It was delightfully cloudy on Saturday 9th July, at about 5am. We breathed a sigh of relief as we realised that the potential heat from the sun in a clear sky would not be with us, at least for the start of the Race to the Stones, #RTTS.
We were taken by a friend to Watlington, to the start. We had a few minutes to have the second breakfast of the day, porridge. Then, we were asked to enter the starting pen, and at 7:30am we set off. We had a firm plan for the day. We knew our timings, and we knew when to do slowdowns (a “comma” in the cadence) and when to do a full stop. It was hot, but shady, and the early morning air was still cool. In the first part, we had to resist the temptation to walk at the pace of the excited contestants around us, but we arrived at our first pause almost perfectly on time. By mid-morning, the clouds had burnt off, and the temperature had started to rise relentlessly. We walked on.
We paused for a full stop at lunchtime and nibbled on biscuits and other snacks. The kilometre markers ticked by, 20, 25, now we were walking for longer than any of the training. We walked on, 30, 40, 42, around about a marathon. The heat was intense, and I realised I had been gradually dehydrating. My energy levels were collapsing, but we didn’t have far to go. 47km, just three more, we walked on. Finally, we made it to the day one finish line. Rafe collected us, and we headed home to spend the evening with friends who had prepared dinner. Yet, how odd, I wasn’t hungry despite all that distance walking. That would change, but sleep was more important at that moment than food!
Day 2 dawned with clear skies and a forecast of higher temperatures. The night before, we had decided to leave earlier to get more walking in the cooler parts of the day. So, we got up an hour earlier than planned, got back to the start and set off. Our legs were sore, but quickly that loosened off, and we got back into our stride. Today was different. We hadn’t planned as closely on day two, knowing how we felt would be partly based on how well we were.
Our training had included back-to-back days, so we had the experience of walking when tired, but we had not done much walking in scorching weather. As a result, we had agreed that today the cadence had to be slower, that our timings might slip. That became so important as we walked on.
The heat grew more intense as the day progressed, and we had learned the importance of fluid intake so were drinking more. We had damp head and neck coverings and were protecting blistered feet. At times, one of us would flounder, but, luckily, we never had a moment when we both struggled. We lifted each other up.
84km – two marathons. We walked on. 92km, a full marathon on day two. We walked on. We were broken, stumbling, shuffling, tired, sore, blistered and hot. We walked on. The last 3 miles were by far the hardest. We had to draw on every last bit of energy and support and help each other take the necessary steps.
We did, and after 21 hours 25 minutes and 41 seconds of walking, we crossed the finish line. Friends had seen us start, others had come to see us on the way, and more came to see us at the end and get us home. Their support made a huge difference.
A Tale of Two Cities
For perspective, we had walked about the same distance as Liverpool to the outskirts of Leeds, the same distance as driving from Brighton to Southampton, or about 7 miles further than walking from Charing Cross Station in London to the centre of Oxford.
The opening line of Dicken’s book is “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, and so was this. An unforgettable experience, a joyful one, a painful one, an emotional one. As we crossed the line, I cried a lot.
Training Mastery and never doing it alone.
In my last blog, I commented on the mastery of the training plan. It worked. It got us to the end, but as I also said in that blog, it is not a solo sport. Walking with my partner meant we could reach into reserves of strength, help, and lift each other. Training gives you fitness, strength and endurance. Working with others motivates you to keep going, to go further than you have ever gone. I suspect farther than I will ever go.
It’s for all of us.
Hundreds of people set off. Some had only come to do one of the two days, some to achieve it for themselves. I chose to go to insanity and beyond to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. Every step was worth it, knowing that I was helping to fund more research into this dreadful disease. If you can also contribute, please click here – I appreciate your generosity. Alzheimer’s affects many people when they are young, but more often, as we get old. Finding ways to stop or slow down this disease matters for all of us.