How to keep the momentum going = challenge 20.5 x 2

As I’ve seen over the course of the project, not everything quite works to plan. When originally looking at dates for the big finale back in December 2010, everything else was planned backwards from there. So you can imagine my distress to find out Charity Challenge decided to move the dates of the volcano climb from September to October. However, given the other hiccups I’ve had on route, my problem wasn’t that I was being delayed a month, but more – I can’t do 21 challenges in 22 months. What to do……what to do?

The momentum of events had really built, from running the Torch Relay & the Marine Commando course in June, to the penultimate adventure in the Lake District in August, and so it was just too much to have a whole month off. Therefore in true why do things by half style, I signed up to two challenges on consecutive weekends in September.

Why wouldn’t you!?

Challenge 20.5 (1) The Para 10

Following on from the Commando Challenge, I was very much excited by the concept of completing one of the entry tests for the Paras: 10 miles across their Catterick training ground, in full combats & army boots, carrying a 35lb Bergen……forget momentum, this was going to epic!

Given the last minute arrangements, my training was, to say the least, inadequate and far from ideal. But you know what, I was 20 challenges in, surely that would be enough training? NO, NO and NO!! This should have been the response my inner self shouted, but alas, I soldiered on (all puns intended). So after a cheeky and VERY tiresome tab down the Mersey one late summer’s evening with Daniel & Leanne (two people I’d just randomly messaged from BMF, and invited myself to their training session with), I was ready to go. Sort off.

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With Mum & Dad as supporters this time, we headed up to the Catterick Garrison, to meet with lots of crazed folk dressed in greens and laden with at least 35 lbs on their backs. Looking back at it now, I should have been more scared, more nervous and much more apprehensive than I was. To tell you the truth, as I was getting prepped at the start with Mum & Dad, I was really excited. The thought of being involved in something like this brought back memories from the Commando Challenge. I’m seriously not comparing my one off challenge to that of the entry to the Paras, but there was a definite sense of pride to be at least taking a few steps in their shoes (or boots as the case should be).

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The claxon went, and off we went. I’d heard the faithful claxon more times than I cared to remember over the past 2 years, but running down the supporter lined corridor at the start was really uplifting – especially knowing my Mum & Dad were in the crowd cheering me on at the start, and knowing they’d be there to cheer me back in.

Para 10 start line

To say that I was running would be a lie. I followed the advice from my brother in terms of yomping (tabbing in the Army, but given him being a Royal Marine, I wasn’t allowed to call it that): run on the downs, speed march on the flat, and then slow it down for the hills. As I was yomping round the course there were people overtaking me, and I was overtaking others. But this was not one of those races. I’d never really run this distance (majority on concrete) with such weight on my back – this wasn’t a race, but a personal challenge.

The hills were bastards, the sun was a killer, and my boots were most definitely out to cause me as much pain as they could. Actually, the hills weren’t too bad – I just pushed myself one step at a time. The sun provided some much needed vitamin D, and my boots had seen me up Kilimanjaro, and along the Inca trail, so were much comfier than expected.

Before you think I’m about to say that this wasn’t painful, that I wasn’t hurting, that I didn’t want to give up and that I wasn’t sweating so much I looked like I’d fallen in a river, I’m not. It was hard. Really HARD!! But I think the mental training I’d done over the last 2 years had gotten me to a place where 10 miles, regardless of terrain, conditions and surrounds, was achieveable with the right mindset.

A little after 2 hours (1hr 50 being the cut off for the Para entry test), I started the last 200 metre incline back up to the start. My usual competitive nature kicked in, as it tends to do towards the finish line.

Para 10 Finish line

I picked up the pace, and sprint finished in boots, with my 35lbs across the finish line. I panted and sweated and nearly collapsed, as I picked up my much deserved medal and even more deserved bottle of water. As I checked in with the stand-by Para who weighed all Bergens back across the line to ensure you’d not cheated, I could see my parents coming across.

Para 10 complete

As I collapsed to the ground, still panting, wheezing and looking like I’d nearly died, the sensation of happiness was not, I have to admit, from it’s usual source; supporting my brother, honouring Gill or raising money & awareness for Help for Heroes. My happiness at that very moment, was borne out of the looks of pride in both my parents’ faces. They’d both supported me so indescribably much throughout the project, and to have them both here to see him compete, complete and conquer, meant more than I can put into words.

Funny that the blood, sweat and tears from the Para 10 were all washed away in that one single moment.

Challenge 20.5 (2)

The mud had yet to fully dry on my boots, when 7 days later I was donning my trainers to take part in another mini race………..the Great North Run. The amazing running team at Help for Heroes had a spare place which I stupidly decided to grab – not fully realising the date on which it fell. But what the hell I thought. Let’s give it go.

Much to my excitement, my super supportive housemate had also signed up to the GNR, to complete her first half marathon. I was excited that 1) we’d be heading up together, but that she’d made the impressive leap from 10k to 13.1 miles.

We headed up to Newcastle, got delayed in traffic, missed the metro and got to the start line with seconds to spare. Luckily, so many people take part that we were still able to squeeze into the crowd, before our section had even started moving forwards. We both ran separately, so as I crossed the start line I pressed play on my iPod and off I went.

GNR 2012

The rain started very soon after I started, but was nothing like the Manchester marathon, so wasn’t about to complain at a light shower. Being the largest, or at least the most iconic of half marathons in the country, it was unsurprising to see most of the streets lined with supporters – both local Geordies and friends or family of those running. As I pounded the pavements listening to the cheers from the supporting crowds and charity stations along the route, I was really motivated to push harder.

While there were thousands and thousands of runners, I bizarrely remember feeling quite alone on the race. I’d crossed the start line before Vicky (she’d not been as sneaky as me to jump a fence to get into the line up earlier), so knew there would be no-one at the finish line. No-one I knew alone the route. No-one else, other than Vicky, that I knew running in the race. I was surrounded by people, yet felt so incredibly isolated.

My thoughts collected at varying points along the route, to the last 21 months, everything that I’d set out to do, and everything that I’d achieved. Proud to have gotten this far, but sad that it would soon be coming to an end. Excited to have the final challenge a month away, but petrified about ice climbing, glacier crossing and heading higher than I’d ever gone before.

Then before I knew it, I could see the sign saying MILE 12…………just over a mile to go.

The mile to go was in fact, up a bloody annoying incline that seemed to go on and on and on. With more speedy runners overtaking me, my competitive spirit was starting to drive me mad. I soon pushed the sharp pain in my calves, and blisters on my big right toe, to the back of my mind, and pushed myself on.

Harder and faster.

Down the last hill, and onto the water front, along the final straight and I ploughed across the finish line. Whilst it was not official chip time (which was a tad quicker) my watch read 2 hours, 1 minute and 21 seconds. I could not have asked for a better finish time – 2:1:21

After re-gaining my breath and drinking some fluids, I headed to the charity village, where I bumped into H4H running manager Stewart, and his Mum (both of whom ran faster than me!!), before getting to the H4H tent, to be met with open arms by Hero Bear and H4H Marathon guru, Jacks. Both a very welcome sight.

GNR Finish

Unsure when Vicky would finish, the onset of convulsive shivering meant I couldn’t hold out any longer, and reverted to plan B: meet her at the car. When we both reunited after the walk to the metro station, metro ride to outer Newcastle and final walk to the car, a celebratory hug preceded the long journey back to Manchester. Being very British as we are, we over analysed the route and our performance, with a slight tap on the back for a job well done – although, this was a massive underestimate on both sides – Vicky battered, but mega chuffed at her first half marathon /  me aching, but mega excited to have finished the penultimate hurdle before Ecuador.

Time to regroup. Time to recuperate. Time to rest.

An Avenue of Volcanoes was calling, and the summit of Cotopaxi was finally in my sights. I’d come so far, travelled even further, and was eventually at the final start line.

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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Challenge 20 COMPLETE!

What should have been the penultimate challenge, it thought TOTAL WARRIOR was aptly named. As it turned out (future posts will explain) I had another two to come before heading to Ecuador, but this challenge had particular significance for me. I completed the first 6 challenges on my own, before being joined by Rupert & Chris for the National 3 Peaks – something that seems like a lifetime ago. So it only seems right that the final challenge that I enter as a team, is completed with two guys who have been integral to the challenge process.

Total Warrior has taken the idea of a 10k and moved it on light years. This particular 10k, doesn’t see us running the streets of Manchester (with or without a backpack), but sees us up in the Lake District to attempt not just a cross country / multi-terrain 10k, but one that is filled with 20+ obstacles along the route.

Total Warrior

After a cheeky drive up the M6 with the lads (faithful photographer and project supporter Vicky in tow) we arrived for a brief pre-race photo shoot.

Total Warrior start

After the siren went, all three of headed off through the smoke of the gun, heading towards our first challenge – the hills from hell. To ensure that you’re veritably shattered before even starting, the up & down & up & down & up & down played complete havoc on our calves & thighs alike.

Hills from Hell

After reading about the varying obstacles alone the way, I must admit, when reading about running through fire, I thought it was more a joke than anything serious. But after battering our legs on the hills, we arrive at a small channel of water (meaning you can’t sprint), surrounded by burning pallets of wood.

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As you run through the flames not only are you hit with the heat from the fire, but your lungs become filled with the stench of burning wood, something that is not really conducive with athletic prowess (well that’s my excuse for not outperforming Rupert & Chris).

As most people will have realised this by now, this project is something that I could not have completed on my own. And given the fact that the lads with me had seen me through thick & thin on a good number of challenges, I was extremely pleased to have them with me to complete obstacle 3 – the walls!

Help for Heroes WALL

What started off as hay bales, turned into 4 foot walls, that turned into towering blockades of fear. OK, maybe not so dramatic, but my upper body strength has never been anything to shout home about, so you can understand my own personal fear. We agreed that I would go first, in order for the boost up I needed. When I got half way across and went “errrr, I can’t move” I don’t think I’ve seen Rupert laugh quite as much as when he heard similar words come from me, half way up a mountain in Wales (less said about that the better).

From the walls of embarrassment, multiple obstacles came to challenge our mental and physical endurance. Some were fun, and some less so. As we were approaching a bit of a muddy mound / hill, there was a guy at the top shouting “come on you pansies, get a move on, give it some!”, so give it some we did. As I reached the top of the mound, I flew head first over the top, not realising there would be a jumbled mess of people at the bottom, mixed with mud, water & grit. My eyes were filled with gritty mud, my hands cut to pieces, and my knees battered into some guy. I think his back came off worse than my knees to be honest. Attempting to commando roll under a cargo net with no eye sight, bloody palms and some guy shouting from behind wasn’t ideal, but I carried on.

3 Muskateers

Lots of challenges ensued, but our spirits remained high. Spirits were lifted even further, when we got the chance to hurtle ourselves down a massive plastic sheet, being sprayed with water. Rupert flew down, followed by Chris, but with the fact I weigh a good bit more than Chris, I nearly ended up crashing into him at the bottom, knocking him off his feet. Luckily my water sheet slide aim is better than my shooting target aim.

Total Warrior Slide

As if we weren’t tired enough, one of the final challenges was to carry half a tree (so to speak) up a down a hill and back up.The other two were still looking pretty chipper I think at this stage, though my temperament was starting to fade.

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Hills & log completed, a cheeky river crossing was required, before the final slog up the final hill. To climb over the final wall, to reach the final obstacle – monkey bars over a pit of water. Really? REALLY??? Even before that crap my upper body strength was shit, can you begin to imagine what I was thinking about monkey bars at this stage.

Total Warrior Monkey Bars

I don’t know if it was challenge spirit, being cheered on by the spectators, or just something that I knew I had to do, but bar after bar, swing after swing, I felt myself feeling stronger. After what seemed like a lot longer, my feet touched down on the other side, I jumped down from the box, to meet Rupert & Chris just before the finish line, for us all to finish together. I can’t explain it, but having those guys wait for me before crossing the line meant so much, especially as this was the last challenge we would complete together, before the end of the project.

Total Warrior Finished

After we’d finished, we compared war wounds, and excitingly told Vicky about the obstacles she was unable to visit and photograph, but all three of us agreed on one thing – how far we’d come from the humble beginnings of the 3 peaks, and the likes of Hell Runner.

Total Warriors we were, but equally we knew we’d grown a lot as competitors, and that this particular challenge wasn’t maybe as tough as we’d first thought. It was however, a great way to finish our team work, and set me in great spirits for my final challenges, in the run up to THE BIG ONE!!

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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Better late than never

Well it’s been some time that I’ve written on this website. A LOT has gone on since I was last posting here. I’m very sorry to those who have been waiting for updates (namely my Mum and Vicky’s mum – sorry guys!!) It’s been quite a few months, both pre Ecuador and most definitely post. But with a rather important visit coming up, I thought it best to get things sorted, and get things updated.

Shut up & get one with it

These were not the exact words uttered by John Shinnick, but given how much he has invested emotionally (and otherwise) in this project, not just to him & everyone else, I owed it to myself to finish the story which has changed my life for the last two years.

Final challenges updates to follow, and then the big one. The adventure which has topped all adventures to date. My journey to the top of Cotopaxi. Something that saw me nearly reach breaking point, but saw me reach something so much more than the top of a volcano.

So please bear with me, here goes…….

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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Challenge 19: COMPLETE!

One of the great things that this project has reminded me, is that life isn’t perfect – it doesn’t always go the way you planned. But the thing to remember it’s not about focusing on the negative, it’s the way you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. Over the last few years my brother Nick has laughed in the face of adversity, and bloody hell, he’s been faced with adversity and then some! My adversity has luckily not been as extreme as being faced with the Taliban, but I have used Nick’s spirit to get me over the bumps in the road. Fracturing my leg mid challenge wasn’t ideal, but it taught me a lot about the limits of my body and how to make it much stronger.

Challenge 19 was supposed to be a team endurance event held in July – but due to various things I was left on my tod. No team and no challenge. And with only 3 weeks to find a new one, I was a bit stumped to say the least. Getting this far into the project, there wasn’t time to be making huge new arrangements, and by now we’d raised a LOT of money, with a LOT of people counting on my completion of this challenge.

A few glasses of wine with my housemate led me to randomly stumble across Love Life: Love Running – a running festival based in Cannock Chase with a 7km route that needed to be completed as many times as possible within 6 hours. There was solo, duo and team entries. My brain kicked into overdrive – I wasn’t going to enter as a team as this wouldn’t give me the comparative level of difficulty to other challenges completed thus far. Then the duo entry was out too, as this would mean running for about 3 hours – a shorter amount of time that my marathon PB. So the only option was to enter as a solo runner; committing to running as far as I could in 6 hours. Whether it was the wine, or the competitive nature in me, 3 minutes later and £17 debited from my account, and I was signed up.

If I could run 42km (marathon) in 4 hrs 30, then surely I could hit 50km in 6 hrs, and enter the world of ultra marathon running? Yeah, why the hell not. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. So that was my target, hit 50km – 7 and a bit times round the 7km route. Easy maths really. Although the execution didn’t quite go to plan.

As it happened I had family staying with me from Argentina, so they eagerly agreed to come down and support me run. Being able to take them with me was really cool – I’d not seen them in nearly 2 years, so it was great to show them what had become such a huge part of my life.

Celina took this photo from the back of the car as we travelled down to Staffordshire – it’s become a regular experience for me over recent months. At least I’m getting to see a lot of the UK!

I’d been down to Cannock Chase for Hell Runner earlier in the year, but had forgotten just how beautiful it is down there. Moving away from road running all the time has degfinitely been a good thing – seeing building after building gets a little tiresome after a while. I wonder whether my excitement of the countryside would be as positive by the end of the race.

So I got my race number attached, and after a small motivational pep talk in Spanish (multi-lingual challenge motivation is where it’s at these days!!) I headed across to the start line. At first I thought this was going to be a re-run of Chester last year, where no-one turned up. I’d forgotten that for the majority of people racing were part of tag team, meaning their buddies would be sat waiting for their speedy return. I on the other hand, would be circling the course, time after time. The claxon went and we were off. The professional fell runners sped off into the distance, whilst the rest of the pack slowly dispersed.

Listening to an updated iPod play list I was having a ball to be honest. Running through amazing countryside, twists and turns taking us through the forest and around some beautiful pond areas.

However, all this excitement ended when I got to the bottom of the most frustratingly long, numbingly annoying, and gruellingly tiresome incline I’ve ever had the misfortune to run up. Don’t get me wrong, the view was amazing. The shades of greens to browns were very pretty and all, but they didn’t take away from the pain of that bloody incline. It just wouldn’t give up. I gave some more, it gave twice as much back. I sped up, it increased the incline. I found motivation, it called upon the sun to burn it right out of me. You get the idea, it was a bitch of a climb!

I’m probably over exaggerating the first attempt at it, but as the laps carried on, it got increasingly more difficult to ignore such evil.

As I made my way back up to the top of the course, I was met with beaming smiles from Team Argentina, and given the fact there was only one water stop on the route (half way round) I was very pleased to see a cup of juice waiting for me before I started the next lap. Funny thing was, that drink wasn’t even for me, but what can you do when you have an out of breath Brit gasping for air wanting some juice. Sorry guys!

As the laps continued so did the blazing heat beating down on us, as we wove our way through the forest and round the trails. Each time the HFH (hill from hell) got progressively more painful. It was on the second lap round that I thought to myself, why the bloody hell can’t I just do a normal marathon for once! By the time I’d got to the fourth lap the realisation had sunk in that I was not going to hit ultra-marathon status. The heat mixed with the hills, added to the fact I was getting pretty dehydrated, meant that I just wasn’t going to be able to get round the route the 7 and bit times I needed to, in order to hit the 50km mark. To say that I was gutted was an understatement.

I remember coming back into a forested area and feeling really really shit. I had to keep running (although who am I kidding, by this point it was a pretty pathetic jog). I had to keep going – I had countless donors & supporters relying on me finishing this race. My thoughts led to Nick for a bit, and the searing heat that he faced while out in Afghanistan – such thoughts just made me feel worse. Thinking about how he pushed himself on, motivated himself from his inner core to fight the demons telling him to stop. Telling him to give up. He found the strength to carry on in the 50 degree + tempereatures, to carry on regardless of the fact he was under enemy fire and at any point could step on an IED.

The weird thing was, that I’d used this kind of motivator before on previous challenges. When I thought I was getting a bit off balance, I thought about the sacracfices that these guys had made day in day out, and it pushed me on. Each step wanting it more. But this time was different. My body was aching, I was sweating more than I knew possible, and the overidding feeling of failure had overcome me. As I approached the end of the fifth lap, I looked at the time and thought to myself, I’m only going to get one more lap out of this before the 6 hour cut off point.

Then it hit me. While I’d been wallowing in self pity, getting all gloomy about the fact I’d only make 42km, I’d forgotten what that actually meant. 42 km = 26 miles. And 26 miles = a marathon. And if I wasn’t mistaken, I’d completed 3 of those in the previous 7 months.

  1. One on a treadmill, outside a hotel at Christmas, post recovery for a leg fracture
  2. One in Dubai – enough said really
  3. One in Manchester. And by the way, Manchester delivered. Buckets and buckets and buckets of rain. And wind. And then some more rain.

And now finally one in similar heat to that felt in Dubai, but with hills!! When I thought about, I realised that by completing this race and covering 42 km, I’d have run my 4th marathon in 7 months. From my humble beginnings of 10k on the road to my 4th very off road MARATHON. Well that was it. I picked up the pace for the last lap of this beautifully torturous course.

My emotions were running all over the place (no pun intended). From feeling like I’d let people down, to knowing that I’d actually done them proud. I’m not ashamed to say that on one of the final trail passes I shed a quick tear. Because by taking everyone else out of the equation for a minute, and putting everything else to one side, it didn’t matter what other people thought, as I was proud of myself. I know that other people have achieved much more, but I didn’t care at that moment. I was about to complete my 4th marathon in 7 months.

I couldn’t then, and I cannot now, express how proud that made me feel.

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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HELP83 £3 to 70070

As you can imagine, with only 2 weeks until we head out to Ecuador for the final challenge of the Help for Heroes [21:21]  Challenge project, I’m getting incredibly excited.

High up in the Andes we’ll be scaling 5 volcanoes in total, culmintaing at the top of the 5,987m beast that is Cotopaxi – higher than Kilimanjaro & harder than Everest Base Camp, this will be the perfect feat to end nearly 2 years of exciting, inspiring & gruelling challenges.

But let’s not forget the purpose of pushing myself to the edge of what I thought was possible. After being inspired by my brother heading out to the front line in Afghnaistan, and wanting to do my bit and make a difference, I’ve been busy fundraising for the one and only HELP for HEROES.

As a final act of crazy before I go to Ecuador, I’m making a pledge. If we can raise more than £100 via text donations in the next 2 weeks, I am going to shave my head in readiness for the extremely cold temperatures of Andean Ecuador. I appreciate it’s maybe not the best time to undertake such a pledge, but if I can top up the total, just a little bit more, than it will be worth it. Plus with both my brother & Dad having less than a full head of hair, I’m starting to feel left out.

So, here’s the deal. If you text HELP 83 with the amount you want to donate (£1, £3, £5) to 70070 and we raise over £100 in the next fortnight, I’ll bare all (so to speak). Please know that whilst I’ve had short hair in the past, I’ve never gone Army style and lost the lot. And given the fact that I’ve had my fair share of head injuries in the past, god only knows what the state of my head will be like underneath. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

My sister-in-law has a great attitude towards this:

Think of it like you’re buying one of our troops a pint. They’ve given their all for their country, some of them the ultimate sacrafice. And it’s only 3 quid. You won’t even notice it’s gone, but together it can make a real difference.

Even £1 can make the difference – in fact, if everyone who followed me on Twitter texted just £1, then we’d smash this target in no time.

Whatever you can give, your help will be greatly appreciated. Not only by me & my brother, but the injured lads who rely on our support.

THANKS.  

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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Challenge 18: COMPLETE !

Having never been a drug addict, what I’m about to proclaim is only an assumption, but feel that it’s a pretty good comparison. I imagine people don’t start taking hardcore class A drugs on their first dabble. They start off small, over time needing a slightly bigger hit – and before you know it…..well you can imagine. I feel like I’m suffering from a similar addiction. I started the project last year with minimal experience in running, and two months ago completed my 3rd marathon in 5 months. Starting off small with a 10k here and there has manifested itself into a full blown addiction – each time I race wanting to push the limit of what I thought was achievable just a little more each time. So it is hardly surprising that my migration from road to multi-terrain running has brought me to the start line of challenge 18: the Royal Marines training camp in Lympstone. Opened once a year to the public for charity related purposes, the Commando Challenge is the same endurance course used by the Royal Marines to train one of the most elite fighting forces in the world.

Having taken a little break for a couple of months (and can you blame him) I’m very pleased to say that Rupert has jumped back on board the challenge band wagon. As luck would have it, we were joined by another fellow challenger, Katie Bevan (friend of my cousin), who we picked up in Bristol on the way down to the base.

It was weird as we arrived, knowing that my brother had been based down here his 32 weeks of crazed, hardcore, near impossible training. Even though I knew we were less than hour off being beasted by a course attempted only by the fit and the brave or stupid (still not sure which is more appropriate) I had a real sense of pride for my brother – it brought back all of the sacrifices that he had to make in order to get where he is today. And whilst I wouldn’t be completing the course with the aim to become a Royal Marine, nor would I be running it with webbing or a weapon, my aim was do him proud!

As we set off from the start line we didn’t really know what lay ahead. We’d read the race guide, and knew we’d have to face the infamous sheep dip, and Nick had warned us about the smartie tubes, but otherwise we were running into the unknown. As the route took us away from the training camp up to Woodbury common, the road, which was on an ever increasing incline, seemed to go on and on and on.

The route was dotted with recruits and more senior members of 40 Commando, and as we were on approach to the woodland area, Rupert & I were joined by one of the more senior staff at the training base (though we didn’t realise just how senior at the time). The guy was clearly double our respective ages, but gave us a serious run for our money as we went off road. The standard trail running which we’d got used to in prep for Hell Runner came to a sudden halt when we approached our first obstacle – the tunnels!

The tunnels were of such a height, that it meant we couldn’t just duck down, but going on all fours wasn’t an option speed wise either. So my Army Cadet training came in handy as I monkey ran through them with not too much difficulty (though this was a just a taste of things to come). The tricky part was that as you went round the first bend, you were submerged into darkness – not knowing what lay ahead. All you could do was crack on.

 

Peter’s pool (not sure who Peter is) lay not too far ahead – this is where the likes of Hell Runner gets left behind, as you’ve got a Marine stood to the side screaming at you to get under, so it’s one, two, three and submerge!

Out the water and up a cheeky little hill and we were very much in fell running territory. Weaving along the small trails was fine until I slipped and nearly went over on my ankle. It was one of those ‘on the fence’ moments. I mean, it hurt like hell, but this was the Royal Marines Commando Challenge. I wasn’t going to let some minor ankle pain get in my way. So on we went.

After a short while we hit the sheep dip. Very much was it says on the tin – fully submerged movement from one side of the dip to the other – luckily I work pretty well in water, so perversely was looking forward to it.

It was a bloody cold day, but running in combats would heat up the best of people, let alone me, someone with no clear temperature control, so the icy drip was pretty refreshing if truth be told.

As the course continued criss-crossing the woodland and moorland of the Common, we hit more tunnels and the smartie tubes. Now I’m hardly a heffer, but big enough to fill a large part of the tubes as we went in – god only knows how bigger lads, with webbing, weapon and all their kit managed to get through.

With the tubes finished, we had one final set of tunnels to attack, which seemed to be the hardest yet. With energy levels depleted, and our bodies sore, the tunnels were a final attack on our spirit before the end. Having to crawl part of them, knees got cut and elbows scrapped.

The exit hole was of such a size that leopard crawling was the only way out. As we emerged on the other side, I could see blood dripping down from Rupert’s uncovered knee (well I did tell him that trousers would be a better idea than shorts – too hardcore for his good sometimes!). The sympathy was short lived however, as we had a steep incline waiting for us, ready to zap all and any remaining energy we had in our legs.

We dug deep and continued, getting back up to the top of the Common where we first went off road. The distance between myself and Rupert inevitably greatened as he pulled away. The last mile and a bit I was running on my own – seeing others come towards me (we all set off at 3 minute intervals) gave me a boost knowing that I would soon be back at the finish, although I’m not sure what motivation I provided for them, seeing me battered, soaked and covered in mud.

Reaching the finish line was not as much a sense of achievement physically (although it was a tough course), but one of mental & emotional achievement. I’d just completed the same course that my little brother (not so little anymore) had completed 5 years previously. I’m very much not comparing the two, as he had to complete the Tarzan assault course, 9 mile speed march and a 30 mile YOMP across Dartmoor, on consecutive days, in order to pass out as a Royal Marine – but for me, the Commando Challenge was enough.

With Rupert hot on her heels, I know Katie was glad to get across that line before he could catch her! Having only met her about 4 hours prior to this being taken, I have to say that I was extremely impressed with her performance. That girl sure as hell can run!

Another stellar performance from Rupert – that guy is seriously fast! Glad to have him back on board for one of the best challenges to date.

Coming in at 1 hour, 41 mins challenge 18 was well and truly smashed. On top of this, due to the entry requirements, we’d also donated £200 towards the Royal Marines Charitable Trust. Not bad for a morning’s work if you ask me. The only problem remaining, if this was pushing the limit of my racing ability – where the hell do I go from here!?

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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Another month, another challenge

After a chance meeting with Susannah Wright on a bus in Manchester (said bus being the Olympic Torch Relay bus), little did I know that my story would end up in the Manchester Evening News. A big THANK YOU to her & the guys at the M.E.N. for the start of a number of media related excitement.

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

 

 

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Getting involved!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – for someone with my sporting past to not only be running multiple marathons in the space of just 6 months, but to be encouraging (or inspiring if you will) other people to get up, get active & get involved makes me feel really good. So when Megan from work said that she was interested in supporting the project by attempting her first ever 10k race & raising money for Help for Heroes, I was very impressed.

I’m pleased to say that not only did she survive to tell the tale (see below), but she raised over £100 in sponsorship, helping us reach ever closer to our £10,000 goal.

So THANK YOU Megan, you’re an absolute star & trooper, and I’m so appreciative of you getting involved like you did.

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The morning of June 24th 2012 was one I had been dreading for a good three months. Despite training for at least four days a week, I still didn’t feel ready. I had been plagued with damaged ligaments and dodgy knees for a long time, but it seemed in the run up to the ‘We Love Manchester 10K’, they were adamant to stop me.

I signed up to the run in February, along with my boyfriend – also an ABa colleague – to challenge myself. Up until now, the farthest I have ever run is 5K…and I didn’t exactly run all of the way. I wasn’t a sport lover in school, I went as far as netball and often preferred a book to a ball, so you can imagine that I wasn’t the fittest, but as I’ve got older I’ve  found a real love for running and the gym. So I took the 10K as a serious challenge, not necessarily to beat anybody – although to beat Simon would have been a sweet victory – but to beat myself and everything that was telling me I couldn’t run this. I got myself into a training routine of hard, long sessions at the gym, building my stamina and making sure my muscles could handle the pound of the pavements. All I could think about whilst running was why I was running at all. My work colleague Ben has been an extremely busy bee, working to raising an incredible ten thousand pounds for the inspirational charity ‘Help for Heroes’, so I thought it was only fitting I pull myself together and get raising as much as I could for such a brilliant cause. However, it wasn’t just Ben’s incredible drive and unbelievable spirit that pushed me to raise money for H4H, I myself, come from a military family.

To begin with, I come from Accrington, famous not only for the little boy asking, “Accrington Stanley…who the hell are they?” but also for Accrington Pals, who were several brave generations all sadly lost in WW1. My wonderful 86 year old granddad was an engineer in the RAF throughout World War II, and often told me stories of flying over countries, dropping food parcels to those in need and working on the planes. He is an absolute veteran and just one of the reasons I am so proud to be a part of the Mazzina-Adams household. Even my parents were part of the military at some point – in fact that is where they met twenty eight years ago, in the Royal Navy; my mum, a nurse, and my dad, a medical assistant, who also served with 45 Commando Royal Marines. I can’t say it was a career path that interested me, but when I began to understand the sheer scale of the wounds inflicted to thousands of soldiers, Marines and military personnel, I couldn’t help but think of the people my parents could have once worked with, the jobs they did and how much they needed our help.

My stomach was doing back flips I was so nervous, but I managed to wolf down a healthy plate of salmon, scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast and get moving. I met up with my work colleague Phil, as well as Simon who could no longer run the race, but came to support us. Everyone I looked at seemed to be a seasoned pro. There I was in my multicoloured rain mack and shorts, and everyone else seemed to look like Paula Radcliffe, I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, so in went the headphones and off went the claxon. Phil went striding off and I lost sight of everyone else I had spotted from work. I can honestly say I was so proud of myself for pushing through each kilometre. It wasn’t easy on the old injuries, but I managed to keep running and running, slowing myself right down to a power walk when I needed a breather. Before I knew it, I had completed my first five kilometres and was passing a very supportive Simon. I wanted to make him proud, I wanted to make Ben proud and I wanted to make the charity proud. I was already proud of myself. The hardest part of the run was easily eight to nine kilometres. It was painful and although I waited to catch a glimpse of the board to tell me how far I was along, it just didn’t want to show itself. Finally, and before I knew it, eight turned to nine and nine turned to ten. My first ten kilometre run was complete in one hour sixteen seconds. A number of other ABa members took part and managed amazing times, so a well done is definitely deserved for all.

I raised £106 altogether, now I don’t know what that will get a soldier in need, but I do know that it goes towards the £10,000 raised by the [21:21] Challenge to change thousands of futures for our wounded troops. A huge thank you to everyone who has sponsored me, and a huge congratulations to Ben and his incredible team for raising an incredible total, due to such wonderful generosity from family and friends. I achieved a huge goal for myself a few weeks ago, let’s hope someone else can achieve a bigger goal from the money raised.

Megan Adams

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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My moment to shine

WOW! I’m speechless. For the first time in a long time, I really don’t know what to say. It still hasn’t sunk in really. On Saturday 23rd June 2012 at approximately 17:40 I had the immense honour and privilege of carrying the Olympic Flame through Cheetham Hill in Manchester. I joined the other 7,999 people who had been nominated and chosen to help carry the Flame around Great Britain, as it passed through villages, towns and cities, making its way to the Olympic Stadium to mark the opening of the London 2012 Olympics.

You’ll know from my previous post that I was so excited to be chosen, especially given my background in sport, or lack thereof. But in the last 18 months, it turns out that I’ve achieved quite a bit for someone who used to make up excuses to get out of PE:

24 mile swim, 150 mile row, 874 mile bike ride, 3 marathons (treadmill, Dubai, stormy Manchester), Yorkshire & National 3 Peaks Challenges, and the Royal Marines Endurance challenge are amongst the 18 of 21 challenges completed so far.

On top of this, and somehow convincing an army of people to get involved by challenging themselves with me, I’ve managed to raise more than £8,000 for Help for Heroes, with another few grand still to go. So whilst I still feel very humbled to have joined a plethora of amazing people who are also carrying the torch, I am extremely proud to have been chosen for my charity challenge project.

Given the fact I’m still a little bit overwhelmed by the whole experience, I’m not going to labour things with my usual War & Peace style update. Instead, I want to say thank you to a few people, and then let the pictures tell the story.

But first, cue BAFTA style acceptance speech now:

THANK YOU to…….

Sarah & Joe for believing in me enough to nominate me to be an Olympic Torchbearer – I found it hard to accept, given what other torchbearers had achieved, but when I think about it, and the change I’ve made in myself over the last 18 months, the time & resources I’ve given up for training, racing and fundraising, I was very proud to carry the Torch.

Rupert for so kindly and generously buying the torch for me to keep as a lasting iconic memory, and not to mention his amazing involvement in the project to date. Without question he has travelled around the country with me completing a whole host of challenges, pushing himself physically to support me in the project. He optimises what true friendship is all about.

My family for their endless & unequivocal support throughout the project. They’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly from me over the last 18 months, but have been there for me always.

Team [21:21] for coming to support on the day which included: Mum, Dad, Nick, Toby, Sarah, John, Rupert, Vicky, Becky, Jayne, Steve, Theo, Laura, Jenna, Sheila, Sally, Kev, Lisa & Christine. The people who have supported me challenge after challenge, attending races to support or offering assistance in arranging transport, entry and recovery.

The amazing Manchester torchbearers who I shared the afternoon with, especially Martin, Susannah, Sue, Jonathan & Chris – more about these guys further down.

And finally the phenomenal British public for lining the streets of Manchester to show their support. For all the naysayers who have said that the Olympics are just for Londoners should have seen the streets on Saturday afternoon. People from all over the city came along to support the Torch Relay and cheer on the Torchbearers, and you could see from the reaction on people’s faces that seeing and handling the torch was a really big deal.

And so it is without further ado, and with great pride and humbled honour, that I present to you, the London 2012 Torch Relay in Manchester…….

Listening to the stories of these Olympic Torchbearers was extremely humbling
Team [21:21] continue to show their amazing support
The one who believed in me
Carrying the torch for all the servicemen & women of the British Armed Forces
Inspired by a true hero
http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk
Collecting the Olympic Flame
The Olympic Kiss
An honour & a privilege
A once in a lifetime opportunity
Chinese Justin Bieber attracts a few fans
Susannah collects the Flame from Peter
Chris Hoy – a true gentleman
Little did I know that a year on from completing the Chris Hoy Half Marathon I’d actually meet him!
Ex-serviceman Martin Hewitt collects the Flame from Jonathan Whitehead, whilst commemorating the 100th birthday of Alan Turing.

Martin served 8 years in HM Parachute Regiment leading on operations and training exercises all over the world including Europe, Africa, Middle East and USA. In 2007 Martin was shot leading his men in an attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The incident left Martin with Arterial bleeding and a paralysed right arm resulting in medical discharge from the Army.

In 2011 Martin was part of the first disabled team to walk unsupported to the North Pole with HRH Prince Harry. This expedition was televised by BBC1 in a two part documentary called Harry’s Arctic Heroes and inspired other soldiers with debilitating injuries to fight back to fitness post injury. Martin was then the expedition manager for the 2012 expedition to Mt Everest, where he lead 5 injured soldiers to the top of the world on another ground-breaking expedition.

An extremley awe inspiring man.

A proud mother & father
The reaction from the public was just incredible – you could see that the Olympic Torch Relay really had grabbed hold of the British spirit
Meeting everyone afterwards was out of this world.
The public in Manchester really made it a day to remember
It’s been one hell of journey from swimming in the North Sea, to running three marathons and more. It’s been a tough, challenging, tiring and even bone breaking journey, but it’s one that I’m extremley proud of, and one that has really changed my life.

So proud, excited, humbled & honoured to be able to keep this piece of Olympic history.
Thanks Rupert, you’re a trooper!

Olympic Torch Legacy
Limited edition artwork given to me by Kate, the Managing Director of where I work, who also kindly sponsored the project £100 per challenge, becoming the largest corporate sponsor to date

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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Olympic Torch Relay

So this is it: Saturday 23rd June has finally arrived, and with it comes the great honour of carrying the Olympic Flame as part of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

The Flame has made its way around the country, stopping in some amazingly iconic locations, including the legendary Boston Spa, where I grew up. But this Saturday, it will arrive in the city of Manchester, where I have made my home for the last 10 years.

I’ve said it before, but I’m so excited to get this chance to be part of something so big. I still can’t believe that I was nominated last year, and successfully picked to be one of 8000 people to transport the Flame around the country, before it reaches the Olympic Opening Ceremony in July.

I’ve been interviewed by a number of radio stations this week, and one of the questions asked was “how do you think you’ll feel on the day”. My response has been: Excited, nervous, honoured, amazed. For someone who never liked sport, and dodged PE like the plague, to be chosen to carry the Flame because of my commitment to Sport & the Local Community is still a bit of a shock. But I’m not just going to be carrying the Torch just for me, I’m carrying it for a whole host of people:

  • My brother Nick, who inspired me to set up the challenge project
  • My amazing friend Rupert, who has joined me on countless challenges
  • Sarah & Joe, who nominated me to carry the Torch
  • L Cpl Martin Gill, who sadly lost his life in Afghanistan on 5th June 2011
  • The servicemen & women of the British Armed Forces who have come back from Afghanistan injured or worse.
  • Everyone who has supported me across the last 18 months of my challenge project, including all those at Help for Heroes

For anyone who happens to be in or around Manchester on Saturday then I would love for you to come down and share this really cool day with me. I’m going to be carrying the Torch just North of Manchester City Centre, in Cheetham Hill, at approximately 17:40.

According to the information received from the LOCOG those that want to come along should head between: No. 1 Queen’s Road (A6010) & Cheetham Hill Road (A665) near Manchester Fort Shopping Park Turnoff.

For those who live a little further afield (from Adriana in Argentina to Laura in Australia), I’m told you can check out the excitement via the London 2012 or BBC websites – in fact you’ll probably get the better end of the deal, as I think we’re supposed to have torrential downpours on Saturday.

And as if things couldn’t get more exciting, I’m extremely grateful to a certain Mr Rupert Rowling who very kindly bought me the Torch to keep after Saturday. A long-lasting memento and gift from a truly special day.

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Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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