Hello Buzzers 😊
I’ve been trying to write this blog for a week and a half now but life has kept getting in the way! A week last Saturday was the Action Challenge Easter Walk and I’d signed up for the 25 miles option. Apologies in advance but I know this one won’t be short either - far from it!! 😂😂 Massive thanks for the pre-event good luck messages , they were brilliant and meant so very much 😘
As usual, the night before I hadn’t even packed my kit so at 10pm I thought I’d better make a start! This time I was trying out the back and front pack together. I’ve used the Raidlight Olmo 8 litre race vest for over a year now and love it as it puts no pressure at all on my back, neck and shoulders, still holds most things I need it to and I can barely tell I’m wearing it even when its fully loaded. The side holders each hold 750ml bottles. I chucked the Raidlight bottles that came with it as they leaked everywhere and replaced them with Wiggle’s own brand - they don’t leak at all and are incredibly cheap to boot 😊 I bought the 4 litre front pack (which attaches to it by a series of hefty clips) for Morocco last year but didn’t use it in the end. This is same kit I will be wearing for the rescheduled SW80 in a few weeks time. Although I’ve tried it out over shorter distances, wearing it for 25 miles fully loaded would be a fairer reflection of how I’ll get on. Everything I’d need frequent access to went in the front pack and everything else went in the back.
The night before the event,it was about 2am before I turned in for the night - par for the course for me. Being a very poor sleeper, many years ago I developed the habit of going to bed really late in the hope I won’t wake up until at least 4am - it rarely works but I can’t stand going to bed early then start waking up every hour from midnight! Luckily I seem to get by best on about 3.5 hours but that night I only got 2:45. Again, status normal before an event - not because I worry, but because my mind is on high alert for the wake up alarm! When the alarm went off at 5.30am I’d already been up twice but I felt OK.
Just my usual breakfast of fresh pear and yoghurt but with a bit of real French baguette with thick butter to add a few carbs and fats in. Sandwiches made, drinks done and a last minute kit check and I was all ready to go by 7.15 as planned. Traffic was light and we were all parked up by 8am. It was only then that I realised I’d left my Garmin on the table at home and could have kicked myself! Oh well, Runmeter on the phone it had to be then. I had to complete registration by 8.15 so the timing was pretty much spot on. A muddy trudge across the field to the start area gave me a fairly shrewd idea of what was to come. There’d been over an inch of rain in the preceding 24 hours so I was under no illusions! Quickly through registration then time for a last cup of tea and a look at the route map. Some trail, a fair amount of Thames Path and a fair bit of road work too. By this time the first group of 250 in the 8.30 start were getting ready for the off. Action Challenge start all their events with five minutes of Zumba as a warm up - fun for most but not my cup of tea really.
A last good luck hug from Richard then into the start pen. I made sure I was near the start line, knowing that parts of the Thames Path on the first section were quite narrow and were likely to be very muddy. I didn’t want to be trying to dodge past people in mud if I could avoid it. About 95% of the starters joined in the warm up. I just concentrated on stretches while some just shuffled their feet as it was still a bit chilly. With a final countdown we were off.
The first section down to the Thames Path and through Windsor was all tarmac so easy to build up a good pace and I soon settled into about 8th place. The first muddy section came soon enough though, so out with the poles. Funny to see how instinctively people try to go around the sides of the puddles to avoid the worst of the mud. I relied on faith, confidence, and good old boots and tried to maintain the same pace no matter what was underfoot and sailed past the group of five in front of me. Back on tarmac, they all passed me again and this became the repeating pattern until the first rest stop at Runnymede, 12.3km from the start. Dismaying to find that there were no hot drinks - there went my favourite fuelling strategy of a cup of tea with 9 sachets of sugar in at every rest stop! No snacks I could eat either so I took just a quick pit stop to use the sani-privies, then on I went.
Section 2 was from Runnymede back to the start at Windsor (some were doing a 25k route rather than 25 miles) and went across country up to the top of Coopers Hill then across to The Long Ride in Windsor Great Park. Just as I left Runnymede, the rain started - not heavy, but the very fine stuff that seems to soak you in seconds. I was trying to eat a sandwich at the time and by the time I’d got halfway through it, I was pretty damp. Not wishing to cook in my full waterproofs, I pulled out a thin poncho - just the job as it keeps the air circulating and keeps you cooler. Across the damp meadows full of cows who really weren’t interested in people (thank goodness) and at the base of the hill was quite a wide and long stretch of flooded meadow and a marshal had been positioned at the far side to guide people through the shallowest part. I watched those in front go over the tops of their boots. No way did I want to get my feet wet, so instinctively went up on tiptoe which was enough to keep the water out of my boots - happy days 😊 I heard later that some who strayed from the suggested path were up to their knees in water! The last ten feet was ankle deep mud across which the organisers had put a narrow rounded pole. Thank heavens for the walking poles or I’m certain I’d have fallen off it!
At about 246 feet, Coopers Hill is only small, but the installation of unevenly spaced rough steps played havoc with my hips. I can do ordinary flights of steps now without the hips cramping (although much prefer the natural slopes), but the constant breaks in stride on these steps were just horrible. These were easily the most awkward steps I’ve ever seen, each faced with a round wooden pole rather than the typical straight edged plank. With water flowing down the hill and over the steps from the recent and current rains, the mud was slick but those rounded wooden poles were lethal! It only took about half a dozen steps before I misjudged my foot placement and slipped on one of the wooden pole edges. I went down like a sack of spuds, landing squarely on my left hip (why do I always land on that same hip??). An instant curse, a shout from the walkers in front asking if I was OK and a thumbs up from me. Ouchy hip, right calf and wrists but everything still working so on I went, having spent all of 40 seconds on the ground according to Runmeter (seemed much longer!). My lovely warm gloves were caked in mud so off they had to come. By the time I’d reached the top of the hill, I rapidly began to realise that my neck and back hadn’t appreciated the smackdown too much. I dosed up on painkillers and a muscle relaxant to counter the already developing headache from muscles going into spasm the neck and upper back and just tried to crack on.
A long road section lay in front - I thought a lot about various Buzzers in this section and how they kick on through pain. That helped a lot but there’s no doubt my pace slowed overall after that point. It wasn’t long before we entered Windsor Great Park next to the deer enclosure - a section with a hazy view of Windsor Castle in the distance and red deer grazing on either side of the road. The route joined the very impressive Long Walk (ironic 😂😂) just below the Copper Horse Statue of King George III. That’s where a few problems started - the three mile tree-lined length of the Long Walk is heftily cambered and even if I walked the centre line, one ankle or the other was getting rolled slightly outwards causing ankle and foot discomfort despite the taping and that felt like it was going to cause the calves to cramp. That was a new one on me - never really had cramp in the calves before and I wasn’t particularly impressed. I tried walking on the grass beside the road but that was just downright waterlogged and even harder work. At least the rain had finally stopped though so the mud-caked poncho could be removed and binned as no more rain was forecast that day.
The last section of the Long Walk up towards the castle was thronged with tourists so frequent side-stepping became the order of the day. I was so glad to leave that section behind and it also helped knowing that the 25k point wasn’t too far away now and there’d definitely be hot drinks there 😊 A few more streets, another short stretch of well surfaced Thames Path, back last the leisure centre and the last few side streets back to the racecourse. While walking that stretch of the Long Walk, I had seriously thought of calling it at 25k, but walking into the CP, I knew in my heart I wasn’t ready to quit yet. I hadn’t seen that many walking back towards me in the last couple of miles so knew that theoretically, I could be doing quite well. A quick loo stop, then a short trudge through the mud-that-was-grass a few hours before, into the tent where some were eating lunch, poured a cup of tea into my lidded cup and off I went again.
Back down the same route to the Thames Path but now a 10 mile loop in the opposite direction around Eton and Dorney. This loop was a largish circular section around Dorney Lake. The first 5 miles I’d walked before and knew it was was lovely when we walked it last year. A long section of this path had interesting fossils embedded in the crushed rock surface - I just hoped I wouldn’t get distracted by picking any good ones up 😂😂 As it turned out, not much of that lovely path was terribly visible! Just mud everywhere again after the first mile or so. Now I was out on my own - I couldn’t see or hear anyone either in front or behind. Only 5 miles to the CP then 5 miles back and I’d be done. It so helps menatlly to break things down into those smaller chunks. No doubt about it that the mud was just energy sapping and having fallen once, I wasn’t keen to do it again. The hip was still aching but thankfully the headache from the neck stayed mild. About a mile before the CP, I heard voices approaching fast from behind and turned around to see a pair of young ladies having a bit of a ‘not walk’. They walked as soon as they noticed me and no doubt at all, they did have a very fast walk and gradually overtook me. I also clocked from their race numbers that they’d started 30 minutes after I had. Then another particularly muddy section saw me cruise past them with ease (and a grin 😊). No hot drinks at the next CP either, so I stopped only to top up my water and moved on. Those girls hadn’t even reached the CP as I left.
Out via the streets of Dorney Reach along tarmac footpaths (always a curse as they’re so uneven - give me a road any day!). I really should have checked my map but AC events are usually so obviously signposted there’s little need. All it took was what must have been a momentary lack of concentration and I missed a vital left turn arrow (though to be fair it was on the opposite side of the road where there wasn’t a footpath). Walking on down a straight stretch of road it was only a matter of a couple of minutes before I heard the voices of those two girls fast approaching again. By that time I was getting a bit twitchy at not having seen an arrow for 500m or so as they drew level, asked them if they’d seen anything. It wasn’t that hard to keep up with their pace and they were only a couple of metres in front when we reached the gates leading to Dorney Lake. Major turn in the road here and still no signs so time to dig out that map! Yep, I’d missed a turn about half a mile back. Well, what’s an extra mile - I knew it’d make the total very almost a full marathon and I was perversely happy about that 😊
Back up the road and I finally spotted the missed sign (and now maybe ten people in front that I could see). A good path of hard packed crushed rock and pleasant views walking alongside the Jubilee River made the walking more pleasant. That two mile section saw a slight increase in pace again - I had targets to pick off and pick them off I did, encouraging every single one as I passed 😊 The two girls had slowly overtaken me again and weren’t too far in front as we walked up a long gentle incline but upon reaching the top, they’d disappeared entirely from view again and that was the last I saw of them. The last section seemed as though it had been plotted purely to make up the distance by selecting quite random footpaths in varying directions through fields of cows and sheep. The only amusing things about that bit were the three random kissing gates in the middle of a field with no fences either side 😂😂 Once back on the Thames Path again, I knew exactly where I was. I was a bit disheartened as I knew I’d missed the 6.5 hour target time I’d mentally set myself. I know I’d sacrificed good hydration for saving time on loo stops and that reflected in increasing pain and tiredness so I had no one to blame but myself (one day I’ll learn!).
Finally back through the streets already walked twice on the final approach to the racecourse and there was Richard waiting by the side of the road. I tried to smile, but I was a bit beyond it by then, I just wanted it to be done. I was astonished that nearly seven hours in, there were still a few just setting out on that final 10 mile loop and total respect to them!! Crossing a finish line never felt so good and to be presented with my medal and given the most gigantic hug by a friend we made on the Saharan Challenge last year really did make it much more special 😊 A few more steps and someone else presented me with a Lindt chocolate rabbit and bag of little Easter Eggs then I could finally give Richard a great big hug too (it was probably more like a hang on round his neck because my legs had really had enough 😂😂).
I lurched into the hospitality tent and Richard got me a couple of cups of tea - pure bliss! I couldn’t eat any of the food on offer (none suitable, but for once I didn’t actually feel at all hungry anyway, just mildly nauseous). Final official finish time was 7:09:13 - actual walk time was 6:57:52 which cheered me up some, miles covered including the minor detour, 26.19 😊
All I wanted was to get into that heated seat in the car and doze for a bit. That proved to be interesting. For the first time ever, I couldn’t bend down to get my boots off, nor even remove the mud-caked trousers. After only ten minutes sitting down, my legs had absolutely had it! Richard took my boots off for me and somehow shovelled me into the car and I was just so happy to be done.
Those boots seemed a million miles away!
I had no idea where’d I’d placed - my target was to be in the top 50 then I’d be seriously happy. When Max messaged me around 6.30pm I finally checked the provisional results and was totally gobsmacked to see I’d placed 20th and was 13th female home. As I sort of fell into a boiling hot bath, I finally felt I’d achieved something decent. The results were finalised a couple of days later and it got even better - I finished 17th and 10th female out of 389 finishers on the 25 mile course - I’ll take that with bells on 😀😀
The day after I was a little jaded but no muscle aches, just a pretty sore hip and once the tape was off the feet, they were rather rubbish as well, but at least no more rubbish than beforehand so no further damage hopefully.
The MRI scan on both feet and ankles on the following Wednesday was worse than the 25 miler! It involved 4 separate scans and laying still for a few minutes shy of two hours. The pain afterwards in back and neck was truly horrible and sleep on Wednesday night was almost non-existent. I saw the specialist next day and the immediate great news was that there was no stress-fractured 5th metatarsal in my left foot - win 😀 However, there seems to be peroneal tendinopathy in both feet/ankles as predicted plus chronic tearing of a couple of ligaments (old stuff I think) in each ankle and some arthritic type stuff going on between tib and fib, but everything’s still attached and working 😊 The recommendation is a drastic cut in mileage and a careful balance of exercise and that dreaded word ...... rest 😖 ...... then to see a podiatrist and get some correctional insoles sorted out.
I still took part in the local Parkrun last Saturday as I’d already signed up as Tail Walker and didn’t want to let anyone down and as ever, enjoyed supporting and encouraging those at the back. I’ve tried really hard this week to keep the mileage below 5k a day and spend more time with the feet up (at least in the evenings). My master plan now involves locking the feet in a pair of ski boots and heading off to the French Alps for a week this coming Saturday 😁 Well, the ankles and feet can’t move in them so I’m looking at it as a kind of rest and there’ll hardly be any walking hopefully 😊
The day after our return is that glorious day of the year, the London Marathon and I absolutely can’t wait to get out there at mile 22.5, meet up with the rest of the support crew and support our Buzzers out there. There may be.... ahem...the orange cowbells from the Snowdon marathon making the trip too as well as all sorts of signage. You’re all going to be absolutely magnificent out there and will do yourselves and Realbuzz very proud indeed!!
The day after London I see the podiatrist and have my hip scanned later the same day then on the Friday we’ll be heading back up to Boltyland to take part in the rescheduled Shropshire Way Ultra - a good reason to ‘rest’ between now and then. Let’s hope that thought keeps me honest!
Happy tapering, training and running everyone 😀
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