400 EPIC COMPETITORS, 2088 STEPS, 5K RUN, 1 TERRIFYING ABSEIL! This was the message I got in my e-mail.
After completing 4 challenges already this year, I thought I had finished until an e-mail arrived early in September inviting me to take part in the London 3 Peaks Challenge – The first challenge of it’s kind in London running up three of London’s tallest buildings: 30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin), Salesforce Tower London (formerly known as Heron Tower) and 200 Aldersgate. This sounded really tempting but one thing was stopping me. I don’t like heights! I did a parachute jump in 1989 and wouldn’t jump so they had to push me out as I was holding people up behind me and we were fast running out of time. I remember how terrified I was then not having been up in a plane before. scared of looking out, after a while I asked “How high up are we?” The reply was ” We’re still taxiing around the airfield and havn’t taken off yet!”
The deadline for the London 3 Peaks was Sunday 14th September so I kept trying to decide if I should. This was to raise money for Cancer Research UK in the ‘Stand Up To Cancer’ campaign. People said “You’re mad!” and “Don’t you ever stop?” and some other rude comments. It was on the evening of the closing date when I decided (after a couple of glasses of red wine) that it was my only chance and clicked the ‘Enter Now’ tab on the website. As soon as I did, I was having second thoughts. How would I cope? With just three weeks until the challenge, I gave myself some publicity and the following weekend, did a bit of training on Grabbist Hill (see previous posts). The West Somerset Free Press kindly printed an article for me and retweeted posts on twitter. As the date drew nearer, panic was setting in and even talking about it made my heart race. With a week to go, I was at Hestercombe waiting for Jim to finish his music classes. While waiting outside the Hestercombe House, I looked up at the tower asking myself, would I like to abseil off the top? That was a scary thought as I realised I would be abseiling from a tower at least four times higher. That was it! I would have to pull out and make excuses why I wasn’t doing it anymore. The following day, I was asked “Have you done your crazy challenge yet?” I didn’t give a proper reply. Late on Monday afternoon, I had a call on my mobile from Somerset County Gazette saying they wanted to do an article about it. Reporter Danielle asked lots of questions including “Why are you doing this if you don’t like heights?” Why indeed! “I’ll call you next week to see how you got on.” Hmm, that’s done it. How could I get out of it now? The phone rung again. “Hello, I’m from the London 3 Peaks and calling to see how everything’s going?” “Fine thanks but don’t think I’ve done enough training” I replied. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Look forward to seeing you on Sunday.” Well, that’s it, I’ve got to do it now!
A couple of days before the challenge, I received a call from Threshold Sports. “Hello Keith. We received your medical form thanks. When you arrive at registration on Sunday morning, you’ll have to complete another form which is a ‘waiver’ for insurance purposes which all entrants over 50 have to complete. Looking forward to seeing you.” There, I feel much better about that, not!!
The week came to a close and colleagues at school wished me luck. I had a quiet day on Saturday before an early night ready for getting up at 4am for a long drive to London. Outside, it was a really clear night with the stars shining really brightly. Driving along the M4, a stunning sunrise with some mist and fields white with the first frost of Autumn made a wonderful view. The weather was looking good for today. We arrived in Central London at 8.30, driving around Piccadilly Circus, up Regent Street, past the BBC and around Regents Park to Primrose Hill where we parked the car and walked to the station and travelled by tube to Angel where the challenge starts. I didn’t have time to think about it all as my start time was 10.30 and it was already 10.00 and forms to fill out. Ffion (a close family friend) was there to meet us (Ffion has just started at LSE around the corner) which was lovely to see her. Competitors were warming up outside at the start with groups of ten setting off in 10 minute intervals. My bib number was 288. The call came, “Numbers 293 and below to the start please.” I was surprisingly calm. Jim took a couple of photos then the whistle blew and we were off! Through the busy London streets, I set myself a steady pace down to ‘The City of London’ where the buildings got taller and taller. I made a point of not thinking about the abseil as I looked up! I spotted ‘The Gherkin’ a couple of times but our route was not direct. White arrows on a red background directed us along the course. I looked behind to see three caped females following at the same pace as myself. I arrived at 30 St Mary Axe in 20:39 minutes. My sister Carol was there with Claire and Robert to greet me before I had a drink of water and started my ascent of 38 floors to the top. I was expecting a view as I went up but found it was a concrete stairwell with nothing to see except a number sign on each floor plus ‘chaperones’ to encourage everyone on their way up. It was hard going and being followed, I was reluctant to stop for a rest. I think they thought the same thing that if I didn’t stop, they wouldn’t! It took 12:26 minutes to reach the top where we were rewarded with amazing views in all directions across London. St Paul’s Cathedral looked so tiny from up here. There were plenty of drinks and snacks being given away to replace some energy for the next bit. I took lots of photos and some film before heading back down to street level and jogged for 20:05 minutes to Salesforce Tower for the next ascent. The stairs here gave the chance to enjoy a view on the way up to the top which took 11:50 minutes. Again, there were refreshments while enjoying panoramic views, photo opportunities and even a guitarist to entertain us! Back down, the third part of the run through The City took us to Aldersgate Street and number 200 (20:28 minutes) where there were lots of supporters to cheer everyone on. Netta was there to see me arrive at the entrance to the building before I made my way up the 18 floors in 7:21 minutes. After the clock was stopped, I was asked to enter the lift to descend to the 12th floor where the abseil would take place.
On the roof area of the twelfth level, there were at least fifty others waiting their turn to abseil. I decided I was keeping well away from the edge as I didn’t want to see how far down it was. Channel 4 were doing a bit of filming for the ‘Stand Up To Cancer’ night on Friday 17th October. Look carefully and you might spot me. I was interviewed about the challenge but I don’t think it was for Channel 4. I forgot to ask as my mind was somewhere else! It was over an hour that I had to hang about and think about it listening to others who were looking forward to going over the edge while others were rather aprehensive like myself. “Has anyone backed out?” I heard one ask. “One man did. He looked down and panicked.” was the reply. My turn came to get kitted up with a few others. There were eight ropes going down from the platform. “Don’t worry, think positive.” I was told. “That’s alright for you to say. You’ve done this lots of times.” I replied. “What, abseiled? You must be joking, you wouldn’t get me doing something as dangerous as that!” he joked making us all laugh. I put my GoPro camera and harness on my back to capture the view I wouldn’t see. We were taken up onto the platform ready for our turn. I phoned Netta to let her know my time had come. Probably a relief for her, Jim, Carol, Claire and Robert who were now here for the finale plus Wendy and Nicky who had come into London to give their support and had a long wait. The person in front of me had their instructions to start descending. She looked fine and didn’t look too worried as she disappeared from view. I watched as the rope was fed down, and down until I could tell she had made it and the rope was pulled back up. “Next victim!” the instructor called. I went through the gate and said “I do not want to see how far down I’m going. I’m terrified!” “That’s fine. Turn and look at me while I check your gear and hook you up.” he replied. I listened carefully to his instructions. My life was in his hands now. He told me that I would be in full control of the descent. I made sure that he was actually controlling the speed I went down in case I let go of the rope. “That’s why I’m holding this one.” he said. “Right, start walking back slowly until you feel your heels on the edge then stick your bum out and start to lean back.” As I started to do that, a photographer appeared from nowhere. “Smile for the camera!.” Actually, that took my mind off the fact I was hanging off the edge of the 12th floor! “Take a step down and feed the rope through your hands.” I focused on that and suddenly, I was on my way down. There was no going back now. I was abseiling down a wall panel between the windows but very slowly. “Go on, you’ve got it.” the instructor called. I kept going not really thinking anything. Just concentrating on where my feet were. I didn’t dare look down but did glance back up which was nearly as bad so quickly stared back to my feet. After a while, I could see the reflection in the window of the crowd below. I knew it wouldn’t be long now and was quite excited that it was nealy over. “Well done, you’re nearly there.” came a voice below and felt the hand of the safety team on the ground below to let me know I was there. A huge feeling of relief came over me as I stood on the ground and turned to face everyone and I felt quite emotional about it. I’d done it!! I removed my helmet and harness kit and went to see my support team who were pleased to see me down. I looked back up and couldn’t believe what I’d just done. Inside the building, there was reception area to collect a well earned medal and go to the Virgin Active Cafe for complimentary drinks, cakes, sandwiches etc and a sit down. Even a day pass for the gym, pool, sauna etc. It was nice to just sit and chill after a rather energetic day.
We walked back to the tube station at Bank and headed back to the car for a rather long drive out of London, arriving home shortly after 10pm. I’ll sleep well tonight I hope ready for work tomorrow. My challenges of 2014 now over. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about them. I’ll be updating my website to allow more photos to be added and will post when that happens.
Check out YouTube and search for London 3 Peaks Movie to see more photos I took of the event.
Here are my Fitbit Statistics for today: 16,526 steps, 141 floors, 7.36 miles, 143 ‘very active’ minutes and 3,670 calories burned. My finishing position was 177.