Chrissie Wellington raises the intensity
You'd think a girl would be tired after winning the Ironman Triathlon World Championship four times in five years. Not to mention going 13-for-13 in Ironman events in her five-year professional career.
So it wasn't a big surprise when Chrissie Wellington, with her name firmly etched in the record books, decided in 2012 that it was time to move on to a new phase of her life that didn't revolve around metrics, targets and times.
"I needed time to explore, to find an identity that wasn't as a triathlete," said the 37-year-old British star, who won the Kona, Hawaii, race from 2007 to 2009 and again in 2011. "And to release myself from some of the pressure of always trying to excel."
Still, she couldn't stay away from the action for long. A little over a year after her last race as a professional triathlete, Matt Edwards, the sports development manager at the University of Bristol where Wellington trained, approached her with a new kind of challenge. He proposed that she join a four-person team to take on the "Three Peaks Challenge" by scaling the three highest peaks in the U.K.: Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis.
Traditionally the task involves hiking up and down each mountain and driving in between, with the goal of finishing in 24 hours. Edwards' venture offered a unique twist, however. He proposed running, instead of hiking, up and down the three peaks; and cycling, instead of driving, in between. This would total 29 miles of mountain running and 421 miles of road cycling in around 48 hours, all for charity.
Wellington didn't hesitate. Drawn to a journey that set her nerves on edge, the idea of working with a team was most appealing.
"With triathlon I had a team of amazing people around me, but when the chips were down and I was 30 kilometers into the marathon, I only had myself to draw on, to kick me up the backside and to battle the demons," she said. "My motivations for doing the Challenge are varied -- to do something I think I can't do, to test myself, to try new things, to embrace that thing called 'teamwork' and, of course, to raise a shed load of cash for two hugely worthwhile charities."
On Friday, Wellington and her teammates Edwards, Alex Prince, and Marcus Mumford will meet at the base of Snowdon for the 4321 Challenge -- 4 people, 3 peaks, 2 wheels and 1 challenge. All experienced endurance athletes in everything from triathlons to ultramarathons to long-distance bike rides, they will travel together in the direction of the prevailing winds, south to north.
The highest mountain in Wales at 3,560 feet, Snowdon is located in Snowdonia National Park and was once used by Sir Edmund Hillary in his training leading up to his famous Mount Everest ascent. The four athletes will run 8 miles, climbing nearly 2,789 feet, before meeting their support crew at the bottom and hopping on their bikes for another 168 miles of riding and 8,104 feet of climbing.
The second peak they will tackle is Scafell Pike, which is the longest running route at almost 11 miles and 3,478 feet of climbing. The summit plateau atop the highest mountain in England is covered in rock debris and will offer some of the gnarliest terrain of their trip. When they reach their bikes at the base, they will keep rolling toward Glen Nevis, one of the most scenic destinations in the Scottish highlands, a 253-mile trip with 13,615 feet of climbing.
The last leg will be 10 miles on foot up and down Ben Nevis, which includes 4,593 feet of climbing. It's the highest mountain in the British Isles, and the snow conditions this spring have been some of the worst in decades. This may mean they are saving the most difficult leg for last.
The unknown is scary, frightening and bears little resemblance to what I've done before.Chrissie Wellington
"We want to be able to complete the challenge even if this means crampons and ice axes rather than trail-running shoes and a pair of shorts," Edwards said. "We need to prepare for all four seasons multiple times."
"It's going to take me totally out of my comfort zone," Wellington said. "The unknown is scary, frightening and bears little resemblance to what I've done before."
The only sleep the team has scheduled is an hour the first night.
"Those who know me realize that I am a passionate devotee of the eight-hour slumber," Wellington said. "What will I do if I don't manage to get a decent bit of shut-eye?"
Knowing a methodical fueling plan could make or break the endeavor, they will rest every 50 miles or so to take in calories.
"When we get on the bikes after Scafell, the thought, 'OK, 250 miles to cycle now,' will probably not be a useful one," Edwards said. "Instead it'll be 'Only 50 miles to the next big meal.'"
It is the charities they are supporting that will play the biggest role in inspiring the team through the 4321 Challenge. Fittingly, Jole Rider is an organization that provides bicycles to children in Africa so they can get to school, along with a long list of additional services. The other beneficiary is the Rainbow Trust, a London-based charity that offers support to families with terminally ill children.
"Sport has tremendous power and can be a force for considerable change for individuals, communities and nations," Wellington said.
Indeed, in addition to allowing them to contribute to positive change through their fundraising, the event will most certainly push Wellington and her teammates like never before.
"Sure I have a history of cycling, running and doing a bit of what sometimes resembles swimming, but I try to get that over and done with in under nine hours," Wellington said. "The only similarity with this, really, is the need for mental strength . . . I will be trying to draw on all the tools and strategies I have developed over the years to help me cope with the highs and lows, the pain and discomfort, and to quiet the voice that questions why on earth I agreed to enter such a ludicrously challenging challenge."
Edwards echoes her sentiments regarding the difficulty of the task.
"With calm, warm weather, a nice steady wind on our backs, accurate navigation and sensible pacing, it could and should be one long adventure with smiles all around from start to finish," he said. "However in the U.K., at the start of May, with four people, a support vehicle, 29 miles of mountain running and 421 miles of road cycling to navigate, the chances of everything going smoothly and in our favor are almost zero. We are preparing ourselves physically, mentally and logistically for the hardest and hopefully the best, probably most intense, and certainly the most memorable event we've ever done."