Researching the cures


Heather completes an epic Camino de Staircase – and climbs Everest 37 times!

Gutsy fitness trainer Heather Lawson is finally able to put her feet up after a fundraising challenge turned out to be vastly more exercise than she’d bargained for.

After a trip to walk the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, Heather – who is from Blackheath in London – decided to do the same 620 km Lisbon-Santiago route at home on her staircase.

But what she hadn’t calculated was that the walk route was so long that she’d simultaneously be climbing 37 times the height of Everest as well – and that it would take her well over two months of daily effort!

Heather said: “I started at the beginning of April in lockdown thinking it wouldn’t be too bad. Since the real trip was scheduled to last 28 days, I figured I’d be done by May. But I hadn’t factored in that I was still working from home, doing training sessions via Zoom, and that even four hours of climbing a day wouldn’t take me very far!”

That wasn’t the only challenge. Heather adds: “It was so hard to keep count of the climbs! My phone would go; or there would be a delivery to the front door; and all of a sudden I would lose where I had been. I ended up using my Garmin tracker to count kilometres and then recalculated the stairs climbed.”

The real Camino is known for its beautiful scenery – but Heather’s staircase, not so much. “I got deeply bored of my white paint and woodchip. By the end I was even doing jigsaw puzzles to keep myself engaged; I’d do 100 climbs then treat myself to five minutes of a puzzle!”

On June 15, Heather finished the route which had involved her climbing a whopping 103,466 times up and down the stairs. To say she’s relieved is a massive understatement.

“I am never doing that again! I even did an extra kilometre by accident because I got my sums wrong – can you believe it?!”

Heather took on her Camino de Staircase halfway through a year of fundraising challenges for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, in tribute to her uncle and father who both died from the disease. Aiming to do 50 events in 12 months, she’d already completed a fire walk, a ski marathon, and multiple running and fitness events – but then lockdown struck and many of her planned events were cancelled. Undaunted, Heather is now rebooking many events for next year, so the 50 events will be done over two years, but she’s also got a new perspective.

“This gave me a lot of thinking time. I think some of the challenges I had aimed to do were, if I’m being honest, partly for kudos, but now I’m going to only do events I want to do personally. This was the most ‘solo’ event I’ve done, and I had just returned from a ski marathon in Sweden where companionship and fun were everything, so I want to factor good company into future events. I’m going to do the Coast to Coast Walk (in Northern England) next spring and I’ve already persuaded a good friend to accompany me.”

Heather is also rebooking the real Camino de Santiago for next summer, after discovering so much about the route.

“I had the little guidebook for the real thing, and having the extra time gave me the chance to read properly about the history, discover a lot about all the villages on the way and look up pictures online. I honestly think the real thing will feel like a holiday by comparison!”

“At a time when people aren’t talking about the ‘Big C’ so much, I hope I have brought a little bit of focus and raised some much-needed funds too.”

Founder and Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Maggie Blanks said: “We congratulate Heather on her awesome achievement, which illustrates how determined our supporters are to raise funds for research into this devastating form of cancer. We can’t wait to see what she does next – when she’s recovered, that is!”

If you’d like to donate to Heather’s fundraising you can do so here: