ve got 6 days of this!”. Working the dunes really gets the heart rate peaking, fartlek style too.

I try to run without eating beforehand to get my body used to using its own reserves rather than relying on constant input. I just don’t think constant feeding is feasible at the event with the pack weight considerations, so I’m keen to get my body used to using its own energy stores more effectively.

After Christmas I might start swapping out a run for a bike session and as we get closer to the start date I’ll probably do more and more on the bike to keep the CV fitness up but the risk of arriving at the start with a running injury as low as possible. I’ll keep running a bit to keep the running muscles working.

I’m also doing a bit of gym work twice a week, mostly legs and core. I think strength training of the core is crucial. The core will tire as the event goes on and you are more likely to pick up an injury if you are a bit bent out of shape so I want that to be OK.

What do you see as the biggest challenge?

Still being married by the time I get to the start! I’ve been banned from mentioning the MdS anymore! My wife came into the kitchen the other day when I was fiddling with the weighing scales. She said I looked so guilty. “What are you doing?” She said. “Weighing my down jacket.” I said sheepishly. She rolled her eyes and walked out. Joking aside, my wife is amazing, she thinks I’m mad but is supportive…. as long as I don’t talk about it too much. Genuinely though, first challenge is arriving at the start line fit but injury free and I hope I’ve got a good plan for that. Fingers crossed. On the event, I’d say it’s going to be the heat, staying properly hydrated and keeping the feet in good shape. Ultimately, the whole thing is going to be a challenge. I just don’t know what’s going to be “the thing” until I get out there I guess. I’m just going to try and be as prepared as I reasonably can be.

What luxuries will you treat yourself to during the MdS?

I’ll see how the pack weight plays out before I start adding luxuries but I would like to take some Jelly Babies. Who would have thought I’d honestly be worrying about the weight of a Jelly Baby. What are we doing?

What item of food are you taking which is your treat?

If weight allows, Jelly Babies. I love biting the heads off and then nibbling the body slowly. I don’t know what a psychologist would say about that!

What will you be listening to help you through the event?

I can’t listen to music and run. My breathing and pacing gets hopelessly out of shape. I’m quite happy listening to my own rhythm and I actually quite like the sound of water sloshing in my bottles. I’m sounding really weird now! Having said that, listening to my own foot steps and water sloshing in my bottles on day 4 might be like torture by then. We’ll have to wait and see I guess.

Is there anything, which you know you will be looking forward to at the end, before even beginning?!

I should probably say something like “seeing my family” but I’m afraid on this occasion I’m pretty sure it will be a crisp, golden, ice-cold beer with condensation dripping down the side of the glass. I think I can taste it already.

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