Virgin Strive Challenge 2016
This year I turned the ripe old age of 40. As an enthusiastic trail runner living in Chamonix, I have run many trails and taken part in a number of Ultra trail races. This year I wanted to make my 40th a little different: make it more of a challenge, push my boundaries and take me out of my comfort zone. I chose to do a triathlon, but not just any ordinary triathlon: this one was very different!! I am not a great swimmer, and to be honest don’t really enjoy it that much; I tend to find long distance swimming quite uninteresting. I am also not much of a cyclist. I own a mountain and road bike but they both really had very little use (until I took on this challenge). I thought the run section would be easy….. ‘I can do that, I thought!’
So, having worked with the Branson family and been the Manager on Necker Island, their private retreat, some years ago, I knew that every 2 years a charity challenge organised by the Virgin supported charity, ‘Big Change’ took place. It so happened that 2016 had the perfect section for me to attempt. Starting from the fishing point of the Virgin Strive Challenge 2014, this year’s event was to see participants hiking into northern Italy from the base of the Matterhorn, cycling the entire length of the country, swimming from the Italian mainland to Sicily, mountain biking to the foothills of Mt Etna and trail-running to the summit of the active volcano. They hoped to raise over £1.5m for Big Change, a social impact accelerator that helps young people thrive in life, not just exams. The final stage was arguably the toughest - the triathlon was a completely new format for the STRIVE Challenge series.
For the Core Team members (the 25 who were completing the entire Challenge in just 30 days) this meant swimming from Calabria to Sicily across the Straits of Messina, an infamous and treacherous stretch of water. Due to local regulations, Stage Strivers had instead to swim a coastal course of 3.3km off the northern coast of Sicily. Day 2 and 3 took the ‘Strivers’ on mountain bikes up steep ascents and then onward following the Perloritani ridge line for 65km approaching the foothills of Mt Etna itself.
There are few words to describe the beauty of this trail: from crests to gorges, to crevices and stunning views that suddenly open onto the Ionian sea, Etna, and the Tyrrhenian Sea where we could glimpse the volcanic archipelago. The final day of the entire challenge had all Strivers run a half marathon to within 10km of the volcano’s summit, where we meet volcanic guides and hiked the final 10km to the crater ridge, an incredible finale to a month of striving for the Core Team and a tough few days for the triathlon strivers. The event was a greater challenge that we had expected. We found elements of it tougher than we could have imagined, and there were many times when we had to dig deep to keep going. All-in-all it was a pretty epic event to be part of and, indeed, complete.
I certainly got the ‘Challenge’ that I set out for, and was happy that to have completed the swim section, which I had been most nervous about. The whole event was completed for a very worthy charity that is working hard to find, fund and support extraordinary projects that have the real potential to drive positive change for young people in the UK.
The fundraising continues, so if you’d like to support the Big Change charity you can sponsor me on the following link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/BexMcNeillie
Here's a great link to see the whole months' challenge in just 1 minute on YouTube