Back to blog listings

Race For Wildlife - The Highs and Lows.

Posted: Monday 7th November 2016 by Nature Notes

Ben Habgood, SWT's Chief Executive Nigel Davenport and James Herd

James Herd reflects on an amazing Hedgerow Heroes challenge...

Seven weeks ago Ben Habgood and I completed what we would both call the hardest physical and emotional challenge of our lives, but it was for a cause that we are both passionate about and worth every second of pain, sweat and tears (yes there were a few)!

It was Race for Wildlife 2016 which involved a 3 day endurance challenge of a 24 mile canoe, a 114 mile bike ride over some serious Surrey hills and a 35 mile ultra-marathon run on the final day. The aim - to raise money for the Trust's new Hedgerow Heroes project.

On day one, we set off from Manor Farm in Byfleet in torrential rain on the river Wey which had a very strong current. There were even questions about the safety of starting the challenge due to the river conditions, but we got in, kept an eye on the conditions and were prepared to delay the canoe if needed.

Thankfully the rain eased and we got onto the Wey navigation in good time. From here we had a 20 mile canoe against the current all the way to Godalming. This was far harder than we expected as the flow from the current created by the locks was a tough current to fight against.

This also wasn't helped by the fact we weren't sure which way round the canoe should turns out it was the opposite way to the way we were using it! So we went 20 miles against the current in a canoe which was the wrong way around.

Not deterred though we got day 1 done and even had time for an interview with BBC Radio Surrey at the end.

We managed to get a good nights sleep, but were up early to start the bike ride at first light. Beacon Hill was one incline we hadn't expected so that was a very unwelcome early surprise.

As we approached Chobham a gear cable on Ben's bike snapped which meant he only had 2 gears. Luckily we were only a couple of miles from Chobham and we limped into Brilliant Bikes in Chobham who did the repair free of charge and in record pace so we were soon back on the road.

We got to the top of Newlands Corner for some lunch, then back on the road to take on Leith Hill and Box Hill. By the time we got to Box Hill we were both feeling it. Not only had all these hills started to take their toil on our bodies, but the exertion from the canoe and general lack of energy was starting to kick in.

The remaining 35-40 miles were a real grind. The worst of the hills were done, but there was an ever decreasing reserve of energy in our bodies no matter how much we ate and the light was only an hour or two from starting to fade. Time was not on our side.

With this in mind we decided to not stop at our last support team rendezvous point and grind it out to the finish knowing that the next time we got off our bikes we would've completed day 2. Just before darkness fell we made it to our final cycling destination, Bay Pond, where we quickly loaded our bikes into vehicles and got home for food and rest.

We didn't get much rest as we were up at 4am the next day and started running at 5am. Ben and I set off in the darkness and started to make headway into our run. For me, this was the hardest section of the whole challenge. I felt awful. I had absolutely no energy - every step was an effort and the darkness and quiet did nothing to boost my morale. Luckily I had Ben there to motivate me, try to keep my spirits up and pull me through.

Once daylight came and I had some more food I was a different man and before we knew it we were on the edge of Dorking with lots of friends and family and 1/3 of the run was complete.

We set off from Dorking in high spirits and with an additional runner, Jenny Hooper, who is a colleague of both of us at SWT. This injection of a fresh face put extra wind in our sails and things were looking up! Then it happened. Both of Ben's achillies started to really tighten and become incredibly sore. This wasn't something to be taken lightly, and fortunately his fiancé is an osteopath who had a look at them at the next stop. There wasn't a whole lot that could be done and now it was my turn to repay the favour of support to Ben.

Every step was absolute agony for him. All the inclines, no matter how small, became a phenomenal challenge and our pace started to drop. This was no longer fun, this was serious and we were both working hard to avoid a serious injury, especially to Ben.

At our penultimate stop it all got a bit much for us both as we were greeted by around 30 people who were a combination of friends, family, colleagues and complete strangers. We'd been through two-and-a-half days of relentless effort for a cause we are passionate about, and to see so many people who felt as passionately as we do was very humbling. This is where emotions got the better of us and tears kicked in.

I have never been so re-assured that the work that goes on at SWT is hugely supported by so many people. We were inundated with comments on social media, support from people in person along the route and donations constantly coming in. This gave us the energy we needed to get the final stretch done and 8 miles later..........we finished.

There was a large crowd to greet us at the Sawmill on Norbury Park and the relief that we'd finished the challenge soon kicked in.

However, one very important question much had we raised? At that time it was over £6,000 including gift aid, and now we know we have reached over £7,700.

Ben and I were the two people daft enough to say "yeah we'll do that", but this was a challenge that was achieved by everyone who supported Race for Wildlife 2016.

Everyone who donated, everyone who sent us a message of support, everyone who cheered us on during the weekend, everyone who will go on to sign up to become a Hedgerow all were as much a part of this as Ben and me. It goes to show what we can achieve together for the positive impact of Surrey's wildlife.

From Ben and myself we’d like to say the biggest thank you to everyone who supported us. However its more than that. From everyone at SWT we would like to say thank you for all your support, not only during Race for Wildlife 2016, but into the future as Hedgerow Heroes gets started and people get out into their local area and start reporting on the condition of hedgerows and looking at ways they can be improved to benefit wildlife.

You can get involved and find out more here:


Read Nature Notes's latest blog entries.


There are currently no comments, why not be the first.