How I took on the Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge & what I learnt along the way

Well, what a day Saturday the 15th of August was. It was the day I completed the most physically challenging time of my life – The Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge.

For those of you who do not know what this is, it is a very demanding challenge in which you are confronted with climbing the highest peaks in Wales within 24 hours, including the drive between the mountains.

Why would I do such a thing?

In the latter half of last year, I was at a West Ham United football game. We were probably losing, and so I was talking about walking and climbing to my friends Simon and Ollie. Ollie being Simon’s 14-year-old son. They both spend many a weekend in the hills and mountains across the UK and Europe. I was told that Ollie would be starting his Duke of Edinburgh award in 2020. Being a naturally nosey person, I asked what this course involved – this was my mistake. I was told he needed to complete an adventure challenge and the Welsh 3 Peaks was his choice.

I had done a bit of walking myself up to this point, but mainly distance walks over flat ground. I considered myself to be reasonably fit, so when they asked if I would like to be the adjudicator for the challenge and sign him off as completed, I said yes! Here lies the problem I have in life; I say yes then think “oh no, what have I just done”. But still, I had said yes, so it was onboard!

Let the intense training commence…

I had a whole training regime planned to get me mountain fit (or as mountain fit as I can get living in the flattest part of the UK). I would hit the gym and use the running machine on an incline, I would use the stair climber, and then I would carry on doing my distance walks with weight and speed.

Then, the world stopped, and everything shut, and we were banned from travelling. Arghhhhhhhhh! What now for my routine? Well, it turned into dumbbell training (lifting a pint glass to my mouth) abdominal workouts (digesting bacon rolls). You get the picture; my routine was exhausting.

Shattered World

During this time, my Dad died. I am not going into details over this as to be quite honest, I don’t want to, or feel the need to. But let’s just say my life, and my families life were and since been turned upside down and inside out.

I could feel myself being extremely strong for my family, but I could also feel that I was not letting my emotions out in my usual way. Yes, I cried but not how I usually cry. I knew there would be an emotional crash, but I did not know when.

The crash happened a few days after the funeral; I felt lower than I ever have done. I needed something to get me going again. A lot of people say work does this for them. I shared my workplace with my Dad, so it was a constant and still is a constant reminder of him. I needed to do something to escape. As a mental health first aider, one of the things we do is encourage other supports. I decided to practice what I preach and start walking and training for the 3 peaks challenge that was still going to happen, but we did not know when.

So, Nic my better half and I would walk around the streets where we lived, and we would be talking away, and nine times out of ten it would be about Dad. We did this several nights a week. I found by doing this it helped us both with our emotions and our fitness.

Once we were allowed, we went to the Peak District for more challenging walks and again as we walked, we talked about all things, including Dad. Again, I could feel a benefit to this, and I felt myself growing stronger both physically and mentally.

LET’S GET READY TO RAMBLE

Well, the time had finally arrived, and the challenge was upon us. We met in a Welsh car park at 05:27 am and the day began.

Snowdon

This has always been an ambition of mine to conquer Snowdon. I was happy to get the train up but funny how things do not work out how you plan them. Miners path was upon us, so we set off – Ollie leading the way with Simon and me.
All was going well, and we were making good time, I had said right from the start that I would follow both Simon and Ollies lead and do EXACTLY what they told me to. They have all the experience; it would be foolish not to. As we were walking, we were talking about how to manage West Ham best, we spoke about climbing and all other things. Then my smart mouth opened…
Ollie said, “we are making good time!”
I replied, “That’s what happens when you bring an elite athlete with you!” Just as we said that we turned the corner and I nearly tripped over my tongue. I saw for the first time the summit and the route we were going to take. At this point, I realised my training was nowhere near good enough. We stopped for some food, and we were off again. Well, Simon and Ollie were off, like two mountain gazelles, gleefully jumping from rock to rock. What they saw when they looked round was a red-faced puffy cheeked hamster slowly getting up the rocks. I told them to go ahead, and I would meet them. At the same time they both refused and said no, we are in this together.

Now, this is a mental health blog. As we say on our course frequently, you do not need to speak to be supportive. I cannot put into words the emotional support and drive that it gave me seeing them waiting for me a few feet ahead. I would look to their position and then make that my goal, once I achieved that goal, I moved on to the next. Like we talk about with depression. Set small achievable goals, not unrealistic ones.
The buzz from completing the small challenges is what kept me going. We carried on until it happened. We were at the summit!

Reaching the summit and achieving the first goal was great; I was ready for the next mountain. Coming down I knew I would be okay and I was, I never slowed Ollie and Simon down on the way back. Snowdon was completed (up and down in 5 hours), we were ahead of schedule, so not too bad!

Cedar Idris

We arrived at our next destination. Whilst parking the car, I spoke to a couple who had just come of the mountain. I asked what time they had completed it in, and she said “3 hours”. I nearly chocked at this.
She told me it was a big hill. That was it. So we should be fine. This gave me confidence; I can walk up a big hill.

OMG, their definition of a big hill is VERY different to mine. This thing looked like a vertical climb. It wasn’t, but that is what my head said.

Off went the gazelles, again they waited and refused to go ahead. I must repeat here that there was no shouting of encouragement, no physical pulling of my rucksack to get me up. Just two people who I trust, and respect, waiting for me. That is a real boost to your mental health when you feel down.

As I walked, I had a cramp in both thighs and a pain in my left hip. I was not stopping, as my mates were waiting. It was halfway up this hill; I started thinking to myself that I told my Dad about the trip, and I know he was interested in it. I spoke to him in my head and asked him to help me along. I was now walking for him; I was going to see the things he could not see, but I could tell him about them. This and knowing my family were willing me on kept me going. This “hill” as they put it did not stop; it continued on and on and on…

Then from nowhere, we were at the top. Again, the buzz was unreal, and the sense of achievement meant I was keeping up with Ollie and Simon while coming back down. Overall, we completed the journey in 4 hours. So, considering we had just completed Snowdon that in my book was a quick walk.

Last but by no means least, Pen Y Fan

We arrived just before dark; legs indeed seized up by the 2.5 hour car journey. We had had food and drink; head torches were on and mentally we were in a good place.

Simon and Ollie know this area like the back of their hand, so we were off. I felt good as we started walking and found myself keeping up. Then for no reason, my hamster legs kicked in, and I was slightly behind. As we got closer to the top, we could see the rain clouds, all dark and frightful, lurking over the summit.

People were coming down as we were going up, but we kept on driving forward. In my head over and over, I kept telling myself, “do this for your Dad. Do this for your family”. Looking up at Simon and Ollie, I had come this far I could not let them down now. This was all about mental strength and not physical strength.

As we hit the ridge, the wind blew hard, the rain poured in, and the visibility dropped to less than 1 meter. I have never walked or been in conditions like this, but Simon and Ollie had, so I was in safe hands. If they said to keep going, then we keep going. Ollie was out in front with his GPS stopping us walking off the edge, Simon was making sure we all stayed together, and I just concentrated on breathing.

Then, suddenly, I heard “we are here”. That is it we had done it, all we had to do was get back down. This, for me, is now the most dangerous bit. It is easy to think that the challenge is over. We had the most significant task yet to come. We had to get off the top when we could not see. There was no point in me leading, so we followed the same routine back. Ollie on the GPS, Simon keeping us together and me lighting everything up with my green headtorch. Then, before we knew it, the rain had stopped, and we were nearing the base. We reached the car park in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

The challenge is all 3 peaks in 24 hours – including driving. We did it in 16.5 hours, including driving.

What did I learn from this?

No matter what life throws at you, if you have the right support network around you, you have a high chance of achieving your goals. If you have a focus or a willingness to want to succeed, you will also have a high chance of achieving your goals.

Make the goals achievable, if you do this, tasks become addictive, and you strive to achieve more. You start to feel a sense of pride in yourself, and it helps to lift you back on your feet when life has knocked you down.

I am not saying I am over what happened to Dad. Truth is I never will be, I will learn to live with it but never be over it. That said, I have learnt that I can use what he taught me in life, about not giving up, work hard and don’t let people down, can be used in so many ways. I have learnt I can still be close to him and with friends and family, and taking our time anything is possible.

I did also tell him I was doing the Yorkshire 3 peaks, so watch this space.