In the summer of 2014 I was given a challenge. The challenge was to take on the Men's Health 5km Survival by Night Run at Wembley Stadium.
Now to a lot of people 5km isn't far. But when you add a whole load of bloody tough obstacles and it is outside, at night, in late November, frankly you deserve credit for just peeling yourself off the sofa.
I won't lie, I was absolutely terrified. I didn't even know for sure why I had signed up for it, other than the fact that I had been told I would feel amazing afterwards. I think I wanted to prove myself, maybe to try something I would normally not have touched with a ten foot barge pole.
I threw myself into training over the summer leading up to the run. I dragged my brother along with me and gradually built up my stamina and fitness. I started to feel really good about my achievement, and about the fact that I could actually run far farther than I ever thought. I had always hated running but I now found myself pushing further and further each time. I had never believed that so much of what you can achieve is so governed by your mind and your levels of self belief. I was amazed.
The day of the race came and a group of us made our way to Wembley. I had a couple of my closest friends running with me so had my safety net . Luckily it was a fairly mild evening, and there was a large group of us doing the run so everyone was in good form and morale was high.
People were running for various charities - I had chosen to raise money for Cancer Research UK .
As the race began my heart was pounding and my stomach had that horrible nervous feeling you get as a child before a school play or a reading in assembly. I was SO scared. This was so far out of my comfort zone it may as well have been Timbuktu.
The course was a varied combination of crazy high walls (see above - ridiculous, right??), crawling belly first through water, running around Wembley Stadium (which is quite an impressive site at night), lugging barrels around, climbing through tyres, monkey bars, climbing frames, rope nets, the list goes on. We had a mixed group which was great for those of us who needed a leg up over a wall or a little encouragement. Some of us were fitter than others, but while I would recommend doing some prep in the form of running before such a race, you don't need to be the next Mo Farah by any stretch.
It took around 2 hours for our group to complete the course, leaving us soaked, battered, bruised and cold but smiling from ear to ear at what we had achieved. The pint of beer at the bar after that experience went down an absolute treat! I had also gained my first race medal, which meant so much to me as a symbol of what I had achieved.
Beforehand I had threatened to punch the friend who got me involved at the finish line as I was sure I would be traumatized afterwards. However, his face escaped unscathed. He was right, I felt amazing. I had pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone, faced something that utterly terrified me, and nailed it. I had surprised myself with how easy I had found the running and so many of the tasks. I also had a determination to improve my upper body strength and come back stronger for the next race.
After the high of the race in 2014, I went on to take part in two further races in 2015. It had been a tough year personally for me so I needed something to raise my spirits and improve my self confidence.
The first race I took part in was "Rough Runner". This was another 5K obstacle race on Clapham Common, but this one was less hardcore, more fun. It had taken inspiration from popular obstacle course TV shows such as "Takeshi's Castle", "It's a knockout" and "Gladiators". The weather was sunny and warm and there were no crazy high walls to climb, but a good amount of balance was needed to avoid ending up in an inflatable pool of water (I failed at this). The best part about this race was the final obstacle - The Travelator. I had always wanted to try this after watching Gladiators as a child and I was super chuffed that I managed to nail it first time.
The next race was my second attempt at Men's Health Survival by Night. This was a thoroughly different experience to 2014. It was 2 degrees outside and I managed to fall hard from some monkey bars onto my arm very early on. Add to that getting wet and the cold and I was in serious amount of pain and effectively one-armed. I was given the option to stop as the pain was so much and there were so many more walls to climb over. But I refused to give up. I had come this far and I did not want to walk away without giving it my all. So, with the help of the other team members (some of whom had to just pull me over walls) I managed to complete the course.
One of the final obstacles was the Travelator. I was determined to maintain my 100% success record with this. How I look so happy in this photo I will never know. I was almost blue with cold, soaked and in a huge amount of pain. God knows, I must have been delirious. But I finished the race (with the exception of an inflatable water slide at the end which doesn't count, it was freezing and I'm not an idiot). I had come so far - my comfort zone had been left in the dust behind me. And it felt incredible.