Name - London 3 Peaks: Stand Up To Cancer
Date - 5th October 2014
Course Length - 3 Tower Runs (a total of over 2,000 steps) & a 5k run
Approximate Cost - £75 plus sponsorship target of £600
Location - East London
Website - https://www.standuptocancer.org.uk/london3peaks
The London 3 Peaks with Cancer Research
Having been told of the London 3 Peaks through a friend, organised by Cancer Research and the Stand Up To Cancer Campaign, I was instantly excited.
The Stand Up To Cancer Campaign, for those of you not already familiar, is a fantastic charity organisation which aims to raise significant funds for Cancer Research through events and entertaining television broadcasts.
To date the Stand Up To Cancer Campaign has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Cancer Research which is a fantastic achievement. Not only has this been raised through the telethons broadcast in multiple countries but also through a wide variety of initiatives including the London 3 Peaks.
Having completed Tough Mudder earlier in the year, I was ready for a new challenge, something different that would hopefully push me more towards my limits in addition to providing a memorable experience.
The London 3 Peaks is a popular fitness event in the United Kingdom whereby participants attempt to climb three of the largest mountains in Great Britain, Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis, a total of over 3,400m climbing, all within a single 24 hour period.
London, naturally, doesn't have mountains, in fact it's quite rare to see anything from the natural world apart from a fox if you're lucky.
What it does have on the other hand is skyscrapers...
Rather than touring round the United Kingdom, the London 3 Peaks Challenge involves not only running up the internal staircases of three of the largest skyscrapers in London, but additionally completing a 5k run in-between and an abseil down the final building, because taking the lift down the final building just "wouldn't feel right".
The 3 Skyscrapers and their respective steps are as follows:
- The Gherkin - 1,037 steps
- 110 Bishopsgate - 888 steps
- 200 Aldersgate - approximately 300 (followed by an abseil)
...giving an impressive total of over 2,000 steps, so if climbing up the stairs to the next floor at the office sometimes leaves you slightly out of breath, by the 5th floor of the first tower you'll end up crawling up the rest of the stairs before you know it.
Training - Developing Thighs of Steel
Having to resort to climbing up the stairs on all fours is not a recommended strategy, not only will you look fairly silly, like a toddler babbling its way up the stairs at home for the first time, but you'll likely have a whole string of exhausted participants, huffing and puffing in annoyance as they clamber over you on the way to the top.
So how do you train your body to be able to run up hundreds of stairs without collapsing...?
The answer is fairly simple, as with all fitness events, but it a humble 10k, a full marathon or even Tough Mudder, you need to get your body accustomed to the type of movements, exercise intensity and volume you'll need on the day.
For example, if you're training for a marathon, it wouldn't be an excellent idea to do a traditional bodybuilding program, exhausting individual muscle groups through resistance training every day.
Equally, if you're looking to increase both short term power and strength, it wouldn't be particularly clever to go and complete 30+ miles a week of long distance running.
So looking back at our initial question on how to train your body to be able to run up hundreds of stairs? The short answer is... run up hundreds of stairs!
Naturally, you'll need to make sure you start your training at an intensity appropriate to your current fitness level.
If you're main experience in climbing stairs is through looking out of a glass elevator then you'll need to make sure you don't start running up 500 steps at a time with a weighted backpack (this is very likely to make you struggle to sit down for at least a week).
To start building up your "stair fitness" start by getting out of the elevator a floor or two early at every opportunity. Once your comfortable climbing a flight of stairs without bursting into flames, it's time to take training up a step.
The first thing you'll want to do is to find a suitable area where you can run up a hundred or more steps at once. Some great options in London are at underground stations, including Hampstead (320 steps) and Covent Garden (193 steps).
If you're not in London, any other steps will do, ideally there will be over 100 steps for you to climb at a given time.
For example, if you work in an office building with 5 floors or more, you could do your training there. Just make sure you let people know what you're training for so they don't think you've just gone stair crazy!
Additionally, you could run up the opposite side of any nearby escalators (i.e. running up the escalators that take people down) - ensure you're fit enough to cope with the speed as there is a greater risk of injury with this option.
Though with all these options, make sure there isn't too many people around. For some reason people don't always appreciate someone gasping for air and sprinting as they walk down a narrow stairwell!
Personally, myself and my team did the majority of our training at Hampstead station in London every Sunday over a course of approximately 6 weeks.
Our strategy was to build up volume each week to have covered at least 2,000 steps in a single session before race day.
We started by completing four stair runs in week one, a total of 1,280 steps over the course of an hour (we needed pretty heavy rest periods towards the start!).
By week 5, we were comfortably blasting out 8 stair runs, 5 of which were completed whilst carrying a 15kg backpack.
In terms of the strategy for climbing stairs, I opted for alternating between single steps and double steps throughout training. (i.e stepping on steps 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 during the first floor then switching to steps 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 on the second floor).
This is effective for ensuring that you're leg muscles don't completely fatigue in given areas as stepping in techniques will use the muscles in slightly different ways. This means that your legs will get tired slower and your "stair endurance" will increase.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable too, make sure at least once in every 2 weeks of your training that you take yourself to absolute failure, the point at which you have to physically push your legs with your arms to get them to move...
Again, this will be great training for race day, as you will almost certainly reach this point of exhaustion and fatigue throughout the climb. Personally, I ended up pulling my bodyweight using the handrails for a few hundred steps.
If you plan to do this too, make sure you incorporate this into your training by using the handrail to pull yourself up a couple of hundred stairs now and again. Bear in mind, this will greatly enhance your arm and back strength by the end of your training!
For those looking to shift an extra couple of pounds of body fat, stair running will also do wonders for your waistline. Stair running acts as a form of HIIT so long as you give maximum effort in-between rest periods.
In roughly three weeks of training I was able to shift approximately 4kg of body weight. I'd just finished festival season before training session 1 began on the 31st August. By training session 4 on the 21st September, I was feeling considerably lighter, fitter and more athletic.
As with any fat loss goal,the right nutrition will also play a key part in success!
Race To the Top
Having put the time into our training and making great progress, we were as ready as could be. Myself and my four team mates eagerly arriving at Cancer Research HQ in East London.
We dropped off the necessary paperwork to ensure we wouldn't try and sue them if our lungs exploded in our chest mid-race and gave details of our next of kin. We then threw our bags into the drop off section, once we had picked up a few complimentary post-race croissants of course.
After a warm up under the sun, we approached the starting line. Camera crews circled us like vultures circling the wounded in a desert.
We jogged forward, cautious not to overexert ourselves before our legs would really be tested.
As a side note, I'd also decided to complete this event topless, this not only kept me cool as my heart rate surged through the roof but also made me very easy to see on television. On the video, I can easily be seen at 0:10 and 0:14 seconds in :)
I'd not really appreciated the size of the Gherkin until I was standing at it's base, looking upwards at it's reflective exterior.
Once we had reached the Gherkin, the timer was paused and we were given a drink before continuing. Due to the size of the stairwells we were set off individually, to prevent a potential pile up of participants on the stairs!
After a short 2 minute break, we got in line ready for the timer to begin. My heart pounded in my chest as I visualized the task before me.
In an almost factory like fashion, I was told to begin precisely 20 seconds after the woman before me had gone. Adrenaline kicked in as I adopted my strategy of alternating between single and double steps.
With my legs still feeling strong, I continued stepping as quickly as possible, with an increasing reliance on the handrail after the first 800 steps.
I felt as if my heart might physically beat out of my throat as my brain focused all my body's energies into my thighs and biceps. My body worked in a mechanical fashion for those first 9 minutes.
Step, pull, step, pull, step, pull....
The rush of endorphins was exhilarating and was only supplemented by the sugary snacks provided in front of the incredible view of the London skyline.
We drank in the atmosphere as exhausted individuals climbed up the final stairs, a look of relief and pride painted across their faces.
I hadn't really paid attention to the day, it was only once I reached the summit of the Gherkin and looked out across the horizon that I realized how beautiful the day, and London, was.
After a series of team photos, a couple of snacks and appreciating the London skyline, my team was ready to forge forward.
The stairwell was still being used by a series of gasping participants. Fortunately, we were sent into the lift down back to the ground floor.
The timer begun again as we left the Gherkin, running forward to our next tower: 110 Bishopsgate
Formerly known as Heron Tower and subsequently Salesforce Tower, 110 Bishopsgate is a commercial skyscraper in East London.
It stands roughly 230 meters tall and contained nearly 900 steps, which is exactly what you don't want to hear having already climbed 1,000.
The endorphins also played a significant part as I took some mid-race selfies to mark the event.
We reached the base of 110 Bishopsgate fairly quickly and it wasn't much longer before we started our next ascent.
The staircase of 110 Bishopsgate was a nicer experience, as it wasn't trapped in the centre of the building where it would be hidden from all natural light.
Despite the increasingly attractive views on the way up the floors, the staircase itself was organised fairly oddly. Each floor was comprised of 4 sets of stairs arranged in a rectangle, with each set comprising roughly 10, 8, 5 and 3 steps respectively.
After the signal to go, I began my next tower climb, requiring significantly more help from the handrail as I did so.
I went at a fairly consistent pace, passing maybe three people every 100 steps. Fatigue had set in for almost everyone by this point, with some people resorting to pushing their own limbs in frustration at floor 10.
Surging on mechanically, I continued my repetitive motion of step, pull, step, pull.
There were various volunteers offering words of encouragement throughout the climb but with my mouth being used to desperately draw in oxygen, I could not offer a response more than a pained glance as I moved forwards.
Those last 200 steps of tower 2 we're particularly painful, not only were my legs exhausted, but my back, biceps and core had begun to ache too.
At the very top of the tower there was a lady who asked for me to stop so a picture could be taken. I could barely stand at this point so stumbled forward to where the snacks and drinks were held, desperately trying to catch my breath.
Naturally I did go back once I could stand unaided to have my picture taken!
Again, the top of the tower was a fantastic place to be, not only due to the stunning views, but primarily because we knew that approximately 1,800 steps were already behind us.
Interestingly enough, we could see our original tower, The Gherkin, from our view atop 110 Bishopsgate.
We took our time here and made the most of the photo opportunities and looking back on what we had already achieved.
There was only one tower left now. It was the smallest of the three also so confidence levels were now fairly high. All that would be left after a quick 300 stair run would be an abseil to the bottom, easy!
Taking the last run fairly easily, we arrived at the final tower before we knew it.
Re-fueled and ready to go, we powered ourselves up the final tower. This was significantly more difficult than our training as my whole body was so fatigued by this point.
Making the most of the adrenaline, I ignored the burning sensation in my thighs and continued upwards as fast as I could go towards the top of 200 Aldersgate.
The final tower seemed to go by in a flash, relatively of course, potentially as my body was so drained that I couldn't think as effectively!
Within minutes I reached the top of the tower and was able to rejoice with my team mates, the challenge was done, almost.
It's Not About Winning, But...
It does however post everyone's times after the event, which naturally invited a competitive element, even if you're only competing against the clock.
There's a couple of points to bear in mind when going for the best time, which is:
You are only timed whilst running or climbing stairs - not during breaks.
Due to this, it's fairly easy to organize a strategy for a time you can be proud of (or show off if you so choose). Simply take each element of the challenge as it's own timed event or race.
I placed 16th out of a total of 260 people, but although I gave 100% effort on the stairs, I took the run in-between towers at a very leisurely pace with the rest of my team.
If I'd been eager to really get the best time possible, I would have almost sprinted between towers and then taken significantly more time during the rest periods.
This would have shaved at least 6 minutes or more off my time and placed me comfortably on the top 10 leader board. The only difference between winning and losing in this area is how much you train!
Another point to bear in mind for the best time is to try and reduce your weight as much as possible. Even if you're carrying an additional 2kg of body fat, carrying that extra weight is going to make things much harder over the course of 2,000 steps.
- Train hard (ideally for more than 8 weeks, doing stairs twice a week)
- Reduce your body weight as much as possible
- Run as hard as you can in-between towers and up stairs, whilst taking huge rest periods otherwise!
Do these three things and you'll be much more likely to be a top 10 finisher.
The thought of the abseil was one of the attractions to the event initially for me, having never completed an abseil before, I was excited at the new experience.
This excitement, was not shared with every one of my team mates unfortunately. One of my team mates had an element of acrophobia, or a severe fear of heights.
Thankfully it wasn't Bathmophobia - "a fear of stairs"...
We waited around in line for our time to complete the abseil, grazing on the cereal bars and dried fruit provided to pass the time.
It must have been approximately 20 minutes before our time was up (due to health and safety, I'd also been given a rather stylish "Stand Up to Cancer" hoodie to complete the abseil).
It was at this point our team mate couldn't control his fear. He walked up in full safety gear towards the edge, surrounded by our words of encouragement, but unfortunately once he was about to go into position his fear overcame him.
Sadly, he decided not to complete the abseil and therefore missed the opportunity to overcome a personal challenge.
For the rest of us, we bounced down the side of the building with wobbly legs. Reuniting again at the bottom.
For those with a severe fear of heights, I'd strongly recommend using the abseil as an opportunity to overcome your fear. Unfortunately, fear got the better of my team mate resulting in him missing out on an experience, which will remain embedded as a frustration long into the future.
The atmosphere was fantastic, not only had we completed an impressive physical challenge, but we'd also raised a significant amount of money for a fantastic cause.
Upon receiving our medal, we were directed towards collecting our goody bags and receiving our well-earned food.
Having been slowly dieting to try and reduce my weight for the previous 4 weeks, I took the rest of the day as a chance to gorge.
I estimate I must have eaten at least 2,000 calories, making the most of the free chicken Caesar wraps, bananas, coffee and various cakes on offer.
Following filling my own face with lots of free food (my favorite), I was also the recipient of a free massage - highly recommended if you want the ability to walk the next day.
The massage, coffee and food combo left me feeling rejuvenated. This was further helped by the realization that my team had placed in the top 10% of entrants during the race.
200 Aldersgate is quite a fancy building in East London. Fitting in with the fancy decor, in the basement it also contains a Virgin Active.
Within our goody bags, we were given a free 1 day guest pass to this gym which was greatly appreciated.
Despite feeling rejuvenated by my post race ritual, I knew that my legs, back and biceps were not in a position to be trained. What I could train however, was the remaining "pushing" muscles in the body.
Myself and one of my team mates took the opportunity to use the incredible gym facilities with a relaxed weight session, before taking our measurements on a high tech body analysis machine and refueling on the free snacks.
Usually, I would not have been able to access such a high quality gym (the monthly cost of the gym was somewhere between £120 and £150 from what I remember), however with a free pass I took great pleasure in using all the available facilities.
The time in that hydrotherapy pool was potentially one of my all time top 10 experiences. Having completely worked every muscle in my body through the race and gym session, I melted into the hydrotherapy pool, entering a trance like state.
It was as if my entire body was being softly massaged by angels.
The hydrotherapy pool was also right next to a sauna and a shower which released a bucket of cold water upon the push of a button.
As such, our recovery process was as follows: 10 mins in the hydrotherapy pool, 1 bucket of ice cold water, 10 minutes in the sauna, rinse and repeat.
We completed this process for what may have been up to 2 hours. At the end, I felt like a completely new man. I also had to remind myself that I'd completed a serious amount of exercise during the day as I felt like I could have gone back into the gym for a full body session.
If the thought of going into the gym after completing 2,000 steps and an abseil fills you with dread, just go into the hydrotherapy pool - it is quite simply incredible.
To summarize, the during and post race nutrition and available facilities were among the best I've ever experienced from a race organizer.
The London 3 Peaks is unlike any other event I've taken part in before. Usually, a stair run event will focus on simply 1 tower, but the addition of 2 more towers and an abseil made this a truly unique event.
The race itself was organised exceptionally well, with an event of this nature, health and safety could be an issue. However the risks of the event were all minimized effectively, resulting in a positive race experience for everyone.
Following the event, the available facilities, e.g. the sandwiches, medals, massages and gym access were a great way to supplement what was already a fantastic experience.
If you're looking for a way to challenge yourself or a more interesting event to raise money for charity compared to your average Tough Mudder, try the London 3 Peaks - you won't regret it.
Or maybe someone who's interested in raising money for Cancer Research?
Then why not share this post on Facebook today! :)