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  • Writer's pictureMental Health Runner

"What has this got to do with making sugar!?" - Thomas dunning on Outward bound 2011

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

Before 2011 I had never really heard of outward bound, like never, even with my many adventures with mum and dad, I had never even heard a whisper about it.

Boy was I in for a shock. As part of the apprenticeship scheme, I was on at the time with British Sugar, the reigns of our training were handed over to outward bound in Eskdale, where myself and my fellow new recruits would learn a whole lot more about ourselves whilst enduring camping, abseiling and the odd case of crippling hypothermia.

"WHAT THE **** DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MAKING SUGAR!?" became one of the most frequently used phrases by our group, and became a kind of icebreaker to our group of 14 strangers. Our shared confusion about the link between sugar and camping became the beginning of a 2 week bonding process. As the days carried on into the second week, this question would be stated more than actually saying "hello" to each other.

Through the first week we were helped to settle in; all our kit was booked out to us and we were introduced to lots of different activities. A bit of scrambling, camping, mountain climbing, walking and loads more. It all seemed like fun and games but the second week would be where we would have to put those activities into practice.

Our first expedition saw us divided into two groups. From there we split into pairs and decided who would be best suited to carry what in order for our expedition to succeed - The tents, for example, were so heavy to the point even the hulk (Hogan or the big green one - your choice) would have struggled! So, we split it and one person would carry one half of the tent and the other could carry the second; one person would carry the food and the other carried the water. One thing NO ONE would rush to carry- the latrine trowel.

The trowel to dig a hole, in order to go to the toilet. I never carried this...

With all of our kit packed, we were briefed on the task at hand and just as quickly as the briefing started, we were on our way to the top of Great Gable - this would be the "planting of the seed" which soon grew into my love of the outdoors.

Tired and having walked over twenty miles, we set up camp at an area near Great Gable so we could tackle it in the morning and then return back to the centre the same night. We found water and the perfect place to pitch the tents, carried out the usual checks and we set up our camp.

Tired - exhausted even - and pretty fed up; failing to see how this arduous expedition would help us with our day job- I needed some space and as I turned to leave our newly erected tent, I was greeted by a natural beauty, the likes of which I hadn't seen in years.

At that point, everything just seemed to melt - I felt relaxed, calm and was just enjoying being in the moment; we set up our cooking equipment (TRANGIA SET - See last weeks blog post for kit list) had a meal of pasta and sauce, and then dived straight into our sleeping bags.

"Hang on, are everyone's sleeping bags the same?" I shouted out. "Yes mate..." said a voice from the tent adjacent to ours.


Wiggling into the sleeping bag I tried my best to squeeze every millimetre I could of my 6ft3" body into the bag. It went up to my armpits AT BEST.

Laying flat and looking at the roof of the tent, I remember thinking "great, how the hell am I going to sl..."

Boom. Gone.

The next morning, I opened my eyes to the sound of people talking outside. Without a clue what time it was, I opened my tent hoping not to see everyone around me as if I had overslept, but instead I was greeted by something absolutely spectacular:

Flabbergasted - Breathless - In Awe

It would be this view which I would crave for another decade before taking on the Pennine Run.

We had a breakfast of ready break and as that was cooking we packed our camp away. We sustained ourselves with the morning's fuel and off we went to the summit. Unfortunately, we couldn't savour the stunning views for long because within no more than twenty minutes by the hands of some pretty grim weather we were handed our next challenge.

Rain - poor visibility - wind

Just a normal day in the lake district - and the Pennines...

Keen not to spend too long exposed to the horrendous weather, we got to the top of Great Gable and then navigated our way straight back down the mountain, to return to the safety and warmth of the Eskdale centre.

The following day our instructor took us to do an activity known as gorge walking which involves walking against a current, in a stream/river. We got to the gorge and we were asked who wanted to lead. I shot my hand up - something extremely foreign to myself. In fact, as a testament to the confidence I gained over the couse of this trip, it was the first time I had actually put myself forwards for anything! I didn't have a clue what I had let myself in for.

Looking back, I think I would have preferred to go back up the mountain. It was good fun but an experience I REALLY don't want to go through again. The force of the water coming at me felt like the Spanish running of the bulls. Everywhere I wanted my foot to go, it was launched in another direction - I was in control of nothing and how I kept my head I have no idea.

At the top, we were greeted to a full pool of water beside the downward current of this demonic river where we finally caught our breath before walking back to the van.

Then came the big one - the expedition. The feeling of excitement, trepidation, fear all rolled into one bitesize, anxiety-driven dose which would fuel the entire trip.

Much like my Pennine run planning - we sat down with maps, took grid references and got our kit together for our 70-mile walk through the peak district and as they say, the rest is history. What followed next created memories which will last a lifetime:

Brooks running logo anyone?

And that my friends, is my outward bound experience the life long memories of which are fuelling my excitement to run across the Pennines.

Oh and to answer that question "what the **** has this got to do with making sugar?!" - Everything. It's taught me so much about myself it's unreal. The sense of adventure, teamwork, achievement and striving for the next big thing - all things I constantly seek out now. Unfortunately it wouldn't be until after my breakdown that these qualities would come back and drive me to the amazing place I am in now.

It's something weird that will always stay with me, almost like an addiction, that I crave the adventure and nature that comes with it. What better than a 267 mile walk to satisfy that itch?! For now, trail running is helping me to reconnect with my passion for nature and giving me much needed practice for the big day.

From then to now, and working towards traversing the Pennines - Bring it on.

Stay strong, stay safe MentalHealthRunner xxx

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