There is a lot to be said for doing things for charity. If you are able to find something to do for charity that you would also consider to be a personal challenge then even better. There is nothing wrong with doing things for others that can also be seen to advancing oneself. I would place taking part in a 10km Marine Commando Challenge in Exeter for the Air Ambulance service one of those things. Along with two friends (Luke and Luke) I signed up, intending on using it as a reason to get in shape and to push myself harder than I ever have done before.
We had our disagreements through training and we had our issues with kit but the three of us saw the whole thing through together as we well should and sunk a couple of cold ones once we were clean.
We had taken little consideration for the fact we were due to be in Exeter for our run until around two weeks before it was due to take place. One of the Luke’s (LN) agreed to drive and I booked us a bargain hotel room which only had two beds. On the day LN brought his recently purchased car to my door at 7am and we loaded up, ready to hit the road. Other Luke (LB) had been at work, at a local discotheque until two o’clock in the morning and was in no mood for our shenanigans. He slept most of the journey.
There’s something lovely about being on the road with two of your best friends. It didn’t even phase us when traffic slowed us around Salisbury as everyone rubbernecked the stones and searched for signs of Obama as he had recently been sighted.
Following the Sat Nav to the letter, and paying no consideration to the fact we seemed to be getting further and further from both Exeter and real life we stopped at the bottom of a winding hill which was not wide enough for two cars in most places. It was here that we argued about which of us was responsible for being late and lost. It was a group effort.
When we eventually got to the site we were treated so casually that we became aware that our start time had very little to do with what time we would actually be starting. We coughed up our sponsorship money, kitted up, deposited our bags and were taken through a safety briefing and a Marine workout/warm up. We then stuck our GoPros on our sweaty noggins and took our places. Teams were sent off at two minute intervals. We promised the man at the starting line that we were going to overtake everyone and smash it. We overestimated ourselves. We took off and soon found our pace, it appeared to be quicker than some of the others. We ran the 5k out to the obstacles, the first of which was the ‘Smarties tubes’. These were circular concrete tubes buried into a hillside with the approximate diameter of a man’s shoulders. Half of the tunnel was submerged in muddy water. We got down to our hands and knees and dropped ourselves into the water. Once I was completely inside I realised I couldn’t use my legs to levy my way through. The tunnel was so tight that it was impossible to bring a knee up. The entire 25 metre tunnel would have to be done by pulling ourselves along. With much heaving, sighing and the kind of grunting that would make a porn film about tennis players blush, we emerged out the other side like a trio of dirty babies.
Next up were more sets of tunnels, changing in size and dropping us into total darkness. They grew progressively smaller until the light before us seemed to be the size of a letterbox. The trainer had told us that it was one of the few occasions he would ever advise to “go into the light”. Again, we came out on our bellies.
The last of the challenges and the one I had been least looking forward to was what is known to the Marines as the sheep dip. This is an underwater tunnel, approximately dix metres across. You stand waist deep in water and are thrown through by a Marine. When we arrived there were a lot of people watching and cheering others along. Without being given time to think I was instructed to sit down and place my hands palm up on the edge of the tunnel. I was told I would be given the count of three, that I should hold my breath and that I shouldn’t kick. The next thing I knew I was being grabbed out at the other side, the GoPro missing from my head. We found it floating in the brown water and headed on. The run back was hard. We were soaked through, our boots were carrying a pint of water each and we were beginning to ache. We pushed on and when we could see other teams were struggling to a stop, we pushed on together, grabbing one another across the back or under the arms to keep going.
When we crossed the finish line, when we knew we had made it, the awe was absolute. I felt very proud of the three of us. It was an incredible achievement. We collected our stuff and headed back to our hotel to shower and change. We went down to the bar for a couple but soon found we were too tired to celebrate. It was an amazing kind of tired.