Paul’s Memories

I’ve encouraged everyone to write their memories of the day, sadly I’ve been so busy since the trailwalker weekend I’ve not had a chance, so here goes….

Pre-walk

Friday was a normal working day for me. We normally have a pub lunch on Friday, I took the opportunity to “carb up” with some pasta. In fact, whenever anyone questioned why I was stuffing my face, I would reply “leave me alone, I’m carbing up!”.

After leaving the office, we loaded up the car with all our gear, and had a long drive down to a Travelodge near the start point. We arrived too late to pre-register, so after a little more carbing up (a team chinese takeaway), we took took the last sleep we’d be getting for a while…

Registration 7:30am

We arrived on site and went through the registration process. It took us an hour to register, get our kit checked by the Gurkhas and be issued with a wristband containing an indentification chip for each checkpoint.

As we made final preparations by the car, we heard the countdown for the start begin, and the Gurkha bagpipes began playing! The challenge we’d be planning all year was about to start!

Start – 8:30am

We got the start line a few moments after the main crowd had set off. After hurried Banzaigoodbyes to our support crew, we were away. Pete had supplied us all with kamikaze headbands which drew smiles from the crowds waving everyone off.  The walk to the first checkpoint was very busy with walkers, and we had to walk a slower pace than we were used to.

After an hour people were a little more spaced out and we found our pace picking up.

10:15am – Checkpoint 1

Despite the slow start, we reached the first checkpoint well ahead of our schedule. We had previously arranged not to meet our support crew there, since we didn’t feel we’d need anything. The walking had been easy, the weather kind, and after 15 minutes rest we continued.

It wasn’t long before we hit the first proper climb – a short but steep ascent to Beacon Hill. Had a short breather at the top, but the rest of the section was relative easy, with some woodland providing welcome shade from the sun which was starting to get warm.

It wasn’t long before we got our first experience of being met by our support crew…

1:12pm – Checkpoint 2

After four hours walking we were ready for a little pampering from our support crew, and they didn’t disappoint. On arrival four chairs were ready and a table laden with goodies – Sarah and Jo made sure our water containers were replenished and plied us with energy giving food!

I was carrying an iPod with powered speakers, and we fired it up. Groove Armada’s “Superstylin'” filled the air and there was a party atmosphere. It was great to see our crew, we all felt fine and raring to continue.

team photoWith the tunes still pumping, we said goodbye to Sarah and Jo, and set off to checkpoint 3. After a few hundred yards, Alex remarked how good the PA system at the checkpoint was, as she could still clearly hear the music. Bless her.

A problem was brewing though. The sun was getting hotter, and I wasn’t drinking as much as I should have been. We’d all been checking how hydrated we were, and I was aware I needed to take on more water. I thought I had been drinking frequently, but I was in for a surprise at the next checkpoint…

3:00pm – Checkpoint 3

By now, checkpoints were starting to become a welcome sight. At this one we were doubly pleased, as our 3rd support crew member, Andy, had arrived early. He was supposed to be covering the team from midnight, but was too excited to miss the daytime stages!

Cream TeaSarah and Jo had laid on a cream tea, and it was clotted cream, jam and scones all round. While we tucked in, Sarah pulled the drinking bladder from my backpack – it was almost full.

I was just as shocked as everyone. Though I felt fine, this meant I was almost certainly going to experience some symptoms of dehydration. I took on as much water as possible and we continued…

I had been walking without poles until this point, as I hadn’t really got on with them in training. As I’d been slow on ascents, I took poles with me after this stage and used them almost constantly.

Somehow, I just clicked with them. On the flat, I could ease the pressure on my feet, climbing was faster and descents more stable. Over time, I found another benefit – using the poles seemed to correct my posture and I never got any backache or shoulder aches – something which was common in training after 8 hours walking.

5:30pm – Checkpoint 4

Again, it was great to see the support crew!I had stayed pretty focused on drinking and this seemed to be paying off. I had a few cramps in my calves as we sat down for a rest at the checkpoint, but Andy came to the rescue – he’s a trained sports physio, our very own Mr Miyagi (wax on! wax off!) and he soon had me feeling good as new.

Though I though I’d arrested any serious dehydration, I didn’t feel hungry. That’s one symptom, so I forced down some pasta and a banana. I think it was here that Alex gave me a dioralyte rehydration solution, which was vile!

My legs were starting to feel like they’d had some exercise, but Dr Alex issued us all with aspirin as an anti-inflammatory and we were good to go!

We weren’t long out of that checkpoint when Peter had to stop – he could feel a blister. Out came the first aid kit and we patched him up. Peter would be picking up many more as we progressed…

Wonderful WorldThis was one of the longer stages, and as we neared checkpoint 5 the sun began setting behind us, casting long shadows Sunsetand bathing the landscape in gold. As we descended down into the village of Washington, my iPod began playing Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. I’ve often found an iPod in shuffle mode can provide the most serendipitous soundtrack, and it leant a filmic quality to the final kilometre to checkpoint 5.

Sadly it was at this point that something went wrong with the tracking web site. My phone beeped every few hundred yards with a fresh SMS message telling me it was down. I tried ringing a few developer friends to no avail, and then decided to try again once I’d reached the checkpoint.

9:00pm – Checkpoint 5, halfway there!

Dusk was setting in as we arrived at checkpoint 5, and this is where I started to find it physiologically difficult. We’d been walking for over 12 hours, and I’d struggled to maintain a balanced fluid intake. I tried to eat a cornish pastie, but could only nibble at it. I realised that I hadn’t managed to stave off dehydration.

I drank as much as I could, and ate a strange mixture of foods. Mouthfuls of whatever I could manage to swallow – some pasta, a banana, half a sandwich,  fruit cake.

It quickly got darker, and colder.

So there I am, cold, dehydrated and malnourished, trying to call up friends to fix the damn website. Eventually, salvation arrives in the form of one of my oldest friends, Harry, who got things up and running again in no time.  Not only that, he sponsored me £50 while he was at it! Pretty impressive – he does late night tech support on a weekend, and ends up paying!

Once I got off the phone, I ate a little more then it was time to don our hi-vis jackets and headtorches and begin our march into the great unknown. We’d now be walking further than any of us had done before in training!

This was the section myself and Peter had trained on 3 weeks previously, and the familiarity helped a lot.

However, I wasn’t feeling tip top – stomach was rather queasy from effects of dehydration and eating lots of different things. My legs were tired. I began to wonder whether I would make it, and I remember thinking that there was no way I would put myself through it again.

It was, however, a beautiful night. The full moon began rising in front of us, and illuminating the distant sea in silver.

Around halfway to the next checkpoint though, all the tiredness and vague nausea just fell away. In around one minute I went from focused struggling to bouncing euphoria. Everything was suddenly fine in the world! It was a great moment, I figured I’d broken through my personal “wall” and that nothing was going to stop me finishing the entire walk!

00:26am – Checkpoint 6

Sarah had left the support crew for the night stages as she would be the driver in the morning. We were met at the checkpoint by Andy and Jo who kept us supplied as usual.

I had just been wearing a fleece for the last stage, and although it was warm enough while walking, once we stopped I began to get cold quickly. The earlier euphoria wore off, and I crashed back into another low point. It took me about 20 minutes to recover to point where I was happy to continue, and I probably looked terrible. This checkpoint sticks in mind more than the others, and I think if my wife Sarah had been there, she would have pleaded with me to stop!

Once we got going again, I didn’t feel so bad, though I knew we had a sustained climb ahead, which I wasn’t looking forward to.

Before we reached that, we had a few miles on the flat, following a river before picking our way though the village of Upper Beeding. It was very peaceful and pleasant, but then came “the climb”.

I was slow on this climb back onto the top of the ridge, my left ankle was starting to ache. I didn’t worry too much about it, I’d had plenty of other aches I’d worked through. I knew that once at the top, we had a long period of flat walking and I stayed focused on that.

Once at the top, I had a bit of breather, and we continued.

Peter was having some serious blister problems and found it hard to stand around or go slowly, so he and Matt marched off at quite a pace.

Though I should have been able to match it, something was wrong. They were soon 100ft ahead and  the ache in my ankle was turning into something more painful. I was using my poles to avoid straining it, but that just made me slower.

A few hundred yards further, the pain got much worse and I had to sit down. I took my boot and sock off, there was no obvious external damage but any flexing of my ankle was painful. I figured that if I strapped it up to limit the amount of movement, I’d be OK. Out came the tubigrip and Alex helped me bind it.

It certainly helped – but my pace was slow. We had around 5km to go to the next checkpoint, a distance which should have taken us an hour.

It took 90 minutes – for a lot of that time, Matt hung back with me and had a struggle of his own: walking that slowly wasn’t easy for him! Ascents and descents were particularly bad. I couldn’t avoid flexing my ankle, and whatever damage I had done, hills were making it worse.

4:00am – Checkpoint 7

I limped into checkpoint 7 and made for the first aid tent. Their advice was to take Ibuprofen and keep my leg raised up. Determined to continue, I did that right away, though my aspirin intake meant I had to wait an hour before taking Ibuprofen.

I ate some pasta and chilli while lying down with my left left held up on a chair. I was getting excruciating cramps in both calves, but I was determined to be fixed!

We checked our timing against our plan, and were dismayed to find we were over an hour behind schedule. My speed on the flat was 2mph, much less on ascents and descents. Given the hills yet to come, it seemed unlikely my speed would get us to the finish line in less than 30 hours.

Dawn was approaching, and the rest of the team were ready. I’d been resting my ankle for around 40 mins, and had taken the Ibuprofen. I stood up to test it out.

It wasn’t good. Pain was still there. Relax, try again. Nope. Use the poles to avoid placing any weight on left foot? Better but still slow, and could I really walk another 20 miles on one leg? I figured that maybe I could – this was a one-time-only experience. There was no way I was going to try it again, so I had one shot. Right now. In other words, complete denial was going to get me through!

So I walk around a bit more, psyching myself up. But gradually, the pain becomes more apparent, and I finally admit to myself that it’s over.

It didn’t become “real” until I told the rest of team. Most would characterise me as extremely laid back, not much gets me down, but I found this difficult and upsetting. I never imagined having to drop out, and was unprepared for it.

I watched the team leave for checkpoint 8, then walked over to the race control tent inform them I was dropping out.

They cut my wristband off, and it was officially over.

12:30pm – Finish

MedalThough Alex had to stop walking at checkpoint 9, they allowed her to remain in the race and rejoin Peter and Matt for the final kilometre. It was great to see them cross the finish line, and after joining them on the finish podium, I felt much better about having dropped out.

We all sat in the sunshine and ate a hearty Gurkha curry, which was the best thing I’d eaten in ages. Thanks to late sponsorships, we found we’d raised over £3000, double our original total, which made us smile even more.

Thankyous

I can’t finish this without thanking the many people who made this possible.

  • Our fantastic support crew just did everything right. Meeting them every 2-3 hours gave us something to look forward to. Sarah, Jo and Andy, thankyou so much.
  • Thankyou Harry for fixing the tracking website late on Saturday night, you are a star.
  • Alex for ensuring our biochemistry was in tip top working order.
  • Matt for walking half his normal speed with me while I limped to checkpoint 7
  • Pete for the repartee and unexpectedly gung-ho attitude!
  • The Oxfam volunteers and the Gurkhas were fantastic on the day – cheerful and well organised.
  • To the many, many people who sent us text messages around the clock. It was great to know people were thinking of us.
  • And lastly, to everyone who sponsored us. We really appreciate it, Oxfam and The Gurkha Welfare Trust will be able to do a lot of good with £3000.

Epilogue

I’m writing this some two weeks after the event. The pain in my ankle took 5 days to go away, but I can feel that it isn’t fully healed. This is actually a relief – if the ankle recovered quickly, I would have forever wondered if I could have continued. As it is, I’m pretty sure that if I carried on, I’d have dropped out at checkpoint 8 with a more serious injury.

I also had an enormous friction blister underneath my right big toenail. It was black and had raised the entire nail up several millimetres. It was so painful that the Wednesday after the walk I went into A&E to have it looked at. They drilled a hole in the nail to release the pressure, which was nice. They said the whole toenail will drop off in a month or so, but it will grow back!

The million dollar question is of course “will I do it again”. Despite the seriously low points, it was an incredible experience. If I am injury free when Trailwalker 2009 registration opens in November, I’ll do it.

Who’s with me? Come on!