A WESTER Ross school is blazing a trail by becoming the first in the Highlands to sign up for a home-grown challenge that has become a global phenomenon.
Pupils at Gairloch High School will join their PE teacher Fiona Johnston for the 5x50 Challenge — an event which challenges us all to change habits of a lifetime by completing 5km of activity for 50 days on the trot.
Starting on March 30 — the day the clocks go forward and British Summer Time begins — the “50 Days to Fit” challenge invites people of all ages and abilities to log their daily walk, run or cycle while helping raise money for charity.
The simple idea was hatched by old Beauly buddies Ray Wallace and Kelly Mason, who were looking for a way to motivate themselves to get fitter. Inspired by its success in keeping them running 5km for 30 days, they extended the effort to 50 days.
News of their challenge spread through friends and within a year more than 10,000 challengers in 43 countries had got involved — raising over £150,000 for charities in the process.
Fiona Johnston has lived in Gairloch for the past 14 years with husband Andrew, a biology and outdoor education teacher at Gairloch High. The couple have two daughters, who are pupils at the school.
Explaining the school’s involvement this year, Fiona said: “I signed up for last year’s 5x50 having heard about it on Radio Scotland just the day before the challenge kicked off. I have always been fairly active and have in the past run 10k races and half marathons, tackled the Highland Cross, the Great Wilderness Challenge and the Bealach Mor cycle race. However, I also have a long term back problem that causes interruptions in my ability to train.
“Last year I had a bad spell with my back at the beginning of the year and the 5x50 challenge came at just the right time for me to get back to some exercise.
"I was attracted to the challenge because I knew I could already manage to walk my dog for the required 5k so I could use that as a basis and add in a bit of cycling and running to build my fitness back up. The start of the challenge also coincided with the Easter holidays and a spell of beautifully settled spring weather in Wester Ross.
“I have a fairly competitive personality, and keeping a log of my exercise sessions was very motivational. Very quickly, the exercise bug came back and I thoroughly enjoyed doing some long days out in the hills, gentle running and dog walking to complete my 5K every day.
"Often I was doing a lot more than 5k and when I dusted off my road bike, the total number of kilometres climbed very quickly! By the end of the 50 days, I had completed 707km and felt great!”
Suffering from a “niggly” back again in recent times, Fiona is now planning using the 5x50 once again to ease herself back into exercise as the evenings stretch out.
The school involvement was sparked by a group of four senior boys doing a course in Activity Tourism. As part of the course, the class has to organise an event. The pupils have chosen to enter a school team into the 5x50 challenge and aim to get as many pupils, staff, parents and family members to take part as possible.
The boys have made up activity log sheets and sponsor forms and plastered the school in posters.
Added Fiona: “The boys’ own interest came from a report one of them had read which suggested that regular physical exercise could help to improve exam performance. To counteract the pervasive excuse of not having enough time to exercise, which we have heard from some staff and pupils, the boys’ poster reads: ‘Can you limit your sitting around and lying down to just 23 hours a day?’
“We like this! It’s borrowed from a YouTube health promoting video called ‘23 and a half hours’ — we just made the exercise bit longer.”
Additional motivation for the school’s involvement comes with a sponsorship tie-in to try and raise funds to refurbish the school’s outdoor learning centre. The school has a lease on a building at Slattadale beside Loch Maree. It has fallen into disrepair in recent years and requires a major upgrade to see it fit for use by the school once more.
Said Fiona: “Outdoor learning is an important part of Curriculum for Excellence and the building at Slattadale could provide numerous opportunities for pupils at Gairloch High and its associated primary schools.”Want to get involved? Read more and sign up here.