This is a write up of an endurance challenge I did as part of a Fisher & Paykel team.
Dearest colleagues please make a drink and allow me to take 10 mins of your day to recount an epic tale of courage, fortitude and men in leggings.
Friday 14th June
From all corners of the country we came and drove through typical Friday rush hour traffic. I myself made excellent time until I arrived upon the M62 and her 50mph zones followed by several 40mph zones and never ending queues. Communication from the other F&P crew members confirmed similar traffic ordeals and all our scheduled arrival times were being delayed by 1-2 hours. On entering Wales the weather decided to alter and the sunny evening changed into driving rain and strong winds, by the time I arrived at the Royal Victroia Hotel, Llanberis the storm had fully set in. Myself and Michael were the first to arrive and optimistically checked in to wait for the rest. Jess, Jade, Sam & Joe were next to arrive. Jess was very quick to get out pictures of her ‘puppies’ for all to see. Briefing for the race was at 9pm and just before arrived Kate with two forlorn and weary travellers, Mr King and Mr Dibley, the latter looking very pale and tired. A bout of Portuguese food poisoning had took its toll on Nick while a hastily eaten McChicken burger was not settling well with Ross.
The briefing revealed the full enormity of our challenge. On paper it looked manageable but seeing the route plotted on 3-D maps with highlighted safety issues became very sobering. We stood at the back listening intently as the chief marshall read out the weather report for race day, “Heavy rain and strong winds throughout the day with a small chance of sunny spells”. Perfick. Laura, James & Bex arrived and we hurried upstairs to ration out the food and equipment to each team and went to bed to sleep the sleep of the condemned!
Saturday 15th June 05:00
We awoke to the sound of water cascading from gutters and rain hammering at the windows. On inspection it was as bad as it sounded! Breakfast was a hurried affair with each of us attempting eat anything to maintain energy levels for the day ahead. Kate forced Ross to eat breakfast, he managed 3 mouthfuls of muesli and then sacked it off for a coffee and a cigarette; the true breakfast of champions. Bikes were issued, kit bags packed and everyone readied to walk to the transition area to store our equipment. Then it happened, the rain stopped. It was still cloudy and slightly nippy but the rain had stopped, at last a good sign. After racking our bikes we walked to the start line of the Snowdon leg. This in itself proved a challenge, the road was steep, very steep, in fact it was more like a tarmac’d wall! Kate ingeniously discovered that walking up backwards prevented excess strain on your calfs ; not just a pretty face that one.
We some how managed to be on the front of the start line and behind us were some fit looking lads with all the gear but definitely some idea. As they started us off these lads started to run, then ran some more and kept running until they were out of sight; nobody likes a show off. It was obvious even at this stage which team was going to win so we consoled ourselves to enjoying the day whatever happened.
The scenery was awesome, straight out of The Lord Of The Rings, high grey slate mountains topped with rolling mist and deep green valleys with dark blue lakes were all around us. The other things that were all around us were sheep, this kept one of us very happy as he conversed with them as he passed. Mostly they looked bewildered, I think it was probably his accent. At this point out of the corner of my eye something scurried passed us hastily scrambling over rocks and avoiding puddles, that’s a big rat I thought but on closer inspection it was in fact a Miniature Pinscher followed by what looked like the end of a mop which actually turned out to be a quadrupedal canine of unknown breed. (Point of Interest: both animals reached the summit before we did!)
As we climbed the mist and clouds closed in and it got colder and wetter. With some team members struggling we worked together and took regular breaks, ate Jaffa cakes and shared the carrying of their rucksacks. We made good time and the views continued to be fantastic. With 1km of climbing to go the clouds completely closed in and it got very windy, wet and cold. We reached the summit, touched the brass marker, refuelled and headed back the way we came. Coming down was much easier and our sense of achievement kept our spirits high. Another thing that kept spirits high were the two female members who desperately needed to spend a penny. We watched as like ninjas they stealthily looked for suitable hiding places; slow moving sheep, rocks or dips in the landscape were all exploited with good effect.
When we reached the bottom and reconvened at the transition area our excitement and joy was overflowing we changed into bike gear and got ready to set off on the 20mile bike leg. As a cyclist I was looking forward to this but I know for most of the team this was the part they were dreading. Still, onwards and upwards how hard could 20 miles on road around Snowdon be, I mean we’d done the climbing part surely this would be a like a ride in the park…..
Cycling – 20 miles
We set off steadily and safely with Jess ensuring we obeyed proper rules of cycling proficiency. Just out of Llanberis came the first hill, then after that another and then just for good measure a third, which was steeper than the other two put together. While some of the group attempted to wheelie up, James, others struggled to get the momentum and were forced to push their bikes. We waited at the top for everyone to convene and this is when the realisation that 20miles around Snowdon was not going to be a flat affair. I think it would be fair to say that this part of the cycling for most people was the toughest & lowest point of the day. Sore bums, aching necks, punctures and ill positioned saddles all played their part in denting our morale but at every check point we stopped and made sure everyone was ok and had enough fluid and food to get to the next one.
As the miles ticked away we were spread out all along the road with myself helping Kate, James helping Bex and Nick being a tail end Charlie with Michael. Me and Kate developed a great system, basically when she swore I gave her a little push to help up the hills. Soon it became like a Bernard Manning gig so I just kept pushing until she stopped! We descended into the valley and as we turned so did the wind, a glorious tail wind to push us all the way to the lake.
Lake (Sea) Kayaking
The lake was choppy. The tail wind that had pushed us here was now a vicious head wind creating big waves, white horses and spray. This was the part I had personally been dreading. I am a good swimmer but lakes in this weather are deep, cold and not to be messed with. We grouped together and came up with a plan. We would split our original teams into more equally matched teams to help us all complete the challenge. With teams allocated we put on life jackets and bare footed, walked to the edge of the lake. James’ team went first made up of himself, Michael, Ross and Jess. My team next; Ben, Joe, Kate & Bex then Dibs, Sam, Jade and Laura.
Immediately James’ boat got blown off course towards a reed bed then a fence that oddly stretched 20 metres out into the lake from the shore. They courageously battled on and managed to get out of the worst of the chop. We set off next and ended up straight in the reeds. Joe jumped out and dragged us from the reeds for us only to be blown and carried back to shore, I jumped out and tried to turn the boat around but the waves were strong and relentless; this added to the fact that we were all soaked did not improve our mood. In the mean time Nicks’ team had gone for it and took the wind head on in a do or die manoeuvre, straight out in the middle of the lake. It was working well until fatigue set in and they too had to make their way round the outside for calmer waters. Whilst this was happening Team James had run aground on the far bank and James giving up on his oar was walking along the bank with boat in tow. Morale in my boat was low and I was about to admit defeat when one of the helpers, a diminutive lady with great enthusiasm said she would help us complete the course. With renewed hope we pushed off and rowed hard. We made it out of the on-shore chop and the water calmed and it actually became great fun. All 3 boats were closely matched as we round the first and second buoys. As we set course for the shore we noticed a rival team which only had 3 members in it who were going round in circles and desperately struggling to get to shore. Our saviour and kayak angel suggested we should go over and help and we agreed. Team Ben paddled alongside and without hesitation she leapt into their boat and helped them get to shore. We all arrived back in one piece; cold, soaked but safe. We only had 8 miles left, 8 miles until a hot bath, hog roast and beer….
Cycling – 8 miles
In the briefing we had been warned about the final bike leg. There are two steep hills; one off road and one on road. They weren’t wrong. The first off road hill saw us all having to push our bikes; either it being a too steep or very bad surface both stopped any riding at least for parts of the hill. With Snowdon directly to our left the views were awe inspiring but nearly 7.5 hours into our ordeal it was difficult to concentrate on anything but 10 metres in front. After a short rest and refuel of Fruit Gums we surveyed the last but long climb of the day, the Pen Y Pass. This road forged its way between Snowdon and the next set of mountains. From the outset the road was steep and busy with traffic. Staying in small groups the team reached the summit in fine form, and I enjoyed the climb so much I decided to do it twice; again, nobody likes a show off. All that remained was a harum scarum 6 mile descent into Llanberis and the finish line. We all finished in just under 8 hrs and 20mins, some 4 hrs behind the winning team, but it didn’t matter we had all completed it, left no one behind and had a brilliant day.
I feel very proud to have been part of this F&P team and what we achieved, there were times when that old NHS tunic seemed very appealing and I know some team members found it extremely tough but we worked together and really bonded. To top it all off we were awarded the Team Award for our unwavering support and teamwork throughout the day. We have strengthened our relationships and have learnt many things about our work colleagues: Ross & Nick really enjoy full length Lycra leggings (perhaps too much), Kate swears like a trooper, Jess does not like you to be late for dinner and I am a bit of a hooligan going downhill on a bike. The main thing I think we learnt is that none of us are quitters, we work selflessly for each other and together we can get through anything that is thrown at us.
Thanks for reading and just so you know you better start getting fit as we’ve signed you all up for next year!