I had planned to go to work today, Monday 16 July. Naively I believed that having all day Sunday would be enough to recover!
I got home just after 11am yesterday, had a shower and an ice-bath for my feet (which resulted in a sudden outburst of big ugly crying!). I knew I needed to eat, I’d burnt over 6,000 calories over the last 2 days, but I was so tired, I just had some toast and then napped on the sofa. At 5pm I gave in to the need for proper sleep and took myself to bed, thinking I’d sleep for a couple of hours and wake up hungry for dinner…
I woke up at 10:45pm, feeling totally confused! My period had arrived by this time (thankfully it had stayed away during the walk despite being due), and I felt exhausted (I suffer from Endometriosis). I forced myself to stay up a bit and had some more toast and then went back to bed at 12:30.
This morning I got up feeling less physically tired, the ice-bath definitely worked wonders for my feet. But I’m totally drained and light-headed from a serious calorie deficit. I decided working wasn’t a good idea. Even logging on from home wouldn’t be productive, luckily I have a very understanding boss who let me swap my days at short notice!
I don’t want to sleep all day, as I need to be able to sleep tonight and I want to keep moving a bit to save seizing up, so I decided to write a full rundown of the walk…
Walk the Night – Full Marathon – 14/15 July 2018
Back in April I was laying in the bath one night and I got a message from my friend, Vicki Duncan, asking if I wanted to join her on a 26.2 mile walk through the night in London on 14 July.
To be honest, at that point I was a little unsure! The last time I walked that sort of distance (Orwell Walk 25m June 2013) I remember hurting so much I could barely put one foot in front of the other for the last 2 miles and I vowed never again! Plus I am running [run-walk-run] now and am training for a half marathon so training for such a long walk would interfere with that. BUT… my calendar said I was free that week, and I do love a challenge, and it was raising money for two awesome cancer charities, and Vicki said she’d see if Michaela would do it too… So I knew no matter what, we’d have a fun time along the way and be doing a very good deed. I said yes and booked it up that night!
Training went ok-ish, the three of us walked around Alton Water one weekend – about 8 miles. I managed a 15 mile walk in Felixstowe on my own (hot hot hot and lots of black flies) and then me and Michaela walked from Stowmarket to Needham Market and back one Saturday, 10 miles in total, again very hot and we picked up an odd young man on the way! I consider myself much fitter now than in 2013 so figured I wouldn’t suffer so much, I’ve given up smoking and taken up running in the last 5 years so it’d have to be easier right??
Saturday 14 July finally arrived and I hadn’t had the best nights sleep. I was in bed by 10:30pm the night before, but the cats woke me up fighting at 4, I woke up again at 6:30, then again at 7:30, and couldn’t really get back to sleep after that so got up at 8:30. I had a very lazy morning, packed my bag, had a bath and an early lunch then headed over to Michaela’s in Stowmarket.
We sat around for an hour or so, starting to feel nervous by this point, then we headed to the station to meet Vicki to start our journey to London! We arrived at Liverpool St around 5:20 and headed on to Kings Cross where the event was starting and finishing. We were registered and all kitted up by 6pm, so just had to wait 3 hours ‘till the start! It was such a hot day, I reckon almost 30 degrees in the centre of London, that none of us were really that hungry, so we went to Waitrose and got a sandwich and crisps, and stocked up on water. Then we had an ice-cream a little later whilst soaking up the atmosphere.
This was the first Walk the Night event organised by Dream Challenges. We met one of the charity workers wandering up to registration and he told us there were approx. 1,200 walkers taking part. They also do a Ride the Night challenge which start 6 years ago with just 1,500 riders the first year and now has 1,000s taking part. So hopefully this event will grow just as much. Seeing all the people wearing their pink and blue high viz vests was quite a site! The atmosphere was amazing, especially when they played the WTN18 anthem “This is me”, plus the Samba band and the carnival dancers with their massive elaborate costumes. The sun was shining still and everyone was in such a positive mood.
At 7:45 the first wave of walkers headed off to the start line, to be let out in groups of 50. We went over to cheer them on and listened to the speech made by one of the marshals. Most of what he said was very inspiring, but I wont lie, it was a little disconcerting when he told us they hadn’t managed to put up all the markers along the route and to make sure we all had a link to the map my walk route just in case! On Friday 13 there were protests in London against President Trump’s visit, so the police had shut off areas of the city which meant the WTN organisers couldn’t get to some places to add signage to lamp-posts etc… Apparently they’d managed to get most of the directional arrows up but not all the mile markers along the route.
Our turn to start finally arrived (a little earlier than planned thankfully) and off we went at 8:47pm.
I can’t remember when we saw our first mile marker but it was definitely quite far into the night, there were a few miles where there were markers every mile and then another big gap until close to the end. Thankfully we never got lost along the route and always saw the direction arrow and had groups of fellow walkers visible in front and behind most of the way.
The first 2 miles went very quickly as we walked from Kings Cross down Euston Road and Regents Street. We then headed along Oxford Street and despite the fact that it was around 10pm there were still so many tourists and shoppers around I’m sure we added an extra ½ a mile along this stretch just navigating our way through the crowds and crossings etc… By mile 4 we were wandering past Hyde Park, where we heard Bruno Mars finishing his set, and then at mile 5 (ish) we were at the first food station – a very welcome site with lots of sweeties available plus a top up of water. Sadly only 1 of the 3 toilets was working (the other 2 being blocked) and it was so hot in the basement church, too hot to queue, so we didn’t stay long here.
For the next few miles we walked through some very nice parts of West London; Holland Park and Kensington. We saw lovely people drinking lovely wine in lovely air-conditioned little bars, whilst we trudged along sweaty, taking in regular sips of water and holding in our need to pee!
Between miles 7 and 8 we walked past some familiar tourist sites; The Royal Albert Hall, The Albert Memorial, the Science Museum, the National Geographic Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. By this stage a few niggles were kicking in. Poor Vicki was suffering with hamstring issues, Michaela had a sore hip and my achilles tendon and calf on the right side were threatening cramp. Luckily I’d bought painkillers with me, so I dispensed drugs near the V&A and off we continued – it was around midnight at this point, we’d been walking for 3 hours and should have been about 7.75 miles in but it felt more like 9 miles.
We then hit Knightsbridge and walked past some very expensive shops and saw rich people eating late suppers in over priced restaurants. We walked past Harrods and Harvey Nichols and despite the fact that it was way past midnight there were still so many people around, including young children which surprised us a bit, but I guess it’s the city and it was Saturday night! By mile 9 we were approaching Buckingham Palace and it was nice to finally be in a more open space, the heat was really stifling and muggy so any little breeze was welcome and a chance to air our armpits! From the front of the palace we could see the London Eye all lit up so we knew we were near the river – this was the part of the walk I was most looking forward to, weaving our way along the Thames over all the bridges in the early hours – so it was very disheartening when the route took us back in the opposite direction.
Mile 10 ½ ish saw our next rest stop in another hot church near Sloane Square. Thankfully the loos were plentiful here so we all managed to relieve our bladders this time! And there was a fabulous selection of cake (although no tea, which was promised, much to our disappointment). After topping up our waters again we were off on our way. The next 3 miles felt long and dull and the aches and pains were really hitting in now. By 2:30am we were all feeling the pain, we’d been walking for over 5 ½ hours by this stage and weren’t even half way through the route!
By mile 14, despite being knackered, our spirits were lifted a little as the route started to get a bit more interesting again. We crossed the river at Lambeth Bridge and walked along the south side towards Westminster Bridge. At mile 15 (although my Runkeeper app said 16.3 miles at this stage!) it was 2:50am and we had reached the 3rd food station. We were looking forward to soup and sandwiches, sadly the small mug of powdery cup-a-soup and plain white rolls on offer did not hit the spot. Although the bag of salt and vinegar crisps were the best I’ve ever tasted – my body was definitely craving savoury by this point!
Our spirits were quite low by this time. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament weren’t even lit at this time of night. The next hour was probably my least favourite part of the whole night, we were tired, in pain, quiet and then we stumbled back into the city centre, past Trafalgar Square through Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. At a point when mental alertness was low, walking through drunken revellers and trying to navigate the route was tough going and not enjoyable!
Getting back to the river and seeing the early signs of dawn behind St Pauls Cathedral at mile 18 was a welcome sight. I think the sights and the sunrising were the only thing that kept us going through the next 2 miles! Food station 4 at 19 miles was another hot and stuffy church, everyone was suffering by this stage, but we all needed the toilet so we queued up like everyone else. It was here I realised that the portable battery charger I’d plugged my phone into had burnt my thigh through my trousers pocket! It had got so hot, my skin was blistered and to top it all off it hadn’t even fully charged my phone! I guess it overheated and stopped working. I can’t believe I didn’t even feel it, I guess all the other pains overpowered that area! It was also here that I realised I’d paused my Runkeeper app by mistake at the last stop point – which is probably a good thing as I’m sure it would have told us we’d walked much further than 26.3 miles by the end!
By now it was 4:30am and we were all shattered – it had been a long hot night and the whole experience felt quite surreal by this point. As we left the church the sun had fully risen and we were back to daylight. At mile 20 we walked over Tower Bridge and it wasn’t long before I started to lose my sense of humour!
The last 6 miles were long and boring. Alan Trickey, Michaela’s partner, was in London by this time, ready to drive us home. Rather than wait at the finish line he walked the route in reverse and joined up with us about 4 miles from the end. I can’t even tell you the route or the sights as there was nothing memorable at this point (except maybe walking past Michaela’s place of work along Bishopsgate). Emotions were running high by this time, we just wanted to walk quicker to get the thing done but our bodies were failing and the pace slowed right down. Every mile felt like two and my humour had gone completely by this stage, to be replaced by the need to poo and constant wind (I’m sure I farted my way round the last 3 miles!).
We had hoped to finish by 7am, but that time past and we were still 2 miles away from the finish line. We started to see mile markers again at this stage and I was totally demoralised by them as they just felt so far apart! Poor Michaela could barely walk by this stage, and Vicki’s left leg was very painful. My ankles were hurting but my main complaint was a massive blister on the base on my right foot near my toes which had started to sting for the last 2 miles. Basically we were all broken, mentally and physically, by the end. And we had to keep reminding ourselves that no matter how difficult it was, no matter how much we were suffering, having cancer is infinitely worse.
At mile 26 we knew we were not far away, just 300 metres to go, and we started to see familiar sights from the start line. As we round the corner past the back of the granary, the finish line was in sight and a crowd of volunteers were waiting for us, cheering and holding medals in readiness to put round our necks. We linked arms at this point and picked up our pace a little for the final few metres. We’d finished! Somehow we managed to do it, still standing, and smiling across the finish line!
Together the three of us raised £975.50 + gift aid for Breast Cancer Care and Prostate Cancer UK. We saw London at a time we wouldn’t normally be out and about. St Pauls and London Bridge at dawn were spectacular. We saw homeless people, drunk people, crazy dancing lady at a red light ‘busking’ for money. We saw 100’s of fellow walkers in as much pain as we were. We followed pink arrows, and pink feathers! There were highs and lows. There was plenty of grit and determination. There was laughter, friendship, tears, blisters, pain, farting, pooing and, finally, joy and medals! What a night!! Would I do it again? No way! Am I glad I done it? Definitely! And I would recommend it to anyone, it was an experience I will never forget…
Thanks to Vicki Duncan and Alan Trickey for some of the photos.
If you want to know more about the challenge, or the charities we were raising money for, see links below: