The 2012 Soldier Challenge!

May 20, 2012 at 11:26 PM

This past weekend, I was part of a team of three people who took part in The Soldiers Challenge – an orienteering challenge set across central London. You are given four hours to visit as many of the 35 checkpoints located around central London possible. This blog post is a small account of our challenge! So, without further ado, here is our team:

On the left we have Geoff, I’m in the middle, and Andy T is on the right. A proud Team 173 at the old Eurostar terminal at Waterloo. In this image we still have energy. Things were to change… We knew about the prospect of potentially abseiling, kayaking and other fun activites in London. With a very loud foghorn, the 4 hours started. We raced to collect a map, and scribbled on it the 35 checkpoint locations from a list we’d been given with instructions such as “Find the marshal to start the challenge”.

We then decided upon our route, staying roughly south of the River Thames for a few checkpoints, crossing at Tower Bridge, heading north, then west, then back to Waterloo to the finish line. Along this route we’d take part in the checkpoints as we came to them. The first one was a mini treasure hunt at the Imperial War Museum. One of the checkpoints was surprisingly difficult to find. We then headed to the River Thames for a checkpoint called “Cammo’d Up”. And, well….

You’re not sure what the checkpoint activities involve until you get there, but you can usually get an idea from its title. In this case “Cammo’d Up” meant all the team members had to put on camo face paint.

This was quite apt, being the Soldiers Challenge for the Soldiers Charity – now we’re running around looking like soldiers. Soon after this we found an inflatable It’s A Knockout style obstacle course that we had to complete in the moat (dry moat!) at the Tower of London. It was a fantastic little obstacle course that was over all too quickly – it was so much fun!

As we were in the former moat of the Tower of London, we were below street level – so hundreds of bemused tourists were watching us from above trying to complete this obstacle course and, in my case, nearly falling over the edge of it after a particularly unlucky bounce. After this we continued to head north of the river to ultimately get to a kayaking challenge, but on the way we passed a task called “Sumo Training”. This is what happened – Geoff is in the red, I am in the blue.

We finally reached the kayaking challenge which Geoff was slightly worried about as he can’t swim. Sadly, we gave him a lifejacket.

The kayaking turned out to be about 800m in length, much longer than the hundred metres or so that we were expecting. It was a lengthy paddle, it took us about 20 minutes to complete it! Interestingly, the kayaks were built to be rowed in pairs, but we were a team of three. We put Andy T and Geoff together as Geoff absolutely wanted to be with someone as he’d never paddled before, which was fine. We figured that they’d pair me up with someone else to complete the kayaking with. WRONG! I had to row a two man kayak on my own, and whilst the kayaking was apparently “very tiring” with two people on the boat according to Geoff and Andy, I can confirm is was absolutely-sodding-knackering on your own! Kudos to the other singletons who did that challenge, that was a toughie. Amazingly, none of us fell in despite a few bumps with other kayaks and some non-moving boats, but we were pretty wet as the kayaks held some decent puddles inside them.

From the kayaking we headed towards a TA barracks where we had to identify 4 tanks (which we had to memorise by sight) from a selection of thirty or so on a wall. This was good fun and not easy for us civvies, but a further surprise awaited us after we successfully identified them. The marshal in charge of the task then said to us: “Well done guys, now go over to that girl with the razor and she’ll give you your points”. Did he just say razor? RAZOR?! One of us had to get some hair cut off, and thankfully they accepted leg hair. Geoff now has a strip of bare leg (see below) and probably looks like he’s wimped out after one attempt at waxing.

We took a bus along part of Oxford Street (until it became quicker to run!) and headed to Hyde Park collecting some more points as we went. Once there, Andy and Geoff had to withstand some beasting by a PT instructor. They were told to do a firemans lift (i.e. one person over the shoulder of another), but instead they did some piggybacks, as you’ll see below. What came next was far more masculine…

It’s a good thing we were in Hyde Park, a place where no-one ever goes so they didn’t make a fool of themselves in public… oh, wait. They were laughed at by dozens of people in deckchairs (and me!). Nice one guys! With about 30 minutes left, we started to head back, took the tube for the one and only time, and made it to two more tasks and crossed the finish line with 9 minutes to spare. Here is Andy T and myself, afterwards, lacking energy. You can see the size of the map we were given – it’s massive!

It turns out that Andy T is a fantastic navigator. He never got us lost once!

So – how did we do? There was a total of 500 points on offer if you completed all 35 of the checkpoints. I’m not entirely sure how many checkpoints we did, but we got a whopping 315 points and came 21st out of 242 teams!!! That’s in the top 10% – and there were some seriously fit guys on the course! I am immensely proud of our team and I, we really tried our hardest, never really stopped, and achieved a fantastic result. I’m not unfit, but I’m not very fit either. The longest distance I’d run before the challenge was 12km. Geoff had a GPS tracker so we could work out how far we’d gone. The map it produced is incredible:

The distances marked on the map are miles. You can see we travelled a heck of a long way, and if you ignore the tube journey (miles 15 to 17) and the bus journey (mile 11 and part of mile 12), we ran approximately 13 to 14 miles (20 to 21km) – i.e. a half marathon. I’ve never ran anywhere as far as that before. Thus the Soldier Challenge was a huge amount of fun and simultaneously the toughest thing (physically) I’ve ever done. I’d do it again. I will do it again. Both Andy T and Geoff want to do it again. We loved it – and if any of the organisers are reading this blog then I have a HUGE THANK YOU to say to you for organising such a brilliant event.

Why were we doing this? To raise money and awareness for ABF The Soldiers Charity which helps current and former soldiers and their families in their civilian lives. To find out more about the charity click here: , for more information on the Soldiers Challenge click here: . Finally, there is still time to donate to our team doing the Soldier Challenge – worth it as we game are all! – and you can do that at .

It was a fantastic day out. One that I’ll remember for ages to come, although in the immediate future I will be remembering muscles which got used for the first time in a while… I’m a bit achy today! It was totally worth it though. Bring on the Soldiers Challenge 2013!