The night before the walk, whilst generally flapping as I packed my bag, taking on various tips from the previous year on what is and isn’t needed to bring with me on my little adventure, my bag felt a thousand times lighter. My partner in crime from last year, Jen, sent me a message telling me she would call me in the morning to see how I was doing noting my start time was 7am I thought nothing of the fact she was intending to call me around 6.30am…on a Saturday…because she had nothing better to do….totally plausible right?
Anyway as I arrived at Richmond Old Deer Park the anticipation yet trepidation was similar but different to the year before. This time I was going solo and this time I was determined to do it over 5 hours quicker than last year.
But at 6.30am sure enough Jen called, asking how I was doing and where I was then I suddenly realised that I could hear the same music through my phone as I could in my ears and turned round to see her running towards me. This crazy friend of mine had got up to come and wish me off whilst also lending support to a family member’s first time of doing it. I cried.
I crossed that start line at 7am on the dot and proceeded to walk towards the river which we follow all the way down to Kingston. About 1km in a cyclist attempting to cut through the group of walkers failed to ring her bell and nearly came a cropper with one of the walkers walking poles. The walker then commenting that maybe next time she should use her bell (in a very unaggressive tone, merely as a suggestion) was then greeted with the cyclist coming back to have a go at her thinking she was being rude. As I came alongside the walker we commented on her stupidity and started chatting.
I found out pretty quickly that the walker, Angela, with her giraffe-esque Nordic walking poles (honestly a sight to behold) was a first timer of the challenge and was hoping to do it in around 20 hours. I was thinking great, her pace will be faster than I need but could spur me on to meet my goal maybe I will stick with her for a bit. Those first few kms literally flew by as we shared the brief potted histories of where we lived, who or what we were walking for and what we did for a living.
At the first rest stop at 12km in as I went to hunt down the hula hoops we decided to walk together a bit longer and both agreed if we wanted to go on or slow up then not to feel bad about the other, we had intended on a solo walk and a solo walk it would be as and when we wanted.
A yoga loving 50 something clinical nurse specialist she suffered from tendinopathy yet was determined to do this in memory of her sister who sadly died of breast cancer 2 years previously and as such she was raising money for Marie Curie as one small way to show her gratitude for the fantastic work they did to support her sister and do for so many others.
We shared everything from family secrets to the vagaries of our jobs to politics to football to vegan recipes you (well I) wouldn’t have thought possible. At the lunch stop we were going ok, stopped, ate and picked up more Hula hoops before embarking on the next 2 longest legs of the whole walk the 16km between lunch and the stop that will forever be known as the ‘pick and mix’ stop and the halfway stop that isn’t actually at halfway (its at 56km, Tulley’s farm).
My feet however felt good and we headed onwards to pick and mix and beyond. It was around this time that we noticed a placard reading ‘Go Charlotte, Go Tom’ a sign held by a very smiley lady who was clapping everyone in to that lunchtime stop. This sign would taunt and mildly encourage us through the rest of the walk although we didn’t know it at the time.
We strode on heading under the M25 through the wide metal clad semi-circular tunnel where Angela commented it felt like the setting for some apocalyptic film and by the pick and mix stop not only was I aching but I was desperate to get to 56km. On the way to pick and mix we were clobbered by the media crew for the event who were keen to interview us…I think I essentially spoke complete nonsense for 2 minutes as I was desperate to see if they still had any shrimps left in the pick and mix.
By this point though we had now seen the Go Charlotte / Go Tom (GC/GT) sign 3 times and it took us that long to realise it was the same woman holding it. She had also recognised us and as she cheered us on we felt like maybe Angela should change her name to Tom and then it would be like our own personal cheer squad
That last leg before dinner took what felt like forever, it was hot and we were tired and I felt like I was doing really badly with the timing and would never meet my target (turns out that was not the case but still). I then had various messages from my family saying they had arrived and as we were only a few km away from the half way stop they were going to come and meet us.
My dad was the first person I saw striding ahead in front of the rest of the group (they didn’t have a placard….boooo) as he spotted my oh so offensive trousers. All happy and smiles (albeit in pain!) we walked to Tulley’s farm which the year before I had only seen in the dark, Angela and I keen to sit down, recoup and crack on with the rest were again cheered in again by GC/GT. By this point every stop had become harder, sitting down and then getting up meant everything hurt but once I was on the move it was fine it was those initial few minutes which made me feel like I was walking on burning coals with a rod shoved up my backside.
Anyway as we sat / flopped down at the table I started to feel terrible, queasy and dizzy I wasn’t sure how I was going to do another 44km. We ate, changed clothes, I swapped some stuff out I didn’t need with the bag my boyfriend had kindly brought, attended to my terrible heat rash and after an hour we set off.
As we left Tulley’s farm an aged rocker type character came alongside and turned out he had been to a concert of a band I have never heard of in Camden the night before the walk, was hungover and had been stoned the night before. I thought if I can’t beat him then I am in trouble. But after a while of him being, well essentially quite creepy, we shook him off and later saw him strolling past us having found another unsuspecting walking partner/victim.
This time last year I had done all this bit in the dark whereas this time we reached 67km before needing our head torches. From 67km the next stop was 80km, last years breakfast stop this would be a pretty big milestone for us to get to. We walked and continued chatting but the darkness is hard it feels weird to feel restricted in what you see and you can’t wait to see that next marker. Just after 77km in a wood somewhere near Wivelsfield Angela told me she couldn’t keep up the pace and told me to go on. As we had now walked nearly 17 hours together I asked if she was sure and she said yes so I said I would see her at the next stop.
That last km I walked down the road chatting to my best mate who at midnight was keen to check in with me and make sure I was ok. I think I was quite jolly at this stage the prospect of jacket potatoes distracting my tired legs.
I sat in that school hall at 80km with my jacket potato and baked beans next to a guy with a massive 35lb teddy bear strapped to his backpack raising money for the Starlight charity– now that day was over 27 degrees and he was essentially wearing a fur coat on his back. Kudos to him though this was their first time (yes more than one of them had chosen to do this!) and they wanted to do it sub 20 hours. I really hoped they did.
Angela arrived and sat down despondent and struggling, she called her husband and told him not to meet her until later she really didn’t think she would be in before 7am. I gave her a hug and we swapped numbers and it felt weird and sad to really be going solo from this point.
I left 80km knowing I could make the end, the fears I had at 56km I knew had passed, I would do it and I knew I would be able to do it sub 24 hours. It was the first time I felt positive and smiley and stupidly emotional about it thinking to myself I am actually going to pull it off. I walked out of that school and into not only darkness but also the fog.
Turns out head torches are pretty darn useless in fog. I occasionally saw a glow stick bobbing up ahead and remembering this same route from last time I knew most of it was paved and therefore easy when you can’t see very far in front of you. I put the earphones in – don’t get me started on the iTunes disaster of the Friday night – and kept my head down. Everytime I passed someone I asked how they were particularly those like me who were by themselves.
I ended up catching up to a guy limping but going at a pretty epic pace so I walked with him for a bit, he was a Trek Master for the event meaning he is one of the volunteers who is there to help people get between the stages. Mostly they are used at night time but this time he had been asked to do one during the day from lunch to Tulley’s he had run the first 25km to lunchstop and then been a Trek Master and subsequently run from tulleys before getting horrible blisters. This guy runs ultra marathons for fun and was struggling but he kept me going to that next stop where by this point I knew I had blisters on both my little toes but I couldn’t bear to take my shoes off to check them.
I stopped there briefly, my new Trek Master friend, Nick, quickly re-dressing his feet before heading off again. Angela wasn’t too far behind me. That was the last time I was going to see her on the challenge and I felt rather sad leaving that stop in the dark again with the prospect of walking up the fabled beacon (its actually not as bad as it seems, honest).
The worst part of the whole thing was those next 2 kms. The loneliness walking up the south downs at 3ish am in the dark and the fog with indescribably achey legs I was so close (13km) from the end but it still felt like an age away. In the distance I could see Trek Master Nick walking with 2 others who I later found out were the fabled Charlotte and Tom. As I started down the other side of the beacon I caught up with Nick again who by this point was really struggling, checked in with him and then I admit I carried on, my legs by this point not keen to stop unless entirely necessary. I also passed Charlotte and Tom.
As I reached the last rest stop before the end I saw who I then worked out was definitely Mummy Charlotte or Tom with her little sign still smiling and clapping me in to the stop. I left that last stop (and Charlotte and Tom) and carried on the sun rising as I walked those last 6km I just wanted to cry but was trying to fight it. Nick then ran past me as I ate the snickers my dad had shoved at me before I left Tulleys and I smiled then thought, bastard, he’s going to get there quicker than me.
Those last couple of kms were so hard, I had to stop so many times to stretch and to generally try to stop crying. I was in so much pain anywhere from my shoulders down to my toes. I started crying as the racecourse came in sight, knowing my boyfriend was there at the end having not slept either and having made a spreadsheet of my progress to be able to predict when I was going to come in pretty much to the second.
As I walked onto the racecourse for the last km I saw Trek Master Nick in front of me, by this point I’m properly sobbing, and he turned round and asked if I was ok. Stiff upper lip and all I told him I was fine, I stopped crying and we walked that last km together. He told me he had never hurt so much on one of these events, I knew the feeling.
I crossed the line at 5:09:03 cheered in to the final straight by Mummy GC/GT, meaning I had completed 100km in 22 hours 9 minutes and 3 seconds, 7 hours and 7 minutes quicker than last year. I cannot describe that feeling.
It was only when I sat down, took my shoes off, with the finishers glass of bubbles and my medal could I quite comprehend what I had done.
Everything hurt, my body didn’t want to be awake anymore my boyfriend said its ok we haven’t got far to go to the car, I told him it wasn’t close enough (even if it was technically impossible to get closer). He redeemed himself on this parking error by presenting me with a can of gin and tonic (classy but not going to lie a brilliant shout) and a blanket as I manoeuvred myself like a wounded animal into the car.
I got home to a bath I fell asleep in and a bed I ironically couldn’t sleep in as I hurt so much. I then read all the messages people had sent me telling me how proud or impressed they were which just made me want to cry more. I felt so warm inside. Extra donations had rolled in as well and it all started to sink in what I had done and I knew I should be proud, I also know I couldn’t have gone any faster.
Thank you to everyone who has already sponsored me on part 1 of my epic challenges. Challenge 1 has already tipped me over the target I set myself having now raised £1,135 for MRKH Connect in total and my Just Giving page will stay open until Challenge 2 is complete. Literally blown away by the generosity of everyone from those I know well and to those who I don’t thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you to my family who came to meet me, who sent messages and to those who stayed up all night to make sure I was ok (even if they were nice and warm in bed) requesting regular km marker/time updates. Thank you to all my friends who surprised me, called me or messaged me with motivational messages or jokes or really bad jokes or walking related pop songs to keep me going I am sorry I didn’t reply to them all but they really were very much appreciated.
Lastly a very special thank you to Angela, I don’t know how we would have done without each other for company but I had a blood good time sharing that experience with you and pushing ourselves to the limit.
The memories of this walk will be different to last year, less poignant in some ways but more in others. I proved to myself I could do it, I stuck with it, I was determined me and my hi-tecs would make it and we did in an even better time than I expected or could have imagined. I did this for me more than anything and I succeeded.
This girl can and did and now its time to train for challenge 2
Note: Angela completed it in 23hours and 5 minutes (and finished before 7am, her husband making her a second homemade medal as he greeted her at the end) an amazing achievement. I did beat Charlotte and Tom and the aged rocker across the line but the guys with the 35lb teddy bears smashed it in 19 hours 20.