Every year, around my birthday I like to challenge myself both physically and mentally to remind myself that I am still alive and kicking, that my body is a truly wondrous piece of natural engineering, and to raise money for charity.
I pretty much always raise money for a mental health support charity.
Why? I think mental health is sadly still misunderstood and piled high with the baggage of shame and secrecy.
At Wild Life we talk a lot about the brain-body connection. We discuss how we can reverse engineer our emotional stress responses by changing physical aspects, such as with breathwork. We know that it’s a two-way street. Our mind affects our body and our body affects our mind. We can harness our thinking and perspective to get the most out of physical abilities, just as we can use movement to alter our state of mind.
Yet for years we have treated ourselves as if the mind/brain and the body were two separate entities. Body workers, be they physicians or personal trainers have historically focused solely on the body, neglecting the mind completely. Equally, mind workers such as counsellors and therapists have had single focus on the head with little consideration of the part played by the body.
Thankfully this is changing, with both sides now understanding the importance of the other. Slowly our minds and bodies are being reconnected back together the way nature intended.
The area that is still slow to catch up is our attitude to mental health. No one bats an eyelid when a colleague takes the day off due to a nasty cold or sprained ankle. But calling in because you are struggling to cope and need a day to recalibrate can still raise eyebrows.
Why is this? In part I think it’s due to the invisible nature of mental health. We struggle to believe what we can’t see. And if you have never struggled with your own mental health (lucky you) then how can you be expected to be compassionate to others who are?
Add to that a history of shame and sweeping any kind of mental health issue under the carpet and we are left with a society that doesn’t ask for help until shit gets really bad (if at all).
It’s like having a bad cut but not getting it seen to until it’s so bad and infected that you might end up losing the limb. As they say ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.
We all experience trauma and struggle at some point in our lives. My own personal traumas left me with debilitating anxiety, a desperate sense of drowning in my own body.
For me, my saving grace was having a bunch of beautiful, supportive people around me and the discovery that moving my body created a release in my mind.
But not everyone is as lucky as me.
For these people charities like S.T.E.P.S are vital.
S.T.E.P.S is a small charity local to me, raising awareness of and destroying the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. They offer counselling services and drop in sessions to create a safe space for people to turn to when they feel like there is no one else. On top of this, with their community work they break down the barriers that people feel when talking about mental health. People are realising that talking about their own struggles can help others in the community who are struggling in silence.
S.T.E.P.S stands for Suicide, Talking, Education, Preventing and Support. And they need our money to help them help others.
This is why I am supporting them again this year in my annual challenge.
The Everest Challenge
What better way to support a charity called S.T.E.P.S than with a lot of steps?
My challenge this year is to climb over the height Mount Everest without setting foot in the Himalayas. And to do it in 48 hours or less.
The plan is to ascend our local mountain, Carntogher, 40 times in 48 hours to give me a total of just over 9000m of ascent. This equates to just over 100 miles (160 km) of rocky trail, up and down. In my head this sounds doable. It’s when I start to drill down into the specifics that the creeping doubt starts to take hold.
So, I can comfortably walk the route in, say, 45 minutes. My plan therefore is to complete an ascent and descent every hour on the hour, for 20 hours. Have a little break, feed and sleep, and then repeat it.
Suddenly the enormity of the task looms ahead of me like Everest itself.
Add to this the downhill portion. Walking downhill will put far more stress on your legs than going uphill, with as much as 8 times your bodyweight of force being blasted though your knees. Downhill walking is also mostly an eccentric movement, and it’s during the eccentric portion of exercise that most of the little micro traumas in the muscles occur, resulting in soreness.
If you are going to blow out your knee it’s going to be on the downhill section.
In truth, I’m not sure if I can physically complete this challenge. That’s what makes this so exciting for me. As I discussed in a previous article, this is what the concept of the ‘misogi’ is all about. Taking yourself to your limits and seeing how you fare.
This is not only going to be tough physically but also mentally. When you’re tired. sore, hungry, and really don’t want to climb up that f###ing mountain one more time you go to some pretty dark places.
Training in what I term ‘Voluntary Hardship’ will be key to supporting me in these tough moments. The practice of voluntary hardship has been a huge tool for me in tackling my own mental health challenges. Whether it’s ice baths, extended endurance events, or just putting myself through the grinder in a workout, it all helps to widen that gap between stimulus and response.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”Viktor E Frankl
So what about the physical preparation?
I am generally training six days a week, with the emphasis on building bombproof knees and ankles. My workouts are split between classic cardio and strength endurance/conditioning days.
The cardio days are either trail running here at Drumnaph Nature Reserve and the mountain itself, or a weighted ruck with a backpack loaded with between 15-25kgs, again on the reserve or the mountain.
The strength days vary a little, but generally start with a short ruck as a warm up, either for distance or for gaining as much vertical gain as possible in a set time.
After this I hit the sled pulls. Again putting a set amount of time on the clock, I alternate 50m backward and forward drags, aiming to get as many rounds as possible in the time. This particular portion of the routine is disgusting. It’s basically me pulling the ugliest face possible for the whole time, whilst panting and fake crying. I swear I nearly die every session.
It’s a great way to strengthen and bombproof the knees as well as conditioning the legs to deal with the burn of lactic acid.
After this I do some kind of kettlebells complex as a finisher to armour my core and make sure I’m not neglecting my upper body. It’s amazing how much the upper body comes into place when travelling through the mountains, especially if you use running/walking poles.
On other strength days you may find me endlessly stepping on and off a box wearing either a weight vest or a backpack. This work out is equally as vomit inducing as the sled pull. Just longer.
On top of this I try to get in a minimum of 15,000 steps a day and a daily mobility session to keep the hardware moving smoothly.
Good food and good sleep, plenty of electrolytes and water, and a solid amount of quality protein to top it all off and I’m golden. I had planned to have a focused weight loss phase to reduce my overall impact force going through my legs, but life has had other ideas. So rather lament this I will simply accept it and make the best of what I have.
Can you help me?
I know that money is scarce at the moment, but if you could spare even £1 it will make a difference. If 2000 people could give £1 I will have made my target. If 1 person gave £2000, I’d also be there, but I’m realistic . Give what you can, if you can.
If you can’t that’s absolutely okay. But you can still help. Share my posts and tell everyone what I am doing to get the word out there. Send me a message of support to keep me going in my training and on the challenge itself. It means so much to get these, especially in the middle of the night when I’m all alone and miserable.
Hey, even getting a message from the life hating trolls can be a nice distraction, so bring it on.
I will be starting the challenge for real at the end of June so watch this space and follow us on the various social media platforms (click on the icons) to follow my progress and to give me a cheer.
I’m also more than open to anyone who wants to join me in a leg of the adventure or a training session. Everyone is welcome.
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