The Kinsmen Regiment:
A Snowdon Epic
High rates of veteran homelessness, and declines in mental health of too many veterans, are problems that simply should not exist. Understanding that they do, and that the individuals suffering since leaving the military do not get sufficient help from other sources, was the inspiration that led to the creation of the Kinsmen Regiment. At 03:00 on Saturday, 1st June 2019, a team of eight men, formerly from the Royal Marines and Parachute Regiment - now The Kinsmen Regiment - embarked on one of the toughest endurance events of their lives.
Snowdon is the highest mountain in the UK outside of Scotland. There are six non-technical routes on the mountain, and the plan was to ascend and descend all six within 24-hours. This would be a challenge of epic proportions.
Ahead of this event I was invited to offer some tips from my ultra-endurance and exercise physiology backgrounds. During the event, I was privileged and honoured to be part of the support team, helping to get the veterans and their supplies onto, around and off the mountain.
I cannot speak of what the team endured. Being at the checkpoints at the start and finish of each route I did not experience what the men went through out on the mountain, and relaying their tales here would do them no justice. What I want to write about is what I learned, and why this team and event was so phenomenal.
I am used to being on race start-lines amongst athletes who have focussed on an event for months, if not for years. They maintain a high level of running fitness and train specifically for the event for many months. During that training they strive to limit overuse injuries, and ensure they reach the start line in their best shape. Veterans are not so privileged. These men had taken knocks during the course of their careers that they had been required to persevere through, never being permitted full recovery (unless they wanted to end their careers). All of the men had their own training interests and lifestyle habits, and none of them were accomplished ultra-endurance athletes. The event was only conceived some weeks before the start, and the team was not finalised until the week before (possibly even the night).
Not knowing much about the team at all, I had no basis for gauging their chances of success. All I knew was that, despite a very varied approach to fitness training, they were not ultra endurance athletes and they were all carrying injuries. It was obvious, however, that they knew all too well what is was to push themselves to their absolute capacity. People like to claim that feats of endurance are x-% fitness and y-% mindset. Whatever the limitations in fitness - especially in consideration of the injuries - these men had focus, determination and positivity in spades.
The weather on the day was mixed. Sometimes it drizzled and sometimes it rained. The rain abated a little in the afternoon, and was later replaced by high winds and then more rain. Clouds engulfed the mountain for almost the entire day. When the weather is like that, you are not reaching the summit for the reward of the view; you are reaching it solely because you are compelled to do so. On a dreary day with minimal motivation from their surroundings, the men battled it out for the good of their cause.
The team ran down their first ascent having put themselves ahead of their target timings by more than an hour. They all looked comfortable and they were all making this event look easy. They managed themselves well at the first checkpoint; taking care of clothing, feet, food and drink, before heading back up onto the mountain. All the men achieved multiple routes before the climbs and descents took their toll. Of the eight who started, four made it to the finish, and they finished with ten minutes to spare out of this 24-hour challenge.
One thing that struck me was the matter-of-factness by which some men took themselves out of the team. I am used to athletes pushing themselves until they become akin to the walking dead - their feet and joints brutalised by the miles and terrain. I have seen this in small teams too, and it can put the whole team's chances in jeopardy. These guys knew what that meant, and they knew it better than anyone. They had all experienced active duty, and had stories of men who pushed themselves too far; failing to take good care of themselves. The result was that the whole team's lives were put at risk, perhaps having to carry another person's equipment and support them to safety, and all in an environment where they could have come under fire. Up on Snowdon, for one man to drag his injured feet would slow the whole team, and the slower the team, the more likely the 24-hours would pass with routes uncompleted.
Moving at a pace other than my own is exactly why I rarely undertake any endurance challenge with other people. In a group there must be an average speed, with people having to force themselves to go faster or slower than their preferred pace, and this increases their risk of failure through overuse injury. Each time the team left a checkpoint at the start of their next ascent, they started with the fastest team possible, as those with problems selflessly dropped for the good of the others. I was humbled by this and my respect for the whole team could not possibly have been greater. These men inspired me; leaving me humbled by the experience, and for being the tiniest component of their hard-earned success. I have not worked with a team in such a capacity before, and what a wondrous, awesome experience it was! I have also never witnessed such a truly brilliant, conscientious and measured team: absolutely professional in their approach, from the start to their successful finish.
To our knowledge this was the first time a team has completed all six routes on Snowdon within 24-hours, and we hope this inspires others to to the same. Whilst on the mountain, the team spread the word of their cause amongst the people they met. This was their first big journey to raise funds for their charities, and I hope they are supremely successful with their future endeavours.
Please consider supporting their cause by making a donation to their Justgiving page.