Wednesday 21 July 2004

Trailwalker 2004

The word most frequently used towards the end of Trailwalker is "broken". In the context of a 100km walk it means fatigued, exhausted, pained, as in "my legs are broken", "my feet are broken", or more commonly "I'm broken". Walking Trailwalker is like being crushed by a glacier: the pain is slow, inexorable, inevitable, and it chafes a bit.

Me, Boo, Baz and Tom at the finish

Covering 100km on shanks' pony is a strange endeavour, 62 miles is a prepostorously long distance and 20 hours a ludicrous time to be walking. It's almost impossible to imagine what it's like without taking part. Picture yourself walking for eight hours; enough to cover about twenty-five miles and a decent day walk in most people's book. At the end of that eight hours your feet tingle, your legs are slightly stiff, you're a bit hungry. If you're doing Trailwalker you're not even half way around.

With three 25 mile training walks under my belt I figured I could cover 40 miles without too much difficulty, and then I'd just need to be tough for the last 20 miles. Yet the first 70 kilometres were the hardest; I spent hours walking alone and not quite on the pace. While Boo, Baz and Tom strode the trail as a unit, I yo-yoed off the back; never quite fast enough to keep up and talk to them, never quite slow enough to justify them stopping to wait for me. And their pace was relentless. Limbs got sorer, places I'd rather not talk about chafed, my stomach yearned for food and still the three of them hammered onwards.

At CheckPoint 7, 40 miles in, I hit a dreadful low. An energy gel at the previous checkpoint had given me a peak of energy, but I slid violently off the other side of the sugar high. My head lolled; I could barely fork the hot pasta to my mouth; I had to lie on the bench and contemplate my own weakness. Although not in any great pain, I had no strength to do anything. With encouragement from the team and mindful of the ferocious piss-taking I'd be subjected to if I quit, giving up wasn't really an option, I glugged down some Lucozade, set my jaw and followed Barry's heels out of the car park and back onto the Downs. Two miles down the track I was starting to digest the pasta and feeling fine again.

I wasn't the only one to crack, each of us hit a low somewhere on the trail. Tom's blisters nearly made him quit at CheckPoint 8 - Radiohead on his walkman kept him going. Boo ran out of energy so much she was shaking by the time we reached CheckPoint 9 - a banana and some gel sorted her out. Barry nearly fainted at CheckPoint 10 - a long sit down in the car did funny things to his blood pressure. No-one pulled out, the team stayed together.

Perversely, the last 10 kilometres were by far the easiest. As soon as I realised we were all going to complete the distance the walking became nearly pain free. Fatigue lifted and left behind a soaring sense of accomplishment; I'd pushed my body further than ever before and come through it. We crossed the finish line shoulder to shoulder at 2:20am, 19 hours 20 minutes after we started. The smile stayed on my face until I fell asleep in the car on the way home.

If you're feeling impressed or charitable, you can still sponsor us and add to our total of over 2000 raised for Oxfam here.

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