Most of you know that the pensions consultancy I work for, Quattro Pensions, is a huge charity supporter. Each year some of us take part in a big charity event to raise money for our company supported charities. Last year was the impressive 3 peaks challenge in aid of Breast Cancer Now, Parkinson’s and MND. This year the challenge was a hike through the Cotswolds with proceeds to be split equally between MIND and our local hospice in Bromsgrove, Primrose Hospice.
But this was no ordinary hike. The challenge was to cover 55 miles of the Cotswold Way in 24 hours – with many of the miles through the night. The write up promised “a magical walking experience, stunning long distance views across the Cotswolds and journeys through picturesque villages and famous ancient sites”. What’s not to love?
Well, I will tell you what’s not to love. 55 miles. In 30C heat. Sleep deprivation. Massive hills (those amazing views come at a cost!). All in 24 hours!!!! Surely no sane human would sign up to that??? It turns out we have 5 such heroes who “volunteered” to attempt the full 55 miles. Another 8 of us agreed to complete the last 18 miles.
Meet the 55 mile team – Luke, Jake, Andy, Matt and Tom.
It might be slightly unkind to say these lads aren’t athletes, but they are definitely more likely to be found sat at their desk figuring out complex pensions calculations rather than working out in the gym. They are a great bunch and I’m super proud to have 3 of them on my team at work. But, if I’m honest, I was a bit scared for them. They’re young men and I was worried about the lack of a responsible adult to look after them during their first 37 miles!!
I work closely with Jo and to say she’s organised, methodical and thorough is an understatement. So when she said she’d support the boys through the night making sure they had food, water and were keeping safe (and then still take part in the 18 mile hike!!!) I relaxed a little. They were in safe hands.
With the hike scheduled to start 3pm Friday with the 18 milers joining in at 8am Saturday morning, the pre-challenge began first thing Friday morning. This pre-challenge involved the 55 milers getting themselves, by train, to the starting point. With hindsight this wasn’t the best plan. Not only did Andy miss his train (!), we really should have made sure someone could drive them allowing them to preserve their energy for the challenge.
Having arrived on time and in one piece (phew!) they began the challenge in good spirits on one of the hottest days of the year. We set up a WhatsApp group so we could track them and communicate easily. 5.5 miles in and they’ve conquered their first hill. The views are, as promised in the blurb, stunning. But when I saw this photo I started to panic a little about my own challenge. That is truly a massive hill, the Cotswolds is full of them, and I’m nowhere near peak fitness. This time last year I’d just had my final chemo infusion and it’s fair to say my body is not yet fully recovered from the whole breast cancer thing. Would 18 hilly, hot miles be too much for me? Would I drag others back? Would I ruin the challenge? Let’s face it 9 months of cancer treatment isn’t the ideal prep for this challenge!
After walking and climbing for about 3.5 hours, the lads met up with Jo who replenished food and drink and checked they were all ok.
I was relieved to see they were still smiling! Off they set again.
Jo used her organising and persuasion skills to arrange for a hot meal and showers for the lads at their next pit stop which was 15ish miles in. This saved the lads resorting to “wet wiping the essentials” which had been the initial plan. It must have been torture for them eying up the freshly made hotel bed. But they weren’t swayed. Respect.
Darkness fell. Things were about to get really tough. Navigating was tricky and tiredness becoming a problem.
Somehow the daytime pace continued through the night. I can’t get my head around how they managed that given the darkness, the pain they must have been feeling and the sleep deprivation.
Jo caught up with them again at about 1am. One of Quattro’s newest members of staff lives close to one of the scheduled pit stops and generously offered Jo somewhere she could camp out in between support meet ups. Naively, we had thought Jo might be able to snatch some sleep through the night but that wasn’t to be.
By half 2 the lads were flagging. They’d been walking for almost 12 hours. The WhatsApp group were amused to receive a recording of them singing “Angels” by Robbie Williams in attempt to keep spirits up. Let’s just say Luke is better at walking than singing!
Jo carried on her support role through the night, rallying the lads and feeding them jelly babies. But they were massively struggling. Everything hurt. Luke somehow was still pushing the pace, focussed and determined, despite some uncomfortable chaffing! The other 4 were pretty much broken. Putting one foot in front of the other was a major challenge. Displaying an incredible team spirit they refused to give up which would leave Luke hiking alone. Instead they pledged to get Luke through to the 37 mile point where they were meeting up with us 18 milers at about 8am.
Meet most (Karl had gone to meet the 55 milers) of the 18 milers.
This was taken at 8am before we set off, while waiting for Luke, Andy, Jake and Tom to reach us. Matt had to abandon them a few miles earlier and had joined us here. It was fair to say that sleep deprivation had taken its toll on Matt who was pretty much talking gibberish, unable to string words into a sentence and hobbling. I was also massively concerned about Jo who was unusually incoherent and vacant after a night without sleep. I tried to convince her that she didn’t have to hike after being up all night but she was having none of it.
When the 37 mile boys arrived I was shocked to see how broken Andy, Jake and Tom looked. There was no way we could let them continue. Luke was still looking strong and determined to carry on.
So, as a new team of 9 we set off, with Luke immediately setting a blistering pace that the rest of us couldn’t keep up with. It was already too hot for walking and I was worried that going off too quickly wasn’t a great idea.
Meet Mark, Vicky and Max the dog.
Ok so I know this pic doesn’t actually have Mark and Vicky in it (I didn’t have one of both of them) but if you look closely you can see Max hiding in the car. Max dislikes walking almost as much as Vicky so instead of joining us on the hike the three of them volunteered to be the 18 milers’ support crew for the day. This is just some of their kit! Mark and Max joined us on a couple of legs of the walk too.
We quickly became dependent on the Mark and Vicky stops. We were getting through ridiculous amounts of water, energy drinks and jelly babies and couldn’t carry all we needed for the whole day. We’d count down the miles and minutes until we’d meet them again. Camp was always set up considerately in the shade, next to a bench, water replenished and energy restored.
The scenery really was stunning and it’s a shame that the overnight team would have missed so much of it. All those hills without the benefit of the views!
It was soooo hot. And soooo hilly. There was very little shade. The miles rolled by fairly slowly. It soon became apparent we wouldn’t make it to the end in time to watch the England Sweden World Cup quarter final.
The heat and hills combo was a real killer with very little shade. Luke was beginning to suffer with cramp which meant that stopping for rest was really tricky for him – he needed to keep moving. However, the rest of us were needing to find shade, pause and recuperate from time to time.
At around 50 miles in (for Luke – 12 miles in for the 18 milers) Karl’s magic hands saved the day for Luke. We were beginning to think he might not be able to make the final few miles because of leg cramps. A few minutes of leg massages while the rest of us crashed made all the difference to him.
We had another mammoth hill to tackle so we were all relieved to see Luke strong and determined. He really was going to do this! Seeing Luke more chipper spurred me on – if he could do 55 miles I could most definitely do 18 despite the heat and the looming hill. So with about 6 miles to go we helped each other up from our rest spot and set off again. Bring it on!
This next pic was taken close to the top of our final hill, climbing up to Broadway tower. Somehow we are all still smiling despite most of us feeling the effects of the miles, the heat and the climbing now.
Luke must be superhuman. I’m in complete awe!!! And Jo, still smiling, still determined, and she totally conquered the sleep deprivation thing that had so worried me earlier in the day.
It was pretty much downhill or flat for the final few miles. Which sounds great except some of us were struggling with our knees and downhill can be way more painful than the uphill climb. This was the ibuprofen pit stop!
We got to our final Mark and Vicky pit stop, finished off the remaining energy drinks and wine gums, and set off for the last time. Mark joined us for this last section which was good for us – a definite boost. Luke was back to setting the pace. How????? There was a suggestion we should test him for performance enhancing drugs!
Our end point was beckoning. We’d arranged to finish at the Volunteer Inn. There was clearly some spurious mathematics going on (not great for a team of Actuaries, Accountants and Pensions administrators who spend all day, every day working with numbers!) because we were at over 19 miles as we trudged down the hill to the pub. The actual finishing point of the Cotswold Way was a few hundred yards past the pub. Luke (aka Superhero) and Karl decided to find the end marker while the rest of us collapsed in the pub.
England won their quarter final match (and we missed it!) so spirits in the pub were high to say the least. One “slightly” drunk local came across to ask us what we’d been doing and donated an extra £40 to our funds.
So that was yesterday. Today I’m broken. I have blisters. I’m stiff. My back hurts. My shoulders and neck ache. I’ve got a handful of horsefly bites driving me mad. But I did it – finally I feel like I’m back after the whole cancer treatment thing. Plus I managed to beat my stepping record!
I’m so immensely proud of everyone involved in this epic challenge. I’ve been part of many charity events but this was the toughest one yet for me – and I was “only” doing 18 miles. The lads who tackled the 55 miles were part of the 3 Peaks team last year and they all agree this hike was way more punishing. I dread to think what next year’s challenge will bring!
It’s not too late to donate. Funds will be shared equally between Mind and Primrose Hospice. Please make it worth the pain!!!