Believe

You don’t always need to know you can do something, you just need to believe you can do it.  That belief will drive your motivation, your determination and your willingness to do everything you can to succeed.  (Or just bone idled stubbornness which I have in abundance.)

I didn’t know for sure I could cycle 132 miles but I believed I probably could.  I also believed (and confirmed this to myself frequently during the cycle) that this was an utterly ridiculous idea.

I packed my bags last Thursday night ready for my early start on Friday.  I was anxious and worried particularly given that the longest ride I had ever done was 44 miles.  I was about to do 3 times that non stop….by myself.

I started at 5.38am on Friday morning from my house in Surrey.  By the time I had got to my starting point in Peasmarsh I had cycled 9.5miles and already lost 2 bananas (they must be somewhere on a towpath near Guildford) and I had managed to also snot all over my face by attempting to clear my nose (sorry, and something I really dislike but is sometimes necessary) and failing. IMG-20170825-WA0000

The downslink route is a flat (mainly) almost completely off-road route along the line of two disused railways the first from Guildford to Horsham and then Horsham to Shoreham – then I tagged on the bit to Brighton pier for good measure.   It didn’t operate for very long in comparison to others closing in 1965 just a few months before its centenary.  Old stations across the route include Bramley, Baynards and West Grinstead with, the now private dwelling of, Baynards being a beautifully well kept heritage site the garden housing the two well maintained station platforms that used to operate here.  The steepest part of this route follows this station as the route avoids the Baynards tunnel (long since closed although the opening still obvious from the south side) – which makes you curse the fact you had to just go up an incline that felt like 90 degrees to get over it.

When I say steep, I mean ridiculously steep both up and down the other side.  I had to do that 3 times on this challenge.  I cycled up it the first.  That was the only time I could.

The rest of the inclines on the route were less severe although to be honest by the time I had done so many  miles anything steeper than a kerb seemed insurmountable.IMG_20170825_105337_497

I got to Brighton (the first time) about 10.30ish, 50 miles down and actually feeling good but I knew the worst was yet to come.  As I had essentially formulated this route for myself I then I had to also plan in rest stops, somewhere where I could check in with my other half and also switch round food, etc or things I didn’t want to have to carry.  At Southwater (for the second time) I was starting to flag desperate to get onto that last leg back to Brighton but that was still 20 miles away.  In my head at the time I really thought that maybe if I got back to Peasmarsh that would be it, did I really have to go back to Brighton again? How disappointed would people be?  But of course it didnt come down to that it came down to how disappointed I would be…I had to do it.

 

Then, at Rudgwick, under a railway bridge I was joined by my other half’s brother, Graham, he couldn’t have joined at a better time, I was flagging and grumpy and was desperate to get those last 10 miles back to Peasmarsh done.  As we went through Cranleigh for a water / banana stop I knew we weren’t far yet it seemed to take forever along the endless trail.  Not helped that it being an old railway it is also pretty straight so you can always see so far in front of you that it just adds to the thought that the trail will never end….ever.  Soon after Cranleigh though we heard the unmistakable ‘Pssst’ noise.  Puncture…on my back tyre.  A huge thorn had got lodged and instantly deflated it, we did as quick a change as possible and got back on our way but it felt like a set back.IMG-20170825-WA0009

As we got back to Peasmarsh I knew I still had 41 miles to go but at least it was all in the same direction, the direction of the finish.  Graham stayed with me for another 6/7 miles – thus avoiding the third time of going over Baynards tunnel (I don’t blame him) but I was grateful for the company on that stretch which I always knew would be the hardest.  I got to Southwater for the final time and I knew I could do it but I was tired, my shoulder hurt (I think I trapped a nerve) and everything on my bike was rattling.  Pepped up by some motivational words from Ali suffixed with ‘do you want another Snickers’ or ‘do you have enough water’ he told me he would see me at the end.  The end.  It was only 2 hours away.  2 hours.

By this point I could picture so much of this route in my head that I knew the bits that were straight forward and those that were going to be more challenging.  The stretch from Henfield to Bramber was quite frankly….a bitch.  Unconsolidated track with lots of loose stones that goes up and around the farmers’ fields before you get into Bramber.  This part of the route, not a dissimilar surface to a lot of the route, just particularly rocky, was like a slendertone workout for your arms – my fingers, arms, shoulders aching so much from the continued vibrations as I bumped along the track.20170825_162517

I passed two older guys taking a breather at one of the bridges before the farm track and about 5 minutes later the older one caught up with me.  ‘you slowed down?’ he questioned.  His mate had bet him that he couldn’t catch up with me.  I responded that I had done a lot of miles today, regaled my story to which he replied ‘wow, go on girl!’.  When his mate caught up the older guy said ‘do you know what she’s doing?’ as he then shared my endeavours to which he responded ‘you’re kidding’. Oh how I wished I was at that point, although the retort did make me feel like i was in some kind of bad sitcom. Delirium had indeed set in by this point.  They wished me luck and I sped on.

As I crossed the A283 at Bramber to get onto the nice gravelly track down to Shoreham which weaves its way down the banks of the River Adur I was reminded of the chap I had met earlier in the day off to get his morning paper who as he and I passed the ‘Shoreham 3 miles’ sign he turned to me and said ‘Funny thing, that sign says Shoreham 3 miles, so does the next one, and the one after that, its actually 4 miles from this point’.  He was right. Those next 2 signs did indeed also say 3 miles to Shoreham – clearly there was a discount if they didn’t change the wording on the sign.  I knew I was so close now to the end, I weaved my way from Shoreham high street down to the docks (NCN Route 2 in case anyone is interested) which takes you over the pedestrian lock.  This same lock which I was stuck at for 10 minutes in the morning coming back from leg 1 because of a massive cargo ship.  But I took my chances this time of a safer, albeit smellier and definitely not pretty route to the ‘front’.

British Airways have their 360o viewing tower a few 100m from Brighton pier, the problem is that you can see it for bloody miles.  I knew I wasn’t far but it was deceptive and by this point any energy I had was in trying to dodge the idiots that walk in the very clearly marked cycle lanes and concentrate on not blubbing like an idiot before I got to the end.

As I reached Brighton pier I saw my other half smiling and knew I had done it and I burst into tears. I had just cycled 132 miles…apparently for my own enjoyment (I think my body may have disagreed at this point) in 13 hours and 48 minutes including stops.

It was a very odd day, I felt like much of it was very surreal, meeting random (mostly very friendly) country folk, alone with my thoughts (turns out I am quite boring) and avoiding small dogs (and a few children) who in their attempt to get out the way do their very best to actually get in my way.

I had become a big fan of MapMyRide during  my training however at some point 1 hour 40 mins in I managed to pause it, not realising for some time and then getting grumpy that I had I just turned it off.   To mellow out my rage with this occurring I was delighted to see so many messages of support on all forms of media – the family WhatsApp group for example had so many messages it was difficult to catch up with them all. My particular favourite was a picture of my dad on his bike cycling the 2 miles to the local town ‘2 miles, no support vehicle – and back again’.  Thanks Dad…that definitely made me feel better.IMG-20170825-WA0004

It was a long old slog I am not going to lie there were many times I cursed at myself, the bike, the hill, the nettles, the lost bananas but that last leg knowing I was so close was the best feeling, that feeling of knowing I was going to complete this challenge made me want to get it over sooner…my legs just couldn’t pedal any faster than I did.  Dodging the Friday night crowds in Brighton was almost as perilous as trying to cross the A283 although I think most people could tell by looking at my hot sweating and dusty face that if they got out the way then things would be a lot better for them – including the girl wearing the ridiculous fluffy flip flops.

Even being told at the end that we needed to walk a  little way to the car…I didn’t care as long as I didn’t need to get back on the bike.

I am extremely grateful for all the support from everyone, those who put up with me delaying social occasions due to training, leaving early due to training or just for being the lovely friends (and family) that you are.  I would especially like to thank Ali for being my support vehicle, motivation booster, peanut bringer, snickers provider and generally lovely human being.   You stayed up all night (as did my parents) when I did the walk (and picked me up at 5am) and you took a day off to support me during this second challenge and spent most of it driving around the South of England – I know you are as relieved as I am its over but thank you I really couldn’t have done it without you! 😊

I have never been a sporty or fit individual, as I have said before, and it’s true.  PE was the only subject at school my parents didn’t care what grade I got.  But a challenge isn’t a challenge unless it pushes you so that’s what I did last year and pushed myself more this year.  I have trained hard, been focused and ever conscious I am not a quitter (although it has felt like I may as well be at times).  Its made a massive change to my focus and my direction and motivation towards what I do for MRKH Connect but also in life in general.

If I can do it, honestly anyone can.

I have raised over £1,300 in total so far (with donations still coming in).  Thank you so much to the bottom of my heart I really didn’t expect to raise so much after we raised such a large amount last year.   It means such a lot to me and will make a difference to a lot of what MRKH Connect has planned so thank you.

The challenges may be over for this year but the blog continues…

Lots of love

Charlie xx

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Monday Motivation

Dragging my bum out of bed at often very early hours at weekends, before work, at work, after work and even on holiday to train has been a challenge in itself but the end is within sight as I will be doing the challenge on Friday…this Friday (weather permitting).

I’ve motivated myself with the thought that I am making a difference not just to me but also doing my bit to raise awareness and also perhaps more selfishly motivated myself with the thought of a hot bath at the end of each long ride.

I’ve been humbled by the comments from friends and family who have not only been supportive of my crazy endeavours this year but who have also been inspired with their own exercise goals.  I hadn’t anticipated that particular outcome at all but it’s an unexpected pleasure to think I may have had a small part to play in helping them make changes to their life or perhaps rediscover a lost love for a particular sport.

I am reminded often why I am doing this through the ongoing conversations on the always very active support groups, to those through MRKH Connect or to reading shockingly poorly understood comments to a to be honest overly sensational article (apparently written by a woman, shocking in itself), about the struggles of an MRKH woman raising money for surgery.  Comments written by men who don’t understand the female form.  I don’t feel the need to rehash this when my friends at Global MRKH have written an open letter that so beautifully does that already (which can be read here) suffice to say that what it highlights is the need to continue to raise awareness for and of MRKH (and for biology of female genitalia and its formation to be better taught in schools).

As more of us are open semi-publicly or otherwise with the reality of MRKH there are still plenty who discover they have this condition and just don’t know where to turn, those that perhaps will never be comfortable with talking about it and of course on the flip side those who are perhaps not open but yet comfortable with it to the point they don’t feel the need to reach out for support in the same way as others.

There is still a long way to go here and a lot that is being done to improve that situation not just for us MRKH women but also for general public and more importantly the medical profession.  The same medical profession that can misdiagnose, not be aware of, or if they are, have absolutely no idea who would be a specialist for that girl/woman to speak to.  An already heart-breaking time can become scarier and more isolating than ever before.   Clearly something needs to change here – and of course MRKH is not the only condition that can be affected in this way and I am by no means saying it is special or a priority but it is one of the reasons to highlight the need for improved understanding particularly of a condition that isn’t really that rare.

I’ve said the word ‘vagina’ probably more times in the last couple of years than I ever did before that point.  I’ve said it in pub, over email, in blogs and even conferences (not MRKH related!) and on the London to Brighton 100km walk to my walking buddy Angela.

The more things are talked about, whatever they are the less taboo they become.  ‘Lady parts’ and their function are often in that ‘delicate’ category and of course the upshot is the effect of a condition in that delicate category does have a very real effect on the person who has it and therefore often talking openly is something very difficult and upsetting.

But there will always be some who are willing to put themselves out there and try and make a stand which is what a number of us have done in our own little way whether its through setting up charities, blogs, global organisations or crazy challenges to raise money and awareness.  It doesn’t take much when you think of it like that but it does take courage to get to that point.   That courage is inside all of us if we want to grasp it.

I am always happy to speak to others about it (those with MRKH or not). Everyone is different and deals with things differently but I am happy to share how I have handled certain situations (good or bad) or whatever is required to help support someone or continue to improve people’s understanding of the condition whoever they might be.

I will be doing the Downs Link cycle route on Friday which runs from Guildford to Shoreham and then tagging on a bit to reach Brighton Pier (plus of course getting to Guildford in the first place).  Then back to Guildford then back again finishing on Brighton pier sometime Friday evening – totalling ~130 miles  – it’s a route I’ve wanted to do for a while having lived in the area for some time.  A disused railway track converted into a truly picturesque, multipurpose and almost completely flat trail with quaint old stations.  I’m excited scared and looking forward to starting but also very much looking forward to it being over.

I will be trackable on the route most likely via Instagram / facebook – keep those messages of support coming in they really do help!

Nothing of what I have done has intended to inspire but it’s wonderful that has been the case.  Sometimes you just need to believe in yourself, make that change you have been dying to do, do that challenge and just find something that motivates you.  Never give up.  That amazing feeling, that drive and passion may be a slow burner but its there and it will make a difference.

This girl will

Charlie x

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If you would like to donate you can do so here

 

Challenging Challenges

Its fair to say that these challenges have been challenging both physically, mentally and emotionally.  The first challenge I knew what I was in for but it still didn’t make it any easier. The second was something I had never done before, never contemplated and I had never ridden more than 20 miles – and certain people will tell you what a grumpy human I used to be in doing that.

I am not going to lie the last little while has been difficult.  The long work days at my new job (which I do incidentally love) coupled with fitting in training and then the set back of the accident hasn’t helped.  It knocked my confidence more than I could really appreciate it would to be honest and I questioned whether I was really cut out for this and if I should give up.

But as I explained this in tears after the first ride since the accident, the chain having probably come off again, and every minor descent feeling like Mount Everest I was told ‘you’ll never give up, you’re too stubborn’.  Bugger, I thought, you’re right!

It is a truly horrible feeling and whilst not wanting it to get to me it did and it has and it has made training more challenging than before but has also made me more determined to try.  I force myself out at every opportunity possible (which has been very difficult at times) whilst also trying to allow myself time to rest, sleep, eat and maybe even have a social life.

I wanted to do these challenges for me and I have but I admit I will be glad when they are over and I can relax knowing what I have achieved on a personal level if nothing else.  I am looking forward to the feeling of knowing I don’t need to train so intensely and not panicking when for many reasons that is not always possible to do.  I may even take a few days off in celebration.

I have been truly blown away again by the support of everyone to me but also to MRKH Connect. If you were still interested in donating the page is still open (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/makingmymark) and will remain so until after the challenge which is now only 2-3 weeks away – weather will determine the exact date!

I am fitter than I have ever been (and yes I know I said that last year) and the main reason for doing this has always been to raise awareness of MRKH.  Perhaps this year it’s more been about me and my own courage which hasn’t been intentional but I hope what it shows is never to give up.  Dreams and aspirations come in many different forms and we often have more than one.  Find out what yours is and work towards it.  You are always capable of more than you think if you let yourself believe you can do it but also give yourself a chance to try.

Love and hugs

Xx

Road Tattoo

Two weeks ago I got up prepared for the longest most challenging training ride that I had done to date.  45 miles across the North Downs in a loop.  The cycle started slowly it was taking a while to get into the groove of it this time, I am not sure why but it was probably the upcoming trepidation of having to go over the downs for the first time.   I knew the uphill was steep and I was really looking forward to getting to the top and coming down the other side.

As I started the climb, and sequentially changing gears, my chain came off,  This is not a new thing but its tedious and irritating particularly when you are trying to keep moving going uphill.  I stopped, sorted it and then got back on feeling like I was making some good progress.

At the top, Newlands Corner, I was relieved that the next bit was downhill and started heading down genuinely smiling and happy to not be going uphill anymore I began to realise I was going way too fast and I basically got scared.  I know this road well and I know its steep but as it got steeper I got faster and even short grips of the brake were not helping so I panicked and squeezed too hard with the bike now out of control.

I knew I was going to crash, there was no avoiding it, it was just how bad it was going to be.  I was on the A25 a fast, and at this point, narrow, steep and busy road I knew if I fell into the road at this speed (27 mph) I would be in trouble so my only option was to hope by hitting the high sided hedge it would take some of the speed out beforehand.

It all went a bit blurry, not because I hit my head (because I didn’t) but because it went so fast.  That split second decision was probably the best decision I could have chosen (aside from not having panicked so much in the first place).  I did end up in the road having gone via the hedge, fallen off the bike landing on my elbow and skidding down the road on my elbow and my thigh now looking up at oncoming traffic which had now stopped (on both sides).

I picked myself up, shaken and realised my arm was bleeding pretty badly.  The passenger from the car on my side of the road running towards me; was I ok, did I need her to call anyone, did I want some tissues (for the arm).  All very nice I politely said yes to the tissues and told her I was fine (I lied at this point but I just wanted to get off the road) told the other lady who also stopped I was fine and the road started to clear.  A few cars back was a big truck and he put his hazards on and stopped, worried that I would get squished as I was stuck on the side of the road that didn’t have a pavement he carried my bike (which aside from the sodding chain coming off again and the handle bars getting twisted around was of course fine) and ushered me onto the other side of the road checking if I needed him to call anyone to which I said no.

I then sat on the verge / pavement holding my now aching arm for a while.  I had some water, I ate the double decker that I had squished when I had fallen on it and I cried.  All I wanted to do was get home but it just so happened I picked a weekend for this ride when no one was closeby.  After a while I pulled myself together and manged with 1 arm to put my chain back on and I walked slowly up the footpath back to the top.

I knew the bike was fine and I didn’t really want to cycle but I also wanted to get home and so I thought I needed to try.  The problem was I was still on a hill and now the thought of any descent was filling me with fear.

Needless to say, adrenaline, pain or whatever, did get me home at a pace most tortoises would have been able to beat.  I couldn’t see the damage to my elbow very easily so I took a picture of it when I got home – my first road tattoo.

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After cleaning myself up the rest of the day I lay feeling sorry for myself as I watched an entire boxset of Red Oaks on Amazon with my whole body aching, particularly my arm. for the next day or so everyone I saw told me I should go and get it checked out, it was very swollen and could be fractured.  Reluctantly, convinced it wasn’t broken but after a day of hand shaking at a conference on the  Monday which was literally killing me, I went to the Minor Injuries clinic and they checked it over and gave it the all clear, no break just badly bruised.

I got back on the bike 5 days after the accident.  I wanted to do my nice 10mile route after work just to try and build myself back into it.  I did however omit the larger of the two hills at the start in the hope that a) it would be easier and b) the quieter more tucked away smaller one would mean that if I did panic / fall then hardly anyone would see.

I came back from that ride having panicked at every single downhill and hating every second of it.  10 days later I am still panicking going downhill and relishing the uphills and as such it has become clear that for that and for a few other reasons I need to change my challenge slightly.  Well actually quite a lot.

The C2C is a national cycle route, there was no event I was joining and to do that in 3 weeks time (and for many logistical reasons it has to be then) is I think too much of a challenge even for me right now.  I admit to perhaps biting off more than I can chew with that one.  I will do it but it will need to be at a later date.

I will instead be taking a flatter route closer to home but again ending up where Challenge 1 did, Brighton but this time twice. No its not London to Brighton this time but from where I live in Surrey to Brighton taking in the Downslink cycle route which runs along the old Guildford to Horsham disused railway.  A purpose built and flat cycle route which doesn’t go over the downs but through a cutting near Shoreham before turning left along the seafront to Brighton pier.

However I have also decided that there and back isn’t long enough, it needed to be equivalent or longer to the C2C so I have decided to go There and Back Again, Again. In total this will then be ~170 miles, solo, in under 24 hours.

I hope those who have been so supportive in kindness, words, donations are not disappointed with this decision but I am excited to still get out on the bike and do a challenge on it (although I will be pleased not to get on the bike for a while after).

The challenge will take place 16th, 17th or 18th August depending on the weather.

let’s do this

Xxx

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This is for me

I spent a number of years complaining about bikes in the house, fixing bikes in the house the clutter that bikes cause in the house and now I am one of those people.  My main bike lives in my hallway mainly tucked away but with the training ive been doing things have got a lot more chaotic and my house isn’t very big.

On the plus side though I have learnt a lot about cycling, bikes and the frustrations of long(er) distance cycling.

I’ve…

  • learnt how to change a tyre
  • learnt padded shorts are the ugliest thing ever but my god are they essential
  • had to re-affix chains going up hill
  • found out going down hill my back brake wasn’t working
  • found out going down hill my front brake wasn’t working and ended up in a hedge
  • been stung by numerous stinging nettles
  • nearly ended up in the river wey
  • joined the London to Brighton cycle (accidentally…as it was on my route)
  • got cycle rage against some truly awful drivers
  • learnt I definitely still hate hills.

Since the training started in earnest I have cycled 251.8 miles in addition to this I have turbo trained (so boring!) run and done aerobics. Now that may seem impressive (I am pretty proud of myself I must say) but then I need to remind Screenshot_20170701-123915

myself that I will be cycling 55% of that distance in <24 hours and not the 4 weeks its taken to get to that level.  Bugger.

Today I took on my longest cycle as I start to ramp things up.  35 miles of variable route around where I live.  It was hilly…well undulating…and certainly challenging.

I have really found that cycling is a great focus for the mind and despite how much the body is screaming at me at times its peaceful and gives me time to think.  Its amazing the power of the mind when you put it to work.

I am determined to do this but I am really learning how difficult this challenge is. Walking wasn’t easy it really wasn’t but holy crap cycling is hard and exhausting.

I am doing this for me to prove myself I can do whatever I put my mind to

Here’s hoping I don’t let myself down!

 

Do you really want to do this on a mtb?

Me: Hey Rob, how are you?
Rob: Great! You? Tell me what you have been up to and this challenge thing you want help with?

This was the paraphrased start of my conversation with my dear friend Rob whom I have known for probably 20 years. A lawyer by day and ex triathlon/ironman competitor he now coaches people in his spare time. I thought he might be able to give me some insight into what would be a good training plan for challenge 2.

Now walking is one thing and I can walk for miles (challenge 1 helps highlight that), training for that is not easy but that is more about building stamina and endurance to walk for that long. Cycling is a different beast there is a) a piece of equipment involved and b) to build up to that endurance level of cycling (note definitely not classing this as elite by any stretch) you have to train and train hard.

When I was walking I was quite comfortable walking up a variety of different terrains on a bike though hills are not my friend and the billy goat walking mentality I have going up a hill is not so easily matched on a bike. The route I have chosen however has these things called the North Pennines in the middle of it and that of course doesn’t omit the Lake District I have to cycle through to get there. Bugger.

Our conversation continued with me explaining the challenge to which he replied with a series of questions

  • What bike are you doing it on?
  • When are you doing this?
  • What’s the route like?
  • How much time to train a day do you have?
  • Do you go to the gym?
  • What other exercise do you do?

I dutifully answered and Question 1 I could almost hear him sigh down the phone ‘are you sure you want to do this on a mountain bike?’, ‘yes’ I replied.

He proceeded to explain that whilst for some of the route that would probably be ideal given the time I want to do it in I might struggle due to the weight of the bike as tiredness creeps in, but ultimately it’s up to me. Adding that it’s definitely doable but it’s going to hurt, probably a lot. I’m doing it on my GT Agressor with hybrid tyres…decision final.

As we continued chatting I made a list of things he was suggesting in terms of equipment I didn’t yet have and also his suggestions on training schedule which quite frankly scared the crap out of me. I cycle 6 miles to the station each day so that’s a start coupled with running and aerobics I work out at least 5 days a week but I needed to do more obviously and my main issue was I had no idea how to train for the cycle (short of cycling a lot of course).

As with the walking it’s about building it up, not in terms of speed, I’m not racing per se (well only time at least) but I needed to do enough hours in the saddle to feel comfortable. Building up longer rides was the only way but with only a dizzyingly low number of weeks until the challenge is meant to be (mid August) I have little choice but to ramp that up pretty quickly. The problem is there is this really irritating and time consuming thing called work that gets in the way…tedious. Long days are not conducive to efficient training but I’ll need to make it work and I will.

Working from home 1 day a week however allows me to cycle during the day even more than once if I want to (as I did last week), plus my commute, plus cross training with weights and running I’m exhausted but I know that means I’m on the right track.

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I’ve also bought a turbo trainer to help with cycling in the evenings where it’s not always practical to get out and actually not always required. I don’t have or want a gym membership so the turbo trainer will help with building up the motion and saddle time as I train (that’s the plan anyway).

I’ll also be cycling everywhere I can…not always easy but at least continues the saddle time and keeps those legs moving. This morning saw me do an early morning ride before the heat kicked in. Taking in some hills as well as some glorious swoopy roads in the early day sun. 21.4 miles in 1hour 33 I didn’t think was too bad given I only had about 5 hours sleep and still have mountain bike tyres on my bike (those will be changed very soon for the challenge)

I am taking this challenge very seriously, it’s going to be hard but nothing worth doing was ever easy was it?

This girl can

#focusonyou

 

This girl did

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.IMG_20170527_092017_914

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 m20170605_213041y 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. 20170528_040134

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 fight20170528_040147 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

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Xxxx

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.