Thighs the limit


The 9th November is drawing near and I’ve been on my bike this weekend. In the gym, anyway, and cycling away to my heart’s discontent. But it is so boring, even with the radio blaring out football commentaries the whole afternoon. I need to get the television in there though I am not sure that it would be that much easier. I would so so so much prefer to be out in the fresh air walking. But this is it, it is a challenge and I will keep going. Perhaps when I start the challenge proper, it might be different.

There is good news abounding, however. My feet are really looking up – of course, not literally. Long gone are the days of headstands and handstands and cartwheels, and what I mean is that they are recovering very well now and I could be out there in the great outdoors if I really wanted, plodding 15-20 miles without much trouble, I’m sure. But to the cycling and the results are in:

Saturday. 68 km (42.5 miles) in 126 minutes,

Sunday. 74 km (46.3 miles) in 136 minutes.

After Saturday I felt absolutely knackered. My thighs ached like the very definition of aching and even on Sunday morning they were pretty stiff. I felt as if I needed just a short bike ride if only to loosen up, but once I got going, I felt considerably better. The pleasing thing on the 2nd ride was not so much that it was a longer distance, and at a marginally greater speed, it was that I was able to do it the very next day. As with some of my walks, the ability to recover and ‘go again’, as is the common football parlance, provides so much confidence.

When it comes down to it, speed is not important here, it is the distance. And I am remembering that on every day after the first day, the distance I need to cover is 50+ miles. This is going to take some doing, but progress is good, and as long as I can just up my fitness just a bit more, I will be all right. More news to come next week.


It’s all kicked off

There are less than four weeks for me to get fit for this 9 day cycle challenge. I am not going to post every time I have a session, but I have kicked it all off and done 50 km or 31 miles this afternoon. It took me 99 minutes without getting particularly out of breath, but my legs are aching just a little, so that is a good indication of how much work I have to do before 9 November. Slightly sobering that on several of the days I have to cycle over double that distance.

I had the radio and football commentary for company but I ought to get the TV and DVD player in the gym. Several films and things worth watching over the next month or so.

The next challenge


It’s a hard ask to walk too far at the moment, but I fitted in a nice 13 miles this afternoon. While repeating myself from the last couple of blog posts, and apologies for boring you, my feet were severely damaged five weeks ago and that distance today was about the limit without delaying recovery further. I have lost a fair amount of skin off the soles and it is gradually replenishing itself but it takes time for the feet to develop any renewed resilience. So, all in all, without any great pain involved, I was more than satisfied with 13.

It has been like having a first child in that, now a few weeks have passed, the odd person or two has been asking me about my next one, though in my case they have referred to any plans for the next walk rather than the next child. Of course, when I said – in the aftermath of the Thames Path Challenge – that that would be my last ultra (100 km) challenge, it is said at the point when I am most in pain. There is every chance that something like the 2018 Jurassic Coast Challenge from Poole to Bridport or the ‘Race to the Stones’ could just be on the cards. But in the short term I fancy something different.

Perhaps the next one won’t be a walking challenge, after all. As I was watching The One Show earlier in the week, I heard the annual announcement of the Rickshaw Challenge for BBC Children In Need, where a small team of riders, all of whom have been supported by BBC Children In Need funded projects, cycle a long distance over a number of days. This year, six riders will ride 500 miles from London to Glasgow between 9-17 November. I am hoping to try and match that distance over the same number of days.

My Life of Cycling would be a short book, if not a mere leaflet. I never had a bicycle as a child and barely rode a bike at all, not because of poverty but out of choice. I preferred to walk everywhere, even then. It was only when I was 23, studying at Southampton University and in a rented house around three miles away, that my landlord and one of my housemates suggested that I could cycle in. I had to take the landlord’s bike into the car park of a local pub to ride round and gain confidence that I could actually do it, prior to venturing onto the road. Within a week of cycling in to study, I was feeling too vulnerable to some aggressive car and lorry drivers in tight roads and I jacked it in. I have not ridden a bike on the road since, and have never owned a bike.

So a cycling challenge could not reasonably be on the road. But we do have a small gym at home, from when we converted our garage about eight years ago. Use of these facilities comes and goes, and now Matt uses it far more than me, despite him not even living here any more. However, this seems like an opportunity. It doesn’t seem implausible to match the distances on the corresponding days. After all, if six disadvantaged youngsters can do it, surely I can at least have a go:

Day 1: BBC Broadcasting House London to North London. 14 miles (22.5 km)

Day 2: to Banbury. 63 miles (101.4 km)

Day 3: to Cannock. 65 miles (104.6 km)

Day 4: to Salford. 69 miles (111.0 km)

Day 5: to Morecambe. 57 miles (91.7 km)

Day 6: to Penrith. 59 miles (94.9 km)

Day 7: to Hawick. 66 miles (106.2 km)

Day 8: to Edinburgh. 53 miles (85.3 km)

Day 9: to Glasgow. 54 miles (86.9 km).

I insert the distance in kilometres since the bike in our gym works in kilometres rather than miles. I don’t expect the first four days to trouble me since Day 1 is short, Days 2-4 are long but they would be on Friday to Sunday when I may well have more time available. The second raft of days will be compromised by work – I am not intending to take too much time off work during this week but I might finish relatively early to fit in sufficient cycling time. In a typical gym session, I could knock off about 30 km in an hour when I used to go, but what I can do now I don’t really know. It is not like cycling on the road, with hills, wind and lorry drivers beeping their horns but it will be hard. I wouldn’t be doing this on the highest tension setting, that’s for sure, but it would be at least with a bit of resistance.

I am pretty much committing to this challenge, just by writing all of this. I won’t be doing it for a specific charity and won’t be setting up another Just Giving page, but will simply be asking everyone to remember to pledge and donate to Children In Need. I will be having a session tomorrow to give myself a bit of confidence, not to say ‘cycling fitness’. Having a ride after work will become the order of the day, so to speak, to get into a completely different type of condition to that needed or developed from long distance walking. And I won’t need to punish my feet and I can let them recover. It won’t be my feet that suffer here.

So, that is it. Gauntlet. Thrown Down. By Me. At Me. Challenge Accepted.



Billy’s Boots at the dozen


I feel it will be some time before my feet fully recover from the punishment four weeks ago, but I did really want and need a walk today. Thinking that with the particular weak points on the sole near the toes needing some different support, I reverted to my walking boots. The running shoes have just about got me through the Thames Path Challenge, but my limit with them now is probably not much more than the 7 miles I managed last weekend. I had moved from my boots since there was becoming significant wear on the heels but I think I could still go further with these today.

I tend to get about a thousand miles out of a decent pair of boots, perhaps less than most walkers might expect, but I do tend to punish them with mostly road and hard ground pounding. I probably have got a thousand miles out of these, and might have another hundred, at a maximum, so I will be looking for another pair very soon – they can’t quite give enough support to me if going on more than about 12-15 miles at a time, I would imagine.

I was certainly looking for a little bit more than last weekend, but with feet that still bore a thankfully decreasing amount of evidence of damage, I was not to be very daring. But as soon as I was out on the road, apart from the boots being much heavier, I felt an empowerment and real enthusiasm. If will and desire meant everything, I could have easily topped twenty miles but my primary aim was to get into double figures. The increased energy though reminded me of a comic strip from the 1970s – Billy’s Boots – which appeared in Scorcher, Tiger and then Roy of the Rovers. Some men of a certain age (er, around 53, I guess) will recall the weekly exploits of a young lad who found some old football boots belonging to a legend of his local club. They were tattered and worn but, by wearing them, Billy found he could play so much better, the boots often having magical properties in helping him anticipate play and score many, many goals. Of course, my boots didn’t do that, but I did feel as if I was back in proper long distance walking mode, after a spell without them.

I have to acknowledge the artist John Gilliatt for these pictures of the original strip:

Even seeing those bring back happy memories of dashing out on Saturday morning to the newsagent to pick up my reserved copy, and then reading it several times during the week. Apparently, the strip was translated or imitated in many countries, and I was amused to read that in India, the hero of the story was called ‘Biley’. Portsmouth fans (and those of Everton, Derby, Brighton and Cambridge, among others) will realise why I chuckled at seeing that.

In such a happy mood, with a couple of old walking head music favourites: Stand By Me and Loco in Acapulco. I didn’t do any speed walking but pushed myself up the two extended hills that left me sweating and breathing slightly more heavily, but no problem with the legs, I’m glad to say. My problem is often that I don’t do that much exercise other than these walks, and just four weeks of relative inactivity do see me feel so unfit and a with a small amount of weight gain. Hopefully I am back to reasonable distances soon, 12 miles today, just about right before any negative foot consequences. My boots were telling me that was enough!



It is hard to overestimate the damage to my feet and it has taken three weeks even for me to consider going out walking. It was about five days after the Thames Path event when I was first able to walk normally without pain but there were still bits of loose skin, hard and cracked skin, blisters and bruises on my soles. Even now, I have a little tenderness and that showed today. It was good to get out there even if I wouldn’t consider it a significant distance. Looking plainly at this afternoon, it was two one hour-long walks split by a coffee break. As it turned out, it was hard for me not to be enthusiastic and I speed walked a couple of stretches and walked purposefully throughout – and clipped a couple of minutes off each way in a 7 mile total. But I can feel the vulnerability in my soles and that distance was quite enough for now. I’ll see what I can do next weekend.

I was recently alerted to the fact that I had written the 500th post on this blog. Blogging has become very much a regular thing and just a thing that I do after going out walking. At the same time, well, actually, this morning, Facebook informed me that probably the most important within those 500 was posted exactly four years ago to the day. It is important because it allowed me to share my feelings after a really hard two or three years when at times I felt that I might never recover, and certainly I had waited until I was in a much better space before I could talk freely to an audience wider than a very small number of close friends. I had great feedback in the following days and I had tweaked or twitched nerves or feelings of many readers.

Yes, when I look back over the four and a bit years of the blog (which I didn’t start until nearly two years after I started distance walking) and being either smug or self-indulgent, other posts that I find particularly memorable are:

The hardest walking day I have ever had – and after I had already been on the road for about 750 miles, and on day 54 (of 73). The closest I have been to serious injury, and in the middle of nowhere, as far as any possible rescue (if that had been necessary, thankfully not). What hit me over the following days was a real feeling of love and support from so many.

A post I wrote towards the end of my Land’s End to John O’Groats walk. As I took a long detour across a mostly sandy beach the idea came to me that I was giving my feet a nice break from hard paths and roads in the north of Scotland. So I gave them their spot in the limelight that they deserved and interviewed them. The funny thing was the reaction – around half of the comments, on Facebook, the blog and in person to Pammy, were from those concerned that I had genuinely gone mad, and half that found it humorous in the way that I had intended.

After failing the Wight Challenge in 2015, I succeeded in the 2016 100 km London2Brighton challenge. I have never felt such a feeling of achievement (not even after the thousand miles two years earlier). I still get goosebumps / goosepimples reading it back – I can remember small details of that day.

On occasions, I have found writing a bit of a chore, but it is a good discipline. Even when I am on the road, I often think about what I might write – and occasionally funny ideas come into my head. I realise that sometimes I write stuff that isn’t that interesting to many others, but I see it as a nice historical record for myself, once I find this walking thing too hard to maintain. Hopefully, that will be a few years away yet.

So endeth blog post number 501………it feels like that damned Proclaimers song……

What’s the damage, gov?

I have needed these three days off work, that I quite consciously booked as leave, knowing that recovery from these long distance events is not instant. The recovery is two-fold, one of sleep and one of everything thighs and below. Unfortunately, they play themselves off against each other. 

My feet did suffer considerable temporary damage with a number of nasty blisters near and between the toes, at the toe end of the sole, and a couple of small ones near the heels. These just take time and it doesn’t help much to do anything other than to give them that. I had a sound sleep on Sunday night but woke on Monday with some aches in my calves that have not yet left me. The will to sleep during the following days does not help and it is best to keep moving around, rather than just lay on the couch. But it is hard when you are still physically tired.

I ventured out in earnest today and this morning did the weekly shopping, walking without a limp at least, and – following the 24 hour walk over the weekend – a stroll this afternoon that took precisely 24 minutes. That is the extent of my recovery as yet, but I am back at work tomorrow, for a couple of days, before venturing off to Macedonia for a conference. It will be warmer than last year’s event in Helsinki, that is for sure.

I have had plenty of time to reflect on the weekend’s event and, despite so much that is positive about it, still feel that that is my lot for this type of 100 km challenge. I cannot keep punishing myself like that over and over again, but I will keep up the regular walks at weekends and in the meantime think about what I might do instead. I have had plenty of ideas (mostly impractical) of multi-day walks I could do. The walking has without doubt been beneficial and will continue to be. It is amazing how often I can clear my mind of a range of troubling issues in the space of a few miles.

Back to the Thames Path Challenge and fundraising for the Rocky Appeal has passed the £500 mark. Thank you to all who have donated to date, and there is still plenty of time to help build this total towards my target of £1,000. Every pound, every penny, will be very gratefully received.
I might well post during my time away with a picture or two. The temperature forecast is muttering 30+ Celsius, which is far too hot for any serious walks anyway, but don’t let your hearts bleed too much for me. It is a work trip after all.

Blister Tambourine Man up with the Byrds


The morning after the day and night before last. Reflecting on another challenge taken on, and successfully completed. Now looking forward to a couple of days at home recovering.

The weather forecast for Saturday in London had fluctuated from day to day during the week. One moment, the outlook was for a drenching, the next it was for a completely dry weekend. Even the BBC Weather app and the BBC TV weather couldn’t agree – left hand, right hand and all that. Not to worry, whatever will be, will be, we’re going to Putney and Henley. Wemb-er-ley definitely not on the route.

Train up to Putney on Friday and the usual pizza the evening before. One might reasonably argue that pasta would be better but I do get quite nervous and edgy in the day before an event and so I eat what I can. And pizza is not the worst thing one could eat, to be fair. I am staying in Travelodge Fulham, about 1.2 km from the event start and I have registered at Bishop’s Park on the Friday, to save time on the day – I don’t find it easy to get up in the morning and I know that I need an alarm at around 6:45am to shower and do all those things, pack bags, find breakfast and get to the start in plenty of time (they recommend half an hour before) – my start time is 8:40am.

At least I can send one of my bags – containing trainers, dirty clothes, fresh clothes and anything that I don’t need for the event – to the end point at Henley-on-Thames. The walk pretty much follows the Thames with a few jaunts inland at various points, mostly later on. Yes, it is 100 km (62 miles), though the distance ‘as the crow flies’ is much shorter, in fact, less than half that and the shortest road route is about 33 miles. So it doesn’t sound as far as, say, the London to Brighton event. But believe me, it is.

There is always a warm up directed by someone encouraging zumba, running on the spot, dancing and some of the competitors love it, hoot and holler. I don’t take part – blimey – walking is warm up itself. I do have a good stretch though, that can be important. But a couple of minutes late, at 8:42, we’re all off. A number of people take great steps to be near the front of the group funnelling out; to be honest, it’s a long distance and it makes little or no difference whether you get started 20 or 30 seconds earlier. I would say at this point that I did have a primary target just to get round, and a secondary target of completing in under 24 hours. With a very flat course and mostly solid ground, on paper, it seems achievable for me.

If I do have a worry, it is the soles of my feet, and I do expect a fair amount of pain in the later stages. I am pretty fit, fit enough to do warm-up walks of 34 and 27 miles in the last few weeks. Most of the first stage of 28 km passes ok, with me able to set out at a good pace of just over 11 minute kilometres, not far short of my normal pace, but there is always the need not to over-exert in the early stages. Around me, there is a lot of chit-chatter and one woman who talked non-stop from the first mid-point stop (14 km) to the end of Stage 1. She and her two friends were walking at a good pace, but I imagine today her jaw must be almost as tired as her feet. I am walking as an individual, by myself, and I never find that a problem during the day. Most of the hazards at this early sections came from cyclists and runners, and the behaviour of a few of the cyclists left a lot to be desired, feeling that the narrow path is their right of way. At about 25 km I did feel the first pain in the sole of my right foot, and that nagged me until the stop at 28 (Hurst Park).

I had a quick inspection of this at the rest stop, and whatever it is, it is under a plaster anyway so nothing to do here. The left foot had had a niggle too and I now felt this was going to be a long event. But the goal was to get to 50 km in daylight, and then it’s a whole new ball game. The event was very well supported and marshalled, with lots of snacks and drinks at every rest stop and mid-point and many stock up with loads of sweets, flapjacks but most obviously, water and drinks. That is the most crucial thing – to keep hydrated.

I was oblivious to my position in the field throughout but I was aware that I wouldn’t keep up the pace of the first stage for the whole 100 km. However, I was pretty fresh, not hurting anywhere other than my feet and there was a shorter 9 km stage that was relatively straightforward, despite a couple of heavy showers that didn’t raise the spirits of many. I had my waterproof jacket and that served me well both then and later in one 20 minute spell of heavy rain in the next 13 km to take me to halfway, 50 km (Runnymede). I was counting down the kilometres and still moving pretty well, though my feet were causing some pain by this point. A trickle of water seeping into my walking shoes never feels good but, as long as I could keep walking, I would be fine, and I was digging deep to get some of my best head music, including, er, Blister Tambourine Man? I found that I was starting to pass people who had started at 8:00 and earlier, so I knew I was doing fine. I reached the halfway point in the light and in under 11 hours, and felt quite buoyant. But I knew I had the whole night and be up with the Byrds by the time of the finish.

I had an extended stop of almost an hour while hot food was available – quite a selection but I never feel great if I eat too much on a walk. Anyway, some tomato and basil soup with a bread roll, some beef bolognaise pasta, some tortilla chips and a nan bread. So an English-Italian-Mexican-Indian mix. This was obviously topped off with some fluid, and if I look back over the day/night, I reckon I had around 12 cups of tea and half a dozen bananas, along with four packets of salt and vinegar crisps, four chocolate bars, and plenty of orange and pineapple slices. Well, I never said that this was an event to support a great balanced diet. Incidentally, this was the only point on this walk when I checked Facebook and took great encouragement from the friends following me and commenting positively. Thank you for all of that. And, to cap that off, I discovered Pompey had won, Saints had lost, and England had won the cricket. I had been a bit scared to look…..

So, that was half down, half to go. This was a whole new event now and walking in the dark. I put my (compulsory) headlight on, having changed its batteries during preparation. I had barely spoken to anyone on the walk so far, but it is absolutely vital at night, with much greater challenges of navigation, despite the superb signage efforts of race organisers. I walked the next 13 km half-stage with three guys who, to be honest, were fairly quiet but they were a fairly reassuring presence, and absolutely vital when my headlight suddenly went out, and the ‘leader’ helped me for a minute or two to make a rather fiddly battery change. It did lead to a good conversation on motivations – his son had been treated by Sussex Air Ambulance after being hit by a car at 50mph in the middle of nowhere, and his leg (and possibly his life) was saved despite considerable blood loss. So he was raising money for them. I talked about the Rocky Appeal, my cricketing colleagues Paul and Ray, and also my previous walks for SANDS.

It was enough for me to realise, if I didn’t already, that I just had to finish. I had made up my mind that feet would heal in time, and that the only thing that could stop me was if my back really flared up with still some distance left, as on the Wight Challenge two years ago. Even then, I was filled with regret for weeks, perhaps months, after and I really didn’t want that again. These guys were keeping up a very good pace, possibly slightly quicker than I otherwise would have been comfortable with, but the leader, in particular, seemed to have a decent amount of experience in these challenges. And he confirmed that the 2015 Wight Challenge was the hardest of the ‘seven or eight’ he had completed. I let them go for the last couple of kilometres but still could see them about 100 yards in the distance as I reached the 63 km stop.

My feet were really troubling me now but I cracked on with four young ladies, as it were, and we got through a tough 15 km section in just over three hours. It might look like 3 hours 34 minutes on the live tracking, but it includes the 25 minute break at the stop after clocking in. This was a tremendous effort by all of us. All of us were in pain but we figured if we could complete this, we only had two shorter sections of 10 km and 12 km, and it would be almost getting light. It is so much more difficult walking in the dark. Psychologically, you feel disoriented, there are few if any nice great sights that lift your spirits and, after rain during the day, conditions underfoot can be very very tricky. So it was no surprise that I was falling behind any notion of the target of completing the event within 24 hours. Now it was about survival. Ok, that sounds over-dramatic, it was about getting to the end. I was doing some projections in my head and I thought that I would be doing well to get in for 9:30am, or perhaps 10am.

More hot food – effectively breakfast – is available at the 3/4 point (78 km, Cookham). I instead had some cereal with loads of milk that I knew would help me. The next half-stage felt like my slowest with my feet effectively shredded already and some occasional twinges in my ankle. Worryingly, I even felt a twinge in my back but I shut it out and it went away. I was walking with another group of three women who took me under their wing and we dragged each other through it. I led the final 3 or 4 km as I started to get a fifth or sixth wind and I started to feel really positive. Not to far to go, and I was even passing some people, but almost always asking if they were ok, and how they were getting on (as indeed everyone else was asking me). These walks do bring out the best, most caring sides of people, especially in the advanced stages.

I was determined not to stop for too long at the last mid-point, just having a couple of cups of tea, another banana, and a few odd snacks. 12 km. That’s less than 8 miles. I’ve done that loads of times. I can do that walking backwards. How hard can that be? Well, very hard, if you’ve already been going for this long. Every step was a painful one and every undulation a stab into my feet, the right one in particular. The first two or three km was barely a shuffle through quite open grassy ground but, gradually, I picked up and reconciled myself to the achievement of finishing, rather than within a 24 hour period. I can’t say that I felt fresh but I felt positive. This had been the challenge where I had so many reasons, so many excuses for not finishing. I had had the trace of a cold for a week beforehand, not helped by the rain during the day, feet that felt as bad as they ever have, and the odd back twinge. But – as in the past – I thought of the prospect of not finishing. I know that is tougher to deal with that than to go through the pain barrier for a few hours. I thought of all my sponsors but particularly of Paul Tosdevin and I chuckled as I pictured him as Mufasa looking down at me as the young Simba.

It seemed to get easier once I caught up with a group whom I could only see in the far distance a few minutes earlier. Back on the solid tow path, this was like the last lap and everyone congratulating us all as we made our way towards Henley bridge and down to the finish. I met a couple of girls whom I had only ever seen in the night and that was nice. At the finish, we were all applauded in, though not quite the grandstand ovation that many of us had at the end of London2Brighton. A 9:11am finish after 24 hours 31 minutes.

After a very enjoyable cup of tea, more cereal, and some congratulations to and from fellow competitors, I picked up my bag, found my way to a public toilet in the park and changed into some fresh clothes. I didn’t take off my socks at this juncture, though, since I felt that was best left to much later. I caught the train to Southampton Parkway, via Twyford and Reading, and was driven to cricket, where a rather windswept scene was demonstrating why the season finishes at the end of August. It was nice to see some very friendly faces, and one or two whom I hadn’t seen for some time, before shuffling off back home.

This morning, I actually feel pretty good. Yes, the feet will heal. The (eight) blisters are best left unpopped and untreated as long as possible, in my experience. I can walk about, not at top pace, I might add, but I will survive, and as I long as I know how to live, I know I’ll be all right. Yes, I know, a slight lyrical poetic licence used there, but despite the euphoria at finishing this one, I doubt I’ll do another. This had tested my resolve as much as anything ever has, and I have used the term ‘warrior’ to describe friends who have completed some of these challenges and other events. There are people to whom I cannot hold a candle, and I won’t embarrass them by mentioning them here, but they have inspired and driven me to believe. But I still won’t be doing another one………I don’t think so anyway……..

If you wish to donate to the Rocky Appeal, please follow the link

Thames Path finish