London 2 Cambridge Challenge

“Done much walking?” asked a friend of mine, as we sat watching a documentary about jellyfish.

“I beg your pardon?” I replied, struggling to see the relevance.

“Walking,” he continued, “ever done much?”

I thought for a few moments. It was something I’d never been asked before. Was it a trick question? “Yeah, I walk loads,” I said, “I live in London. You have to walk a lot.”

“No,” he furthered. “I mean like proper walking. You know, those people who carry big backpacks across the Lake District or the desert. Ramblers I think they’re called”

I frowned. “I’m not sure rambler is the right word. Isn’t that what they did in Last Of The Summer Wine?”

“Well, whatever they call it,” he shrugged. “Ever done anything like that?”

I thought for a few seconds. “I did about 20 miles in Cornwall.”

“Not bad,” he said. “Ever fancied trying something a bit tougher?” I watched as he pulled his laptop out and started tapping away at the buttons. After a couple of minutes he passed it over to me. “How about something like this?” On the screen was an event coming up in just a few weeks. A 100km route from London to Cambridge.”

“That sounds like quite a lot,” I said.

“It’s only walking. You’ll be fine. You like a challenge anyway.”

It was true. I always struggle to turn down a challenge, and it was only walking. “I suppose I may as well. I’ve got nothing else to do that weekend.”

And so, a few weeks later, I found myself sat at home packing supplies for my first “proper” walk. I’d pulled out my hiking boots, used once on holiday for about an hour, a head torch I’d received from a press launch and my favourite waterproof jacket. I loaded up my bag with the kind of things I thought might be useful and set my alarm for 5.30. I’d need to make my way across London to Homerton where my wave started at 7.30.

It wasn’t until I lay under the covers that I suddenly felt a pang of fear. The average walking duration for the event was 24 hours. 24 HOURS! What was I going to do to keep myself amused for 24 hours? The walking seemed like an irrelevant detail against the boredom I was likely to endure. I jumped out of bed and pulled out my laptop. I clicked through the lists of audiobooks and podcasts available to download. Man there are a lot of them.

After searching through every category possible I fell upon the classics. Perfect, I thought. I’ll find something I’ve always wanted to read but never managed to get round to. I scrolled through the list and popped a few in my basket; On The Road, Treasure Island, a couple of Jeeves ones and a podcast about James Bond. That would do me. I plugged in my iPod Shuffle and went to bed.

I’d decided to document the event as it happened. Each hour I’d take a picture of where I was and how I felt at the time. 24hrs was a long time to remember and I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget any of the details. Many times in the past I’d written up an event a few days later based on my memories of it, and the mind has an ability to remove the bad bits and keep the good. I wanted to remember all of it.

6am

It’s early. Very early in fact. I’m far from what you’d call a morning person and the prospect of seeing two of them this early is filling me with dread. Especially when I’ll be awake for the next 24 hours. Nice to walk around London when it’s this quiet though.

Mood: Regretting getting up so early.

7am

The sun’s up, the birds are singing and the weather is looking pretty good, despite what the BBC said. I’ve already had a nice walk across Victoria park and a quick coffee at a mate’s house. I’m feeling pretty excited about the day.

Mood: Chipper. Almost awake.

The Start

Jeez there are a lot of people here. I thought it would be a relatively low-key affair. There’s a load of free food and drink and I’ve excitedly eaten about 15 Jaffa cakes. Everyone seems to be happily chatting with each other. A ruddy nice bunch.

Mood: Moderate excitement. Feel a bit sick from Jaffa Cakes.

1 hour – 5k

I’m somewhere near Tottenham lock. Quite sweaty already as it’s started to get pretty hot. The walk down the canal is quite delightful. Listening to a podcast about how crap View to a Kill is.

Mood: Content.

2 hours – 11k

Lea Valley canal. Walked past an amazing food area at 10k. Ate a lot of food. There was a selection of pastries of which I had a standard croissant and an almond croissant. Ultra walks are great. Still listening to the View to a Kill podcast. Talking about how Grace Jones’s assassination attempt at the fake Eiffel tower restaurant was ill-conceived.

Mood: Good. This is looking pretty easy.

3 hours – 16k

Still in Lea Valley Park. Very nice. Quite sunny now. Finished the View to a Kill podcast and started listening to Matt Dillon read On The Road. Struggling to pay attention so moved onto Treasure Island. Appears to be read by Terry Wogan attempting an Optimus Prime voice, or vice versa.

Mood: Still feel fine. Legs are good. Starting to get hungry.

4 hours – 21k

Lea Valley still. Counting down the kilometres until the food stop at 25km as it’s meant to be a big one. Pretty hot now. Well into treasure Island. A few of the pirates have died.

Mood: Starting to feel a bit tired now.

5 hours – 25k

Lea Valley is pretty big. Still here. Nice though. Just been to the rest stop and ate a ridiculous amount of crisps and chocolate. Far more calories than I probably need.

Mood: Feeling pretty good after a little sit down. Very much enjoying everything

6 hours – 31k

Still walking by a canal. Slightly wider now. Not seeing that many people, which is nice, feel like I’m just on my own walking.

Mood: Legs are pretty tired now but not too bad. Feeling pleased with the distance.

Treasure Island update: They’re on the ship. That bloody captain!

london-to-cambridge-the-allrounder_6306-1050x700

 

7 hours – 36k

The canals have gone and we’re walking through the countryside. A nice change but means we now have hills. One problem has occurred in the form of sore groin. Should have brought some vaseline. Now walking with a wide cowboy gait.

Mood: Fair to middling. Moderate chaffing.

Treasure Island update: Getting a bit dull. Maybe through tiredness. Keep forgetting people’s names. Maybe because they all talk like they’re presenting Eurovision. In the future.

8 hours – 40k

Fields. Endless fields. Stretching out for miles. I’m feeling it now. Legs beginning to ache. Tiredness. 100k is a long way. Almost at marathon distance now. Haven’t really eaten any proper food yet, but man my 11-year-old self would be jealous with the amount of sweets.

Mood: First signs of real fatigue.

Treasure Island update: Favourite passage so far –

“The rocks of the Spy-glass re-echoed it a score of times; the whole troop of marsh-birds rose again, darkening heaven, with a simultaneous whirr; and long after that death yell was still ringing in my brain, silence had re-established its empire, and only the rustle of the redescending birds and the boom of the distant surges disturbed the languor of the afternoon.”

9 hours – 43k

Met a very nice lady called Cathy, a walker from Pembrokeshire. Killed a fair few kilometres chatting about various things. Made me forget about my increasingly tired legs.

More fields.

Mood: Really tiring now. Legs actually hurting. Very hungry.

10 hours  – 49k

Halfway. Only halfway. Welcomed back by the man in a red jacket that sent us off at the beginning of the race. Was feeling good until I sat down. Scared to take off my socks. Couple of blisters. Will try to ignore those.

Free food halfway was amazing. Pasta, chicken, cake. Ridiculous amounts of cake. Not looking forward to the nighttime walking.

Mood: Bit of dread. Kind of want to finish here and go to the pub.

11 hours – 53k

Not fun. Really feeling it now. More fields. Feet hurt. Ankles hurt. It’s starting to rain but it’s still hot. Dodgy stomach.

Treasure Island back on. Struggling to pay attention to it.

Mood: Regretting it a bit now.

12 hours – 56k

Quite a bit of time spent at a rest stop and a toilet. Not entirely sure how I’ll manage another 44k without falling asleep. Blisters hurting a fair bit now. Starting to feel a bit sick as well.

Mood: Worried about finishing.

13 hours – 61k

Starting to get dark now. The sun is setting and everything is becoming very quiet. People in the distance can only be seen by their head torches.

Mood: Really bored of fields now.

14 hours  – 65k

Completely dark now. Had to stand and wait for some people to catch up with me as the rules state you need to walk within a group during the night. Everyone seems very quiet and determined to move forwards.

Mood: Unhappy. Tired. Not very chatty.

15 hours – 68k

The batteries have gone in my head torch. I have some more but I can’t find them in the dark and I need to stick with the group, so I have no time to rummage about. Having to walk about a metre behind a nice lady so I can see the ground.

Had to stop taking pictures as I don’t have time to pull my camera out and still keep up with the group. Not much point really anyway, they’ll all look the same.

Mood: More tired. More unhappy.

16 hours – 72k

This is a long gap between rest stops. We’ve just continued to walk since 56k and I’m really feeling it. Just trying to ignore the pain and keep moving. Everything is very quiet until I start talking to the two people I’m walking with. They’re solo walkers called Mike and Judy. Things start to seem a bit better as we chat.

Mood: Really not enjoying this at all. Tempted to duck out at the next rest stop and get a taxi to Cambridge.

17 hours – 75k

Reaching the rest stop was an amazing feeling. Had a twenty-minute break. There was hot food there but I couldn’t eat any. Starting to feel even more sick and not even thirsty. Manage to eat some sweets and have a cup of tea. We set off again. It’s another long section. Put the batteries in my head torch and it worked a treat. The other two turned theirs off to save batteries.

Mood: Happier after the break and nice to have some companions to chat to.

18 – 22 hours – 96k

Didn’t have a chance to stop and take notes for the next few hours. Legs felt like they’d given up and we really slowed down. The majority of the journey taking us through street lamp lit villages. After some fairly long chats, Judy headed off with some other walkers whilst I stayed with Michael. We were going pretty slowly.

The route led us through more villages, around the outskirts of Cambridge, past the hospital and finally into the centre.

Mood: Desperate to finish. Never felt so tired.

23.07 hours – 100k

The feeling of relief was palpable. We were clapped over the finish line by a few spectators and handed a glass of champagne (or something similar). I said my thanks to Mike for being a top walking companion and made my way to the buffet for a bacon sandwich. Suddenly my appetite was back.

Mood: Pride, relief, slight concern that my hotel room won’t be available for another four hours.

london-to-cambridge-the-allrounder_summaryEpilogue

So there you have it. The next time someone asks me “done much walking?”, I’ll confidently turn back and say “yes. Yes I have actually.” Because 100km really is a lot of walking. Yes, running a marathon is hard, but walking for 23 hours straight, through the night, through rain, across fields and hills. That’s really hard, mentally and physically. It’s good though. It’s an amazing challenge to attempt and the sense of accomplishment when you cross the finish line is indescribable.

And the best bit? Going to bed afterwards. Seriously, if you like going to bed then this is for you. Because nothing can compare you for how good it feels.

So a big thanks to the organizers over at Action Challenge. It’s a perfectly planned event. The route is carefully sign-posted throughout the day and the night. The marshals and support staff are some of the most helpful and friendly I’ve ever seen and the food stops are frankly ridiculous – I’m tempted to do it again next year for those alone.

Whether you take part as a team or as a solo walker/runner (yeah, I forgot to mention people run the event as well) you will inevitably meet new people along the way. You’ll need them as well. Walking 100k alone isn’t fun, hell, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. But walkers are a nice bunch, a really nice bunch.

To find out more about the London 2 Cambridge event, head over to the website, or have a look at what else the Action Challenge chaps have available here. You can take part self funded or as part of a charity.

Here’s a video they made. Probably explains it better than I can.

Ultra Challenge Series – Action Challenge from Action Challenge on Vimeo.