gherkin challenge spcc charity

Gherkin Challenge – The Beginning

A long distant memory ago, while bored after a long day’s work, I was surfing the net looking for some inspiration.  I wanted something to physically challenge me and give me an opportunity to give something back; support a charity that’s close to my heart; or help out the community in some way.  I stumbled upon the Gherkin Challenge, an annual event organised by the NSPCC that sees hundreds of runners race up the 1037 stairs to the top of the 180m high Gherkin at 30 St Mary’s Axe.  No problem I thought, I’ll give that a go.  I’m fairly fit anyway, but I thought I’d try my hand at training for the event to give it my best go, but 3 sessions in I gave up worried about knee injury and decided to just do it on the day come what may.

I asked about to see if anyone wanted to do it with me, and after convincing people that it wasn’t a pickle eating competition, I had no takers.  Then up steps Al from TheDadNetwork who decided to do the challenge with his step son.  They did an amazing job, and it’s a little heart breaking watching a 10 year old breeze through a challenge that you quite frankly struggled with.  Read his account and watch the video here.

Gherkin Challenge – The Middle

I won’t bore you with the fundraising part, but needless to say that’s the most important part of all this, and thanks to you wonderful people I managed to raise over £400 for the NSPCC.

So me and the family set off for London getting more and more nervous with every mile closer.  Until I’m stood directly under the vastness of the towering Gherkin and I’m now quite frankly terrified.  It looks huge.  I get into the bar to register and it all looks a little disorganised.  I signed up for the 1000hrs wave and arrived 40 minutes early as requested but the village with face painting, entertainment, massage tent, and kids’ activities was non-existent.  After a long journey in, the kids were already restless and getting more and more bored by the second.  There was absolutely no need to be there that early at all.

I had just had my pre-run Crushed UK snack and found out the family weren’t allowed to the top, so no one would be there to enjoy my moment of glory, when the call for the “warm up” came.  That was a bit of fun where everyone got together and made fools of themselves for 5 minutes rather than actually effectively warming up, but it broke the ice none the less.  (If you look closely you’ll see me in the video below)  Then it was off to the start line.


The chaos continued; as we were the first wave the security staff and NSPCC volunteers had to work out the best way to squeeze us all into a small area and brief us at the same time.  It took a while so the warm up would have been negated anyway, but we got there in the end.  I was really flattered to get a mention for encouraging others on social media and for spreading the word as much as I could.  We got a round of applause and then to the start line.  I was devastated that the camera man was on the ground floor so only took photos of the first couple of people on the stairs.  As we couldn’t carry our phones on the steps there was no opportunity for selfies, so I have absolutely no record of me on the stairs whatsoever.  I thought they would have had a photographer at the top, bottom and somewhere in the middle to capture as many people as possible, but it sadly wasn’t to be.  Or at least it wasn’t for our wave, I did see that other waves had a photographer at the top, but I’m not bitter.

The run itself was really hard, but surprisingly not that bad on the legs (at first).  My tactics didn’t help me here in the slightest either; having never done a tower running event before I had no idea how to attack it.  Rather than pacing myself and taking it steadily throughout, I didn’t want to risk finishing with juice left in the tank, so I went hell to leather for as long as I could and just hoped sheer grit and determination would see me through.  By floor 10 I couldn’t breathe.  It felt like my throat and lungs were filling up with fluid and my oesophagus was lined with sand paper instead of flesh.  I kept going thinking I’ll catch my pace and second wind soon, but it never came.  By the 19th floor I’d hit the wall and I was no longer bounding up the stairs 4 or 5 at a time.  I was most definitely walking and the handrail was keeping me up, but I kept going.  By the 22nd floor, those people I flew past were suddenly overtaking me and chuckling to themselves at my naivety.

I got to the top, but it was bitter sweet.  There was no family to greet me, there was no photographer capturing the moment, there was just me, my collapsed lung and a shaky hand trying to take poor quality selfies whilst trying not to vomit on the nice carpet.  I ask a stranger to take a photo of me at the top, then I went from desk to desk to see what was going free.  The jar of gherkins was a nice touch and would keep my wife in snacks for a bit, Tee was really nice and gave me a signed guide of the Gherkin for my kids.  My wife wanted to go to ChoccyWoccyDooDah so I didn’t hang around for the champagne, which I regret somewhat because it appears a lot went on up in the viewing gallery that I missed out on.

Gherkin Challenge – The End

With the Gherkin Challenge finished, my lungs back to normal, and legs still feeling relatively ok, we headed off to ChoccyWoccyDooDah for a well earned treat.  A brilliant time had as always, and we scoped a few other locations to go for a future birthday treat.

So all in all my impressions are that the event could have been much better, I’m sure the later waves had a much better experience, but it’s almost as if our wave took everyone by surprise, or that we were the guinea pigs to get it right for the others.  But regardless of my experience, the important thing is that we all raised a shed load of money for the NSPCC and I’ve set myself a benchmark to beat in the future, 8 minutes 2 seconds and 100th in the order of runners.

What have you done for charity recently?

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