How to survive the three peaks 24-hour challenge

Ben Nevis halfway

Clinging to loose mountain rock amid gale-force winds, I looked to my friend Karen and thought: ‘what have you done?’

It’s always good in a crisis to find someone to blame.

Then I laughed, picked myself up, wobbling like a floating astronaut, and was guided down to a place of (relative) safety.

It was Karen’s idea to climb the UK’s three highest mountain peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon- in 24 hours. Most people opt for a party or weekend break for their 40th birthday ‘treat’ – but not this one. Myself and our mutual friend Clare were foolish (or brave?) enough to join her on this ‘Life Changing Challenges’ charity event.

Ben Nevis – battling ‘The Ben’

Our stroll began in earnest at 2.20pm on an unusually windy summer Saturday (even for Scotland). From here, we began the 1,345m-ascent of Ben Nevis. It began with us stripping off layers as we sweated under the heat of the sun (yes!). It ended with us attempting a ‘summit selfie’ in what weather forecasters would describe as poor visibility, with a woolly hat and 100 per cent waterproof hood not being sufficient cover (in August).

Scafell Pike summit

Scafell Pike – where’s the summit?

Next up (after a short nap in transit on our minibus) was Scafell Pike (978m) in the Lake District. The place to be, it appeared by the crowds, at 3.20am on a Sunday morning. With rave lights, or rather head-torches, we set off up the stone steps and ascended the gravelly ground and rocks to reach the top around day-break.
This was my bleakest mountain. I was close to tears on summiting. This was the result of a mixture of exhaustion and being left alone, unable to see the summit (an unusual occurrence on this challenge and rectified by local guides on the descent). Karen and I also grouped together from then on, despite months ago saying we’d all ‘do our own thing’. This made the experience much better.

Snowdon summit

Snowdon – are we nearly there yet?

This is a frequent question on this challenge to which our brilliant guide, Dave, always responded: ‘I don’t like to lie, so can’t answer that’. At least on Snowdon, last up (a mere 1,345m up, in fact), we knew the end was near if not in sight. This was the most attractive ascent, in my opinion, but that may be more due to the fact I could see the beautiful surroundings due to daylight combined with a bit of sun. It was a scramble to the top, quick photo ‘finish’ and then the long, misty ascent. Knees suffering (even with the aid of walking poles), we did it – and cracked open the fizz at the first opportunity! I finished in just over 25 hours, a proud achievement.

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Top tips

Expect the unexpected

It’s so British to go on about the weather, but that was my biggest challenge. I expected sleep deprivation to be the biggest problem. I didn’t expect brilliant sunshine, but you can’t anticipate that it will be Scotland’s windiest summer’s day since records began!

Food is your fuel

It sounds pretty obvious but when you’re trying to press on and avoid the weather, it’s easy to forget to eat or drink. I failed to do so often enough, and I should know better as I used to be a long-distance runner. Eat or drink something small each hour. Choose food you like. I was lucky enough to have a friend bake a selection of yummy healthy snacks for me. See how to bake them on the other blog.

Snowdon descent

Moment by moment

All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and repeat. And repeat. And again. It’s best not to think too much about far you have yet to go.

Let it out

When there’s a loo, use it. You never know when the next one is coming, and time is always of the essence. The same for tears/frustration – another emotional challenge will come soon enough so let this one go.

Lean on me

If the willpower is faltering, it is your friends who will get you to the top. Agree to either post a Facebook/Twitter update after each summit, or use a WhatsApp group or SnapChat. The feedback from your friends will power you on.
Similarly, put together some power anthems for those low points – if that’s your thing.

One of the nicest things about doing this challenge is that our trio have been in constant contact for months. We all live in different parts of the UK but we’ve been chatting online about hopes and fears for the challenge, and also supporting each other in our everyday highs and lows. I probably won’t climb the equivalent of a marathon in 24 hours for my 40th but I’m glad I did it – and with these determined two friends.

We raised £2,895 for our chosen charities, Mind, the Lullaby Trust and the Brain Tumour Charity.

Fancy completing your own challenge? Check out Life Changing Challenges.

Recipes for sporting success

Flapjacks and energy balls

Food is your fuel and your friend on any endurance challenge.

That bite of a tasty sweet snack is a much-needed boost, physically and emotionally, up a mountain – whatever your mode of transport.

And if you have a foodie friend on hand, then you’re already a winner!

I was lucky to have such a friend supply the energy snacks for my challenge to climb the UK’s three highest peaks in 24 hours.

Here my recipe writer friend Lucy Battersby, who trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, shares her recipes for successful summiting. I’d highly recommend them – yum!

Power boost bars

140g light soft brown sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
140g butter
250g rolled oats
85g raisins
85g walnuts, chopped
50g pumpkin seeds
25g dried cranberries
50g dates, finely chopped

1. Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/Gas 3. Put the sugar, syrup and butter in a pan over a low heat until the sugar and butter and both melted. Stir in the oats, raisins, walnuts, seeds and cranberries.

2. Spoon half the mix into a baking tin (about 20 x 20cm). Scatter over the dates then top with the remaining oaty mix. Pack down the mixture well (rolling a tin over works well for this – just whatever you have in the cupboard). Bake for 35 mins or until dark golden.

3. Leave to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Lucy and recipes

Energy balls

100g pecans
75g raisins
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp ground almonds
1tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp runny honey
30g desiccated coconut

1. Put the pecans in a food processor and blitz to crumbs. Add the raisins, peanut butter, ground almonds, cocoa powder and honey, and pulse to combine.

2. Shape the mixture into small balls and roll in the desiccated coconut. Put in the fridge to firm for 20 minutes.

Follow Lucy on Twitter @foodielucy or Instagram

Why teens (+ all) still need yoga in a mindful world

Teen yoga - boy and girl

Mindfulness has eased its way into modern life, from cleaning your teeth before work to strolling along a beach on holiday.

Children can learn to mindfully eat a raisin (or even a chunk of chocolate – ssh!) for their mental wellbeing.

Stressed out execs have an excuse to return to their childhood crayons to mindfully colour-in a drawing.

Even MPs are minding themselves in Parliament, though you may think ‘more work is needed’ on seeing Prime Minister’s questions.

So if mindfulness is so great (and it is), then why do yoga? And why introduce the practice into schools where mindfulness is spreading further?

Experts debated this at the Instill 2016 conference on education, yoga and wellbeing held in London this month.

What’s the difference between mindfulness and yoga?

Mindfulness came to prominence in 1979 when US emeritus professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.

He says: ‘Mindfulness practice means we commit fully in each moment to be present.’

Yoga’s exact age is less clear but it is widely thought to date back 5,000 years. It includes posture practice, breath work, meditation and personal guidance/observances relating to qualities such as non-competitiveness and non-violence.

The sage Patanjali, who wrote the formative Yoga Sutras, said:

‘Yoga is a stilling of the fluctuations of the mind’ (or in Sanskrit: Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah).

Teenyoga arms

But they still sound kind of similar?

Sat Bir Khalsa thinks so too. Dr Khalsa is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a leading researcher in yoga therapy. He says traditional yoga, without a doubt, incorporates mindfulness.

He told the Instill conference, organised by the Teen Yoga Foundation, that the techniques of meditation are almost identical to mindfulness. ‘You focus your attention in a relaxed manner and mind wandering goes,’ he said.

Why bother with yoga at all?

Because people who just practice mindfulness have missed a trick – to engage the body. Dr Khalsa says the body contributes to cognitive functioning.

This view is supported by many including US leading neuroscientist and child psychiatrist Dan Siegel who believes the focus involved in mindful movement – or yoga – helps to integrate the brain and enable reasoned decision making.

While Dr Khalsa says the benefits of yoga include –

• improved respiratory function, coordination and balance
• ability to self-regulate emotions
• mindfulness or awareness
• Giving life purpose.

Teen yoga wheels

But can’t schoolchildren just do gymnastics?

It’s not the same, says Heather Mason, founder of the Minded Institute. She is leading a call to get yoga on the school curriculum – with over 400 letters sent to MPs urging them to support an early day motion on this. She has presented on this issue to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Indian Traditional Sciences.

The yoga therapist told Instill that mindfulness is an inherent part of yoga, as otherwise postures are just stretching (or gymnastics). She added that controlled breathing and movement helps students to sit in meditation. This allows more prefrontal cortex activation (the reasoning part of the brain).

So, mindfulness or yoga?

Both have their place. Yoga covers mindfulness too though. Or as Ingunn Hagen, a professor of psychology in Norway, offered to the debate: ‘Why focus on just our head? We are doing enough of that in our universities.’

Take mindful action

Write a letter to your MP supporting the call to get yoga in the school curriculum and the NHS.

Interested in teen yoga? I am an accredited teen yoga teacher – email me via ‘connect’ below for class details. Or find a teen yoga teacher via Teen Yoga, the UK’s fully accredited teen yoga and mindfulness training course.

Find out more about the Teen Yoga Foundation.

With thanks to Teen Yoga for the images.

It’s not all peachy – or is it?

Kerala: Kovalam

I crashed in Kovalam. Physically. Mentally. Guiltily. Ridiculously.

My travel plans for this Kerala leg did not go to plan. I’m not even sure what the plan was but it didn’t meet my expectations.

I split my dress, broke my bag, bruised my leg – and my pride.

It was very hot (heat index of +40c). I didn’t know where I was going, neither did anyone else. I was supposed to be staying somewhere then had to shift elsewhere, the yoga place wasn’t as I’d imagined (neither did I give it a chance). There were tourists everywhere (fancy that in such a seaside resort?!). I was alone.

Normally, I’d tell myself to suspend my judgment and go on to discover it’s perfect, or at least fine. But instead I lay down and just let myself wallow in my first world problems in the most modest and friendliest country in the world.

Kerala: lighthouse beach

I have been pretty much lying down ever since, spending hours watching the waves crash on the shore, earphones in listening to music so no one bothers me. Watching the sun go down with the beach dogs. Such a hard life, I have. Not doing yoga yet feeling guilty every time the manager of my digs asks ‘off to yoga?’, ‘back from yoga?’.

India: Kovalam dog sunset

Then in response to a late night stressy email from me, my sister says: ‘maybe you’re just tired’, and she sorts me out with an alternative plan. A friend tells me ‘no one wants to read it’s peachy all the time’. They are both right. So here we are.

I’ve realised I’m being completely ridiculous and also in feeling guilty about not being always full of gratitude. So, I’m just letting myself crash out and not care.

Oh and I’ve checked myself into an ayurvedic retreat. Lucky me! Watch this (head) space, if you can bear it.