A record-breaking adventurer and mental health activist is returning with another epic attempt to support mental health after the COVID-19 lockdown.
In August 2020 25 year old Alex Staniforth will attempt to run the National Three Peaks Challenge in under 9 days. This involves climbing the UK’s three highest mountains – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Snowdon – and running the entire distance between them, over 440 miles, or approximately 17 marathons in total. If successful, his run will break the current record of 9 days and 11 hours.
The National Three Peaks Challenge is traditionally completed within 24 hours using vehicle transport in between the mountains.
Alex, who is based in Kendal in Cumbria, will be running an average of 48 miles (or nearly 2 marathons per day) with over 44,000ft in total height gain (or 1.5 times of Everest).
This follows Alex’s successful Climb the UK challenge in 2017 where he became the fastest person ever to climb the UK’s highest county peaks to raise awareness of depression and eating disorders and for which he won the Pride of Britain Granada Reports Fundraiser of the Year. This was just a few years after Alex experienced the two biggest consecutive disasters in the history of Mount Everest, including the 2015 Nepal earthquake which trapped him on the mountain for 2 days.
Running for mental health
Alex has suffered with depression, anxiet,y and the eating disorder bulimia, for over 8 years and he recognises that the isolation resulting from the recent COVID19 lockdown has been especially difficult for people with eating disorders to manage. He believes that attitudes such as ‘earning calories through exercise’ have re-enforced an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise.
Being male, he says, made it especially difficult for Alex to talk about and it took three years before he sought help. By challenging himself Alex wants to challenge the stigma of eating disorders in men and raise awareness to prevent others from developing them.
Outdoor challenges and spending time in nature have proven to be the most powerful tool for managing his mental health.
Alex says: “It took me longer to get an NHS appointment and access proper support for my eating disorder than it did to cycle and run 5,000 miles around the country in 2017 for my Climb the UK challenge. This only highlights the huge gap in services available for those suffering with eating disorders, which is estimated to be at least 1.6 million people.”
The stress, anxiety and isolation during lockdown has caused significant strain on mental health across the UK, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists warning there could be a ‘tsunami of mental ill health’ once lockdown restrictions are eased.
Mind Over Mountains
This year Alex co-founded a new social enterprise ‘Mind Over Mountains’ to restore well-being through outdoor experiences. The charity provides life-changing residential weekends in UK National Parks helping people build resilience and reconnect with nature to improve their mental and physical well-being.
Alex is aiming to raise £10,000 to support people who have suffered serious setbacks from the lockdown adding: “We’ve been facing our own ‘mental health mountains’ recently and lockdown has helped us appreciate how important spending time outside is for our mental and physical well-being. At Mind Over Mountains we are determined to support those most affected and help them reconnect through the power of nature”.
The organisation is still pending charity registration, which has been delayed due to the COVID-19 situation. In the meantime they have adapted their programmes to provide support in the short-term. As a C.I.C (community interest company) they are delivering guided hill-walks over the summer with small groups to support social distancing restrictions, and providing their usual mindfulness, coaching and counselling virtually instead.
Bursaries are provided to make the programmes accessible for those in difficult financial circumstances or otherwise unable to take part, including NHS and frontline workers affected by trauma.
Alex says, “Our mental health has been challenged more than ever in 2020. I really hope my challenge can help people to keep going if they can’t see the top of the mountain right now”.
To find out more and view his live map: www.alexstaniforth.com
To find out more about Mind Over Mountains and join their programmes visit www.mindovermountains.org.uk