My challenge in July was to complete a SwimRun event. Never heard of it? Neither had I. This particular challenge was suggested by my sister Jenny, as the race requires you to enter as a pair. It was an event she had been keen to try, all she needed was a willing volunteer. Its safe to say I had no idea what I was signing up for. And to this day still not entirely sure how I made it to the end.
Our chosen Breca SwimRun course was located in the Gower peninsula near Swansea. The course covered a total of 20 km and, as the title suggests, involved trail running and multiple sea swims to make it to the finish line. We wore a short wetsuit and running shoes for the duration and were tied together when we swam to avoid drifting apart.
Before the race I was a bit nervous of the swimming elements. I am a fairly confident swimmer in the pool but the sea does tend to have a mind of its own. To my surprise the first swim leg went really well and this set my mind at ease. During the longest swim section I suffered from cramp in one of my legs, something I had never experienced before. The pain was excruciating and came on so quickly and unexpectedly. I called out to my sister and got the attention of one of the safety staff on a paddle board. Fortunately the steward knew how best to deal with such a thing and massaged my leg until the sensation disappeared. I was then able to carry on with no further issues.
The running sections of the race were pretty tricky. At some points we were running along beaches, at others we were scrambling up and down cliff sides. The ever changing terrain was definitely not something I was fully prepared for. By the final run leg I was exhausted and it took a great deal of encouragement from Jenny to get me to the finish line. But we made it to the end!
I found the event super tough. Shifting from swimming to running and back again was challenging not only physically but mentally too. At times I had to dig really deep. A SwimRun is definitely not for the faint hearted!
In June I decided to tackle Rough Runner, an obstacle course inspired by TV game shows. Imagine Gladiators, Total Wipeout and Ninja Warrior all rolled into one. Fortunately I didn’t have to attempt this challenge alone, 9 others were crazy enough to join me!
I chose Rough Runner over some of the other obstacle events as I absolutely loved watching Gladiators as a kid. I also wanted to find a fun event that I didn’t have to take too seriously. For these reasons I hoped it might appeal to other people too. Although I had set out on My Mammoth Year on my own, I have been really keen to get as many people involved in the fundraising as possible. When I asked for volunteers to join me, I was not disappointed. Fairly quickly I had a Rough Runner team of 10.
In the weeks before the race the team got together for some training and to get to know each other better. Although most of us worked at the zoo, we were all from different departments, so some people had never met before. We were entered in the 10K distance. The majority of the team were worried most about the running between obstacles. So we got together for a couple of practice sessions after work. I think people were actually pleasantly surprised by their running skills and these evening runs appeared to boost confidence. I also organised a trip to Flip Out, a trampoline park, for some more specific obstacle training. And for a bit of a laugh! Flip Out had their own version of the Ninja Warrior course, so it seemed the perfect place to prepare us. I even managed to conquer the Ninja Warrior Wall which I was super chuffed about. Everyone was having a great time until John had a bit of a mishap on one of the trampolines and injured his ankle. He hoped that he would recover in time but unfortunately that was not to be the case. Oh John, if only you had followed the instructions!
The day of Rough Runner arrived. The weather had been rather rubbish in the days leading up and rain was forecast. Despite this everyone showed up in great spirits ready to tackle the course! Although John couldn’t participate he still came to support on the day and took lots of awesome photos. Everyone had chosen Gladiator names and I had made headbands for each team member. The bands didn’t survive long with all the mud and water but at least we looked the part in the before photos.
The course was a lot of fun! Obstacles included Big Balls, Grand Canyon, Hang Rough and Ramp it up. We got wet and muddy. We fell off things and bounced off others. We climbed, crawled and clambered our way to the final challenge: The Travelator. This was trickier then I had imagined. By the end of the race I was running out of steam and it took lots of encouragement from my team mates to get me to the top. Everybody really pushed themselves and gave it their all on the day. The team were super supportive of each other and no one was left behind. It was important to me that we all crossed the finish line together. And that’s what we did, all still with big smiles on our faces.
But that’s enough from me, I asked my amazing team mates to share some of their thoughts from the day.
Laura Green: Food and Beverage Operations Manager
During my 1st week at the zoo, Nandita and Aayu sadly passed away. I didn’t know too much about EEHV. The more I learned, the more I wanted to be part of contributing to find a cure. Whether that be selling an ice cream, doing a crazy obstacle course or recruiting the right people. The best thing about completing Rough Runner was getting to meet everyone on the team. My worse and favourite obstacle were actually the same. The walking up the wall one. I was frozen a few feet from the top, and I’m certain without the team rallying round and encouraging me, I would have given up.
Becky Le Brocq: Elephant Keeper
Losing Nandita and Aayu to EEHV was one of the worse days I have ever had. I wanted to help raise enough money to give hope of survival to the elephants I work with every day. The best part of the day was the incredible team spirit! Our cheering for each other was definitely the loudest of all the teams. My favourite obstacle was the big red balls – even though every one of us took a dunking at the end. The worst was the cargo net in the mud – I lost the letters on my headband! 😦
Leah Williams: Conservation Scientist
I work in the Science Team, focusing on animal behaviour and welfare. I love my job and get to work with so many amazing animals and great people across the zoo. The Never Forget campaign is a cause close to my heart. As a scientist who is passionate about wildlife, I can see that even a small amount of money can make a real difference in our progress towards developing a treatment and potential vaccine for EEHV, which has had a devastating impact on our Asian elephant herd. The best thing about completing Rough Runner was definitely the team spirit! We ran together as a team and really spurred each other on, it was great to hear all the cheering when each of us attempted any obstacle. Katie was fantastic at keeping us all together during the long runs, no one was left out or left behind. There were so many great obstacles! I think my favourite was the travellator at the end, I was really pleased I managed to get up the second fastest one. The hardest for me was the rings, I pretty much fell straight in the water!
Laura Davies: Twilight keeper
I work on the twilight section looking after everything from red pandas, to tree kangaroos to naked mole rats. I was keen to support the never forget campaign due to the heartbreak of losing Nandita and Aayu. I don’t work with the elephants but any loss like this is felt throughout the whole zoo staff and our visitors. I wanted to do this challenge to raise awareness and play my part to make a positive difference for both wild and captive elephants. I also love a challenge and loved gladiators as a kid so this was right up my street!! I enjoyed the team spirit the most from the whole day. We cheered each other on and laughed as we inevitably fell off most of the inflatable obstacles. The team were all from different roles within Chester zoo but we all came together to smash this challenge and it was brilliant! The best obstacle was the travellator. We all cheered each other up and the achievement of getting to the top was the best. The whole team crossed the finish line together. Was a great moment! My worst obstacle was hang tough. I fell straight off the first ring and was fully submerged into cold mucky water. Swallowing most of it!!! I was not built to be a gladiator on this occasion!!
Phil Blackburn: Zoo Ranger
In my role I focus on conservation education with talks, shows, games and activities to inspire others to have a positive impact on conservation in their own lives. I joined the Rough Runner team because I like a challenge and it was a great way to support Katie’s Mammoth Year to raise awareness and funds for an important conservation project. I most enjoyed us completing the challenge together, getting to know colleagues from other zoo teams better and supporting each other to overcome the tiredness, obstacles and aching legs! Favourite obstacle was the travellator at the end because it was tough but felt like we were competing in Gladiators. We also managed to all get to the top and celebrate finishing together!
A massive thank you to everyone who joined me for this challenge. It sure was fun.
In May I challenged myself to cycle 250 miles from North to South Wales with my sister Jenny. Really how hard could it be… Oh how naive I was!
Jenny had been wanting to get into bike touring for a little while and I decided to tag along on her first adventure. A bike tour means a self-contained cycle trip. Jenny’s plan was to cover the distance over five days, camping each night. She did her research, chose our route and booked the campsites. This therefore meant carrying everything we might need on the bikes with us. New kit was required and my love for Amazon Prime’s next day delivery service was born. Who knew there was so many bike bags and pannier options to choose from. It was a whole new world to me. We would also be carrying most of our food in the form of army rations.
The day before our adventure we packed (and re-packed) everything with military precision. Bikes were triple checked and last minute items were purchased. Despite not being the most experienced cyclist or camper I went to bed that night feeling relatively confident that everything was under control.
The next morning we began our journey by getting the train to Bangor. There we joined National Cycle Route 8, also known as Lon Las Cymru. We got a little lost at first, but Jenny’s navigation skills soon got us on the right path.
It took a bit of time to get into the swing of things. Having the extra weight on the bike was more difficult than I had anticipated, especially on the hills. On the bigger slopes I had no choice but to get off and push. Being clipped in also presented its own challenges. You had to be quick unclipping from the pedals when stopping, otherwise you and the bike would topple. I laughed on the first few occasions but the more it happened the less funny it became. On that first day Jenny also got a puncture, every cyclists worst nightmare. Fortunately we had packed all the appropriate tools and replacements. It took a bit of time (and lots of patience) but Jenny managed to sort her flat and we were back on our way.
On the first day we covered just under 50 miles, taking a break in Caernarfon for lunch. I was so happy to get to our first campsite, which was near a place called Criccieth. We quickly set up camp, showered, made some food and then got ourselves into our sleeping bags for a good nights rest. Or that was the plan anyway. Despite being exhausted some noisy neighbours at the site kept me up till the early hours. As you can probably imagine I was not amused!
Due to my lack of sleep I was rather unmotivated the next morning. I was even less impressed when I found that one of the zips on my bike bag had broken. Using a bungee cord we managed to strap it up, but it was far from ideal. This setback lost us some valuable time.
Despite the earlier events of the day the cycle to Porthmadog, our first stop, was rather pleasant. My morale was improving, maybe the day wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Then things got difficult, really, really difficult. The hills became mountains! I was off my bike more than I was on it. My broken bike bag was rubbing on my rear wheel but was also getting in the way of my pedals. I was sore and exhausted, things weren’t looking great.
We got ourselves to a place called Harlech and had some lunch. I was so glad to be able to have a break and hoped that some food might make things better. Over lunch Jenny and I looked back at our experience so far: the kit malfunctions, the many falls and the challenging cycle path. We also studied the route for the coming hours and days. Things were only going to get tougher. We were already behind schedule and it was looking highly unlikely that we would get to the next campsite on time. After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that calling an end to our trip was the safest thing to do. Although disappointed I knew it was the right decision.
At the time I felt such a failure and it took me a few days to recover. Now looking back on May’s challenge I feel so proud. I did not let fear get the better of me, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and attempted things I had never done before. And that is what My Mammoth Year is all about. I learnt a lot and got to spend some quality time with my sister too. Looks like it was a win after all.
Over the last few years I have climbed Snowdon a number of times. However, I have never had the chance to attempt Scafell Pike or Ben Nevis. I knew at some point I wanted to complete the national three peak challenge. ‘My Mammoth Year’ seemed the perfect excuse.
Although its popular to complete the challenge in 24 hrs, Owen and I decided to attempt the climbs over three days. Logistically it made things easier, and it was nice to have a bit more time to enjoy the scenery.
I selected Easter weekend for the challenge as it worked well for our schedules. What I didn’t really consider was how busy the roads/mountains might be. I worried that this fact would delay us, however I should have not been concerned. We successfully climbed the three peaks within the planned time frame window. We also got really lucky with the weather. Beautiful sunshine across the entire three days.
We climbed Snowdon first. We chose a route that we were both familiar with and flew up and down the peak within four hours. We started our climb fairly late in the day. Owen was worried we might miss the carpark closing time and pretty much ran down the mountain to get back to his car in time. He made it…just. He definitely channelled his inner mountain goat that evening.
Next was Scafell Pike. We drove to the mountain on the Saturday morning, setting off fairly early. The drive was pretty smooth. I was unprepared for the gorgeous scenery we were to encounter. Lake Windermere a personal highlight! Scafell Pike was mega busy with lots of people choosing to make the ascent on Bank holiday weekend. It meant there was no chance of getting lost as we could just follow the crowds to the summit. One less thing to worry about. We were not too sore from the day before and got up and down in good time. We then made the drive up to Glasgow, where we stayed with my parents.
Ben Nevis was our final climb. My Dad decided to join us despite his so called dodgy leg. Owen and I still felt relatively ok. It was the most challenging climb and took us around seven hours to complete. I can understand why most people who attempt the challenge start with Ben Nevis. Get the hardest out the way first, smart. For the other two mountains we remained in shorts and t-shirt for the duration. However for the Ben, we needed to don our cold weather kit. It was touch and go whether we would even make it to the summit as snow was making our final ascent tricky. We pushed through. What an amazing feeling it was to get to the top! After completing our final peak, fatigue certainly set in. I could barely keep my eyes open during the journey home. Surprisingly, after a good night sleep, we were not suffering too badly. My dad, on the other hand, didn’t get off so lightly. I think it took him a week or so to recover…apologies Dad.
I really enjoyed this challenge and loved that I could share it with some of my nearest and dearest. It also helped that the weather was fantastic which I am certain helped keep morale high.
Here’s to ticking another one off the list!
If you would like to donate please follow the link:
Since 2018 I have been attempting to eat more of a plant based diet. Why you ask? Like many who decide to go vegetarian or vegan my health, the environment and animal welfare have been the main driving forces behind my decision. I have kept it fairly simple so far by only reducing my weekly meat intake. However it seemed about time that I went ‘cold turkey’, pardon my choice of phrase, and give veganism a go. March of the Vegan was born.
Taking meat completely out of my diet was the easy part. My boyfriend Owen is pescatarian and since moving in with him in July 2018 I have only been eating fish in the house. Owen decided to support me during this challenge and go vegan too which made cooking at home that bit easier. It also helped minimise any temptation.
One of my worries before this month was the food shop, however I shouldn’t have been concerned. I envisioned traipsing round the stores having to check every packet. I was impressed by the vegan options available at supermarkets and how well labelled they are. We already bought a lot of meat-free products, luckily most of which are vegan. Our shopping list therefore didn’t have to change dramatically. We tried a number of the dairy free options and found some delicious alternatives to our regular treats.
Owen and I ate out a number of times during the month. We were surprised at how well catered for vegans are. Before being a zookeeper I worked in hospitality and catering. Back then vegetarian/vegan were considered dirty words. As vegans there was more choice then we expected. One restaurant even had a vegan drinks menu which helped make our decisions. Until taking part in this challenge I didn’t realise that a great deal of alcoholic beverages are not vegan friendly.
I loved trying new things and making new recipes. Jackfruit, its delicious by the way. I also felt the health benefits of eating more fruit and veg.
Eggs and cheese were the things I missed most. I don’t think I realised how much eggs we ate before the month. I am a big lover of cheese and the vegan options are just not as delicious as the real deal.
To mark the end of my challenge I decided to host a vegan bake sale at work. It gave me another opportunity to raise funds for the Never Forget Campaign and a chance to attempt some vegan baking. The cakes proved to be very popular. I sold out and the sale raised £115.70 for My Mammoth Year.
After completing my vegan challenge I have realised that I am not yet ready to go vegan fulltime. Its a big commitment and you really must want it. For now I will continue to make small changes towards leading more of a plant based lifestyle.
I have never been much of a crafter. I’m not entirely sure I have the patience for it. Sitting for hours making something by hand doesn’t naturally appeal to me. I’m much more of a get up and go kinda girl. That being said I do admire those that are skilled at it and the wonderful things they create. Therefore for my next challenge I thought it was about time I gave a craft a go. It can’t be that hard… right?
In reality I hope to be able to crochet lots of these eles over the year and make them into key-rings. My plan is then, towards the end of the year, to sell them with all profits going to the Never Forget campaign https://www.chesterzoo.org/support-us/eehv.
This week I had a short lesson from my colleague Emma. It’s safe to say I am definitely not a natural. Crochet is difficult. And here’s me thinking the Ironman is going to be my hardest challenge! I am hoping with more practice it will become easier. Fingers crossed.
Would you like to help? Following my first attempt I think I need all the assistance I can get. Whether your a keen crocheter already or a complete novice like me I would love for you to get involved. Follow the pattern (see link above), make the elephant and send it to the zoo. Simple right! The more elephants we make, the more keyrings we will have to sell and the more funding we can generate.
If you would like to contribute please send your crochet elephants to the following address: Fundraising Team, Chester Zoo, Cedar House, Caughall Road, Upton, Chester, CH2 1LH
If crochet is not for you but you would still like to donate please visit my JustGiving Page. Every penny is greatly appreciated.
Welcome to my blog, the first post of many! Today I will explain what I have set out to do during ‘My Mammoth Year’ and why I have decided to do it. I promise I’m not mad, maybe just a little crazy! Happy reading 🙂
Hi! I’m Katie, an elephant keeper at Chester Zoo. I have decided to dedicate 2019 to supporting the zoo’s Never Forget Campaign, a cause very close to my heart. The campaign aims to raise vital funding to support research into the elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV). The virus typically strikes young Asian elephants and is often fatal. Unfortunately Chester zoo has lost a total of seven calves to EEHV. Lots is still unknown about the virus and how to treat it so more research is vitally important. If you would like more information about the campaign: http://www.chesterzoo.org/support-us/eehv. I will write a future blog post to explain what we do know about EEHV, in a little more detail.
Due to the previous losses, EEHV is never far from the Chester Zoo Elephant team’s thoughts, especially having 2 young calves currently within our herd. 2018 was the first time I have encountered EEHV, when we sadly lost Nandita and Aayu. It was truly devastating, and although we did everything we could it was hard not to feel helpless. This feeling is what has driven me to want to do more and raise as much funding as I possibly can. Wisdom is power as they say. I wanted to go big, MAMMOTH in fact. I also wanted to tick some things off my bucket list. The result, ‘My Mammoth Year’.
‘My Mammoth Year’ will see me complete a different challenge each month. Some challenges will last the month while others will be one off events. The challenges are listed below:
January: Photo challenge
February: Crochet challenge
March: Go vegan
April: The 3 Peaks (over 3 days)
May: Cycle Wales (250 miles over 5 days)
June: Rough Runner
July: Swim Run
August: Prudential Ride London
September: Half Ironman
October: Tatton Park 10K dressed as an elephant
November: Dance challenge
December: Go Sober
Further details about each challenge will follow in future posts. My photo challenge has already begun and involves me taking a daily photo and sharing it on social media. The photo must show me doing some sort of activity, something different each day. It must also include an elephant. The same elephant cannot appear in more than one photo.
I am excited, nervous, and scared for the year. Some challenges may appear easier than others but all will push me outside my comfort zone in some way. ‘My Mammoth Year’ may seem ambitious but I am totally game for what lies ahead.