ANNIE ROSS wanted to show those who spend their lives sitting at a desk the limitless possibilities there are for accessible adventures. Last year she conquered any fear of idleness by setting herself 52 sporting challenges over 52 weeks, while also working her day job at the Deutsche Bank in London.
From climbing the height of Everest by stairs to trying the flying trapeze, she inspired hundreds of people to get involved in her 52 challenges. The project was called eXerK.com, now a company with the goal of helping those with busy lifestyles find the time for sport and adventure through event organisation and writing.
Annie’s challenge and work with others through eXerK have given her the motivation to set herself new and tougher objectives which will soon see her give up her job in the City. Read on to find out what she plans to do and hear all about the whirlwind of a year she’s just had.
What made you set yourself and complete the 52in52 challenge and what was the overall aim of the adventure?
You know when there is one too many things bugging you? The idea of the 52 sporting challenges in 52 weeks was dreamt up to have a bit of fun tackling those. I wanted to see what happened if I disrupted my normal city routine, was keen to address a frustration with the amount of sitting down we do and I wanted to show Londoners how fun being outdoors and active is.
I tried to pick challenges that encompassed enough variety, both in toughness and in sports, that everyone could feel included. The challenges included open water swimming, half marathons, hikes, bouldering, sea kayaking, roller blading, hiking, surfing, triathlons, obstacle courses, cycling London to Paris and relay races…hula hooping and dancing.
The overall aim of the “52in52”, the kick-starter to eXerK’s continuing objective, was to demonstrate that no matter how busy we feel we are, we can take control, make choices and spend more time doing the things we care about.
What was your highlight over the 52 weeks?
Seeing people come back for more. The challenges started on Jan 1, 2015 and finished on Dec 31 and as you can imagine, it was hugely rewarding to see friends and strangers turn up to one challenge, then another, then another. On top of that, the charity I was fundraising for, Sported.org.uk, put together its own 52in52, with colleagues pledging to do challenges, contributing to the team total and creating a lasting healthy legacy at the charity.
Over 650 extra challenges were completed by those who joined me on the 52in52 mission – so pretty chuffed with the dent I may have made in empowering people to get up and out.
This video shows how much fun it was too:
And the toughest challenge?
I tried to go from zero to hero in the backflip stakes in two months. It didn’t work. Got really excited about it but I needed more time, and couldn’t give any more to it last year so I chose to admit defeat on that challenge and move on.
Apart from that though, from flying trapeze to the 5k open water swim and from climbing the height of Everest by stairs to the Alpe d’Huez triathlon, the individual challenges weren’t going to break me. They were just a matter of setting aside the time, dealing with injury and dodging burnout.
In reality, the toughest challenge was balancing this huge extra project on top of my normal life. With a full time job in banking, great friends and family, maintaining my website, organising, marketing, sorting logistics and of course doing the challenges, it was a pretty intense 365 days.
And most embarrassing?
Nothing mortifying happened (embarrassing is what you make it) but a lot of funny/embarrassing moments – remember I was trying sports for the first time!
In a strange way, exhaustion was probably the recurring embarrassment. I was trying to show people how exercise can form a sustainable part of your life yet by taking it to the extreme and not letting up on other commitments, I breached healthy limits of tiredness. One day I got to my desk as usual at 8.30am and a colleague asked if I had been swimming. I hadn’t. That was how bad my bloodshot eyes and under-eye bags looked.
Through all of it, I learnt that you can’t be everyone to everybody and taking a step back from some aspects, and instead focusing on one or two key goals, is important to making progress. There’s only so long (365 days I discovered) you can survive on five hours sleep, endorphins and adrenalin! Allowing flexibility to cope with change and pressures, whether in work, eXerK, family or social life, was vital to the success of the year.
Tell us more about www.exerk.com, why and when it was formed and how you help people to realise and achieve their goals?
The notion of eXerK preceded the idea of completing 52 sporting challenges in 52 weeks by a few months. The name (merging exercise and work) and the mission of eXerK were dreamt up on a plane journey on the way back from a holiday. Facing the return to being sedentary for 11 hours a day and of rushing around squeezing in sport around work and social life, I was having a little moan when my brother suggested I find a way to bite size exercise, making it more accessible for busy people.
I toyed around with a few ideas of how this mission would manifest itself. After many sleepless nights and a few sessions at Escape the City, I took a step back, crumpled up all my lists and decided to focus on what I wanted more of in my life and use that fun as a platform to help busy people get active. There were so many cool activities & events to try that I decided to test the theory that I could fill a whole year of weekends exploring them.
Only in January 2016, after the completion of the 52in52, did I establish eXerK as a company, mostly because it is fun to say I set up a company, but also to hold the little trickle of income I receive from public speaking, writing and event organisation.
Who are some of the people you have worked with so far and what are some of the successes you and them have had together?
Less like work, more play, but I have teamed up with lots of great people and organisations. One of my favourite things about building a platform like eXerK was the interaction that it facilitated with anyone and everyone. Danny Bent and the Project Awesome gang provided a huge amount of support throughout the 52in52. I also had fun joining forces with Dave Cornthwaite, organising a stand up paddleboard weekend down the Thames as one of the challenges.
The team at Sported, the charity mentioned above, were great to work with, as were Wistla and Movember who partnered with eXerK’s Circle Line Relay. I ended up running the London Marathon 2016 for Movember – a post 52in52 treat for me (I told you I love this active stuff)!
In September 2015, the Evening Standard Online gave me a column and, alongside contributions to other publications, writing is one of the greatest legacies of the 52in52 – my homepage has links to the articles. Though it is something I had never dared to try before (besides the inevitable teenage diary), it turns out I kind of enjoy it! .
How can people get involved and find out more about what you can offer them?
If you’d asked me a year ago, it would have been by joining me on a challenge.
Now that the 52in52 is over, head to www.eXerK.com and check out the completed challenges. The how, what, when, where and costs are there to facilitate you heading out to try the activities yourself. Think of it as a database of cool accessible trips that have been tried and tested around a full time job, and worked!
Besides that, good old social media is where it’s at @eXerKyourself on Twitter and Instagram and eXerK on Facebook. On those I share my articles, ideas to get outdoors and active and little updates on what I’m up to.
Tell us about life away from adventure and what you do as a full-time job?
Both in and out of adventure, I make the most of opportunities that come my way, create a few others to spice things up and find the joy in simple things. I have a curiosity that borders on insatiable fidgety-ness – over the years it’s been music gigs, bars, restaurants, theatre, languages.
I’ve dived head first into exploring whatever is peaking my interest. I work hard to get to a level I’m happy with (never excellence!) then pocket that as it is and grab hold of something else and ride with that for a bit. Movement – both in the sport and travel sense – have been faithful companions throughout all my crazes. In movement I find my head space.
In terms of career, I have been working in corporate banking at Deutsche Bank in London for the last five years, including through the challenges. A pretty intense job, I have had a great time, working hard, learning about business and the finance world, travelling on the job.
I guess I should add the most recent addition of journalist to my CV now too!
How hard is it having a demanding career and also finding time for the adventures and challenges?
I pride myself on being reliable and giving my all to the things I have committed to. In 2015, these were my banking career and eXerK’s 52in52, as well as my family as we dealt with a tragic loss. I pushed myself really hard last year.
True to eXerK’s overall aim, you can make time for the things you care about. Managing real life alongside the 52in52 project was the toughest challenge but one that was really important to me.
I hope the eXerK 52in52 will help people believe they can step up and dip their toes in the water, without putting it off and having to completely revolutionise their lives first. Bite size your goals into manageable steps and get on with it.
What projects or challenges are you currently working on and what is in store for the rest of the year and beyond?
I decided to leave the world of banking earlier this year so am working out my notice at the moment and winding down from London life to spend some time working and travelling abroad (actively of course!).
This year will see me combining my love of Spanish, sports and belief in social impact as I manage the operations of the inaugural colombiamarathon.com – a UN Goal themed immersive running event. Come join me out there in February 2017 (or Nepal in November 2016)
In between my commitments to that I will be taking some time to slow down and pootle around somewhere cool. While the last couple of years of my life have been all about doing and high intensity, am going to try and see if it’s at all possible for me to go slow and not panic if there’s space in my life… wish me luck – the 52in52 feels like a doddle compared to that challenge for me!