MP completes extreme challenge for Wolves Foundation

First there was the heatstroke.  Then came the trench foot.  Followed by severe sickness which led to the prospect of being airlifted off the mountain before beating one of the day’s deadlines with just 90 seconds to spare.

But at the end of it all Wolverhampton MP Stuart Anderson was one of around 100 of the original 424 competitors who managed to complete the Dragon’s Back Race, regarded as the toughest mountain race in the world.

Over six days, participants were faced with the task of navigating a treacherous 380km down the spine of Wales from Conwy Castle to Cardiff Castle – the equivalent of one-and-a-half marathons each day - including ascents totalling 17,400 metres, twice the height of Everest.

It is certainly no place for the faint-hearted or the easily daunted, but Stuart, whose first job was serving in the Armed Forces, put himself through the pain barrier for two very good causes.

The fantastic fundraising sum of approximately £5,000 will now be split between projects run by Wolves Foundation and the Elysium Memorial Foundation who are aiming to establish a lasting memorial to remember veterans who have taken their own lives after service.

“I knew it was going to be tough – it’s not called the world’s toughest mountain race for nothing – and I knew the terrain fairly well,” Stuart explains.

“But I had been injured during training so had to change what I wanted to do.

“I had planned to go into the race in peak physical fitness and do it as quickly as possible but that went out of the window and it became more about surviving.

“So I focused on running the flat sections and downhills, fast walking up the hills and getting my body used to eating for long hours.

“I knew it was going to be painful but didn’t quite realise how painful it would actually be!”

The first two days saw runners exposed to temperatures in the mid to late twenty degrees, spending around 12 to 14 hours out on the course with limited supplies of water.

Stuart was among the many who suffered in such intense heat, taking the opportunity to lie in lakes and streams for several minutes when possible to try and lower his core temperature.

But in doing that his feet were adversely affected, the regular soakings leading to trench foot as well as blistering, and by day three just putting his trainers on was agony in itself even before running 40 miles.

By Day Four, despite the pain, he had become more acclimatised to the madness he was enduring, so that meant time for the next body blow to arrive, during the 45 miles crossing some of the harshest terrain across the Brecon Beacons on Day Five.

“I spent years on the Brecon Beacons when I was in the Army and was actually looking forward to that day of the challenge even though it was where I got shot on my foot during my training,” says Stuart.

“But I ended up suffering from severe sickness and diarrhoea which really isn’t ideal when you are stuck up a mountain.

“There is a 16-hour deadline for each day of the race – if you don’t make the distance within the time limit then you are out – and with about three hours to go I remember lying on the mountain thinking it was over and I was going to need to get carried off.

“I managed to keep going and, with the help of anti-sickness tablets, I made it with 90 seconds to spare.

“And then on the last day it was just about surviving and getting to the finish line at Cardiff Castle.

“It was just brutal, but the two charities I was supporting were the focus of what I was doing and that was what kept me going.

“There was a time I didn’t think I was going to make it but I am really chuffed that I did.”

Having returned to Wolverhampton on a Sunday afternoon, Stuart was back in Parliament first thing on the Monday and voting at 10pm at night to some bemused looks from fellow MPs.

“Everyone could see I was struggling to walk and some of the MP’s were taking photos to post on their social media,” he laughs.

“So many MP’s do some fantastic work for different charities but I think this challenge was a bit different to normal and most of them probably thought I was mad for taking it on!”

Many people use exercise as a release and a boost to mental health as well as physical but was this possible for a challenge of such an extreme nature?

“One question I was asking myself all the way through was why on earth I was putting through it,” says Stuart, whose Wolverhampton South West constituency includes both Molineux and the Compton training ground.

“When I was training and up in the mountains I found it really relaxing and my mind was able to switch off.

“Running has always been when I am able to pull back from the pressures of the day-to-day job and think about how I deal with different challenges and strategies.

“But with the Dragon’s Back race, after the first day it quickly turned into a question of how I could survive.

“The mental tiredness was difficult to deal with but I was determined not to quit and the only way I wouldn’t finish would have been if I didn’t make the time or was airlifted off the mountain.

“Now I have completed the challenge, I think it has shown me once again what it is like to go through extreme circumstances and mentally it has really sharpened me up.

“Looking back, I think I have created a deeper mental resilience which will really help me in the future.”

And the two charities will certainly benefit from the funds raised.

Stuart has been a long-time supporter of Wolves Foundation, including taking part in the previous two Molineux Sleepouts with plans for the third, whilst the Elysium Foundation is also close to his heart having suffered with his mental health after leaving the Army.

“I am really pleased to have hopefully raised some more awareness of two great charities and appreciate all the donations which have come in,” he adds.

“I had some really good interest from people across Wolverhampton and I think a lot were checking my progress across the GPS tracker during the challenge.

“I have seen the impact of the work of the two charities first-hand and know that the funds raised will make meaningful change to people’s lives.”