The Thames Path (Ultra) Challenge

This isn’t a walk I was particularly looking forward to.  In my training, I decided that my preferred distance, depending on the terrain, is between 15 and 20 miles in a day, with anything over 25 becoming a definite slog.  Imagine, if you will therefore, my abject fear at the thought of doing 62 miles in one go.  Who walks 62 miles in one go?  Who?

Much as I like to blame Lindsey for this entirely, I knew what I was getting in to when I signed up: I knew it would be difficult mentally as well as physically and I also knew that I had only ever managed 41 miles in a single day with completely shredded feet being the end result.

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Red sky in the morning.  Bloody shepherds!

Obviously having prepared perfectly I woke up after just 5 short hours sleep at ridiculous o’clock, probably swearing, to make the final preparations; catch a train and a tube; meet Lindsey at the start; ‘warm up’ and set off bang on our scheduled 8.20 am slot at Bishop’s Park, Fulham.  Demelza were on hand at this point to see us off with gifts of T-shirts, banners, hitting sticks and most importantly two big bars of dark Lindt chocolate!

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The start before the storm

My ‘warm up’ consisted of me getting my first Tweet of the day ready.  There was a man on stage going through a dance routine designed to get us limbered up, but not being particularly well co-ordintated with these kind of things and being a little tired, I thought I’d give it a miss, safe in the knowledge that any dancing now wouldn’t be helping me in 20 hours time!  I also needed to get my first song of 34 with the word ‘walk’ in the title playing on my phone.  With one for every potential hour we would be walking, I was going to Tweet/FB the title with the hash tag #TrackMe so people could track our progress via shareyouradventure.com.  This worked as about as well as a shower curtain made of toilet paper, but I persevered with the track list throughout the day which is included below.

The day part of the challenge consisted of walking along the Thames a lot, surprisingly, and sometimes crossing it using many of the bridges that span it.  It rained at Kingston Upon Thames, but dried up by Hampton Court.  Before half way there were many rest stops supplying energy drinks and bars, chocolate bars, pastries, fruit, green teas, pick and mix and my favourite of the day Mini Cheddars.  We reached Runnymede, the half way point, at around 18:20, unfortunately slightly too late to see the signing of the Magna Carter of 1215.  We weren’t however too late for our first proper lunch stop of the day which consisted of copious amounts of rice, chilli beef, vegetables and apple pie.  This was calorie counting in reverse and any edible morsals within my vacinity were fair game.

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So after an hour and a quarter we got going again towards Henley with the head torches and small bicycle lights coming on within minutes of setting off.  This was the start of a very surreal period of the walk: I had to get used to the fact that this darkness wasn’t like the rain, a short lived inconvenience, but in fact it was going last around ten hours.  The path was so dark it was like being on the underground, going from destination to destination without actually knowing how we got there.  And that is how it was until the final rest stop at kilometre 88!

Replacement batteries were required for my head torch at Windsor, the 60km mark, which turned it in to one powerful beacon of light.  I was actually worried that some of the planes coming in to Heathrow were going to mistake me for a landing light, but strangely nothing came of that and we were soon at the next rest stop, 63km along at Eton Wick.  The atmosphere in the tents was starting to change now it was dark, the buzz of the earlier stops was more subdued; there were fewer participants now some had finished their days at the 25 and 50km marks; the medical staff seemed busier; people were wrapped in foil blankets and catching 40 winks wherever they could.  The organisers had become more serious: only letting people go out in to the darkness in groups and, insisting they had glow sticks and head torches.

This was starting to get serious and starting to really hurt: after the stop at 77km for more cooked food, without warning, I had somehow pulled a muscle in my thigh, which resulted in a pain in my hip so great, I was almost sobbing by the time I reached the 87 km pit stop. We were now so close, we left the final tent in the light, albeit in the fog that had followed us since around the 75km mark.

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So very, very close!

The advantage of counting in kilometres is that you can tick them off much more quickly than you can with miles, and before we knew it, we had a fewer than ten to go.  The sun was making an appearance, the finish line was in sight and one last push in silence was all that was needed in order to cross it a mere 24 and a half hours after setting off from Fulham.

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Careful, don’t spill the cava!

The scale of the achievement didn’t really hit me until I was on the train back from Henley to London and a couple of pints later and a few hours later.  Even then it was a small thought being lost against the back drop of my losing battle with sleep.


The soundtrack to the Thames Path Challenge

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