Walking for wildlife: ZSL presenter takes on Coast to Coast challenge

by ZSL on

ZSL presenter Andy Davison

For the last six months I've been training to complete the Coast to Coast walk, from St Bees in the Lake District to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire to raise vital funds for ZSL.

Setting off on 11 June 2017, it is a challenge I have known about since I was young as the route passes close to the village I grew up in, and I would often wonder what sort of person would want to hike all of that way…twenty years later I've become that person. It is always important to test yourself mentally and physically, and I feel like underestimating the task, as I have no doubt done, will only add to the sense of achievement! It will also make the aches easier knowing that the generous donations people have been making will go towards helping secure a future for the natural world I will be enjoying and traversing. 

It occurred to me one cold January morning that to complete the 190 mile trek carrying all of my equipment with no one to help me may require a level of fitness that chewing through Christmas fudge certainly wouldn’t provide. Before training could begin, a trip was in order to buy some weights. It turns out they come in incredibly cumbersome boxes that aren’t public transport friendly, providing an early obstacle for me and highlighted how weak almost every muscle above my waist was.

Luckily, as I opened the box, a sheet of paper fluttered out with a ‘How to get fit’ guide on which I have been working through most nights of the week in the seclusion of my bedroom (there is no dignified way to look like you are about to burst a blood vessel every time you lift a weight). Thankfully I can now report that, six months later, I can carry a full bin bag down the stairs and to the street with almost no breaks.

One of the main pieces of advice I read in my various training books was ‘you need massive calves’. This seemed to be very important and was mentioned at least four times on the first page and so running it was. I have the tremendous good fortune of working in a Royal Park and have a work start time that is very forgiving to a pre-shift run. Thus, the jogging around the park before work stage of training began in earnest. It was pretty horrible at first, there is nothing about running in the cold and the wet that is fun, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar and not to be trusted.

Fortunately however, the mornings warmed, and the park is a beautiful place to be in the spring time. I even acquired a running buddy who is faster than me, which angered my competitive nerve and made me train harder.

As well as the running, I also had the fortune of discovering a secret coven of work friends who love a hike, I was able to secretly infiltrate them and get some bonus training in, while leaving them to do all the organisation. We have had some lovely walks through Down House, along the coast and through the South Downs and have almost always had the opportunity to pat a horse on route. I have learned a lot with these guys (like how people in their 30s can still find Strongbow palatable) and have had many a rewarding pub meal!

I will certainly miss them while I am hiking through the north on my own, but it has helped a lot getting some long hikes in with my pack fully loaded, and the surprised ‘wow that is really heavy’ comments have done wonders for my self-esteem.

One of the best training trips came in the form of a wild camping mission in between two hikes of around 10-15 miles each. We found wild garlic (I have never eaten it before, I recommend… not before a date or receiving a knighthood, or any other formal, close quarters occasion) and spent a lot of time debating why you even really need hills at all, everything being completely flat would make much more sense. I digress; we had the aforementioned pub meal and set off into the wilderness to make camp. After going far enough out to encounter a man angrily trying to tear apart a tree, we figured we were far enough from civilization. This led to one of the best night’s sleep I ever had, waking once with all of the stars out above me, then again being greeted by the sunrise. I would have stayed up to watch this but sleep is sleep.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though, a massive pain in my bum cheek meant a trip to the doctor. He was an army doctor and it transpired muscles were his ‘thing’, alas I had damaged my hamstring and hip flexor (a muscle previously unheard of) and the only cure was to buy a bright orange rolly mat, which I now cruise up and down the floor on. 

And so we reach the week before the off! It has been a tough journey looking back over all the early mornings and the brief experimentation with whey protein shakes (I’m going to save you a lot of money… they are horrible) I feel like I am finally fit enough to take on this huge challenge. I have had a lot of people help and support my training and I am eternally grateful to you all.

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