Hello Realbuzzers 😊
Grab your mugs of tea and a packet of biscuits - this is going to be a very long one. On second thoughts you might need a full three course meal 😂😂 I make no apologies, I want to remember in as much detail as possible a challenge which by rights I should never have finished, but because of the tremendous support and inspiration that's on tap from you guys, got done 😊 In fact it's so long I'll spilt it into two blogs! Sorry I've been absent for a few weeks but life has been so busy recently. The AS awareness campaign (Walk Your AS Off) which so many of you have so kindly joined takes up a huge chunk of time as does running the local NASS group, working on the local Open Space as a warden and working the garden (all great for the step count though 😊). Don't know how I ever found time to work now!
I left you last month taking an early taper because of a knee that got mightily upset during skiing and was being slow to settle as it didn't like walking that much after that either - not great when you've got a big challenge coming up! I was the tail runner at Parkrun the weekend before the VLM and Richard ran it. I love being tail runner, giving you the chance to really make a difference to those just starting out. At our local Parkrun, we have several people in their mid 70's who walk/run the course and usually a handful of walkers too who are just getting back into regular exercise. I only intended to walk so as to look after the knee but it didn't quite turn out that way! The course is full of tree roots and we had three fallers that day. I supervised the first aid and care of the first sprained ankle, then had to run to catch the 'tail' up, then one of our juniors went sprawling over a root too so I helped him back on his feet and checked him over and was happy that with a bit of encouragement he wanted to continue. More running to catch up! Finally finished in 52 minutes seeing one of my favourite fellas across the line who that week was having a rotten time with sciatica. I didn't find out who the third faller was until it was over. I was really shocked when I found out that it was Richard. He'd gone flying over a tree root, taking most of the impact on one knee and already been bandaged up. When we got home, he decided to clean it up and I was really shocked by what I saw, the worst being a full thickness piece of skin missing from a 2x3cm area on his knee. The skin was still out on the course somewhere and we had a giggle thinking of some dog chowing down on it with a horrified owner wondering what their hound had found 😂😂
Richard cleaned it up himself and said he was fine. Being a gory sort, I took a picture of it later on (above) and that shocked me as it showed quite clearly that the wound was still absolutely full of dirt which wasn't that visible to the naked eye. I 'persuaded' him to go to the walk in centre next day but he wasn't happy. When he came back, he was surprised that he now had a special gel dressing on, had been prescribed 7 days of antibiotics and given a top up tetanus shot. He was worried about the upcoming challenge but fortunately, I think he'd taken out most of the nerves around the wound so it wasn't even painful. He had to go back to the walk in centre every three days from then until the challenge itself to have it monitored and re-dressed. A few days before the challenge he asked if he'd be OK to do the challenge and fortunately, they said although they thought he was mad, he could do it - that was quite a relief! Glad to say it's all healing fine now 😊
The following weekend was the VLM and I had the most fantastic day going up to town to join the Realbuzz cheering squad at 22.5. It's always such a huge pleasure to meet up with my Buzzer family and cheer on our runners (and all the other runners too). It was wonderful to finally meet Nick and Emelie too. An invitation from Sir and Lady Bolty to meet up at the Royal British Legion Club afterwards and meet the incredible Mrs H topped the day off absolutely perfectly 😊😊
The week before the challenge, the usual niggles were going on. Fortunately it was a really busy week so I didn't have that much time to dwell on them 😊 Despite promising myself that this time I'd be packed and ready in plenty of time, I still didn't even start until Thursday afternoon and we were leaving for the Isle of Wight on Friday. Up early on Friday, threw everything in the car and we were off. Now the excitement started to build. All nerves gone, mentally ready for the first big battle of the year 😊 An easy drive down to Southampton and onto the ferry by lunchtime. Queuing in the car park to board, we started to look around and try to spot other challengers - not easy because it was a Bank Holiday weekend so there were loads of families going over for the weekend too. The chap directing the traffic onto the ferry was like one of those Thai policemen directing traffic, waving his arms and legs in over exaggerated and unlikely ways and he certainly brought a smile to everyone's faces. A pleasant hour long crossing to East Cowes was spent on deck admiring the passing scenery. When the Isle of Wight came into view, neither of us said anything, just looked at each other and burst out laughing. It looked soooooo long from end to end. I hadn't been there since I was about 8 so had very few memories of it.
There followed an hour long drive to Colwell Bay on the the west coast of the island where we had booked ourselves a bungalow at a small Hoseasons holiday park which was about 12 miles from the start. I only booked the accommodation a few weeks ago so was glad to get somewhere relatively close. At the time, I saw that they had one bungalow left with a hot tub out the back - that would come in handy I thought 😊 Nice to find a welcome pack included, not that I could eat any of it with my daft allergies, but Richard certainly appreciated it. We were very organised, had the weekends menu all planned out and had taken everything we needed with us so we didn't have to go and shop. After unpacking, we drove down to the start at Chale where they'd decided at the last minute they'd be open for early registration from 4 to 7pm. The organisation was superb and we picked up our registration packs in no time. The start was located at Chale recreation ground, an exposed gently undulating area to the north west of St Catherine's Hill, at 239m, the second highest hill on the island. The wind was really gusty and quite chilly and looking up at that hill, I didn't even think about its position in the grand scheme of things 😂😂
Back to the bungalow and time for some food. Richard cooked us a lovely meal of bacon, eggs, a huge heap of sauté spuds and veg followed by some excellent gluten free profiteroles 😊 After that, time to sort the kit out for morning. Back home, I'd just thrown everything I thought I'd need into a box (so disorganised, tut tut!!). My race vest has an 8 litre capacity and given that I have to carry all my own food, knowing it's unlikely that I'll find much to eat at the rest stops that I don't react to, packing it was like putting a jigsaw together. Do I take the knee brace? I decide not, not enough room, then Richard quietly slipped it into his own pack. It became very much prioritisation of 'absolutely essential' and 'just in case'. Again, Richard quietly slipped most of the 'just in case' stuff into his pack without saying anything. Bless him, he really does look after me so well 😊 By now it was about 11pm and I was was pretty sore from the travelling. Time to try out that hot tub then 😀 It was pitch black outside, there were no lights round the back of the bungalow, no hooks to hang anything up on so in the end, we took a torch to see with and only took half the cover off the hot tub and put towels etc on the covered half. Richard wasn't allowed to get his knee wet yet so there were some gymnastics sliding into a half covered hot tub 😂😂😂 As soon as we were in there, neither of us were impressed. Hot tub?? More like extremely tepid tub! The wind was still really chilly and despite being determined and trying to stick it out, we only lasted about five minutes before our teeth were chattering. A hasty retreat back into the bungalow. If I'd have thought beforehand, I'd have run a hot bath first, but I didn't. The bath water ran incredibly slowly and I was so cold I ended up sitting in the tub, teeth chattering, with only a couple of inches of water in it and stayed there for the 20 minutes it took to fill up 😂😂 Richard decided it was too much effort and had a shower instead 😂😂 Finally warmed through, time for bed.
I don't sleep well at all and usually especially not in a strange bed or before a big challenge. When the alarm went off at 6am I was amazed that I'd managed to sleep for 4 hours between the night wanderings to warm up wheat bags. I'm usually really slow to get started in a morning but on challenge day it's like I've been plugged into the mains! Quick stretching session, then a breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and cereal, before making my gluten free low histamine sandwiches for the next 24 hours. Quick shower then into the race gear. That's when I start to feel strong. No lingering doubts, no niggles, just pure excitement as the adrenaline starts to kick in. We got to Chale around 8.15 for a 9am start. The cold wind was still blowing but it was nice and warm in the big marquee where we sat and had a cup of tea. The air of excitement was infectious and I really did feel like a kid at Christmas. Come hell or high water, this challenge was going down!
Stage 1 - 21km and 528m of ascent
I'm going to try and write this one a bit differently in the hope that you'll be able to feel like you were there with us because I certainly felt like you were all there with us and that was a huge boost so here goes.......
8.45 and after a last visit to the sani-privy (hardly any queue), time to move towards the start. 8.50 and a guy in the brightest green suit I've ever seen is the MC. He introduces the person doing the warm up. I pay little attention at this stage - I know what I need to stretch and I don't need to follow some dance routine to do it! I join in for the last couple of minutes of it, satisfied I'm warmed up enough - I'm not a total killjoy 😂😂 I make sure we're at the front - the paths are narrow and I don't want us to get held up by tens of people in front ambling along the path. Walking slowly causes so many problems for me and I need to maintain our comfortable 5.5 to 6kph long distance pace which is where we're comfortable. We get away well, letting the few the runners in the group get past and before we know it, we're catching the tail end of the 8.45 walkers. Small hold ups in overtaking but not too bad and the first few km are flying by. Very gently undulating farmland with great views of the distant chalk coastline toward the Needles (as the morning wears on, it seems like they'll never get any closer at times!).
Some great conversation with other walkers doing a similar pace 😊 The coastal path here is the very narrow kind where you constantly have to watch for roots and grass sods in places you don't expect them. Then I look up and see what looks like a long queue on the footpath ahead. What on earth?? Here we are, only just approaching 5k, nicely warmed up, everything working well and there are 30 to 40 people just stopped on the path. We realise we're approaching a deep gully where the geology changes from sandstone to Wealden Clay. Looking over the edge we see that the queue is for the steep and narrow path down and up the other side of the gully. I'm not patient with this sort of thing, I stiffen up very quickly, the wind is cold and I'm cooling down rapidly. Richard and several others have a wander and try to see if we can maybe go around the hold up but nope, all paths were blocked. All it says on the event map is "Take care around Chine". I'm not a happy bunny along with many others 😡 29 minutes of queuing according to Runmeter - exceptionally frustrating. Richard is much more placid and accepting. A couple of runners from the 9.15 group approach behind, look over the edge and decide to go for it - over the edge, picking their way down the gorse covered gully side carefully then having to jump/squelch through the rather polluted looking mire at the bottom before having to scramble up the other side. We decide it's not worth the risk despite the frustration. Eventually we start the descent of the gully. It isn't actually too bad yet there are people leaning on sticks making a real meal of it. The path is so narrow that we physically can't get past anyone for the next km again, tremendously frustrating 😕 Fortunately, once on the Wealden clay, the path opens out again so that an occasional trot through the grass beside the narrow path provides easy overtaking 😊 Now I need the loo and fortunately we're soon approaching a parking area with a loo block. Only one person waiting so I wait. I check my phone while queuing only to find out that at some time during the gully debacle, I've managed to pause Runmeter so I've lost about 3km of data (and I do like my data being a bit of a nerd 😂😂) - gah! I use the facilities but when I try and get out again, the door is firmly wedged stuck so the lady on the other side has to give the door a swift kick to open it 😂😂 Meanwhile, Richard has spotted the ice cream van and I see him with a white Magnum in each hand. That immediately put my frustration with the phone to bed 😊 It seems hardly any time at all before we we're approaching the first rest stop at 10km. It seems like way too soon to be stopping and there are long queues for food so a quick top up of water bottles and we go straight through. Onto the road for a short distance before rejoining the coastal path. We pass many campsites absolutely jam packed with old Hells Angels and older bikers, all out comparing each other's bikes, chugging down beer like it's going out of fashion. Made us smile 😊
The chalk cliffs are getting closer and the cliffs here have an abundance of beautiful wildflowers. Drifts of bright pink thrift are just stunning, early red campions and self-heal are out already and I still don't know why I didn't stop and take photos but there we go. We reach the easy walking of the prom in beautiful Freshwater Bay. Richard has fallen a little behind as my pace neutrally increases on tarmac so I stop to take a photo - it's way too photogenic to miss 😊 Here was the start of the chalk which forms the spine of the Isle of Wight and which we knew would be easy walking.
The marked route takes us through the streets of Freshwater (and we see several walkers enjoying a pint in the sunshine as the cloud rolled back about half an hour ago 😊) before rejoining the coastal path to climb Tennyson Down. Beautiful walking on wide open short springy turf, close cropped by generations of the prolific local rabbits. Up and up we go, and it doesn't even feel that much of a pull really. By now it's getting hot, although it's still quite breezy, so off with the top layer. Nowhere to put it so I tie it round my waist.
Selfie near top of Tennyson Down - the Celtic cross erected in 1897 is a tribute to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He moved here with his wife in 1853 and was said to compose his poetry (including The Charge of the Light Brigade) while striding along this very Down, He famously said that "the air is worth sixpence a pint" and he was right, it certainly is 😊
View towards the Solent from the top
We crest the top and there are many families out walking enjoying the sunshine. One has a lad of about 10 on a bike who thinks it's great fun to try and weave in and out of the walkers. Several times he cuts about a foot in front of me and my temper is starting to fray. Sudden stops and changes in direction are not comfortable with dodgy joints. I'm a whisker away from saying something and it likely wouldn't be polite! I glare at his father who calls his son to heel. Just down the other side we see the 21k rest stop. The Quarter island challengers have to put in an extra 4k loop here out towards the Needles and back before finishing the challenge at this rest stop (I was a bit sad to miss that one as we never did get a decent view of the Needles). The rest stop isn't too busy, no queues for the sani-privies - win! Richard happily grazes all the treats. For me, out with the first sandwich (jam, always bilberry jam and thick butter, it travels well 😊). I wolf down a couple of bags of crisps, see that they have Paynes Poppets chocolate raisins (my all time favourite trail food) and snaffle four boxes looking guiltily at the lad behind the table and he gives me a big cheesy grin and a wink 😊 Quick top up of water bottles, total stoppage 16 minutes and we're off again. Into an an immediate uphill - Headon Hill. Ironic that, my maiden name was Headon - I feel right at home 😂😂 At the top we miss an arrow and go off piste a bit (never follow other people blindly 😂😂). A shout from behind and we're soon back on the trail, winding down through woodland towards the sea and not a single red squirrel seen yet - keep hoping! No knee problems at all for either of us so far and no back pain for me either (a thank you again sent upwards to the Gods of anti-TNF) although the neck is getting increasingly painful from constantly looking down at the path which in turn starts off the hands going numb and the feet getting clumsy. At that moment I get another text from HD reminding me to keep putting one foot in front of the other - I smile for the next ten minutes (can't thank you enough for those texts Dave 😘). I make a conscious effort to pick my feet up more until it becomes a habit and feels more natural - amazing what you can get your body to do with practice 😊
We reach the 35k rest stop around 4.30pm. I've been feeling the horrible prickle under my little toe on my right foot for an hour but stupidly just carried on. On our last long training walk before the challenge I developed a huge blister there. It was healed but delicate so I'd taped it before we'd started out. Off with the boots and socks and tape and sure enough, that big old blister was back 😕 Much fannying around trying to find the blister plasters (note to self, put them in an easily accessible pocket next time, not at the bottom of the main pack!) leading to a complete repack of the race vest. Dress the blister, socks and boots back on, grab a quick snack from my bag while Richard grazes the extensive selection on offer, use the facilities and there goes another half a hour.
Stage 2 - 31km and 265m of ascent (the flat bit 😀)
Out of the checkpoint and off down a dusty gravelly lane feeling quite stiff after the prolonged stop but at least the toe is now comfortable and it doesn't take too long to get back into our stride 😊 We're doing OK and are pleased with progress overall, calculating can probably make halfway in Cowes around 7ish. We start crossing fields and stile after stile appears. The hips don't like the experience and I have to physically lift my legs up with my hands to get over them 😂😂
Somewhere around the 45k mark, a niggle starts out of nowhere in my right ankle. No injury, no warning, it just starts. Try to ignore it but as time passes it's becoming more insistent. I decide not to even look until halfway, I don't want to know, but it's slowing us down some. On level ground or uphill, absolutely fine, but downhill or uneven ground, the sharp stabs are intrusive and lead to surprised yelping every now and then. Going downhill on a road section towards Cowes we start being passed by people - that rankles, no one has passed us in ages unless they were running. A small group of joggers pass and I feel miffed that they're laughing and giggling and can put their weight equally through both feet. That's not me at all, my mind is racing and I'm getting grumpy because my body is failing me again 😕 A few hundred yards further on and the same group have stopped, the loudest girl sitting on a bench with her trainers off having a blister dressed by her mates, now not looking happy at all but then again, they're doing the 50k so will soon be done. I feel guilty for my rotten thoughts. On we plod into Cowes and the halfway point is up a hill in Northwood Park. We're almost there and it's 7.30pm - half an hour lost with the slower pace 😕 The entrance to the park is up 45 steps (yes, I count steps 😂😂) and I could cry. Steps hurt the ankle like all buggery. Grit the teeth, up we go, Richard increasingly concerned but doesn't say anything as he knows I'll be snappy (he puts up with an awful lot when I hurt bless him ❤️). Dive into the loo block on the approach then get our chips scanned before heading into the marquee. We queue for food. As ever, the only thing I can eat in terms of hot food is a jacket potato but I'm very grateful for it. For once they also have a gluten free apple tart, even better 😊 It's getting really windy now and the only vacant seats are right by the open entrance to the marquee. I'm hot and sweaty because of the nauseating ankle pain (I'm certain you all know the type). I put my top two layers back on but it doesn't take long to really start chilling off. After eating, time to look at the ankle then dress the feet as I can feel that more blisters have developed because of walking unevenly. A thin dark red line is sitting directly over a lump about two inches above the outside ankle bone. I know it's blood under the skin, that something's bust and that it definitely isn't inflammation. Richard knows better than to suggest seeing the medic 😂😂 I slap on a load of Voltarol gel and put on an extra pair of compression socks and hope it helps. That done we stand up to leave, decide to use the facilities one last time before leaving and feel a bit disgruntled that the closest ones are back at the park entrance in the opposite corner to where we're going. The first few steps are bloody excruciating, no other way to put it really. Thankfully as I lurch on, the pain starts to ease up a bit but Richard is really concerned by now. I decide there and then that unless my leg falls off, I'm not stopping and say so. Richard recognises that glint in my eye 😂😂
To be continued .......
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