CS Group Team-Building – The Cateran Yomp

A weekend of Hiking, Nature & Painkillers by Matthew Newnham 

Last weekend, 10 of CS Group’s more intrepid individuals took a break from the daily grind and headed to one of the most remote and beautiful parts of Scotland to complete a monster hiking challenge, The Cateran Yomp. Prior to the event, the team had been busy raising funds for the Army Benevolent Fund, interspersed with mammoth weekend training events mainly along the scenic but unforgiving Coastal Path between Swanage and Weymouth. The aim was not only to enjoy the great outdoors but also to strengthen our bonds, foster better communication, and boost team morale.

Planning & Preparation

While going for a walk doesn’t require much preparation, hiking across the most remote part of Scotland for up to 24 hours is a very different ballpark. Our team came fully loaded with specialist footwear, ultralight waterproofs, water bladders in daypacks, hiking poles and for some, silver socks (yes, socks with actual silver threads with antibacterial properties helping avoid issues like blisters). Some of us covered over 100 miles in preparation for the main event, some younger and more able of the team did less training but still achieved colossal goals. When was the last time you walked 22 miles?

Travel / Arrival

The team met at 3AM (yep!) at the CS Group HQ in Hampshire, before setting off on the 8-hour drive to Blairgowrie, nestled between Dundee and the Cairngorms National Park. The further north we travelled the higher the landscape seemed, sparking conversations about the type of terrain we’d be tackling on our adventure, “Would it be that steep? Surely not!”

We arrived at our Airbnb excited to find comfort and coffee. No time was wasted in settling into our rooms and freshening up before heading off to our Safety Briefing and Pasta Party.

Carb up – check > Kit check – check > Early night – check

Starting Point

After a 4am alarm, we arrived at the start line for out 06:10 depart just squeezing in enough time to take on more carbs from the breakfast bar. As we headed off to the sound of bagpipes, the pace was unrelentingly high, making me question how long we would be expected to keep this up. We seemed to be in a group of super soldiers and while I appreciated the enthusiasm, the group splintered as the varied expectations of our effort became apparent.

We paused occasionally to regroup, ensuring everyone was ok, which brought us to the decision to split into 3 groups. A group who was aiming to achieve Bronze (22 miles) and wanted to take in the scenery and relax into the experience, a group who were aiming for Bronze, but aspirations for Silver (36 miles), and a group who were aiming for the Gold (54 miles). We set off at our new varying paces feeling more in tune with our groups and efforts.

Memorable Moments

When we reached the summit of the main climb (a 5-mile uphill monstrosity) Ben, Pea and I rested taking in the breathtaking views, drank tea, and ate Jellybeans while the sun shone down on us and our achievements.

This summit was not far from the 22-mile checkpoint where we were greeted by enthusiastic finish line interviews, an abundance of carbs and snacks, and for those pushing on to Silver and Gold, the chance to change socks, fill water bladders and take on the extra kit required for the longer sections. Things were getting serious now as our bags were checked for headtorches, survival bags, warm layers, battery packs, whistles, compasses, maps etc. The kit you’ll need if you get stuck, lost, or injured.

Having hiked a few miles into the Silver challenge, it soon became apparent why the extra kit. The landscape was more dramatic and remote. At times there was no signs of human life, no buildings, no cables, nothing but rolling landscape. It’s not often we get to experience that and while enjoyable, a little daunting when you consider it could be an hour or two before the next water stop.

Team Bonding

While the capabilities and goals of our team varied, there was one common goal, push yourself, do something you would never normally do, have a good time doing it. Beyond the 4-mile mark when we split into three groups, the team experience was diluted, but each one of us knew we were pushing way beyond anything we’d done before. Beyond anything most people have ever done.

For me, the 14 miles from Bronze to Silver took forever. The fatigue set in fully somewhere within 6 miles of the Silver finish line and to push further would have been pointless. Despite loading more painkillers, I had prominent aches in my lower back, my right ankle, my left shoulder and was struggling to keep my spirits high. Ben was instrumental in keeping me going with his entertaining stories and generally upbeat demeanour, but that only carried me so far. There’s a line where capability stops and sheer grit and determination have to take over, and it’s at that line where I decided to call it a day.

As I approached the 36-mile line I felt a wave of relief come over me as I saw Pea and Adrian waiting for me, but also a little emotional to wish Ben good luck on his attempt to reach Gold before the 24 hours was up. We’d stuck together for the full 36 miles and while I knew I wouldn’t make 54 miles, I felt like I was letting him down by not carrying on. He did it of course. As he kept reminding us all, “I’m an athlete!” (Tell yourself something enough and you might start believing it!)

The results the following day were telling. The 22 milers seemed fresh and chatty, I was a bit achy but nothing I couldn’t cope with, the 3 Golden boys who’d pushed themselves to the limit were broken, struggling to perform basic functions like not walking like a penguin, using chairs, and most memorably and well documented on video, getting in and out of the van at services on the journey home.

Reflections and Takeaways

Many stories of our experiences were shared over breakfast the following morning, and it was at this point I realised the “team bonding” worked. While we hadn’t necessarily worked as a team, we’d experienced as a team, trained as a team, and achieved as a team.

The complaints of ailments and shared experiences of our adventure are still a daily occurrence and I’d imagine they’ll continue long into the future, at least until we’ve decided what crazy event to do next! Ultra Marathon anyone?

Below are 2 personal accounts of the event from Service Desk Manager (and athlete) Ben Shotter and Procurement and Projects Manager Pea O’Driscoll.

Blow by Blow by Ben Shotter (an athlete)

Know your limits!  – When asked to walk 54 miles, in 24 hours I said “I know I can walk 24 miles in 12 hours.  I can’t walk 25 miles and I can’t walk for 13 hours!  I agreed to commit to walk the Silver, 36 miles as I always like to push myself.  Doers do and all that…

Don’t give into peer pressure!  – When I was asked to lead the team, I caved, with a younger team all committing to more…  I reluctantly agreed to walk Gold, 54 miles.  Having been brought up on the principles, of ‘lead by example’, ‘show strength, never tell’ I knew I had an uphill battle.

Train as you fight – A military term used to remind you that you need a plan, process, mental preparation, and physical ability as well as emotional strength.  Your only as strong as your weakest team member, look after your kit and your kit will look after you!  I trained with everything that I needed to carry with me on the day, spare kit for the team, medical, water…  a mindset to be the best and be proud of those that are better.  I walked 173 miles in training, always taking the steepest route, highest steps.  The Jurassic coast offers the most gruelling but beautiful training environment.

Believe in yourself – Your only as old as your mind! I needed to deliver therefore I told my children that I will walk 54 miles in 24 hours.  I told my team that I was an Athlete!  I set the stage to be a winner and deliver the best that I am.  I don’t like to fail therefore I prepared myself mentally, physically, emotionally. You know that you’re winning when you’re comfortable in your own space, alone in the dark with nothing but a glow stick to navigate towards…

Don’t underestimate the importance of your team!  While I’m used to working alone with the mindset of ‘Me, Myself and I’ having a support network pushing me forward was key. Those that had sponsored me and were tracking me offered progress updates, those that I waited for later gave me the strength to push through the pain when I was running late.  Conversations with those that walked with me helped pass the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other.  A metaphor for life, …one step at a time!  …and then there’s Adrian our Support team member, the man that offered to be chauffeur, water boy, supplier of fruit and protein snacks but more importantly the smile at the end of every stage.

Push your limits, always overdeliver! I originally agreed to do 36 miles, completed Gold in 23 hours and 43 minutes and covered 62.18 miles in distance.  I said I’d do it and I did it.  I felt I could have done better to push my teammates further however they were all proud of their individual achievements and that is all I could ask for.  We raised money for people less fortunate than us, I walked with a clear mind, happy in myself where others struggle daily.  I sucked up the pains in my legs and feet while I overtook those without legs or feet.  We all have our battles, however if you expect a battle, you’ll get a battle!  I’ve realised that life is what you make of it, and I look forward to the next hurdle.

Always reflect!  Our long, tired journey home, conversations in the office while we soothed our aching limbs highlighted the strength of the team that had already bonded, the Yomp could have broken us, tried to break us, however it simply highlighted that we have a great team, all with their own individual strengths.  As a team we all completed our own individual goals, all raised money for a great cause, all learnt something new about each other.  Most importantly we all came home healthy and happy, with the odd blister…

Questioning my Life Choices by Pea O’Driscoll (Pink Lady)

Would you like to join us for a team building exercise? – Sure

It’s in Scotland – Okay…

Walking between 22 and 54 miles in a single day… – Erm…?

My life choices were already being questioned as I’m invited to join the team for a training session on the Jurassic Coast at the weekend. Just 9 miles they said. It’ll be lovely they said…

The time spent on weekends training for the walk was great – we started in March, so it was muddy! Slipping over in the mud, and the laughter shared between us, almost made up for the super steep hills. But not quite.

The travel, terrain (a hill 5 miles long), being both the oldest and the only female was somewhat daunting. But knowing I had a great team of people to support me soothed my anxieties so off I went!

I am very proud of myself for hitting my goal, and my teammates for hitting theirs. It was something I will never forget. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all learnt more about each other during both the training and the event.

Despite us all having different abilities, we all got to our goals.

A special thanks goes out to Adrian our service director for being our support, none of us could have done it without him.

Ben, our Service Desk Manager said he was doing 54 miles, and he did it. He battled through and destroyed his feet in the process. I learnt he is one of the kindest, most reliable, and genuine people I have ever met. #athlete #legend #proud #leader

It was a great honour to raise money for the Army Benevolent Fund, a cause close to my heart.  My brother-in-law has served 22 years. I am very proud of him and everything he has been through.

As a team we raised over £2,100.00 – thank you to all our customers and suppliers for donating!