Wednesday 22 October 2014

Blazing a trail for charity

The Oxfam Trailtrekker Offers a challenge for those not into running, writes Tanya Sweeney

In a fit of well-meaning and good intention, many people think about taking on a challenge event to test their own limits and possibly raise some money for charity. There's no shortage of running or endurance events designed to do just that . . . but what of those of us who aren't runners?

Now in its sixth year in Ireland, the Oxfam Trailtrekker was created to attract both seasoned walkers and hill-trekkers, as well as those who are starting to get fit. Since 1981, more than 32,000 teams have participated in Trailtrekker events worldwide, walking the equivalent distance of circumnavigating the globe 287 times. This year, participants in the Irish event can walk a distance of either 25k or 50k across the Mourne Mountains in Co Down, individually or as a team.

So the question looms large; in a calendar packed with fitness events, what does the Trailtrekker offer that other events don't? According to Trevor Anderson, Oxfam's director of trading, the atmosphere is second to none ... and given that Trailtrekker has already raised €70m across the globe, the feel-good factor is certainly undeniable.

"Whether it's your first or 10th time, there is great camaraderie," enthuses Trevor. "It's difficult to explain the atmosphere at the Trailtrekker until you do it. There's the team spirit, the sense of achievement after training for weeks or months ... and when the weather's great it tops it all off."

Rathgar native Diana Devlin completed the Trailtrekker last year with a team of pals after researching events online.

"I figured it was something I'd like to do as I'd never undertaken a challenge like this," she says. "I'm not a marathon runner but I wanted something that was like a marathon but more accessible."

After what she calls 'a bit' of training, she prepared herself with a 12k walk around Glendalough in Co Wicklow.

"We're so lucky that there's gorgeous scenery around Ireland," says Diana. "From Rathgar I can jump in the car and within an hour or two you can be walking in some great picturesque areas. It's much better than being in some gym, staring at a screen."

Sure enough, the stunning Mourne Mountains scenery stops the Trailtrekker participants' morale from flagging.

"Ninety per cent of the trek is off-road," explains Trevor. "There are a few climbs but we're not hitting peaks. It's a challenge, but certainly reasonable."

A 'reasonable' mountain stroll it may well be ... but preparation is still key: "I'm definitely glad I did some training," admits Diana. "Unless you have a good idea of what 25k is really like, you'd need to get your training in beforehand."

For those new to exercise, however, walking is the perfect way to create a base level of fitness.

"As well as being free, and accessible to all, walking is a fantastic aerobic activity which helps to improve the heart and lungs and can also help to reduce the risk of developing other serious illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, asthma and even some forms of cancer," explains Dr Bernadette Carr, medical director of VHI Ireland (www.vhi.ie).

"In addition, there is evidence that regular exercise helps to clear your mind and boost your mood as endorphins get released into the bloodstream."

And, because walking is a low-impact form of exercise, there is a low risk of injury – perfect for those in older age groups.

Not only do Oxfam provide advice and training walks ahead of the June event, for those who want to get a feel for the Mourne Mountains terrain ahead of the big day, they also provide tea and muffins at pit-stops throughout the trek, as well as a party for those who get over the finish line.

Irish Independent

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