4321 Challenge Success!

Four-time World Ironman Triathlon Champion and world record holder, Chrissie Wellington and her three teammates Matt Edwards, Alex Prince and Marcus Mumford were successful in their bid to scale the three highest peaks in the U.K: Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis and cycling between them: a total of 29 miles of mountain running and 420 miles of road cycling. The 4321 Challenge – 4 people, 3 peaks, 2 wheels and 1 challenge – started at the foot of Snowdon at 9am on Friday and finished at the foot of Ben Nevis at 8.47am today, in a phenomenal 47hrs47mins.

P1020027The team ran 8 miles up Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, climbing nearly 2,789 feet, before meeting their support crew at the bottom and hopping on their bikes for 168 miles of riding and 8,104 feet of climbing. The second peak was Scafell Pike, a run of almost 11 miles and with 3,478 feet of climbing. They then cycled to the foot of Ben Nevis, a massive 253-mile trip with 13,615 feet of climbing. They arrived there at 2am, ready for the final stretch: the 10 miles up and down the highest mountain in Britain, with a strenuous 4,593 feet of climbing. The feat of endurance was done on just over one hour of sleep over the whole two day period.

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An exhausted, but exhilarated Chrissie Wellington described the Challenge as “the hardest thing I have ever undertaken and accomplished”. She added “I took on the challenge because I really didn’t know if it would be possible for me to finish it. I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone, step into the unknown and push myself to the limit, raise money for charity and do all of that as part of a team. This amazing challenge was absolutely epic in every sense of the word!”

Despite the success, it wasn’t always plain sailing and the team admits to going through some testing times, both physically and psychologically. Team member Matt Edwards, said “The charities that we are supporting that really enabled us to push through when the going got really tough”. The team is raising money for jole rider, an organisation that provides bicycles to children in Africa so they can get to school, and the Rainbow Trust, a London-based charity that offers support to families with terminally ill children.

P1020039​Team members (L-R): Alex Prince, Chrissie Wellington, Marcus Mumford and Matt Edwards on the summit of Ben Nevis.​

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Team members (L-R): Alex Prince, Matt Edwards, Chrissie Wellington, and Marcus Mumford at the end of their amazing challenge.

4321 or 3321??

It’s been an eventful last few weeks for the team as the countdown is reduced to just a few days before we set off for the hills. At this stage there is very little that can be done to improve fitness, strength or speed but there is plenty that can be done to hinder all three as we have been finding out.

Update from Chrissie

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. In an ideal world you are able to catch it. No such luck for me. Two weeks ago I was hit by said curvy ball and have been left with a rather gammy hand. Day of the Groundhog …….Those that know me are aware that I had a gammy hand over the winter months as a result of a head on “collision-with-woman-walking-on-bike path-whilst-holding-a-croissant”. She came off rather better than me – still standing and holding her rather tasty looking French pastry. I had a fractured and dislocated thumb that required some hospitalised nip and tuck and a few oversized wires.

Fast forward two months and things were looking decidedly rosier. I was back on the bike, and able to hold the handlebars … which was a useful skill to have. My thumb was up, rather than pointing in a rather leftfield direction. Then disaster struck. I was pulling up my sock. Rather rigorously, I admit, and suddenly felt something “go” in my index finger. To date we have still not got to the bottom of what has actually “gone”. Doctors at the lovely Bristol Royal Infirmary are somewhat flummoxed as to whether it is tendon, bone or ligament. I am still waiting for an MRI to assist them in making the diagnosis. At the moment it’s scheduled for 11 May. Rather unhelpful from a 4321 perspective, as the challenge starts 9 days earlier.

In the meantime, I am sporting a rather attractive splint to support the gammy finger. It’s a suboptimal situation: due to the level of pain, my inability to hold anything between my index finger and thumb, and the fact that I still cant tie my hair back properly, tie my laces or ride a bike.

The van was put to the test in the Lakes over Easter and looked great in it's new livery.

The van was put to the test in the Lakes over Easter and looked great in it’s new livery.

Over Easter we spent an amazing amazing 4 days in the Lake District on a 4321 training/eating/drinking mini-holiday. I managed to run and hike and eat and drink but was still unable to jump on two wheels. Given that the 4321 Challenge involves 450 miles of cycling this is not an ideal state of affairs.

So, what does this mean for my participation? It’s something that has been causing me endless sleepless nights. Am I in/out? Shall I do some of the challenge or try to do all of it? Should I not even attempt it at all? Would participation risk me doing lasting damage? Am I letting down my team, all our lovely sponsors and the charities we are raising money for?  Such questions are not easy to answer. But deep down, I know the answer. I am going to attempt to start the challenge and do as much as I can. But I have made a vow to myself – and my teammates – that I will pull out if the pain increases. As difficult that might be, we agree that nothing is worth sacrificing my health for. And the same goes for them, if they were in the same situation. I often talk about exceeding limits, and defying what you think is possible ….. but sometimes the bravest and most courageous thing to do is to know ones limit, and respect your body for the amazing, unique and valuable vehicle that it is, and not risk doing lasting damage  – however hard that is to bear.

The view from Scafell Pike

The view from Scafell Pike

So, with a few days to go I am getting all my equipment together (with the help of the uber experienced adventure racers Fi and Andy Wilson who have kindly donated much of what I need). The amazing Mike at Bridgtown Bikes is putting electronic gears onto the bike to help make changing gears much easier, and I am going to fill myself with positive thoughts to maximise our chances of completing the 321 as a 4 and throwing that curve ball out of the park. BRING. IT. ON. WITH. TWO. FULLY. FUNCTIONAL. HANDS.

Chrissie (still smiling)

The rest of us have had a few niggles and concerns but luckily not debilitating thanks largely to having a trained osteopath on the team who is a dab hand with the acupuncture needles and keeps a long roll of kinesiology tape ready to work it’s magic.

Pins for pain

Pins for pain

As we get busy with the final preparations lights need to be charged, bikes fettled, shepherds pies baked and maps studied yet again. The weather forecast has largely been ignored but combinations of kit to deal with any possible situation will need to be packed so we can be prepared for the worst but hope for the best.

 

 

 

 

Our biggest challenge remains to raise as much money for our chosen charities as possible so that we can help Rainbow Trust and jole rider with the fantastic work that they both do. Our donation page can be found at https://www.justgiving.com/teams/4321challenge.

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Thanks to everyone who has supported us so far.

The Final Countdown – 4321 Challenge News

The final countdown has begun. No, we are not warbling away to Europe’s 1980s classic (although we do have a penchant for 1980s tunes, and dodgy haircuts), but rather the countdown really is on for the 4321 Challenge! Just under FOUR weeks to go! The clocks have sprung forward, flowers and blossom adorn the landscape, pale and pasty legs have been seen out on the bike, the sun has his hat on more often than not and there seems to be a little bit of extra fitness and strength in the 4321 ranks.

In our MainNewsRoundUp, John Craven Style, the 4321 Headlines this week are:

BONG! Marcus Mumford finally released from his plaster-cast and able to cycle a real outdoor bike!

BONG! Finally the team all get to pedal together, in the dark! Flashing red lights a plenty, and we weren’t even in Amsterdam.

BONG! Two new and lovely sponsors join us, the University of Bristol and Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports, who will be helping out with our event costs! Thank You!

BONG! Chrissie chicks the boys at parkrun. No shame in that.

BONG! Matt bonks.

BONG! The scientifically-proven ‘Team Nutrition Plan’ takes shape!

A big smile was all that could be seen of Marcus this week, as Dr SawBones released him from his 11-week encasement in an arm cast. With tri-bars attached to his bike –  and his wealth of cycling experience on his side, Marcus is now out and about on two-wheels, feeling the rhythm return to his legs.  The TurboGarage-PainCave can be cast into the past and the wind can flow through his majestic beard once again.  Marcus – welcome back bud.

The middle of nowhere in the middle of the night

The middle of nowhere in the middle of the night

Over the last weekend we finally pulled our fingers out (of something or other) and all got together to ride, pre-dawn, on a nice loop round the Mendip Hills south of Bristol. Messers Prince and Edwards were out on the road at 3am for a warm up in beautiful riding conditions, and met Wellington and Mumford shortly before 5am.  Complete with lovely Lezyne lights, of the white front and red rear flashing variety. Heading over to, and up, Cheddar Gorge the Mendips were at their Murkily Beautiful Best, indeed even by 8am it was hard to tell whether it was actually ever going to get light again.  With 75 miles done by the time most people are still not thinking of getting up, a quick T1 in a friend’s kitchen and we jogged off to Ashton Court for the weekly parkrun.  A poignant one this week, as it included a minute’s silence and a tribute to a local cyclist and journalist who had collapsed, and sadly died, at the previous week’s event.

Park Run Fun

Ashton Court parkrun

An emotional morning, then, and as ever a lovely run in the park and we were back on our bikes to complete a 125 miles for the day, a little run, and 11 hours “out and about”.  All good practice for working out lights, food, not crashing into each other (just), talking nonsense and generally having a great time. Learning little things all the time, ways to be comfortable and strong in body and mind, and finding out how to avoid the dreaded bonk. As always the solution being to eat more. Usually cake.

bristol_uniEllis BrighamWe also had confirmation this week that two new and wonderful sponsors are joining us, helping out with the various costs of putting on the event and making sure our support crew are kept well-stocked up with tea-bags and bacon sandwiches.  The University of Bristol (Matt’s employer) and Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports are both on board, and join our extensive list of friendly people and companies who are very kindly supporting us.

As we get closer to the morning of Friday 2 May, and do more specific training, the little details that seemed far away are getting bigger: Who’s bringing the bananas and how many? Does everyone have a decent rucksack? How do we prevent chaffing? Should our red bike lights flash or not? Why does Chrissie need to wee so much on the bike? And most importantly of all – what are we going to EAT? We met up on a somewhat weary Sunday lunchtime after a long morning run to Plan Some Stuff and Write a List. If in doubt, write a list. Very satisfying. Akin to Winnie the Pooh and his ‘expoititions’, we just about managed to chew the fat , and also consume some in the form of cheesy bubble and squeak, cheesy macaroni and non-cheesy muesli.  Chrissie was over cheesed having consumed her kilo of Cheddery winnings from the Big Cheese Trail Race. The main topic of conversation over the cheesy themed lunch was, of course Food and What To Do About It.

Luckily for the team we have a professional athlete in our midst.  Someone well-versed in the incredible demands of endurance sport and how to fuel appropriately.  Someone for whom the marginal gains brought by effective nutrition planning, calorie-deficit calculations, carb-protein-fat ratios, and the most individually-atuned delivery mechanisms are all second nature.  “I’ll write a list of the food we need”, chirps-up Chrissie at our planning meeting.  And here it is folks:

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The essence of Genius, they say, is Simplicity, and that’s something we are all grateful for.

You’ll be pleased that no diagrams were drawn on the other main topic. How to prevent chaffing.

Until next time, then, thank you for reading and remember to donate, pester everyone you know too!  Our next blog will introduce our support crew, for they are quite brilliant, and give a bit more detail of our plan for the event itself.  Of course we’ll have to come up with a plan first…

The 4321 Challenge Team

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Sometimes the wheels just don’t roll right…

It doesn’t always go smoothly, and often it’s the dip following a high.

Last weekend my team mates were flying up the Mendip Hills in the name of Cheesey glory while I had to take some enforced but well deserved rest.
This weekend Chrissie was struggling round the streets of Rome trying to run with tummy troubles. Marcus is still churning out the hours in his garage on his turbo, still frustrated by the cast on his arm, not quite so glam!

5am start

5am start

Matt and I were out running on Saturday and managed a Sunday ride.
The ride was in fantastic weather, in the beautiful Welsh hills, but otherwise we generally agreed it was a case of how not to do it!

We were weary, our energy was lower than Barry White’s voice. Even the gazillions of positive vibes that Matt usually emits were somewhat depleted. I felt drained, leaden legged and generally on a different planet, and also with some sort of tummy grumble going on.

Of course we ask why??
Are we over training? Are we eating enough? How about our hydration and electrolyte balance? Did I stretch well? Am I cold? Do I have a cold? Is Jupiter in transition with Pluto and out of alignment with Uranus? Do I need more red wine (obvs not while riding)??
There are always a host of reasons and probably a bit of all the above (especially the planetary alignment stuff and the red wine!). Training for anything, but particularly something big like this involves so many variables. Variables that we can analyse, and control to a point, but there are also plenty of unknowns.

My particular achilles heel is the nutrition bit, and this might resonate with many of you.
My mental and physical state has as far as I can remember been strongly lead by FOOD.

My Mum will testify to this as so many childhood tantrums (of which there were plenty :-) were usually remedied by sticking a banana in my mouth…problem solved! The greater the nutritional deficit, the poorer the mental state and then follows the subsequent poor decision making…Easy stuff like “Why don’t you just eat a banana and drink some fluid” goes out the window.

For all of us finding the right combination of foods that then produce better body function is key. We are all different and respond differently so no one plan works for all of us, and much of the nutritional choices come from trial and error.

Refuel and relax during a mid ride cafe stop

I am also a Coeliac (ie. require a Gluten free diet). This is a condition I have always had to manage, but in the context of endurance sport it brings about more of a challenge. Although energy drinks like Cytomax can get you so far for the long events we all start to look at solid foods for our sustenance. But Gluten free sustenance is a bit trickier. We often have a cafe stop, perfect for stuffing our faces before the next part of the ride. Take bread and cake out of the equation and I’m sometimes searching for something…anything for my nutrition. Thus preparation and self-sufficiency starts taking a more important role.

Pancake make a perfect snack

My latest discovery is buckwheat (gluten free!!) pancakes. I make a few up pre ride, some sweet ones but mostly I crave the savoury…cream cheese and salami is my current snack of choice but I’m pretty fickle about my favourites. Any suggestions??

So the quest for the perfect preparation, nutrition, rest and training continues to evolve, as does my nutritional desires. All I know is that days like Sunday, you put down to experience. Sometimes the wheels just don’t roll right.

…So we move on…to the next pancake :-)
Although next weekend is pavlova weekend – Yipee! Can’t wait.

Alex

This is a big challenge but through doing it we would like to raise a big amount of cash for our two chosen charities: The Rainbow Trust and Jole Rider.

Please help our causes with a donation to each of these charities either through our Just Giving Site or via text message.

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Camels, a sneaky Number 1, and 3kgs of smoked applewood…

Ah, weekends.   Adventure time. Being busy types rushing from this to that, our Team have until now spent more time altogether being social but not so much doing training!  With this in mind we managed to all keep the weekend just gone free to Do Team Stuff.  

In height order Marcus, Matt and Chrissie get ready to head into the dark woods

In height order Marcus, Matt and Chrissie get ready to head into the dark woods

All was going well until Thursday night when Uncle Zandy decided that doing something called ‘intervals’ (sounds a bit pro) would be a fine plan, and tweaked his hamstring.  So no bike or run for Zandy!  Undaunted he met Marcus, Chrissie and Matt on Friday night for Chrissie’s inaugural ‘Blair Witch Run’ – a nice steady 2-hour scoot round the woods and trails of Bristol, head torches on.

We had a fine time in the deserted woods jumping over tree roots, listening to the owls and chatting about life in general.

For Saturday, with a great weather forecast and Marcus and Zandy prevented for the moment from being out on two wheels, Matt and Chrissie had a civilised roll-out at 8am for 6 hours of Wye Valley hills – via a quick check on Mumford’s garage, where by 8.30am he was already well into watching Apocalypse Now Redux and turboing hard to Ride of the Valkyries.   Having scared him half to death by breaking into his garage and sneaking up and tapping him on the shoulder, Chrissie and Matt wished him luck and were off tootling our way to Monmouth for a coffee stop in the sun.

By the time we passed by the Marcus residence on the way home, stopping in for tea and lemon polenta cake, we had learnt something new about 50% of the 4321 Challenge Team. 1 – Chrissie has no bladder capacity at all.  Four wee stops.  2 – Matt is a camel.  Despite coffee first thing, nearly 4 bottles of water, another coffee in Monmouth, not a single wee stop had he needed. In 6 hours!  What this means for the Challenge team, well we don’t really know but it’s pretty odd!

Does my bum look big in this?

Does my bum look big in this?

In chatting to Marcus and Zandy over Delicious Kirsty McGaul cake it seemed some kind of theme was developing – Marcus had just taken delivery of his toilet costume, which he’ll be donning for his crack at a World Record Time at the London Marathon.

We also realised that Uncle Zandy was spending the entire weekend sitting down…..So overall, a nice bit of Team Toilet Humour is developing.  Good to get this stuff done before the big day ;-)

Sunday turned out to be a Right Smasher too for the Challenge Team and our various loved ones and acquaintances.  Matt (like a fool) was up and pedalling not long after 5am, hooning round the moon-lit lanes and then revelling in sunrise on a 50-mile jaunt to the start of The Big Cheese Cheddar Challenge, a new event and expertly run by Cheddar Running Club.

Meeting the rest of the Team there, plus another 4 runners – including Chrissie’s fiancée Tom Lowe, just returned from 5th place at Ironman New Zealand –  Matt was merrily troughing cake before the start and pondering how his legs might do with 15 very hilly running miles to go.  Uncle Peg Leg Zandy and Marcus’s Tandem Stoker Kirsty (she of the famous polenta cake) were also in residence doing excellent supporting work right at the top of the steepest hill, always a good opportunity for unflattering photographs.

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The race was a real treat, with a field of about 100 people so plenty of space, 2,000ft of climbing and some really amazing scenery.  Very friendly marshals, patient horse-riders and mountain-bikers too, a challenging run and worth all the effort.  At the sharp end, Tom stretched out from about 5 miles and held the lead all the way to end, followed in 4th place by Marcus (not in toilet costume today), then Chrissie doing well on technical ground, Marcus’ sister Juliet coming in second lady and 4321 support driver Phil completing the ladies podium.  Matt trotted his way round feeling surprisingly good and finished in just under 2 hours.  A great set of achievements, however all over-shadowed if we’re honest by the post-race confession from Ms Wellington that she had managed a further 3 wee-stops….but without actually stopping….that girl has talent!

Some events have questionable prizes, some are awesome – and this one was in the latter category.  A nice mug for every finisher, and a BIG MASSIVE LUMP OF CHEESE for the top performers.

Hills, views, sunshine and cheese based prizes. Do races get any better?

Phil, Tom, Chrissie and Juliet are the top Cheesy Runners of the day

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We had neglected to bring our crackers, or indeed Port, so post-race recovery was instead a mountain of cake, which Chrissie with great reluctance was eventually persuaded to try just a little bit of.

Altogether, something of a grand weekend in the countryside with amazing weather, a lot of chat, a surprisingly large number of wee-stops (in some cases, not in others….) and epic quantities of food.  Which is exactly what we hope #4321challenge will turn out to be!

Post race pub loo with pink seats for the girls.

Post race pub loo with pink seats for the girls.

Chrissie is steadily regaining power on the bike and will be enjoying her new found trail running skills some more. The next thing to try is cutting down on sleep.

Marcus will be digging a little bit deeper into the Heart of Darkness, and Matt will not be visiting public conveniences unless absolutely necessary.

Uncle Zandy will be spending some quality time eating himself back to fitness – and ‘intervals’ are temporarily off the menu, unless they happen in a theatre and involve ice-cream….

4321 Challenge is raising money for Rainbow Trust and Jole Rider. Please support these causes by donating here.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

The Team have been up to all sorts of different and exciting things over the past 2-3 weeks on their journey towards the 4321 Challenge. Here are a few of the highlights:

Matt

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Keeping it simple on the singlespeed

For the last two or three weeks I’ve had a real mix of lovely running and cycling training – increasing time spent on the bike, getting up to the 7-8 hour mark on my lovely single-speed bike, riding hills and staying steady.  I’ve been returning to running since November after a long lay-off, so have been more cautious about building too much distance, and have been running short and fast – for me – as well, to concentrate on core stability and strong legs.

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Matt on a morning trot through the woods

Overall it’s been “just keep moving” – early mornings and late finishes, getting up and starting again. Replicating some of the practical, physical – even emotional! – demands of 4321challenge while still trying to function as a normal human being with a job!  I had a great test on the weekend just gone, partly deliberate and partly not…didn’t sleep too well Friday night, then cycled 90 miles down to Ottery St Mary into a headwind the whole way, over plenty of hills on one gear, then largely did a Zombie impression Saturday night!  Then it was off to Seaton on Sunday morning for the Grizzly, a 20-mile VERY hilly trail run – my longest run in about 2 years!  Though expecting to feel very shonky, I managed to get warmed up and though I never felt skippy, the legs were solid on the hills and I got round feeling good in just under 3 hours, which I was very pleased with.  So, good signs that while I’m not fast I am getting stronger!

Chrissie

As soon as Chrissie was liberated from her plaster cast she fled the unrelenting UK rain to spend some time chasing her friend and elite triathlete Cat Morrison over the hills of Southern Spain. Her smile seems to be broadening as she re-discovers her cycling legs.

Chrissie and Cat

Chrissie with Cat en España

Alex’s Weekend in Wales

My weekend started at 2.30am on Friday morning. Myself and Neil Bromwich (a friend who also needs his head seeing to) set out on our fixed wheels (the ones with no gears) from Bristol. Destination: Snowdonia straight up through the middle of Wales.

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The early morning night cycling was novel and exciting until 5am when the rain started.

By 7.30 we were into the heart of Wales, hungry and cold, so stopped for an essential but sadly rather unsatisfying breakfast.
Heading northwards the weather cleared and we enjoyed a lovely, although still chilly day taking in the beautiful mid-Wales scenery.
Progress was good until steeper hills, mechanical issues and fatigue set in, and daylight started to run out. Eventually we reached our final climb up to Pen y Pass, but nightfall was already upon us. A great but dark climb and then down, by torchlight to Llanberis, our destination.

Our 200 mile day finished with a mountain of steak and chips, washed down with a bottle of Chilean red.

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A proper mountain adventure on Snowdon with a 3 legged dog

Saturday was Snowdon recce day. Joined by good buddies and weekend support Fe and Dave, we ascended Snowdon up the Miners trail in a chilly gale and poor visibility. I tested my legs with a trot on a few sections, but was rather more impressed and outdone by the effortless progress of the friendly 3 legged dog, who was also climbing Snowdon with his owner. Plenty of snow on the ridge made climbing a little tricky but with a bit of a stomp we got there.

Having summited we then descended only for the clouds to lift and allow us great views of where we had just been. More steak and red wine followed.

Sunday was back on the bike. After demolishing the worlds biggest breakfast at Pete’s Eats, Neil and I took on the hills again heading east out of Snowdonia. Happy that our legs felt reasonable we made good progress on our 55 mile journey to Ruabon, where we picked up a train for a snoozy ride back to Bristol.

Things I learnt:
-Staying warm is essential, but so difficult in poor weather and no shelter.
-I need to eat eat eat!
-Friends to join you on crazy journeys makes it a whole lot more fun
-Support crew rock! (Thank you so much Fe and Dave)
-Fixed Wheeled bikes and Snowdonia are not a perfect match!
-Epic weekends and adventures are good for the soul.
-I think I’m getting fitter :-)

Marcus

The wet and windy weather of the past few weeks have meant that I’ve not been too disappointed to have to spend yet more time in the garage on the turbo. But more recently as the sun has decided to make an appearance I’ve had to peer mournfully out through the door before pulling out another DVD to keep me going for a few more hours stuck inside. The cast has to stay on for another 3.5 weeks (at least) to make sure I have full strength across the bone before I can subject it to the knocks and vibrations of actual, proper cycling outside of the indoor sweat box. As a good friend told me, there’s a reason why the term for someone who is ill or injured is ‘patient’ and it’s a virtue I’m trying hard to develop.

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Hills and beaches and bogs and hills at the Grizzly

On the plus side, the additional focus on running about in the woods has meant I’ve found some good strength and speed in my legs that I have been putting to the test at a few races. A new half marathon PB, top ten finishes at a couple of local road races and 8th at the brutal Grizzly 20 mile multi terrain race have left me wondering whether ditching the bike and running all of the 4321 Challenge might be a better idea. How well this speed translates into 3 huge mountain climbs remains to be seen but running fast is undoubtedly fun and so I intend to keep doing as much of it as I can.

We Are All A Little Bit Mental

“The 4321 Challenge”. I should have guessed it was going to be tough – for the clue was in the title! As the old adage goes, “nothing worthwhile ever comes easy”. For me, the whole point of life is to put myself out of my comfort zone and test myself that little bit each day, month and year with new goals and new challenges.

However, since I retired as a professional athlete I admit that I needed to take some time away from structured sport, from targets and times, and from regimented training. I needed time to explore, to find an identity that wasn’t as a triathlete and to release myself of some of the pressure to always (try to) excel. A year or so later, and the mojo is now returning. I feel ready to throw myself into physical, sporting activities that scare me, those that make me nervous and those that test me to the limit of my (in)abilities.

And that’s why I answered in the affirmative when Matt asked if I fancied doing a “little” challenge that involved a few peaks (3 to be precise), a bit of cycling (450miles in fact) and something else that is alien to me…teamwork. “Work in a team!” I cried. I haven’t done that since Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme aged 16 and with a really offensive 1980’s barnet (not much has changed in the hair department). One of the reasons that triathlon appealed was that I alone was responsible for my performance. Yes, I had a team of amazing people around me, but when the chips were down, and it was 30km into the marathon I only had myself to draw on, to kick me up the backside and to battle the demons. A challenge with a team sounded like a breathe of fresh mountain air. But could I be a good team member? Would I help or hinder? Would I be the person that the other team members ceremoniously dumped in Room 101, or in a road side ditch?

Damaged Chrissie

A sub-optimal start to the year

Yes I have a history of cycling, running and doing a bit of (what sometimes resembles) swimming. But I try and get that over and done with in under 9 hours. I have never cycled much more than 6 hours, let alone 250miles in one go. After doing 200miles only a few hours before. I am yet to run up a mountain. And I am yet to combine these two feats in one tidy little two day package. And with no sleep. Those that know me, realise that I am a passionate devotee of the 8hour slumber. Without that ‘shut eye’ toys tend to come out of the pram and I resemble something akin to a not-so-incredible hulking creature. In addition, the 4321 training has started somewhat sub optimally with a fractured and dislocated thumb following an altercation with a woman walking on a cycle path. However, after 6 weeks in a cast, said thumb is now well on the road to recovery (the running road gets the thumbs up but the cycling road is still very much thumbs down. Another few days should see a reversal of that particular rule of thumb though).

So yes, this Challenge scares me. It frightens me. I doubt I can do it. And that’s precisely why I need to.

But this isn’t going to be easy. And that’s where motivation comes in. So, without further ado I thought I would share with you a few of the strategies I, and the Team, will be using to help us get through the rollercoaster highs and lows, ups and downs of preparing for a Challenge and actually completing it.

First, all the physical strength in the world won’t help us if our minds are not prepared. This is part of training – the part that people don’t put in their log books; the part that all the monitors and gadgets in the world can’t influence or record. Sport and physical challenges are as much about mental strength as they are about physical strength; and success rests, in part, about having the mental fortitude necessary to overcome our fears, hurt, discomfort and saddle sores. It sounds simple but so easy to forget. If we let our head drop, our heart drops with it. To plunder the words of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - “Don’t ever forget that you play with your soul as well as your body.” I believe that whilst some of us are born with that mental strength, it can also be learned and that there are strategies one can use to ‘train the brain’. You just need to put the time and energy into doing so.

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Thanks to Rebecca Marshall for the photo

Second, we need to remember that everyone gets nervous. This is part of our preparation. It is a sign of our passion and commitment and of how much we have invested. I have bitten my nails down to the bare bone before my races! I would be more concerned if athletes were not apprehensive. Nerves stimulate adrenalin production, which is vital for propel your body into action. The key is to control those nerves so that they don’t become debilitating. I always try to anticipate nervousness, but have confidence that it wont last for long, and when we start the Challenge all we will be thinking about is putting one foot in front of the other …. taking us all one step closer to the goal.

It’s vital to keep that goal and our reasons for setting it at the fore of our minds. For me, the goal is the 4321 Challenge – and the personal reason why? To do something I think I cannot do, to test myself, to try new things (trail running, cycling at night, getting no sleep), to embrace that thing called ‘teamwork’ and of course to raise a shed load of cash for two hugely worthwhile charities – Jole Rider and the Rainbow Trust (please empty your pockets and donate here!). The goal, and my motivations, are written on a post-it-note and stuck on my fridge. A constant reminder of why I need to get my butt out of the door to train, and something to hold on to when the going gets super super tough. It also helps to make myself accountable on social media – stating my aims on Twitter or the ‘book-of-face’ is a sure fire way to make sure I don’t slack off, lest I incur the wrath of a few thousand Twittering followers.

It’s also important for me as a routine driven obsessive to have strategy and practical plan to give direction, structure and help prevent procrastination. I try to make this training plan realistic and tailored to me and my life. I also try to set smaller tasks or stepping-stone goals, to make the large/longer-term 4321 goal seem less overwhelming, and ensure that I enjoy the journey with successes along the way. I also do this for individual sessions – breaking them down and setting small goals, like getting to the next lamppost – promising myself that at that point I can either A) stop or B) keep going. By giving my brain the reward of having completed these smaller goals creates positive momentum. Yes – I always answer B …. keep going!

Mid race motivation from Rudyard Kipling's poem "If"

Mid race motivation from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”
Thanks to Rebecca Marshall for the photo

There are other tools that I use to motivate myself. These include a playlist of songs that are guaranteed to get me jumping, moving and grooving. Pre-race, I always ran part of the run course with these tunes in my ear, so that when I raced I heard the same songs in my head. I carry a dog-eared copy of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ with me everywhere, and even used to write the words on my race water bottles. I also keep a collection of motivational cards that people have given me over the years and put them up around my house. I watch uplifting movies or YouTube clips of others overcoming huge hurdles to achieve their dreams – and a quick peak at the Ironman World Championship dvds the night before a race never failed to get my blood pumping!

Of course, sometimes we need others to help motivate and encourage us. For me this is friends and family, and especially my 4321 partners in crime. We all have emotional wobbles, and moments of self doubt, we each have strengths and weaknesses, and we all need to lean on each other for support, encouragement and motivation. There is nothing wrong with that, and I am slowly realizing it’s a sign of strength to reach out, rather than to try muscle through alone. And besides, it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable to share that journey! And just as you should surround yourself with ‘can-do’ positive people, so it’s important not to spend too much valuable time with naysayers or those that may cause you to question yourself. The bubble around you should be filled with positivity, and people that can give thumbs up (preferably two non-injured ones).

The 4321 Challenge Team

The 4321 Challenge Team

I always try to consciously replace negative self-talk and thoughts with positive affirmations. “This is too hard or I am too tired” is replaced by “I am as strong as an ox. I CAN run up three peaks with no sleep!” I recall times where I have been uncomfortable or thought I couldn’t finish but pushed on and managed to succeed. I look back and remind myself of past achievements – and know that if I have jump over hurdles in the past I CAN do so again. Banking those memories and hold them close. And I have a mantra to repeat ad infinitum. Mine is ‘Never Ever Give Up’. This, coupled with positive images of things you enjoy/care about/love, are two of the post powerful weapons of all.

I also like to spend time on visualization and deep breathing. Imagining myself as being strong, confident, and successful. Imagining how it will feel to reach the summit of Ben Nevis (and still have to run down!) and raise thousands of £ for charity.

I’ll finish with the most important word – “perspective”. We should all try to retain it! Win, lose, summit or sink, sport and challenges shouldn’t define you. Our emotions should never be solely wedded to a specific outcome. I will be the same person after the Challenge as I was before. The journey with my team is what matters. And I am embarking on that 4321 journey with two thumbs well and truly up!

Chrissie

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