BLOG: Five lessons from the ‘4 Pillars Challenge’

Blog by Dave Garrett, Business Change Analyst at Ben

At the beginning of the year, I set myself an epic personal challenge to raise money for Ben by covering 4,000 ‘self-propelled’ miles in a year by walking, swimming, running, kayaking and cycling. This is in line with Ben’s four quarterly awareness campaigns, focused on financial, social, physical and mental health and wellbeing. Each 1,000 miles represents one of these pillars. I completed 1,160 miles from January to March, having started in a ‘debt’ of 160 miles, to represent the financial pillar.

As part of the challenge I’m also participating in a number of arduous endurance events which would each be tough enough as standalone challenges! So far, I have completed the Farnborough Winter Half Marathon, the Waterside Series Canoe Races and the Devizes to Westminister International Canoe Marathon (known as the paddlers Everest, 125 miles kayak from Devizes to Westminister). My focus now turns to Swim Run starting with ÖtillÖ Scilly Isles in June, a race swimming between and running across the many islands in the Isles of Scilly.

Here are my top tips so far to help others undertaking a similar personal challenge, but they can also be applied to other life challenges…


Discipline is everything

With anything you plan to do, there comes a point when you need to decide whether you’re going to go ahead and actually do it or not! The factors which influence your decision can be thought of as ‘motivators’ or ‘demotivators’. Keep yourself on track to achieve your end goal by having strategies to motivate yourself even when the people and environment around you seem to prevent you.

For me, I have the motivation of my end goal (4,000 miles in a year) which I break down into smaller chunks. For example, I think of it as 1,000 miles per quarter or 333 miles per month – or whatever I need to achieve for the day or week to stay on track. Discipline is key and can be as simple as making an early start, getting an early night or checking the weather so you have the right kit ready for the morning.


Be prepared

Plan ahead. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far is keeping on top of my personal admin. If I plan to cycle to work during the week I make sure I have a few sets of work clothes ironed and at work ready to change into. I also keep on top of basic housework like ironing my kids’ school uniforms and other general household chores. These things might seem small, but when you’re already short of time, little tasks add up!

The other key area to plan for is weather conditions. Watching forecasts and carrying warm/waterproof gear to ride or train in is essential. This is one of those lessons that I learned the hard way. Cycling in freezing cold conditions with no gloves is a pretty painful experience and getting caught in the rain without waterproofs is miserable! Unfortunately I have a limited supply of wet weather kit so have to get it washed and dry in time for the next session (often the next morning).


Get ready for a bumpy ride

There are bound to be bumps in the road ahead. Sometimes you can swerve and miss them and other times you might need to absorb the impact! Be prepared to take the rough with the smooth and don’t get frustrated when the path isn’t quite how you would like. When I come across a rough patch that I’m unable to avoid I tend to put my head down and power on through.

During particularly long events you tend to find yourself in some pretty dark places mentally. Negative thoughts can make even an easy venture seem a lot harder, almost like wading through invisible mud! I do my best to reason with or switch off any negative ‘self-talk’. I’ve heard this called ‘shutting the duck up’ (the imaginary duck that quacks away annoyingly in your ear) and believe me when I say it’s much easier to focus on the task at hand without the burden of dark thoughts.


Keep going, inch by inch!

There’s a famous Al Pacino speech, from the film ‘Any Given Sunday’, which personally resonates with me:

‘Life’s this game of inches. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second… We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the difference between winning and losing!’

The margins for failure or error are small so fight for every inch until you win and achieve your goal. When you’re tired, keep going! When people or tasks distract you, keep going! When the journey ahead seems arduous, keep going! Whatever the weather, when it’s cold, wet, windy, snowing – keep going!

Every little bit counts. If the destination seems far away in the distance, break it down into smaller steps so it seems easier to reach the next milestone.



This one is simple; put a smile on your face! The more you can smile the better! A good friend of mine once told me; when you can no longer smile during an activity, you know you’ve got nothing left both mentally and physically. I often smile while I’m on a long session which helps to lift me mentally and physically, especially if I hit a low point. I also smile at people I pass and usually get a smile back which definitely helps to lift the spirits!


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