How would you fancy walking the equivalent of just under four marathons back to back? No, me neither. How about doing that over a two days and two nights without any sleep and with a 50kg bag of coal on your back? Insane? Yup. But Guto Crompton and Derek Burton are doing it from the 18th to the 20th of June 2015.
I’m not a good traveller and making the two hour journey by car to Cardigan was grating on me but that soon melted away as I passed through its stunning country scenery. Even almost getting side swiped by a cackling elderly woman on a quad bike couldn’t break my new found cheery mood. In fact, I watched her in fascination as she zoomed back into a nearby farm holding on to the handle bars while her legs flailed in the wind behind her.
Soon, the Sat Nav informed me that I had reached my destination at a local college where I met Guto, a 27 year old youth worker and Derek, a 49 year old brick work technician. They grow their boys big in Cardigan. Both are ex rugby players but are now devout Jujitsu converts and train using their own natural gym on the beech. Rocky IV style!
GD: “What are your martial arts backgrounds?”
Derek: “BJJ. BJJ changed my outlook on everything. I used to be in to the rugby culture. Weight training, drinking anything, eating everything and then being an idiot in the night. Brazilian Jujitsu changed my life. Now I eat properly and train hard. I also do Krav Maga and Goshin Jitsu Wales – a self defence style of Jujitsu. For fitness, I do Caveman training and take classes for Cave Girl and Cave Kids down at the beach. I work the doors a couple of nights a week. If you get a big guy playing up on the door, you can use the Jujitsu techniques to restrain them. It’s useful against the bigger guys. The farmers around here are strong as hell.”
Guto: “I was a rugby player previously 6 yrs ago but I don’t really miss it. Brazilian Jujitsu is my sport now. I love the training and you get tested by everyone but there are no ego’s there. People with ego’s tend to not last in the sport. Everyone is there to learn. It’s an hour and a half travel just to get to the gym for training at the Chris Rees BJJ Academy in Swansea but worth it. I just wanted to learn self defence and try something new. As soon as I tried it I was hooked. I’m trying to get into the instruction side of it now. I am a 2 tag purple belt.”
GD: “How did this challenge come about?”
Derek: “Growing up around here, the coal delivery was a regular sight. They still do it now but not as much. I was always fascinated how they could lift these huge bags. I thought to myself, that I could do that and so tried it. I thought it was a great way to exercise the legs and make your back stronger. I bought my own bag, sealed the top and used it for training. I had the bug for it. We’ve raised money for charity before by carrying the coal bag. In fact we’ve raised over £10,000 in charity for local children. It’s difficult to put it out there to ask who needs help. We don’t want to offend anyone and some people do not want help or the attention. You have to be very diplomatic on how you ask. It’s all about helping the children.”
Guto: “Beti (Styles) is local to me. She was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at 6 months old. She’s now 15 months old. She has already had 14 chemotherapy treatments and has 14 more to go. She needs to go to America for focused radiotherapy treatment to fight her battle with cancer. Ellie Mae Jones needs specialist equipment. We wanted to do something to help. Here, everyone knows everyone one and we get together to look after each other. All of the money raised will go towards helping the two families.”
The beech is the best gym in the world. Its free membership, no induction needed.
GD: “So what type of training are you doing to prepare for the challenge?”
Derek: “(Lifting the coal bag) It is not something you look forward to doing. It’s something you have to do to keep in condition for what we’ve got ahead of us. I carry it for about three hours every Saturday. We do outdoor training mostly on the beach. We lift beach stones, run up and down the 140 steps. We take an axe with us, dig with shovels or carry logs or tyres. We wear gas masks too. I remember that I had to explain myself to about 20 ramblers who came across us while I’m digging a hole and Guto’s chopping a tree trunk with an axe and we’re both wearing gas masks! The beech is the best gym in the world. Its free membership, no induction needed. You work hard in the soft sand with a mask on. We get every Sunday off though. I have been on a no fructose diet for the last nine months now. People say that you need sugar for energy. I want to prove that you don’t need any sports drinks. I’ve lost a lot of weight from training in Jujitsu. Now we’re trying to eat a bit more to put on a few pounds.”
Guto: “I’ve done the three peaks challenge with the bag before and the Carmarthen to Cardigan. That was 28 miles. I’ve been keeping my fitness up every day with walking or whatever. You can’t carry that bag every day or you’ll get an injury. We train with it once a week. I’m eating more of a balanced diet now to cut the weight. In the last 10 weeks, I’ve lost a stone and a half. I don’t want to be too heavy on my feet. I’m doing a lot of military based fitness and also the Cave man training, using the tyres, chopping trees down and all of that. We wear the gas masks. The mask is to help training when you’re not comfortable. It really restricts your breathing. It’s all about comfort zone. By training like this, it helps me try to just focus on what I’ve got to do. Wearing it is quite claustrophobic.”
GD: “How is the challenge going to run?”
Derek: “We’re going to start at 9am on the 18th of June from Cardigan rugby club. I think we’ve got the local vicar to verify the weight to prove we’re not cheating. We will then make our way to Newcastle Emlyn. Llanybydder, Lampeter then up to Tregaron. We will stop there for a cup of tea (with no sugar). Then make our way back. I estimate that as long as we don’t get an injury then it will take around 50 hours. Without sleep. We’ve got support vehicles. A van donated by Robins Taxi’s. TM Daniels is donating the diesel. B V Rhys has donated a seven-seater mini bus with petrol. Fair play to all of them. Who says they are all tight with their money!? The vehicles are important for supplies, carrying the team, to have our breaks and also we’ve got to be careful about cars cutting in.
I had around twenty blisters on the feet and most of our toenails came off
I’m going to tape my thumbs up and may put on my rugby shoulder pads for part of it. I’m going to drink lots of water. It’s going to be painful every minute on the actual walk. Last time all of the skin rubbed off my neck and I had around twenty blisters on the feet and most of our toenails came off. We will learn from our mistakes. This time we will be taping our feet up and checking them every couple of hours. I was reluctant last time as they really swell up when you take your shoes off. We are going to swap the bag every hour. If some big hills come up, then we may do it for half an hour each. Everything has got to be parallel. You can’t twist. You’ve got to carry it straight. I will be spending all my time watching the road and walking in the middle of the road as much as I can to avoid the camber as even that slight dip will take its toll.
We know the route off by heart but when you’re carrying he bag in this position (bent forward) you can’t really see much apart from the road. You’ve got to watch out for everything especially in the dark. Manhole covers, sticks, stones, dog poo. We will have a lot of friends supporting us on the way back. I have got a friend who will constantly tell me jokes. That will help me get up those hills and make sure the path is clear for me. You need a good team. He would help me unscrew bottles on drinks and things because I won’t be able to do anything really with my hands. We also won’t be eating that much. On the 50 miler, I only had about 4 corned beef sandwiches and a few protein drinks. Corned Beef are my favourite! My friend also counted that I drank 22L of water. This time I will make sure that there’s no sugar in the drinks. On the way back – soup.”
Guto: “We will always have two people supporting us to pull the bags off as we don’t want to be twisting at all. So this really is a team effort and hats off to everyone who is taking the challenge to walk the 100 miles. For me, this challenge is going to be physically demanding but I need to train my mind for it too. I’ll be thinking of the girls to get me through. It’s all about them not us. That’s what drives us on. We will have time to recover from this. They won’t without treatment.”
GD: “How have friends and family reacted to this challenge?”
Derek: “My partner Cindy is the mechanic behind my engine. She really looks after me, my diet, my nutritional needs………..and she washes my pants! We’ve been together for more than 35 years. Since school. Last time I wasn’t able to walk for three days. Without her I would be knackered. She is really supportive. Sometimes I won’t see her for most of the week through training and working nights, so she is really patient with me. My parents didn’t really understand the 50 miler. Four miles toward the end my dad told me to go to hospital.”
If you want it enough, you’ll chase it, you don’t make excuses.
Guto: “I don’t have a partner at the moment. I have an uncomplicated life and money in my wallet! My parents supportive but it does wind me up when people come up to you and say it’s impossible or you’re going to do your body harm. I’m trying to stay positive and I don’t need the negative thinking. I can’t sleep at night as it is just thinking about it. Things can happen. Injuries can happen easily. It’s going to be more in the head than it will physically. I keep thinking of positive things like how I can help those two young girls and when I got my purple belt. When I walk with the bag I always think of how hard I’ve trained, but also the next stage of thinking is, of the people suffering and the less fortunate. We will hopefully make a full recovery without help unlike the 2 young girls. I’m determined. I have to be making the hour and a half journey to Swansea to train BJJ 2-3 times a week in all weathers, where as others are lucky to half the class on their doorstep. If you want it enough, you’ll chase it, you don’t make excuses.”
The boys took me to a local car park and showed me some of their training gear from their van. They brought out a Shinai, a hammer and their gas masks. After a bit of prompting I got them to pose for a couple of pictures for this article. As soon as they donned their gear, I felt an instant urge to hand them all my cash (a fiver and some lint). They looked like frightening extra’s out of Grand Theft Auto about to set out on a bank job and a far cry from who they actually were; two nice guys who care about their community enough to do something to make a difference. I felt guilty about moaning about my 90 mile car journey considering what they are about to undertake and I heartily believe that if anyone can do this seemingly impossible challenge, these two have the strength and the heart to do it. (Although Derek has probably done himself out of energy drink sponsorship now with his no fructose diet.)
Good luck guys.
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* * *UPDATE 22/6/15 * * *
I can confirm that the lads completed the coal carry and done it in 55 grueling hours. Fantastic feet of strength and endurance. Guto lost some of his toenails in the challenge. If found, he doesn’t want them back.
Unmarked photo’s are copy written to Guto and Derek.