By Mike Street
The Trailwalker event is something I've had my eye on for a while. 100km over 30 hours seemed like a sporting challenge I could do. I was 16 when a friend started talking about doing it and proposed that I join him, and I was 16 when we decided it was probably too big of a challenge.
7 or 8 years later, I found myself in the same boat - Nichola sent a mass email round to everyone at work expressing her interest and asking if anyone would join her. I was tentative and didn't reply straight away. I sat and thought about it, and a little bit of me didn't want to do it but a big part of me thought about my 16 year old self. A few days later and Nichola approached me with words similar to "I've heard you like walking - want to do the Trailwalker?". I'm too polite to say no to somebody's face, so I reluctantly agreed.
We sat down a few weeks later - Myself, Nichola, Sam and Andy. The Bozboz Trailwalker team. It was there that it started to hit home about the fact and about the challenge we were about to undertake. Oxfam compare this test to the more widely known Three Peaks Challenge:
|Total Time||28 hours||23 hours|
|Time walking||24 hours||13 hours|
|Time resting||4 hours||10 hours|
Now we knew what we were up against, we all took it a bit more seriously. Our training consisted of a few 10km walks, a couple of 20km walks, a 30km and a 50km. The first few were to get used to walking again, work out where the pain points were and where the blisters were going to appear. A couple of the walks covered the last 50km of the Trailwalker route. We purposely walked the trail so we knew the terrain and got used to the journey. This then prepared for the hills and paths that awaited our footsteps on the day.
We also headed out in the dark - getting used to walking with only a spotlight of ground where you are about to put your foot. This was something I had done before but the others experienced for the first time - if you are deciding on doing the Trailwalker, definitely put in some night walks.
We completed a 50km walk which scared me. After that day I felt tired, drained and had clocked up some meaty blisters. The thought of doing that again without stopping was petrifying and really put the Trailwalker into perspective. I wasn't ready and I didn't want to do it.
The 26th of July came round as quickly as it did slowly. At the beginning of July it was something which stood between me and payday - that is how I saw it. Unfortunately, due to a plethora of things, Andy couldn't join us for the walk - but he was with us in spirit and at various points was a conversation starter; "What would Andy say?", "Remember that time Andy talked about..." and this was good.
We started off strong. Nichola had put together a spreadsheet of what our times would look like if we completed it 26 hours. She was doubtful but me and Sam stayed positive. We learned we were strongest as a team heading uphill - this became the 'dream overtake' - swopping in as lesser teams struggled on the inclines (or sausages as they later became...[the hills, not the teams]). After the first checkpoint we were feeling good - we were ahead of our schedule and our spirits were high. Even the rains which hammered down couldn't dampen our spirits.
We watched in awe as team after team jogged passed us - the fastest of them completing the course in just over 11 hours. I have a lot of respect for them but felt sorry for them as they never got to see the sunrise over the majestic Black Cap!
We had a strong support crew - even though all the literature advises on practicing with them we didn't and both sides were learning on the job. Kim and James were brilliant at giving us what we needed without getting annoying or being mumsy.
Trouble lurked around the corner - and poked his head out just after checkpoint 5 (the 50km mark). We got to Washington and from there we were on familiar ground. Heading out, I started to feel a twinge in my hip - I told myself it was nothing and didn't share my concerns. We had agreed in the team that no moaning was allowed - only factual updates of health - "my leg hurts" is fine, but no repeating until it gets worse or better.
We got into Botolphs and shared my troubles with Chilly who had turned up to assist. She advised that if it gets worse to talk to medics at the next checkpoint. By this time it had travelled between my knee and my hip several times, only to reside in my knee. As we headed off to Devils Dyke, the pain got worse. I was struggling with downhills a lot, walking on the flat was uncomfortable but walking uphill was the best feeling ever.
We got into Devils Dyke - the checkpoint with the highest drop out rate and my knee was killing. I headed to the medic tent only to be told there was nothing they can do but give a mist of 'magic spray'. Expecting to be strapped up I was disappointed - but moved on as there were people worse off than me.
Heading to join my team and force some food down me, and the thought of dropping out crossing my mind more than once. We forced ourselves back onto the trail - the next leg was the shortest and after a quick ascent, we could see the deceivingly close lights of the next checkpoint almost instantly. Standing between us and those lights, however, was a long, steep decline. Our travels, no thanks to my knee, were slow going.
We arrived to a party of volunteers, cheering us on, singing Carley Rae Jepsen and exclaiming how we should call them, maybe. My knee was still causing me grief. Fortunately there was a massage tent and this checkpoint which couldn't have come at a better time. I was informed there that my pains were down to an overly tight iliotibial band. Fifteen minutes later and my knee was better, not quite perfect but a lot better than it was. I later found out that this was also the checkpoint that Sam had been sick.
The stage after the Jack and Jill checkpoint, was one of the most tedious, arduous bits of walking I have ever had to do. Three and a half hours of hobbling, wincing and feeling sorry for myself. We left checkpoint 8 in darkness and arrived at checkpoint 9 in daylight. Having walked that part of the route previously, we all knew we were in for a slog - I don't think we realised how hard it would be.
The last 1km was the hardest. It felt like the longest 1000m I had ever walked. We could see the finish from about 1.5km away, and every step, although taking us closer to the finish, seemed to take us further from completion.
We finally arrived to the sound of bagpipes and the cheers of volunteers. I could feel myself welling up. The exhaustion, the relief, the amazing feeling I had that I had walked 100km. Not only that, but we had beaten our target time, by 15 minutes - a total of 25 hours 45 minutes. Not bad going for some first timers.
Would I do it again? Maybe in the future. I would recommend it to anyone thinking of doing it. I would advise good socks, good boots and good training.
I would like to say a massive thanks to the volunteers, the kind words of support we all received through various media, the fantastic support crew and of course, my team mates.