It’s Sunday afternoon in the middle of February. It’s raining. You’re lying on your sofa in front of the fire eating a bag of crisps. You come across “the ultra-challenge for charity” and it seems like a great idea. You’ve still got a bit of ‘xmas belly’ so it will be good to get fit. Talking to other participants along the way that’s how many of them ended up signing up to the challenge.
In the beginning, I’d planned to raise money for a small local charity who were keen at first. I paid my registration fee and started thinking of strategies to raise the money. However, the local charity, realising this was “a corporate style” charity event pulled out and I felt completely dejected. When I gave it more thought, I wondered if actually it was for the best. 100k is a long way!
When the earthquakes struck in Nepal, I took a different view. It was heartwrenching to imagine the devastation. So, decision made. I’d do the walk for Nepal. I figured if I couldn’t raise the money (you have to promise to raise a minimum amount) then I’d just bloody donate it from the business…tax deductable right? (actually I have no idea).
My first training walk was a ‘quick 10 miler’. Wivenhoe and back. I didn’t eat breakfast and I wore my trainers without socks…er yeah? I started using the Ordanance survey map subscription thingy to plot some routes. Off I trotted to North station to get the 7.30am train to Manningtree. I felt like a right numpty dressed up in my walking boots and rucksack. Most of the people on the station were coming home from a night out. I remember my first ‘big walk’ along the Stour valley. It was boiling hot, I ran out of water, got lost, got sunburnt. Totally hacked off!
So I did it again the following week. My navigation skills were a bit better this time and as the weeks went on I got into a good routine of getting up, making sandwiches and assorted snacks and getting the miles in. There were often moments of doubt. It can be difficult to keep your motivation going, especially when doing it alone. My lowest point was squatting in a hedge for an ’emergency poo’. Dicky tummy. In the rain. Grown Women.
I was so nervous in the couple of weeks running up to the event. My final training walk, 30 miles through Rendlesham forest and a bit along the Suffolk coastal path went well and I felt good. My fear was making a plonker of myself on the day. I’m a plump, perimenopausal Woman, not really your ‘Ultra-challenge’ kinda type.
I went to London the day before the event to register early and stayed at a right dodgy hotel in Hackney. I ate a can of cold beans & a banana for breakfast. People kept telling me “eat protein”. They gather you up before the start and we had to do a bit of a zumba warm up… all a bit surreal to be honest.
The first 25k was along the Lea valley canal. Beautiful. A lot hotter than any of us expected. I enjoyed my time talking to a lovely guy who was no stranger to extreme events. He was doing it with his son who had to be at a wedding the next day. (not his own I might add). Later as the stream of people started to thin out, I suddenly felt quite alone as I realised most people were walking in small teams. I felt a bit emotional. What really got me though was when a young guy with real purpose walked past me. On the back of his rucksack he had a picture of his Dad. I don’t remember the charity, but it got me.
I’ve never sufferred with injuries before. The last training walk I’d done however, I’d had a bit of a twinge in my knee just in the last few miles as I power walked back to the car because the sun was setting. At about 20k, I really started to feel the same sensation on the outside of my knee. It worried me a bit, so at the 25k rest stop, I applied a Zhui Feng Gao herbal plaster and took 200mg of ibuprofen. I can’t remember the last time I took painkillers and I couldn’t think how much you’re supposed to take. It may have been placebo or simply having a bit of a sit down at the rest stop but I felt better.
Over the next 25k however, my knee was getting worse. I texted my partner to ask him if he’d drop off some walking poles at the 50k rest stop. I knew it was about an hours drive away from our house. My knight in shining armour did exactly that, even stopping at Go Outdoors to buy a couple of poles for me. It was good to see him. I troughed down some minging pasta stuff and potatoes, chucked an apple and a flapjack in my rucksack, popped another few ibruprofen, assured by my partner I could safely take 6 in 24hrs!
It was starting to rain now and getting dark. We were given glosticks to attach to our rucksacks and instructed to put on our headtorches and departed in groups across the fields. The route was a lot more remote now. The next rest stop was only 6k away in a local primary school. Quick cuppa and more flapjack and fruit. I was noticing now that many were beginning to struggle. There were some nasty looking feet being strapped up with compeed and bandages. Many had pained expressions. Knees, hips, feet…ouch.
The next section of the walk was pretty bad. It was raining yet really humid. We walked across muddy fields, glosticks marking our way. Despite it being a full moon, the cloud was heavy so it was dark. The line of walkers was thinning out now and there were times when I was completely alone. 15k seemed to take forever. It was now around 2-3am. I was practically halucinating. Everyone was struggling. At one point there was a group of us just sat in the middle of a field complaining about how shit we felt. I was in agony now by this point. More bloody flapjack.
A group of us got a bit of rhythm going. I was apologising to everyone for my loud satisfying farts. Bloody pasta. Apparently it was affecting us all the same.
Around 4am we got to the rest stop. The girl in front of me let out huge sobs which started a few more off. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. The scene in the tent was pure carnage. There were piles of people in survival blankets. Some just fast asleep, some shivering and wide eyed. Others just wandering about aimlessly. I knew I had to eat. We were offerred bacon or sausage rolls. I could have hurled. Despite being in quite a lot of pain I had a really good laugh here with some now familiar faces. It was a ridiculous scenario.
The next section was now on country lanes and I snuck off on my own not wanting to wait for a group. I’d been looking forward to seeing the sun come up and had intended to get a photo but honestly…I really couldn’t be arsed. You couldn’t see the sun anyway as it was still so overcast. I had to keep taking little rest stops as my knee pain was intense. A log, a bus shelter, a bench, just for a few minutes to rest my knee.
A small hill got the better of me. By this point I was struggling to put much weight on my knee. To get up the hill, I had to use both poles to support me and I put all my effort into it and promptly felt really faint. I lay on a bench by the side of the road having just passed the 80k point and having one of those cold sweats. I confess I’d taken 8 painkillers by this point which was stupid. As I lay there, mud up my trousers, I realised how awful I smelt. Sweat and possibly a bit of pee? A girl appeared and started chatting to me. Her mate was walking, duck footed wearing bright socks and flip-flops, her walking boots in her hands. “They’re too hard” she said. I think I mumbled a reply and attempted a smile. I’d text my partner to say I was quitting but he’d been instructed beforehand to talk me out of it.
That final 20k was crazy. By the end, just stepping down a curb was beyond words. There was applause and cheering as I reached the finish and I felt really emotional and welled up. Ungraciously I looked away from the crowd to prevent myself crying. I was given a t-shirt and a medal and offerred a glass of champayne which I declined. Thank god there was a lift to get you to the first floor where the physios were. I think a flight of stairs would have been the final straw.
4 days on and my knee is still painful. It’s getting better though and it’s a good experience for me as a practitioner to investigate the best treatment options. ‘Runners knee’ they call it. Bugger, I’m off on a walking holiday in 10 days time.
So was it worth it? Yes! It looks like I will have raised around £700 for the Disasters Emergency Committee and I’m so proud. I’ve been following the work that’s being done in Nepal. Sometimes it’s just simple things like setting up space for the elderly in the community to meet or childrens groups as well as medical aid, building work, helping people get information on family, the list is endless.
I can’t thank people enough for the donations. I’m aware there are many of these type of events. It’s an unfortunate circumstance that the most vulnerable, not only in our own society but worldwide are relient on the generosity and compassion of us all. Governments take note.
Thank you again. Namaste.