Most people have been affected, directly or indirectly, by the terrible effects of mental health problems. Raising awareness and understanding for those who suffer, and those who support them, is the ongoing mission of many charities and organisations.
Mind is a fantastic example, providing advice and support to those who need it, when they need it most. Their tireless campaigning seeks to educate us all about the truth of mental health, destroying the stigmas and myths that make it so much harder to live with debilitating problems.
Supporting charities like Mind, either with your money or your time, can really make a difference to those who suffer.
It was with this in mind that our coding and innovation expert, Paul, took on a gruelling marathon up Mount Snowdon in Wales, his efforts raising over £3,000 for Mind - and helping to tell the stories of the people in his life who have been devastated by mental illness.
Public attitudes towards mental health are steadily improving, support is growing and the topic is high on the political agenda. It's important to keep this momentum going - there are still far too many people out there fighting on their own. Head over to www.mind.org.uk and read about the incredible work they are doing. Perhaps you'll be inspired to get involved yourself.
Following his epic adventure up this unforgiving mountain, we sat down with Paul to talk about his motivations for taking on this task, as well as his tips for those thinking of doing something similar. We also chatted with him about his role at Rusty Monkey.
At Rusty Monkey we're dedicated to ensuring that our team members feel valued and supported in every aspect of their lives. We believe that work should be fulfilling and rewarding, and contribute towards good mental health. Investing in your team's well-being and encouraging positive communication can have a huge impact on everyone's health and happiness.
Paul has been messing around with computers since he was six. He learned to code Basic on a Spectrum, experimented with game level design in the days of Doom, and generally explored everything the world of code and config had to offer. All this led him to the University of Nottingham to study Computer Science. Today, he works at Rusty Monkey, where he turns his hand to server management, back-end code, front-end code and website animation.
The Snowdon adventure
Q: What inspired you to do a marathon up Snowdon?
A: Since I took part in my first triathlon back in 2012, I've always had a key event that I've been focused on for my training in that year. I've mainly taken part in Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, with the odd half-marathon and marathon thrown in. Last year the big event I took part in was the Deva middle distance triathlon. It was my first middle distance (2km swim, 90km bike, 21km run), and for me it was a huge challenge. I've done a few events for charity, but in general I do them for myself.
One of my partner's best friends took her own life last year. She was an absolutely lovely, kind, outgoing and successful woman. She has a loving partner with 2 lovely kids and a family around her who loved and cared for her. Her death was absolutely devastating. It shattered family bonds, sent others into depression and has been an absolute battle to deal with and process. We will carry the shock and pain with us for the rest of our lives. Mental health has been coming to the fore a lot more recently, and we need to do more to help anyone who suffers, as it can be just as debilitating and fatal as physical health problems.
This was so devastating that I really felt that if there was something I could do to help I should. It needed to be a bit of a special event, something that would be truly challenging, so I settled on a marathon that goes up Snowdon, possibly a little bit naively. Specifically the Snowdonia Trail Marathon. 1600m of climbing over 27 miles.
Q: How much preparation did you do?
A: As much as I could (and in retrospect I should have done more). I do a fair amount of exercise anyway, normally 1-2 swims a week, 2 runs and 2-3 bike rides. Quite a lot of that is just commuting to and from work so it's not hard. I switched to doing more running in December last year really and I've been slowly building up since then, with 3-4 runs every week while dropping off on the swimming. I managed 15 runs that were a half-marathon length or more over that time, up to about 38km. In June I managed 5439m of climbing over 273km of distance. Finding hills in Nottingham was easier than I expected once I started looking, but even though I thought they were hard in training they paled in comparison to the race itself!
Q: What was in your backpack?
A: Snowdonia is a place where you can get into trouble pretty quickly. If you fall and hurt yourself, or if the weather changes quickly - especially when you're so focused on getting round as fast as you can - you can be in real trouble. The organisers make you take essentials with you in case that happens, but it was only once I got out there that I really understood why. It's a brutal terrain and you can easily come unstuck. You have to take water, emergency food, windproof trousers and top, hat, gloves, foil blanket, whistle, money, sun block. I also had my phone, some energy gels, Vaseline and some plasters.
Q: What got you through the marathon?
A: We had a big team with us on the day and it really helped. I was the only one doing the marathon. Six others were on the half-marathon route (which also goes straight up Snowdon) and another five on the 10k route (which was still a hard run, with over 400m of climbing). We also had 17 friends and family members running feed stations or supporting, which was amazing.
We were all running for a great cause and for me I was also running for both my partner's friend, and for another friend of mine who was killed while out cycling on his bike just a few months ago. Every time I struggled I just kept thinking that I had to get round for them, and because I'd spent so long preparing that I wasn't going to give up now.
There's also a great communal spirit between people doing the race on this kind of events. It's everyone versus the course, and almost the harder the course gets the stronger that is. We all wanted everyone to do well and you get so many comments from everyone around cheering you on, keeping you going. It's an amazing feeling and probably the main reason I do this kind of thing.
Q: What would you do differently?
A: I'd have started training earlier to give me more time to build up. I thought I'd given myself enough time but we moved house in that time period so I couldn't spend as much time training as I wanted to. I'd also have done more slower runs for longer Portrait of young manperiods of time. Perhaps most importantly I'd have done more leg strength training. The route up Snowdon has a lot of really big non-uniform steps, and that really took its toll.
Q: What did you learn?
A: Even two years ago I would have called you mad if anyone had suggested I did this race, but I learnt that I have depths of energy and ability far beyond what I thought I had. I thought I was finished about a third of the way up Snowdon but I managed to keep going. You get so far that you just can't give up.
The reward is amazing too - we raised over £3,000 for Mind, which is just brilliant. And more than that, it was a really great event to help heal our friendship group. It brought us closer together and really helped us come to terms with some of the demons we've had since my partner's friend took her life.
My partner was an organising fiend and took a silly idea of mine and made it into something wonderful. She's an incredibly giving person, and it's really gratifying to see how so many people rallied round and came together to help and support. It sounds cheesy but you really do get what you give in this world.
Q: How did it feel to cross the finish line?
A: It was a huge mix of emotions. I was utterly broken so I was massively relieved it was over. I was also elated that I'd managed it, yet I broke down in tears as I'd carried a lot of grief with me and the event had become the focal point for it.
The further away I get from it though I'm just proud, and I really can't quite believe I managed it. We're all capable of so much more than we might think. I had chronic fatigue about 10-15 years ago. It lasted about two years and at its worst I struggled to walk to the corner shop. I was completely unfit both physically and mentally. I realise you see so many stories of people turning their lives around through exercise that it can sound clichéd, but it really has saved me and I love it now.
Portrait of young man
Q: Do you have any advice for others thinking of doing something similar?
A: Don't underestimate the event. Start training early and plan your training out. Talk to people about your training plan to make sure you're on track. Join a club too. Do not underestimate how important gym work is - core fitness and leg strength are so important in helping you avoid injuries. Don't over-train either. I had planned a full marathon a few weeks before the event as my last training session but it hit 30 degrees that day so I called it off after a half-marathon. It was just too warm. There is no point in pushing so hard you make yourself ill. Listen to your body and if you get niggles or injuries, talk to a professional like a physio. They are absolutely invaluable.
Q: What will be your next challenge?
A: I haven't thought about next year yet. I have a few half-marathons planned this year, including the Robin Hood half. I'm hoping to take some of the fitness I've gained through the training to break some personal bests. There's a part of me that wants to do Snowdon again next year (I've spoken about how hard it was, but it's just a stunning area and it was an absolutely EPIC adventure too), but I suspect I'll have an easier year and do some shorter triathlons instead.
All things code
Q: Why and how did you start to code?
A: The first thing I coded was a game on the Spectrum 48k. I was about 6 and it was a little game from a magazine where you typed the code in from the page and then ran it (and it was AWFUL). I didn't really do any serious coding for a while, other than mess with computer games, editing game levels, experimenting with setup and config files etc. Then I did a degree in Computer Science. That's where I learnt to code properly.
Q: What is your favourite coding language and why?
A: Haskell - although I only ever did it at university. It's a functional programming language based on pure maths. It's incredibly clever, and when you get the hang of it, really quick. It's been a long time since I've played with it though, so I very much doubt I could code in it any more.
Q: Your favourite video game?
A: An old game called System Shock 2. It was just incredible when it came out. The atmosphere, and feeling of a continuous changing world where you could go anywhere, with a brilliant plot and superb acting. For a game that came out in 1999 it was way ahead of its time and I can still play it today and thoroughly enjoy it.
Q: What's your favourite project to have worked on so far?
A: I've really enjoyed working with Hugo on the projects we've used it for. It's really quick, intuitive and quite fun to use. I'm also really enjoying working with Statamic, which we're hoping to use for our next in-house platform. It's based on Laravel, which itself is brilliant, but it takes that and adds in some amazing CMS features.
Q: Describe your dream code job.
A: Other than Rusty Monkey you mean? I'd love to work in the green energy sector, or being involved in helping with climate change. It's such a huge issue and as a society we really need to be putting all our energy into sorting it out. I'd love to be a part of that.
From struggling to walk to the corner shop 10 years ago, to completing a marathon up Snowdonia last week, Paul is an incredible inspiration to us all. If you ever have any doubt in yourself, Paul's journey is an important reminder that we have depths of energy and ability beyond our own belief.