Rising to the NSPCC’s Gherkin Challenge

It’s not the time that matters, it’s the taking part that counts, or so I once heard. I wish…try telling that to the OMD UK team that took part in the NSPCC Gherkin Challenge on Saturday 22nd June, with only one thought in the forefront of their minds…winning!

How do you prepare for such an event? Some of team simply did the odd run at lunch, others conducted trials up OMD UK’s very own office steps (Dan Ward) completing them in sub 25 seconds – The Gherkin would be a walk in the park, we thought. How very wrong we were.

As the team congregated at base camp for midday, 30 minutes before the start of the assent, it was clear that the challenge for one member was just too straight forward. Austin Goh decided to wear a full Bear costume for the climb and was rewarded for it with an additional £100 in sponsorship from his house mates for completing the challenge in the outfit. A fantastic effort.

The challenge saw each participant climb the 1037 steps of the 30 St Mary Axe building (widely known informally as “The Gherkin”).  To put it into context, 1037 steps is the equivalent of 69 flights of a normal house staircase. On the walk to the start line, we were advised that the average time to complete the task was 12 minutes 53 seconds, followed by an official jokingly telling us “you should be able to finish it in about 15 minutes then..” Thanks for the support!

At 12:15pm we were called forward, camera at the ready, squats done, there was no turning back. “On your marks….get set….…GO!”. Although there is no definitive proof, I’m pretty sure I completed the first 10 flights of stairs quicker than Usain Bolt’s 100m record of 9.58 seconds, the issue was the remaining 66 flights. My lungs were clinging to every available molecule of oxygen in the air from about 1 minute in. My muscles in agonising pain with every step, and within 2 minutes of the start, 95% of my body was lactic acid. Fact.

Just when I didn’t think the experience could become any more painful, a guy dressed as a Bear passes me and disappears into the distance. Brilliant. I CANNOT get beaten by a bear! Actually, maybe, just maybe, if I manage to catch him, I can make out that I, in fact, was the team player in all of this, willingly sacrificing my time in order to capture his participation in the event!

Floor 10, floor 11, floor 12, this isn’t even funny anymore, where’s the Bear!?!?!? Floor 13, floor 14, floor 15, just as I was willing to hold my hands up and except defeat, there he was! Finally, this could well work. As we continued up the following 20 floors, the NSPCC staff and other participants that we met along the way were fantastic, encouraging everyone that past them, a much needed boost of adrenaline whilst my legs were turning to jelly. As I approached the last few flights of stairs, I thought I had enough in me to beat the bear that’d haunted me the entire run… And then he disappeared again! Cheers Austin, beaten by a bear by 15 seconds!

We were greeted at the finish line, with a great reception from the NSPCC team, a medal each and a much needed glass of champagne. Shortly after it became clear that Tom Hughes had the fastest time of the day – 5 minutes 33 seconds. Incredibly, that’s 3.1 steps a second.

Irrespective of time, it was a fantastic effort from everyone who took part and a great day out for team OMD UK, but a special shout out has to go out to 3 year old Jake Willis who completed the climb with his Dad Richard in 15 minutes! A phenomenal effort from the father and son team and to all of those who helped raise money for a fantastic cause.


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