Non-stop long distance walk
100km challenges are gruelling. That became clear to me when I did the Grand Union 100km challenge in 2014. The distance is staggering and the time it takes adds what can feel like a sleepless delerium to an already physically difficult task. There were five of us attempting the L2C 100km walk on July 2nd 2016, with a further 6 joining us at the halfway point to complete a 50km overnight challenge. Many of the participants hadn’t previously met and none had completed such a long distance challenge before. Our youngest team member was just 14 and our oldest 70. The obstacles to success were plenty, but the sense of determination in the run-up was palpable.
After a slightly late start for the 100km walk owing to a more than bonkers, less than confident cab driver, the five 100k-ers (Angela Wood, Emma Shield, Julie Mann, Rached Frudd & myself) cracked on with enthusiasm and a strong stride. It was a sunny day, navigation was easy as we were walking along a towpath, and we chatted and laughed as we dodged other walkers, cyclists and joggers with whom we were sharing the path.
Without too many problems, we made it to the first 12km checkpoint and then beyond, to the quarter-point, where we sat and refuelled. Alas, for me, this was where some trouble already began to kick in. I had a viral throat infection and, to cut a long story short, was struggling with a racing resting heart rate, blood pressure on the low side and a fever. I didn’t feel at my best and certainly couldn’t maintain anything like a decent pace, so, very reluctantly, my four 100km colleagues did as I urged and went on ahead. They were still looking strong and determined, but were visibly concerned at leaving me. It was a difficult moment for all of us. But we were in this to nail a challenge in response to a phenomenal fundraising response from family and friends, and, in my opinion, no-one was going to succeed with an ailing and very slow team member in tow. So my bossy side took over and I pretty forcefully sent them on.
I continued with a somewhat out-of-body feeling, downing 6L of electrolyte solution in an attempt to bring up my blood pressure and fight what would under normal circumstances have felt like a mild infection. I eventually got to the 50km checkpoint with a few tears of relief and was welcomed both by those who were joining us for the overnight 50km and from my team-mates on the 100k. All 11 of us were briefly and for the first time, together at this point, so there was a lovely opportunity for a team pic before we all headed our way out into the dusk on a 50km journey to the end point.
At this point, the 100km lot went on ahead, knowing they had a second 50km to cover with less than fresh legs and I’m sure, feeling acutely aware of the extra challenge that every additional minute spent on the trail would bring, not to mention the pace-slowing hours of darkness that were almost upon us. They had reached the 50k point much earlier than I had and I know, in their shoes, I would have been itching to get on. The remaining 7 of us (my husband Matt, daughter Maddy, sister & niece Amanda & Tilly, my mum-in-law Jean and our friend Janette and I) walked through the fields much more slowly but with plenty of laughter and a positive frame of mind. We had a new-found friend in the form of Trek Master Jim (a volunteer walker, whose remit is to guide teams throughout the night portion of the challenge, ensuring no-one is left behind or walks alone in the dark).
All the 50k folks brought fresh enthusiasm to the walk and helped me to continue way beyond my anticipated point of retirement. We even took in a couple of extra km with an unplanned diversion into and beyond a field of rather tall corn. I suspect the debate about whose fault that was will rage on for sometime! We were all surrounded by the sound of our own banter and the incessant middle-of-the-night outdoor singing by Maddy, our bonkers 14 year-old team member and her equally nutty 15 year-old cousin, Tilly. I’m sure the entertainment they provided kept a spring in our steps a little longer than we otherwise would have had.
By dawn, at the 71km point, we had already passed several retirees and there was a bus periodically taking those who were dropping out, to the finish line. There are many who don’t make this challenge and for good reason. It really does push you to your limits, even on a good day. Tiredness takes over and with that comes cold. At this, almost ¾ point, some of us wrapped ourselves in foil blankets to keep the warmth in and ate what we could of a fried breakfast before heading off into the impending sunrise. I wasn’t sure how far ahead the other 100k challengers were, but felt sure they would be doing well. There were blisters, aches and pains challenging everyone by now (some particularly impressive ones sported by Janette!) but everyone trucked on and Matt produced a quiz to keep us all distracted from our ailments. Unfortunately despite these best supportive efforts, my inevitable retirement came eventually at 79km (50 miles) where I felt at the point of collapse. My fever was getting the better of me and I was slowing up the rest of the team. Reluctantly and full of tears, I threw in the towel and got a cab to the finish line to wait for everyone to cross it.
I am hugely proud to say, that all ten other members of the team went on to nail this challenge with an incredible amount of determination and grit. Each and every one of them battled through the whole night and into the next day, turning their backs to the blisters, joint pains and tiredness that threatened their success. And every single one of them crossed that finish line with what must have felt like an unbelievable sense of achievement.
I am full of gratitude to everyone who took part in this challenge. It was neither physically nor mentally easy and wasn’t short of additional obstacles. But everyone stepped up to and beyond the demands and showed strength of body and mind that was truly impressive. As a team, we raised a fabulous £5,168. Enormous thanks to all of you, both participants and donors, who really did go the extra mile to raise money and awareness to fight this cruel but beatable disease.