After months and months of preparation, ups/downs, broken bones, healed bones, rebroken bones, blood, sweat and a fair few tears it’s so incredibly satisfying to being able to say that we actually completed the 4321 Challenge! For those who don’t know what these random digits stand for, the 4321 Challenge was basically a bonkers endurance feat concocted by four bonkers people who all happen to live in Bristol.

4 friends, 3 mountains, 2 wheels, 1 challenge. http://4321challenge.org

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It went a little something like this……

Start at the foot of Snowdon at 9am on Friday. Run 8 miles up the highest mountain in Wales, climbing nearly 2,789 feet. Hop on bikes for 168 miles of riding and 8,104 feet of climbing to Scafell Pike. Run 11 miles up said Pike, with 3,478 feet of climbing. Cycle 253miles to the foot of Ben Nevis, with 13,615 feet of climbing. Arrive at 2am ready for a 10 mile jaunt up and down the highest mountain in Britain: 4,593 feet of climbing.

Total = 29 miles of mountain running and 420 miles of cycling. Just over an hour of sleep. All in 47 hours and 47minutes.

Did I say bonkers?!

There’s not one adjective that comes close to describing how I am feeling a few days after we finished at Ben Nevis’s bottom…exhilarated, motivated, exhausted, overjoyed, satisfied, relieved, drained, inspired, and so incredibly incredibly empowered.

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 found 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 started returning. I felt 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.

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 had never cycled much more than 6 hours, let alone 420 miles. I had never run up a mountain. And I had never combined these two feats in one tidy little two day package. And with no sleep?!

My motivations for doing the Challenge were varied – to do something I truly thought I may not be able to do, to test myself, to try new things (trail running, cycling at night, surviving on less than 8hours of slumber), to embrace that alien activity called ‘teamwork’, and of course to help to fill the coffers of two hugely worthwhile charities – jole rider and the Rainbow Trust. (nudge nudge, PLEASE DONATE NOW at http://4321challenge.org/about-the-causes/ – otherwise i will post pics of the boys skinny dipping in Loch Lomond and thats not a sight for anyone to have to behold!)

But ….

The unknown is frightening.

The Challenge scared me. I doubted I could do it. And that’s precisely why I needed to.

 

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It was the hardest thing i have ever done. And i have done some hard things in my time. This event stripped me to the bone, and laid me bare – emotionally and physically. There were huge highs, and some wobbly lows. There were smiles and grimaces, belief and self-doubt, but at the fore of my mind was one special ironman race in 2011, the World championships…

In my blog entry from that race I described how…..

“There were many instances when body and mind were screaming in agony. The pain in my right hip was excruciating, my form was poor with my left foot turned out like a duck, and soon after other areas of my body started to feel the affects from my changed gait. Hamstrings, calves, even my shoulders cried out for me to stop. I had that ugly voice on one shoulder suggesting I quit and take the easy route. But I hate the goddamn easy route, and I know that I can never rest until I know I have given it absolutely everything. So I ignored the pain. I ignored the internal whispers. It was the other voice, the louder one on the opposite shoulder, which gave me the will to continue: which enabled me to keep my head, and to plunder the words of Kipling, to force my “…heart and nerve and sinew to serve their turn long after they are gone, and so hold when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them ‘Hold On!”

In that race I defied everything I thought was possible to win and be crowned four time world champion. Yet still, before the race I was scared. Scared i couldn’t finish, scared the pain would be too much to bear, scared i would let people down. scared. The impossible is still possible, despite that fear. In completing this Challenge I have proven that to myself again.

And now that the Challenge is over, and I’m left with aching limbs, a foggy sleep-deprived head and a mountain of wonderful “gold-dust” memories I thought I would list some of the main lessons I have learned, or had reaffirmed……

We are capable of so much more than we think, mentally and physically

The brain is a miraculous thing

The human body can adapt and endure

That it’s possible, although undesirable, to go through 48hours on 1hr sleep

Cake, in all its glory, is very delicious

I can’t face another slice of cake

British landscapes are varied, colourful, and absolutely stunning

My lower back isnt happy with me

My bottom is even angrier

Leaning on others for a morale boost isn’t as hard as I thought

My respect and admiration for my teammates (Matt, Alex and Marky) knows no bounds

Pain ebbs and flows like a tide

The mind flows like water

I know a lot of first lines of songs but not many second lines

..Aside from ‘American Pie’ which I know off by heart

Cheese, ham, crisp and salad cream wraps taste like heaven at 3pm

Baked beans on bread taste like heaven at 9pm

Very little tastes like heaven at 3am

I like to sleep

Having a bank of positive memories to draw on is the most powerful weapon of all

Mudguards are very useful when faced with potential downpours

Instant coffee is decidedly vile

Carpets of bluebells are absolutely beautiful

Expensive chamois cream is worth its weight in lube

If you listen carefully you can hear owls at night

If you look carefully you can even see them

Scafell sunrises are awe-inspiring

Haggis is quite tasty

Whisky isn’t

Deer are simply majestic creatures

Boys smell

Girls smell just as bad

Deodorant doesn’t help

Our support team was absolutely amazing and invaluable

I love pushing myself out of my comfort zone

Liverpool has lots of red traffic lights

Potholes are sub-optimal

Ben Nevis has quite a lot of snow on top

Snowdon doesn’t have any snow

A good team can do anything they set their mind to

We are all so much stronger than we think we are

Always look fear in the face and continue to do the things you think you cannot do.

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A HUGE  thanks goes out to all our support team and sponsors, without whose support this wouldn’t have been possible.