I am not a fit person. Many years of sedentary lifestyle have taken their toll, and I am both overweight and unfit. I am everyone’s benchmark unfit person – when the running club at work set up a “Couch to 5k” beginners group and I signed up for it, several others came to check if I was serious before signing up themselves. “Well, if you’re doing it, I should be OK”. That’s the kind of fitness level I have.
I completed the Couch to 5k programme by the way. I run slower than a slow thing in treacle, but I run. That’s not what this blog post is about though…
For the last couple of years, some of my work colleagues have been raising money for an orphanage in Kenya. New Hope Children’s Centre was founded in 2000, and began life in a four-bedroom detached house donated by a local Christian for ‘Gods work’. An initial intake of 20 girls from the local community quickly grew to over 40 and the numbers have continued to rise ever since to the current capacity of about 120 children, boys and girls. New Hope develops income generating schemes to reduce their dependence on overseas support. They grow a majority of their own vegetables and they also rear milking cows and pigs to provide nutrition for the children and income for the home. Each child has a place in a local school and is encouraged to complete a secondary education and to go onto further education with some enrolling at local universities. Those who do not make the grade are supported into vocational training opportunities and nearby vocational training centres. The work of New Hope also reaches out to the community. 65 houses have now been built in the nearby community for grandmothers left with the care of orphaned grandchildren. Several children from the community are also sponsored with their school fees. One of my colleagues, the man who was my boss until last September, knows the lady who runs the orphanage, and has been out to visit several times. He has seen the conditions these kids live in first hand, and can tell heartbreaking stories about how the children have ended up there. He is the main driver behind the fundraising efforts for New Hope. This year when he visited he discovered that the boys’ dormitory building has just been condemned by the authorities, and the orphanage desperately needs £20,000 to build a new one. That became his new fundraising goal.
For the last two years the teams fundraising efforts have been cycling-based, which immediately put me off taking part. They cycled from the West coast to the East coast of Britain two years ago, and then last year they cycled The Way of the Roses. But this year they wanted to try something new, and devised the Gruellathon. It’s like a triathlon, but more gruelling. The plan was to spend a day canoeing the length of Lake Windermere, a day cycling around the Lake District, and finally walk up Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England, on the third day. Whilst I can’t canoe or cycle, I thought I ought to be able to walk up a mountain, and so I signed up to get involved.
That’s why I found myself in the Lake District last weekend, with a group of my work colleagues. I was part of the support team for the first two events, in charge of meeting the team at various pre-arranged points and refuelling them with pork pies and sausage rolls. The team did really well and completed the canoeing and cycling with no injuries and in good health. Then on Sunday we all climbed Helvellyn.
I was apprehensive, I’ll admit that. I am certainly a LOT more active than I was a year ago, having managed to keep to a training schedule of running for 30 minutes three times per week, and attending a weekly one hour Zumba class. But there’s quite a difference between hill walking and running. My work colleagues assured me I’d be fine, but I wasn’t so sure.
Our group split into two, and the more advanced walkers headed up a trickier route via Striding Edge. The less experienced group took a longer but safer route. I was pleased that the ascent seemed OK. My breathing got very heavy very quickly, but I never felt out of breath, and felt like my body was coping well with the climb. There were a couple of more challenging steep bits, but on the whole I felt OK. Apparently I arrived at the summit with a huge grin on my face – I felt very relieved to get there, I can tell you!
After a bite to eat and the obligatory photos we all came down together via Swirral Edge. I had checked several times before the event that I wasn’t going to be a liability for this bit, and was assured that it would be fine.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was slightly thrown by the steepness and the lack of any clear path. One of my colleagues had described it as “a bit of a scramble”, but it seemed like a very long descent down very steep rock formations. I’d been told it was acceptable to go down on your bum if necessary, and so I threw dignity to the wind and picked my way down as best I could. About halfway down the enormity of the task hit me, plus the huge drops either side of me, and my legs went completely to jelly. Getting down the rest of the climb was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it was only the thoughts of my kids that got me down. I caught up with the others at the bottom, and although what I really wanted to do was to curl up in a ball and cry, they persuaded me to pose for a photo instead.
Whilst the worst was now over, I had seriously underestimated how punishing the rest of the descent would be. I had assumed that getting up the mountain would be hardest part, but picking my way down the path became more and more painful on my legs, and I again worried that I wouldn’t make it. It didn’t help that a lot of the paths are covered in gravel, so you have to place your foot very carefully to avoid slipping over.
I fear I may have turned into a whining child, with a lot of “are we nearly there yet?” questions.
Eventually we made it back down to Glenridding, and there was time to post for another photo with my colleagues before we all set off home. My colleagues asked me if I was pleased that I had done it, which I really, really was, but when they asked if I’d do it again they got a resounding NO!
The great news is that our friends and family have recognised the huge efforts that we all went to, and our fundraising total is in excess of £7,000. We’re aiming to raise a total of £20,000 to build the new boys’ dormitory at New Hope, so if my story has in any way inspired you to support our cause I would be really grateful if you headed over to our BT Fundraising page and made a donation.
I’ve made a good recovery from the exertions. I hobbled around for the first two or three days of this week, and had to go up and down the stairs on my hands and knees for a couple of days because my thighs were protesting greatly. But I feel pretty much back to normal now, and managed to complete my Zumba class yesterday morning with no problems. I haven’t been out for a run yet though…
Ideas are already being floated for next year’s fundraising event, and the favourite at the moment is to walk from the West coast of Britain to the East coast. Possibly along Hadrian’s Wall. We’d have to do it in three days, which might be quite an ask, but I’m keen to give it a go.
Watch this space…