It's not every day you finish your working week with a 7pm Friday night hike. But on Friday 30th September, this is exactly what happened.
I joined over 100 UK-based Societe Generale staff to take to London's streets in its annual flagship event, the Midnight Hike, to raise funds for Mind, the mental health charity - Societe Generale's charity of the year. This was not your usual charity walk or run which typically consists of 5 or 10km. This was 26.2 miles equating to 42km, aka a marathon!
When I found out about the Midnight Hike in aid of Mind, I jumped at the chance to be involved. Upon arriving at the start location there was a real sense of excitement and energy. Everyone was tucking into the food and filling their water bottles in preparation for the long distance that lay ahead.
There was a real sense of occasion with speeches from Mind's chief executive Paul Farmer and Societe Generale's Group Chief Country Head for the UK, Ian Fisher, which reminded everyone of why it's important to raise funds and awareness for mental health.
We hit the streets of East London, leaving the bank's London headquarters in Tower Hill at 7pm, followed an iconic route highlighting creative therapies as a form of treatment for mental health problems. We had 3 pit stops where we were fed and watered over the course of the hike. This gave everyone a chance to regroup and take a much needed break and refocus before the next stretch.
I cannot tell you how great it was to see so much of London on foot at night. It is such a beautiful city that we sadly miss when we're commuting and rushing around. I took it all in and fell in love with London all over again.
A huge factor of enjoyment of the evening was getting to know my fellow hikers. When you have so much distance to cover together there was no need for small talk.
One gentleman started talking about his family and edited it short midway with "long story", to which I responded, 'we have another five miles to walk before the next pit stop, we have plenty of time!'
It was then my turn to talk about my family. I have experienced the conversation many times where the question arises about where do my parents live or what do they do for work. After discussing my Mum it will then turn to the moment I have to say my father passed away. This is always followed with an apology and condolences, then comes the question of, 'how?' The person often regrets asking this when the answer is suicide.
Mental illness has played a part in both sides of my family over different generations, however I never had my Dad down as someone that would end up with depression. Over the course of two years I watched a successful, driven and larger than life personality slowly dissolve into someone lost, depressed who was lacking confidence and direction.
On January 30th 2012, I lost my father to suicide. That day truly changed me forever, and I've always vowed since then that I would do anything possible to help in mental health charities or talk.
At my father's funeral we asked for donations to be made to Mind, and my regret was not using the charity at our time of need.
We had photo books made up for friends and family filled with pictures of my Dad and great memories. I was packing my bag for the Midnight Hike, with my waterproof jacket, change of socks and snacks, when I realised I was essentially doing this walk for my Dad, so I pulled out the photo book and slid it down into the back of the back pack and took those happy memories, and my reason for my involvement with Mind, on my back.
As someone that has and still does deal with depression, I empathise with my Dad and those who live with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. My stand point as a personal trainer and ambassador for health and fitness will always remain with exercise and action for change.
This walk was a chance to reflect, connect and collect a huge sense of achievement at the finish line.
6:50am on Saturday 1st October I crossed that finish line. I was exhausted, sore and aching all over. I took a moment to myself to watch the sun rise over the Thames with all the other hikers crossing the bridge to the finish line. A sense of calm washed over me and I couldn't help but smile. It was all over, nearly 12 hours on the go of walking and talking.
The walking marathon has raised over £75,000 so far, which will help Mind to support the one in four people who live with a mental health problem each year.
It was an amazing experience, and I'd recommend anyone to do it. Mind is an amazing charity, with a fantastic team and I will always continue to support them in any way possible.
To find out more about Mind visit www.mind.org.uk