PRE-SEASON training can be a trial at the best of times, but Luke Hamilton decided to make things even harder than normal last month. Not content with going through the drills devised by Edinburgh’s strength and conditioning team, the Scotland flanker also found time in a busy schedule to take part in the Three Peaks Challenge and raise money for charity.
The aim of the challenge is to scale the highest points in Scotland, England and Wales on foot within 24 hours, and Hamilton took it up to help raise funds for a hospital near where he grew up in Pembrokeshire. He felt more than a little fatigued when he reported for training on the Monday following his cross-country jaunt, but was satisfied to have completed what he set out to do.
“We did Ben Nevis, then we went down to Scafell Pike and finished in Snowdonia,” he recalled. “We did it in 23 hours, 50 minutes. After a pre-season camp it wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve ever done.
“My best friend back home’s stepfather had cancer for five and a half years and recently passed away. So we were doing it for the local cancer ward in Withybush back home and we raised £4,000. We only had eight weeks, so that was quite good, and we’re very grateful to everyone who donated.”
Hamilton completed the task with the friend in question, Brad Jenkins, and Brad’s mother Mary, and at first the conditions were good. Then, unsurprisingly for a British summer, they took a turn for the worse.
“We started on Ben Nevis and worked our way south,” the 26-year-old continued. “Up and down Ben Nevis took four and a half hours in a thunderstorm and torrential rain. I was in shorts and T-shirt because I thought it looked quite nice when I set off.
“Then we had six hours in the car to Scafell Pike. We went up as the sun set and then walked back down in the dark, which was a very strange experience. Walking downhill in the dark for two hours was quite weird.
“Then we were back in the minibus to Snowdon. We got there for the sunrise and we only had an hour and 50 minutes to get up it.”
Having arranged to take the challenge before he joined Edinburgh, Hamilton did not need special permission to go off for the weekend, which began very early one Saturday morning. And although his legs were a bit sore afterwards, the sense of achievement helped lessen the pain.
“We started at seven o’clock in the morning and finished at 6.50 the following day,” Hamilton added. “We just made it to the top.
“We were off on the Sunday. I came back in on the Monday, pretending to smile and show that I wasn’t in pain.
“The only bad part was just the sleep. I quite enjoyed the walking. There were great views, apart from Ben Nevis, which had complete cloud cover, and Scafell Pike in the dark. I wouldn’t mind doing another one.
“It was all good. Thoroughly enjoyable.”
More enjoyable, needless to say, than Hamilton’s first competitive outing for Edinburgh, last Friday’s PRO14 defeat by Ospreys. “It was great to be out with the boys, but obviously we were bitterly disappointed with the result, especially at the end when we came so close. By no means was that our best performance. We made a lot of errors, but to come so close at the end, the last play of the game when we could have won it, we were disappointed in ourselves.
“We let ourselves down a bit. We know that we’re a lot better than that and we should be a lot better than that. Sadly, we didn’t deliver on Friday, which cost us the result.”
Edinburgh have a chance to get things right this Friday, when they take on Ulster in Belfast, but Hamilton knows it could be tough against a team now under the command of former Scotland forwards coach Dan McFarland. “They’re a very good team, and obviously Dan is out there now as well doing the forwards, so they’ll be a well-drilled side. You know what to expect with an Irish team. They’ll try holding you up in contact and be big and physical and direct. But they’ve also got that ability to play and stretch you out wide.
“I won my first cap with Dan. He’s a great technical coach who leaves no stone unturned. From the forwards’ point of view, we know they’ll be very technical and very detailed.
“We’ve got to front up. We let ourselves down in certain areas at the weekend and we need a reaction this weekend away at Ulster. It probably doesn’t get much bigger [than] going away there on a Friday night needing a result.”