There is life in the old dog yet … (My Microsoft UK Challenge Story) – Part 1 of 4


Some of you who I know are already aware that I recently took part in the Microsoft UK Challenger event, and it was such an amazing experience that I felt inclined to write a longer than usual blog post.

Just to explain to those who are not aware of the Challenger events; they take place around the world in about 12 countries and are run by a company called Intelligent Sport and the clue is in the name.  It is not just a case of doing something sporty you also have to use your noddle.  A typical event will involve some running, some cycling, some water based activity such as kayaking and also problem solving, construction and strategy.  For the last 9 years Microsoft have sponsored the UK Challenger Event and at the same time raised millions of pounds for the NSPCC through the participants obtaining sponsorship.

I was invited to be part of a part Microsoft/part Community team back in December 2008 provided I undertook to be part of a training programme for the event which was held from 10-14 June 2009.  The training took the form of weekend long sessions in January, March and May and also a personal programme.  Now, I‘ve always been able to maintain a reasonable level of fitness. However, in the past any running has generally caused me to have severe amounts of pain and swelling in my left knee due to an injury sustained when I was 22 through not wearing suitable footwear whist running a half marathon.  This was my main concern on entering the event but as it happens my fears were unfounded.

First Training – Centre Parcs Longleat

So in January I went along with some slight trepidation to Centre Parcs in Longleat to take part in the first weekend training which was run by the training partner of Intelligent Sport UPH (now Monkey Business).  UPH stands for Underwood, Peters, Helliwell as in Rory Underwood (of England Rugby fame), John Peters (of 1st Gulf War fame) and Martin Helliwell (of SAS, survival, mountaineering fame).  It was a great weekend and I got my first taste of Adventure eventing.  We had some typical ‘stages’ to do by way of practice as well as some open training sessions.  So for example we had a Kayaking event which went so:

To start answer a puzzle:  “If I have 10 black socks and 10 white socks in a draw.  If I pull out socks one at a time, how many do I have to pull out to guarantee getting a proper pair of socks?”  (Answer is below)

Once you’ve solved the puzzle, then you have to get your team around a course on the lake marked by 4 buoys as many times as possible in a hour using 3 possible modes of transport.  Single Kayak, Double Kayak or 4 Man/Woman Pedalo.  You can only have 2 boats out at once and every team member should use each type of boat at least once.  You need to click in with the Marshals each time you complete a circuit.  You get bonuses for solving puzzles at each buoy, you get penalties for having too may people out or not clicking in etc.

You get the idea.  It’s not a case of tearing around the lake as quickly as possible, it’s about thinking who in your team is good at what, who is fit enough to row fast by themselves, who is good at puzzles.  How can we keep the required number of boats out with the most team members out.  I’m not sure if I’ve remembered all the details totally correctly, but as I say you get the idea.

Another stage was a classic Estimation stage over a total of 4 hours.  First off, we were given a 2 maps with the location of letters of the alphabet.  Based on the terrain and the distances involved we had to estimate how many words we could spell with numbers we could collect (we collected by visiting the letters).  The team I was in estimated we could spell 70 words.  What we had failed to realise was the following though.  Firstly letters collected from one map in the morning did NOT count towards words collected from the second map in the afternoon.  Also we did not correctly estimate times in travelling.  We also failed to really note the penalties for not living up to our estimates!! As a consequence we ended up with such a massive penalty for firstly being late in as we overestimated our travelling times and secondly for not getting the letters we wanted in order to spell the 70 words.  I think we were 20 mins late and had collected CBIZTL … hmmm.  My everlasting memory of that stage is Myles from Rackspace trying to convince the rest of the team that “There’s the next point by that Mansion House, let’s just GO FOR IT!” when cool-headed Matt Dunstan, Challenger veteran from Microsoft steps in and says, “Myles, firstly, we don’t have time, secondly, we have to go down a cliff to get there and thirdly … it’s the WRONG Mansion House!”, it looses a bit in translation, but I tell you, we laughed and laughed about that afterwards, the first of many fond memories gathered during my Challenger experience.

After the first weekend, I felt I had a better idea of what it was all about, I was also pleasantly surprised by my level of fitness, being one of the fittest in my relevant teams, though running was still a bit of a struggle.  It got me motivated too and excited about the whole weekend and also as a side issue allowed me to get back in touch with John Peters a friend of mine from my RAF basic training days at RAF College Cranwell.  All in all a great start.  I’ll cover the second weekend training in Part 2 next time.


Dave Mc

Answer to puzzle : Three (pull out a white, maybe a black then if I pull out a white or a black I’ll get a pair …simple!)


About davemcmahon81
Software Developer & Architect, User Group Leader, Speaker, Writer, Blogger, Occasional Guitarist, Man-made Global Warming Sceptic, Climate Change Believer, General Optimist but most of all proud Husband and Dad ...

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