Category Archives: Race Reports

Thames Ring 250 race (DNF) report

TR250 route map
TR250 route map

My second DNF in two races wasn’t what I was planning when I started the Thames Ring 250 on Wednesday morning.  But with an historical completion rate of just 44%, it was likely that the majority of the 52 starters would drop out during the next four days – and that is what happened to me.

The Thames Ring 250 is a race for runners and no one had previously completed the 250 miles (400km) by walking every step of the journey.  Whilst all the runners will walk at some stage, and those further back in the pack will walk larger portions of the race, the cut off times at the 9 checkpoints along the way require a reasonable walking pace but nothing that I’m not capable of.


I dropped out of the Grand Union Canal Race on the last weekend of May at 100 miles using the Thames Ring 250 as an excuse.  I wasn’t having a great race and decided I should save myself for the Thames Ring rather than struggling through the last 45 miles.

But shortly after the GUCR I found myself struggling with a minor knee injury which prevented any training other than short maintenance walks between the two races.  Three visits to the Osteopath though, and my knee appeared to be recovered.

On the Sunday before the race I had to travel to Amsterdam for work, returning on the night before the race, but I can’t use this as an excuse either, given that my fastest 100 mile time of 2017 was in the Dublin to Belfast Ultra which started the day after I returned from a work trip to Kiev.

And in the leadup to the race I slept reasonably well, so all up, by the time race day arrived I was in reasonable condition and fully expecting to walk a reasonable race.

Start to Checkpoint 1 – Goring to Hurley

27.25 miles – cut-off time 7 ½ hours

My wife Ruth dropped me off at Goring at around 8:30 on race morning, giving me plenty of time to register for the race, chat with other competitors, and have a short lie down under a table in the corner of the room used for registration.

Thames Ring 250 race briefing
Race Director Lindley Chambers

Lindley Chambers, the Thames Ring 250 race director, gave us a short briefing about 30 minutes before race start and we then walked down to the start line which was at the start of a side street that leads down to the river.  As the only walker in the field, I stood at the back and let all the runners head off in front of me when the race started.  I figured that it would be a long race and there was no need for me to start too fast.

The first few hours of the race were uneventful.  I passed one other competitors very early on, and played a bit of cat and mouse with a few others, but was generally in second to last most of the morning and early afternoon.

We had been warned during the pre-race briefing that the Henley rowing regatta was on and that potentially we would have to go around this rather than following the Thames Path trail alongside the river through Henley.  This was a little disorganised and I think we probably all took different routes around the regatta.  In my case I walked down a road a block or so away from the river and eventually climbed a fence to get back to the river, walking through a paddock that was being used to park cars.

Thames Ring 250 race start
Thames Ring 250 race start

Soon afterwards I caught and passed a couple of runners including Roz Glover who was run-walking from the start due to a hip injury and Kate Jayden who ran from London to Paris and cycled back on the same weekend that I circumnavigated the M25 motorway back at the beginning of May.  All three of us had dropped out of the Grand Union Canal Race at the end of May, and unfortunately all three of us would fail to finish the Thames Ring too.

At about 24 or 25 miles into the race Kate and I made our first big mistake.  The map said to head away from the river and then turn left just past a pub.  I was 50 meters or so ahead of Kate and my map reading skills aren’t great at the best of times.  I couldn’t see a left hand corner and assumed that the road going straight ahead was probably where we needed to go.  And maybe turn left at some stage.

The road went up hill and as I walked I kept looking behind me to check that Kate was following.  She was, so I hoped that meant I was going the right way and continued up the hill.  I walked about a mile before reaching the top of the hill and a T intersection where I stopped to study the map.  As Kate reached the top of the hill she called out that we must have missed the turnoff, and we agreed to head back down the hill again.

Kate took off and I followed at a slower pace.  Soon she was out of sight and after 12 minutes I reached the pub at the bottom of the hill.  Still no sign of the road we should have turned down, and now no sign of Kate either!

I turned round to head back up the hill again and saw a small Thames Path sign at the start of what looked like a private driveway.  I followed the sign and realised I was back on course.  I had lost about 30 minutes and covered two bonus miles.  Bonus Miles are one of the benefits that come with races where you have to follow a map, and on talking to other competitors during and after the race I found that Kate and I weren’t the only ones to miss the turnoff – although we were the only ones to go right to the top of the hill!

In the end it took me 6 hours and 20 minutes to reach the first checkpoint.  I was second to last to arrive.  The person I had passed very early on was still behind me, but the others I had passed, before getting lost were all ahead of me again.  Kate was the only runner still at the checkpoint when I arrived, and from memory I left a few minutes later while she was still sorting her things out.  My plan was to spend as little time as possible in the checkpoints – especially the first two or three.

Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2 – Hurley to Chertsey

27.8 miles – total distance 55.05 miles – cut off time 15 ½ hours

One of the reasons I wanted to get through the checkpoints as quickly as possible is that I have found that the longer I stop, the harder it is to get back to a reasonable speed when I start again.  In a typical 100 mile or 24 hour racewalking event I wouldn’t stop at all, other than the occasional toilet stop.  Walking races are normally on a short circuit meaning that you pass your support crew or the race food table regularly and can collect food without breaking your stride.

In trail races you generally stop at each checkpoint to collect food for the next leg of the race, and I have found that these stops upset my rhythm causing me to average a slower pace overall and making the event feel much more difficult.

I don’t remember a lot of the next few hours other than that I was feeling worse than I should so early into a race of this distance.  From the start I had been eating every 30 to 40 minutes as I always do.  The majority of my nutrition was fruit, both dried and fresh, plus the occasional biscuit and bag of crisps.  My only liquid was water as I always try to avoid Coke for the first 12 hours of a race, but when I arrived at Windsor I needed something to give me a kickstart.

Google Maps told me that McDonalds was about 300 meters up the road and I figured that a 600 meter return trip was worth the investment to get some Coke, Chicken Nuggets and Fries – after all, Usain Bolt apparently eats McDonalds Chicken Nuggets before his races, and although my race was 4,000 times the distance that Usain races, I thought I would give his nutrition strategy a go.

McDonalds in Windsor
McDonalds in Windsor

And it worked!  Not long after finishing dinner I found myself back walking at a reasonable pace, and actually enjoying things again.  My only concern was that I had lost so much time, getting lost and going slow, that I thought I was in danger of missing the second checkpoint cut off time – which I thought was midnight.  I rang Ruth and asked her to check the race website to find out what the cut off times were but she couldn’t access the Word document that listed the checkpoints.  I then realised that Lindley’s cellphone number was listed as an emergency contact on our race number bibs and made the first of several calls that I would make to him over the next few days.  He assured me I had plenty of time.  The checkpoint didn’t close until 1:30am and the GPS tracker showed that I would make it with plenty of time to spare.

By now it was dark and I had put my spare head torch on.  I was carrying my spare as it is smaller and lighter than my main head torch (and also less powerful) and when I left checkpoint 1 I thought that at the most I would only need it for 30 to 60 minutes before getting to checkpoint 2.

In the end it took me 8 hours to walk the almost 28 miles between checkpoints, and I arrived at 20 past midnight.

I was the last person to arrive at the checkpoint.  There were at least 3 runners there when I arrived – Kate, who had passed me shortly after I collected my McDonalds at Windsor (I remember her asking me if that was McDonalds I was eating as she ran past me), Chris Edmonds who had finished the last Thames Ring 250 in 2015 but was suffering due to a back injury he had picked up in this years GUCR, and another guy, John, who announced that he was dropping out.  I think there may also have been one other runner trying to get some sleep too, but can’t remember.

It had started to rain about 30 minutes before I arrived at the checkpoint so I put my new Ultimate Direction jacket on, re-loaded by Ultimate Direction running vest with food for the next leg of the journey, changed my head torch, and headed off down the river about 2 or 3 minutes behind Chris.

Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3 – Chertsey to Yiewsley

27.2 miles – total distance 82.25 miles – cut off time 24 ½ hours

It wasn’t raining too heavily and within another half hour the rain had stopped.  I caught Chris a few miles later when he was checking his map under a street light beside a corner where we had to head away from the river for a short way.

We walked together for a mile or two but Chris was struggling and I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to walk on the road, so I pulled ahead of him.  My feet were already extremely sore from the rutted paths alongside the river, and the smooth road surface was a relief.  I was able to walk a steady pace without too much pain.

I was also now starting to recognise the familiar territory as I had done a few training walks out towards Chertsey and my home in Kingston was only a few hours walk away.

After crossing the bridge at Walton I found one of the race maps lying on the ground and picked it up on the off chance that I would pass the runner who had dropped it.  We still had a reasonable distance to go to the next checkpoint and even I as a ‘local’ would need the map to ensure I didn’t get lost and crossed the correct bridges as we headed up the Grand Union Canal from Brentford, and if he wasn’t a local, then I was sure he would need the map he had dropped.

A few miles later I found the runner who had dropped his map.  He was sitting on the ground but I can’t remember what he was doing.  I gave him his map and headed off towards Hampton Court Palace.

I was feeling good.  I was on terrain that I cover regularly in training. It was a calm night and other than a bit of discomfort in my feet, I was now enjoying the race again.  24 hours later it would be a completely different story.

When I passed over the Kingston Bridge at about 4am there were six drunk students sprawled across the pavement.  Welcome to my home town 🙂

A couple miles later I stopped for a selfie next to Teddington Lock.  It was now 4:30am and I was about 300 meters from my house.  I was very tempted to go home and cook some porridge for breakfast, but given that I didn’t have my house key, and I suspected that going home for breakfast would break the race rules, I kept going – heading towards Richmond.

Teddington Lock
Looking a bit tired at Teddington Lock

After crossing Richmond Bridge I passed another runner and then another one just before Brentford where I stopped to buy a Coke from one of the shops that was just opening for business at the start of the day.  And then turned on to the Grand Union Canal.

Whilst I was enjoying the walk, and wasn’t yet struggling with tiredness despite having been awake for almost 24 hours, I was getting annoyed by the early morning runners who were gliding passed me as if they had just woken up from 8 hours sleep!  For some reason I felt as though they should know and respect what I was going through, and was annoyed that most of them were passing me effortlessly without any acknowledgment.

The section of the Grand Union Canal from Brentford through to Yiewsley seemed to take ages, but at least it was daylight now.  Later in the day, news filtered through that a competitor had been mugged near Yiewsley during the early hours of the morning.  Fortunately he was OK although unable to continue in the race.  It’s a shame that there are idiots out there that add danger to events like these.  The race is difficult enough without having to worry about the possibility of being attacked.

It took me a little over 8 ½ hours to complete this leg.  I arrived at checkpoint 3 at 8:56am having completed 82.25 miles (132km) plus a few bonus miles in just under 23 hours.

I wasn’t the last to arrive at the checkpoint but as it turned out, everyone whom I had passed had either already dropped out or would drop out at the checkpoint.  As I arrived, Roz was just leaving.  I remember talking to another runner who had dropped out overnight.  I think he said he had caught a taxi to the checkpoint to wait for his mate who was also planning to drop out when he arrived.

It was becoming a race of survival.  I don’t know why.  The race is reasonably flat.  The weather wasn’t too bad – not too hot and not too cold, and only a little bit of rain overnight.  I’ve raced in conditions a lot worse and felt much better.  I mean, in 23 hours I had only covered 82 miles (officially) plus a few bonus miles.

Checkpoint 3 to Checkpoint 4 – Yiewsley to Berkhamsted

23.6 miles – total distance 105.85 miles – cut off time 32 ½ hours

Only 23 miles to the nest checkpoint and 9 ½ hours until the cut off time. It will get easier now.  That is what I was thinking as I left the Yiewley checkpoint.  I was tired but I had collected my food for the next leg of the journey, it was a nice day and it was time to start making up some ground.

I had decided that I would record a video diary of the race and post a short selfie interview on facebook and twitter every 24 hours, so I recorded that shortly after leaving the checkpoint and tried to enjoy the morning.

It wasn’t long before I had Roz in my sights and I looked forward to catching up with her so that I could have someone to talk to for a while, and hopefully take my mind off my painful feet.  But shortly after I caught sight of her she rounded a corner a few hundred meters ahead of me and when I rounded the same corner she was nowhere to be seen.  I assumed that she had stopped for a toilet break in the bushes somewhere and would catch me soon but she never did.

Until now I had been listening to podcasts as I always do in the early stages of long races – I find that podcasts give me something to think about while walking – but it was now time for some high tempo music to try and get me going again.  Sometimes the music works and sometimes it doesn’t.  This time it didn’t.

I stopped and sat down for the first time other than at the checkpoints.  My feet were so sore that I just needed to lift them off the ground for a few moments.  I sat on the bench seat and took in my surroundings.  It was such a nice day, and I really wanted to feel good, but I didn’t.

Somewhere on the Thames Ring 250
The view while resting my feet – somewhere on the Thames Ring 250

I had a job to do though, and after a minute or two it was time to get moving again.  The rest of the afternoon continued with me walking for a while and sitting down for a minute or two every now and then.

I remember buying an iced lolly (ice block for non-UK readers) at a canal-side shop at one stage, and at another stage I walked with a guy and his son for maybe a mile as he walked his son home from school.  He told me that he had done the Race to the Stones 100km a few years ago and had heard about the Thames Ring but thought 250 miles was a little excessive – tell me about it!

In the end it took me 8 ¼ hours to walk the 23.6 miles between checkpoints 3 and 4. Ridiculous when you think that even at an easy training pace I would normally cover that distance in well under 6 hours, and usually under 5.

Once again I was the last person to arrive at the checkpoint.  I was 1 ¼ hours ahead of the cut off but everyone behind me had dropped out.  I was getting a little depressed to say the least.

Kate was there when I arrived and told me that she was also dropping out.  She said that losing 30 minutes the previous day, when we got lost, meant that she was unable to get enough sleep at a checkpoint to keep going.  I understood what she meant but my plan was to continue through to checkpoint 6 at Nether Heyford and then get some sleep.  Checkpoint 6 was the only indoor checkpoint and would give me an opportunity to recharge some of the USB charging sticks that I had been using to keep my Garmin and phone charged for the last day and a half – but Nether Heyford was still 50 miles away.

Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5 – Berkhamsted to Milton Keynes

24.35 miles – total distance 130.2 miles – cut off time 42 hours

It was only 5:30 in the afternoon but I knew that it would be dark for a few hours before I got to the next checkpoint so I packed my head torch plus some a hat and two bottles of Coke plus enough food for the next 8+ hours.

I had been trying to limit the amount of sugar I was consuming but I was beginning to feel nauseas and I don’t think I consumed anything more than the occasional bite for the next few hours.  I had lost my appetite and although I knew I needed to eat, I was struggling to do so.

Shortly after leaving checkpoint 4 Peter Tiffin, whom I had passed at the checkpoint, caught up with me.  I remember walking with him for a little while and think I remember him telling me that he had had a beer at the last checkpoint.  He suggested that we work together through the night and whilst I agreed, it wasn’t long before I was struggling to keep up, and soon he had broken into a jog and I was on my own again.

In writing this race report I realise that I don’t have any recollection of the next 20 miles other than a couple things:

I remember passing Tring which is the 100 mile checkpoint in the GUCR and the place I dropped out of this year’s race.  I was tempted to stop for a short rest as some sort of memorial to my Grand Union Canal Race attempt, but forced myself to keep going.

My next memory is after it got dark and I heard someone call my name.  I knew I was near Leighton Buzzard and recognised the voice as my friend Rachel, from work, who lives in the area.  She had parked the car a few hundred meters up the canal path and walked down to find me.

Thames Ring 250

After leaving Rachel someone else told me that the Tesco supermarket was just a mile away and was still open – but the last thing I wanted was food.

And shortly after passing the supermarket I found myself lying on the ground.  I was absolutely exhausted and needed sleep.  The problem was that I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t make it to the next checkpoint before the 3am cut off and didn’t think I could afford to sleep.  But I couldn’t get up so I set the alarm on my phone for 5 minutes time, and a second alarm for 8 minutes and fell asleep.

I didn’t feel any better when I woke up but I knew I had to keep moving forward.  I wasn’t yet hallucinating but strangely it looked like I was going up hill the whole time.  I could tell I wasn’t because I was beside the canal and the water was flat, but the ground looked like it was going up hill.

I had also been struggling with the strange sensation that every time I walked past a canal boat, it felt like it lurched away from its mooring.  I had experienced this sensation during the Grand Union Canal Race both this year and last, and it was making my head spin.  It got to the stage that whenever I walked past a canal boat I had to look in the opposite direction.

I also remember crossing bridge 107 (all the bridges on the Grand Union Canal are numbered) which was exactly half way (125 miles) into the race and finding a runner sitting on the far side of the bridge.  I stopped and asked if he was OK.  He had decided to drop out and I tried to convince him to walk with me but he had had enough.  He thought it was 12km to the next checkpoint (he was European, and possibly having trouble converting miles in to Kilometres this far in to the race) and he said we didn’t have time to get there before the cut off time.  I tried to explained that it was only 5 ½ miles, so 9km at the most.  He wasn’t budging though and said he had called Lindley and someone would be collecting him soon.

My next memory is of counting down the bridge numbers from about 96 to 90C which was where the next checkpoint was.  90C means that when they numbered the bridges there was a 90 and a 91 and since then they have built 90A, B and C.  At least I knew that 90C would probably be shortly after bridge 91 but the bridges were miles apart, or so it seemed, and either my recognition of the numbers on the bridges wasn’t too good, or the bridge numbering people can’t count – as I am certain that there were two bridge 93’s and two bridge 92’s!

Eventually I arrived at checkpoint 5 under bridge 90C.  Dick Kearn (legendary GUCR run director) and one or two other volunteers were there to greet me.  My tracker had stopped working so I don’t know exactly what time it was but I think it was somewhere around 2:30am – about 30 minutes before the cut off.  Meaning that the last 24.35 miles had taken a staggering 9+ hours!

Dick advised that Peter (Tiffin) was sleeping and everyone else was at least an hour ahead of me.  Thanks Dick.  You really know how to make a guy feel good 🙂

I was completely exhausted and really needed some sleep but there wasn’t time.  I had to be out of the checkpoint before the 3am cut off or I would be disqualified.

I ate a bacon sandwich and sorted out some food for the next leg of the journey.  I hadn’t eaten a lot during the last 9 hours though, but as I had 12 hours to get to the next checkpoint I thought I had better take plenty of food with me.  I also tried to eat some porridge but couldn’t swallow it.

Peter woke up and left the checkpoint and a few minutes later I followed.  As it turned out, Peter would be the only runner that I caught during the race who actually went on to finish.

Checkpoint 5 to DNF – Milton Keynes to Milton Keynes

Another mile or two (perhaps)

I spent as much time as I could at the checkpoint.  I was exhausted. My feet were painful, and I had lost the motivation to continue.  But with just a few minutes until cut off I hobbled out of the checkpoint and maybe 100 to 200 meters around the corner, and out of sight of the volunteers.

I was feeling extremely cold and decided to stop and put my wet weather over-trousers on.  By the time I had done this my legs had tightened up I could barely put one foot in front of the other.  A short while later I saw a picnic table under a tree and decided that would make the perfect bed.  I set two alarms on my phone for 15 and 20 minutes time, and fell asleep.

I woke up before my alarm went off and tried to walk some more but my feet were killing me, my stride length was about 6 inches, and my race was over.

I was under a bridge and decided to call it a day.  I made one last call to Lindley and told him that I was at bridge 84 (a bit of a surprise given that I couldn’t remember passing any bridges since the last checkpoint) and could he send someone to collect me.  I said I would wrap myself in my space blanket and sleep beside the road so there was no rush.

The next thing I knew, it was daylight and Dick had arrived to collect me.  I have no idea what time it was – probably some time between 4:15 which was when I rang Lindley and maybe 6am.

Checkpoint 6 – Nether Heyford – 156.2 miles

Dick took me to checkpoint 6 so that I could get some sleep and I messaged Ruth to say I had dropped out and would call her after I woke up.  The checkpoint wasn’t exactly the MASH medical hospital I expected but there were runners sleeping, runners trying to sort out their food for the next leg of the race, and Maxine busy fixing runners’ feet.

Apparently the last 6 or 7 miles was really rough going and caused serious damage to runners’ feet – as if the previous 150 miles wasn’t bad enough.

After waking I contacted Ruth who said she would cancel her afternoon meeting and come and collect me around 2 or 3pm.  I told her that there was no rush as the checkpoint was open until 3pm and I was going to get some more sleep – which I did.

In total I had two sleeps of about 5 hours and the rest of the time I just sat in a daze watching runners coming and going.  I remember speaking to a few runners and hearing how hard it was, and being thankful that my race was over.  No regrets – Yet.

Peter Tiffin arrived around midday.  He had made good time on the last leg and had plenty of time to get another sleep.  I think a couple other runners may have arrived after him, but by about 2 or 2:30 everyone was back out on to the next stage of the race and it was time for the volunteers to close the checkpoint and get moving themselves.

Ruth arrived shortly after they left and took me home – the second time she has had to rescue me from the middle of nowhere this year.

Post Race

Even now, a week after my DNF, I don’t have any regrets about dropping out.  I am annoyed that I got lost on day 1 and wonder whether the two bonus miles cost me my race.  Getting lost took its toll on me both physically and mentally, and whilst the extra 2 miles only took 30 minutes on day 1, by the time I got to the Milton Keynes checkpoint, 2 miles was taking me closer to an hour.  If I had arrived at checkpoint 5 with an hour up my sleeve, I would have had time for a 30 to 45 minute sleep, and if I had done that, then perhaps I would have been able to get through to checkpoint 6 at a similar time to Peter, have had a sleep, and gone on to finish the race.

But What If’s are not what the Thames Ring 250 is all about.  I was one of 28 competitors who started the race on Wednesday and didn’t finish.  Of the 52 starters, only 24 (46%) finished.

Although I don’t regret the DNF, pulling out of a multi-day race is very different to dropping out of a 10km or a marathon.  When you drop out of a shorter race, there might be an hour or so before everyone finishes, but after dropping out of the Thames Ring 250 on Friday morning, I spent the next two days stuck to my phone watching the live tracking of the athletes and wondering about what might have been.  A little depressing to say the least.

As for my feet; other than a blister on the outside of each small toe, they actually looked OK.  But a week later I am still struggling with pain under the left foot.  The padding under the ball of my foot is swollen and the arch is a little tender.  I was planning on two weeks rest after the race, and will reassess the situation after my break.

Thames Ring 250
My left foot had been hurting all race

Thames Ring 250
But it didn’t look as bad as it felt

Would I do it again?

I don’t know.  The Thames Ring is only held every two years so I have plenty of time to decide.  The part of the race I was most looking forward to was the Oxford Canal.  I had already walked the Thames Path from Richmond through to Oxford (during the Thames Path 100 in 2015), and the Grand Union Canal two and a half times, but I hadn’t yet done the Oxford Canal.

I also think that perhaps my time competing against runners is over and I need to get back to doing some proper race-walking events.  My next race is the 6 jours de France at the end of August.  This is the world’s longest certified walking race – 6 days around a 1km circuit – and my goal is to beat the New Zealand and Commonwealth record that I narrowly missed last year, and hopefully complete 700km which was my goal last year.

After that, I don’t currently have any plans.


GUCR race numberWas it the fact that the GUCR was my third event of 100 miles or further in six weekends, an experiment gone wrong, a sore throat, or something else that resulted in the 2017 Grand Union Canal Race being my first ever ultramarathon distance DNF?

The 2017 edition of the Grand Union Canal Race was to be my third consecutive GUCR, and also my third walk of 100 miles or further (GUCR is 145 miles in length) in six weekends (possible reason number 1 for the DNF), but despite that I was excited by the prospect of spending the first day and half of the bank holiday weekend on the towpaths beside canal that wanders its way from Birmingham to London.  There is something special about this race.  It is like no other.  I’m not sure if it is the competitors, the race organisation (which is outstanding), the amused/amazed comments from pedestrians when they find out what we are doing, or what, but this has to be the best race I have ever done.  And it is the first 100+ mile race that I have started three times.

The day before the day before the DNF

For the third consecutive year, I had one-way train ticket from London heading for Birmingham and the start of the race.  As with the last two years I traveled up to Birmingham on the Friday afternoon, checked in to my hotel, and then walked the short distance to race registration at the Travelodge in Broad Street.  This year the race organisers were late arriving to registration, giving competitors plenty of time to catch up with each other.  It was a great opportunity to see people that I hadn’t seen since last year’s race, meet some new friends, and share stories about various races and adventures.

The team of organisers eventually arrived, having been caught in Friday afternoon Birmingham traffic, and once registration was completed I moved to O’Neils bar next door where the GUCR runners traditionally have their last proper sit-down meal before the race.  I found myself sharing a table with three Thames Ring 250 (and GUCR) veterans and, as the TR250 is my next race, I took the opportunity to ask as many questions as I could.  The TR250 is a 250 mile (400km) race that takes in the River Thames, a large portion of the Grand Union Canal, but in the opposite direction to what we would be racing this weekend, and also the Oxford Canal.  Whilst I have walked further than 250 miles (when I did the 6 day race in France last year), this is likely to be my biggest challenge to date due to the self-supported nature of the race with checkpoints (and support) only available every 25 miles.  It was fascinating to hear their stories, and also of other races they had done, and I could have kept talking to them all night – but with an early start scheduled for the next day I headed back to the hotel straight after dinner, sorted out my kit for the race, and was in bed around 10pm.

The day before the DNF

I was expecting to get a good 6 to 6 ½ hours sleep but at 2:30am I woke up with a pounding headache and sore throat (possible reason number 2 for the DNF) and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Eventually I got up, had a shower and an earlier than planned breakfast – porridge, bananas (x2), and a couple croissants – and shortly after 5:30am I left my hotel room, just as my neighbours were staggering in to theirs, and walked down to the race start in Gas Street.

In 2015 I treated the GUCR as a survival test.  At that time it was my longest ever walk, and was just three weeks after the Thames Path 100 mile race, so I started conservatively, passed the 100 mile checkpoint in 26 hours and then struggled through the next 45 miles in 17 hours, finishing just after 1am on the Monday morning.

In 2016 I also started conservatively, after only a two week recovery from the Continental Centurions Race where I had broken the NZ records for 100 miles and 24 hours, but went through 100 miles in under 24 hours and finished 6 ½ hours faster than the previous year.  I walked the full 145 miles without sitting down between the start and the finish, and spent less than one minute in most of the nine checkpoints along the route.  It was one of my best races to date, although I still struggled on the Sunday, taking over 12 ½ hours for the last 45 miles.

This year, my intention was to walk a little faster/harder, but to also have a two minute lie down at each of the checkpoints.  The idea being that I would lie down with my feet elevated to give my legs a short rest and, that by doing this, I would have a better last 45 miles on day 2 than I had had the previous two years.  With the benefit of hindsight, this experiment may be reason number 3 for my DNF.

At exactly 6am after a few short words from the legendary Dick Kearn (one time GUCR winner, 20+ time race director, and now a member of the organising committee) we were on our way, with me positioned about ¾’s the way back in the field rather than at the very back as usual.

GUCR race start
My view of the race start
GUCR checkpoint 1
Checkpoint 1

I felt OK through the first 10 miles and upon arriving at the first checkpoint I found a quiet spot and lay down for two minutes with my feet resting on my drop bags.

When I re-joined the race though I found I had lost momentum and was immediately about 20 seconds per kilometer slower than I was before checkpoint 1.

The second checkpoint was at 22 miles but two miles beforehand I suddenly went from feeling OK to feeling like I expected to feel at 120 miles, not 20.  I felt exhausted and started looking forward to my next lie down.  My Garmin splits show that I didn’t actually slow down, but the last 2 miles through to the checkpoint felt like a long slog and not the easy walk that it should have felt like this early in the race.  I had another lie down at the checkpoint, grabbed some fruit from the aid station table, as well as my own plastic bag containing the food I was planning on eating during the next 14 miles through to checkpoint 3 and headed off along the canal.

GUCR checkpoint 2
A quick two minute lie down at CP2

When I arrived at checkpoint 3 I was greeted with a friendly “we hate you” from one of the runners who was surprised to find that ‘the walker’ had caught him earlier than expected.  I commented that I thought I was walking faster than last year (I couldn’t remember my split times from last year but on checking post race, it appears that I was only about 3 or 4 minutes ahead of last year’s schedule) and found a spot to have my two minute lie down.

When I got up again, most of the runners who were at the checkpoint when I arrived were still there.  It wasn’t just me who was having a hard day.

I had a quick drink of coke (I wasn’t intending to have coke so early but wasn’t feeling great), grabbed my food for the next 17 miles through to CP4, and headed off again.

It was shortly after this that I caught a female runner whom I won’t name as I don’t want to embarrass her.  I didn’t know her too well but we chatted for a bit and she said that as soon as she had finished eating she was going to stop for a wee.  Ultra-runners unashamedly talk about all sorts of things and toilet habits are no exception.  We talked about how a quick wee stop during a race was easier for a man than a women and after a while she drifted behind me and I continued on my way.  A few minutes later she came flying past me again and I asked her if she had had her wee stop.  She replied that she had and I said “well done” – probably not the sort of thing you would normally say to a grown women after she has been to the toilet 🙂

I arrived at checkpoint 4, 53 miles into the race, at 6:19pm, after 12 hours and 19 minutes of walking.  I thought this was a similar time to last year but I was feeling much worse than I did this time last year and lay down by the canal for my two minute rest/recovery.  Because I wouldn’t get to the next checkpoint (70 miles) before dark I put my headtorch into my Ultimate Direction running pack and also got my USB charger out to recharge my Garmin which these days only lasts about 13 hours without recharging.  As I left the checkpoint I downed some more coke and also asked one of the checkpoint volunteers to add some hot water to my Pot Noddles which would be the first course of my traditional GUCR Saturday night dinner.  This year was the third year I have had dinner while walking along the canal immediately after checkpoint 4.  I always start with Pot Noddles (600 calories) followed by Jelly (100 calories) and then another 500 mixed calories (crisps, biscuits, fruit, etc).

It takes a while to eat dinner on the move but it is much more efficient to do this at a slow walking pace than to eat while at the checkpoint.  Unlike previous years, I also received comments from people on two separate passing canal boats who both asked “is that Pot Noodles you’re eating?”.  The people on the canal boats are always so friendly, but this year they seemed to be more observant than normal.

After dinner I went to get my USB charger out of my UD running pack, but it wasn’t there!  In my haste to leave the checkpoint I had left it on the ground beside where I was sitting.  A few moments later my Garmin battery died.  There is a saying that if it isn’t on Strava then it didn’t happen, and regardless, I like to look back at my race splits, post race, to see what happened, so I opened the MapMyRun app on my phone and clicked the Start button – figuring that if I couldn’t record the race on my watch, then my phone was the next best option.  Fortunately when I arrived at the next checkpoint my USB charge was in my bag – thanks to an observant volunteer who must have picked it up for me.

I was really struggling but was looking forward to the short (1 ½ mile) road section that we reach at about 60 miles.  Last year I had a bad patch at around this stage but came right when we hit the road and I was hoping for the same this year.  Unfortunately it wasn’t to be.  I tried to pick up the pace but couldn’t, and by the time I arrived at Navigation Bridge, the 70 mile checkpoint, I was over 30 minutes behind last year’s pace.

Again, I had a 2 minute lie down with my feet elevated.  I was beginning to suspect that this experiment wasn’t working, but the two minute rests weren’t about making me feel good today, they were designed to make me feel better over the last 45 miles tomorrow, so I kept with the plan.

After my lie down I put some warmer clothes on as it was starting to get cold now that the sun had gone down, crossed the bridge and headed down the canal with a 600ml bottle of coke and a chocolate bar in my hands.

GUCR checkpoint 5
Preparing to leave checkpoint 5

The day of the DNF

I usually love walking at night and have enjoyed the night section of the GUCR, especially last year, but this wasn’t to be the case this year.  It was only 14 miles to checkpoint 6 but it was extremely slow going and I was starting to struggle with tiredness.  I had a caffeine tablet and waited for the effects of that to kick in, but nothing.  I just couldn’t get going.

I finally arrived at the 84 mile checkpoint at 3:18am and decided that I would have a short sleep – my first sleep in three GUCR attempts.  I slept for 20 to 25 minutes but didn’t feel any better.  In fact I was now freezing cold.  So cold that I accepted an offer of some soup.  I hate hot drinks and avoid them at all costs, but I needed something to get me going again.

GUCR leaving checkpoint 7
Leaving checkpoint 6 – dressed for winter

The GUCR rules state that you are not allowed to be stopped for more than 45 minutes at any one time, but it was 52 minutes after arriving at the checkpoint that I finally got going again, and I didn’t feel any better than when I had stopped.  I was now dressed for winter with five layers on top, and if I had had them in my drop bag I would also have been wearing long pants as well – I was that cold.

Fortunately I didn’t wear long pants because a couple hours later the sun was out, and reflecting off the water to make it feel like a 25+ degree day.  By the time I got through to 90 miles I had made the decision that I would drop out at the 100 mile checkpoint.  I was walking about 3 miles (5km) an hour, which meant that the last 45 miles would take about 15 hours unless something miraculous happened, and at best I wouldn’t get to the 100 mile checkpoint until 9am.  Add 15 hours to that and I was looking at a midnight finish.  With the Thames Ring 250 only 4 ½ weeks away I rationalised that I would be better off to DNF than spend another whole day walking and potentially jeopardise by recovery from the GUCR and my leadup to the TR250.

By the time I finally spoke to my wife, Ruth at around 8:30am I had slowed even further and was even more certain that I was making the right decision.  Ruth reluctantly agreed to come and collect me from the checkpoint at Tring, telling me that this was my only ‘get out of jail free’ card for this year.  I said I could catch the train home but she didn’t think it was fair on other passengers to have to put up with the smell of someone who had been walking for 27+ hours.  Thanks Ruth for coming to my rescue.

Monopoly Get Out Of Jail Free card
My only ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card for 2017


I finally arrived at checkpoint 7 at 9:31am – 27 hours and 31 minutes for 100 miles.  Almost 4 hours slower than last year.

The volunteers at the checkpoint tried briefly to talk me in to remaining in the race, or at least having a short sleep before making a decision to withdraw, but I told them that Ruth was on her way to collect me, and that I was happy with my decision to DNF.

I lay in the sun with my feet elevated one last time while I waited for Ruth to arrive, and reflected on my race.  I didn’t regret it for a moment.  Overall it had been another great adventure.  I hadn’t finished in London as planned, but I wasn’t regretting the DNF either.

I removed my shoes and socks and had absolutely no sign of blisters – thanks in no small part to the combination of 2Toms Blister Shield and Injinji Socks that I use (see my blog post about blister prevention here).  In my last two long walks I had had a small blister on the inside of each heel, but they were both fine this time.

My legs felt fine too.  I still had a bit of a sore throat, but I think it was just one of those days/weekends.  Better to happen now than in either of my next two races – the Thames Ring 250 at the end of June or the 6 jours de France (6 day race) in August.

Ultra-distance events are much more of a mental exercise than they are physical and I think I was missing the required mindset this weekend.

Ultramarathon - 90% mental, 10% in your head

Fitbit steps

One of the benefits of wearing a Fitbit is that it records your cadence – number of steps per minute, or in the case of the graphs below, number of steps per five minutes.

Fitbit steps day 1

Fitbit steps day 2

You can see my gradual demise as my cadence slowly reduced from 690 steps every five minutes down to 450 (137 steps per minute down to 90).

Strava graphs

The graphs below show my decreasing speed during the race – from 7:30/km pace to 13 minute/km pace.




GUCR 2018

The Grand Union Canal Race is still my favourite race of all the races I have participated in.  Entry is by ballot, as it is always over-subscribed, and I will definitely be entering again next year.  If I miss out on the ballot I’ll be involved in some way – probably at that 100 mile checkpoint which was the end of my GUCR this year.

My previous GUCR’s

My first GUCR – 2015

My second GUCR – 2016 – ironically, I sub-titled this one ‘The mind is stronger than the body’. The opposite to this year 🙂

M25 motorway circumnavigation

M25 Motorway SignWhen we first moved to England in 2008 I remember being impressed by this huge motorway that circled London. Between four and six lanes going in each direction.  117 miles in length.  The first time I drove on it, I thought about the movie Cannonball Run, and wondered if there was a record time for driving around it.  And a couple minutes later we were stopped dead still in a traffic jam and I learned why the M25 motorway is referred to as the world’s biggest carpark.

Nine months later I was training for my first triathlon since the mid 90’s and I thought I would try and cycle a lap around the outside of the M25 motorway.  Obviously you can’t cycle on the motorway itself, so I started building up my long training rides, but I never got around to doing ‘the ride’ and after the triathlon (the 2009 UK Ironman) I gave up cycling and forgot about the idea.

My first attempt in 2016

Roll on 2016.  I had switched from triathlons and running to race-walking and was looking for a suitable challenge to use as a fundraiser for Sport Relief – the bi-annual UK wide fundraiser where people do all sorts of sporting challenges to raise money for charity.  And in March 2016 I attempted to walk non-stop around the outside of the M25 motorway.

The short story is that I lasted 32 hours before I had to sit down for the first time, and a couple hours later I quit, only to restart and complete the journey the following day.  In total the walk took me 86 hours of which 50 hours were walking.  You can read a full summary of my 2016 M25 Circumnavigation here.

Preparation for my 2017 attempt

When I finished that walk in 2016 I knew I had some unfinished business, and started making plans for another attempt.  I contacted Limbless Association, (a London based charity who provide support to people who have lost one or more arms or legs, their care givers, and their families) to discuss the possibility of using the walk to raise money for them.  I feel fortunate that I have two good arms and two good legs and I wanted to use them to help people that, perhaps, are a little less fortunate than me.  I was also keen to support a small charity, having done fundraising walks for Make-A-Wish Foundation and Sport Relief in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and Limbless Association fitted all my criteria.

I also learnt from my 2016 experience.  There is a saying that the only failure is the failure to learn from your experience, and I identified a number of changes I could make that would enable me to successfully complete my goal of circumnavigating the M25 motorway non-stop this time:

  • Firstly, I started at 8am rather than 2pm which was the time I started last year. This meant that I got a full day (50 miles) before nightfall.
  • Doing the walk in May also meant warmer weather. Last year it got down to zero degrees at night.  This year it was around 8 degrees on the first night, although it was colder than that on the second night.
  • I also changed the direction of my walk, and walked around the M25 in an anti-clockwise direction. You might not think that this would make a difference, but it meant that by the time I got to Saturday afternoon I was walking through countryside that was more familiar to me. I’ve done a reasonable amount of walking and cycling on the southern side of the M25 and mentally, it made a big difference walking in an area I knew rather than somewhere I didn’t know so well.
  • Lastly, when I have mapped out the route I wanted to walk I took more care this year to ensure that it was on roads that Google Maps had a street view of. Last year I mapped out the course using Google maps but a lot of the time I found myself walking on muddy trails and down narrow alleyways which were fine during the day, but not so easy to navigate at night.
  • I also decided to rely on an electronic map on my phone rather than the printed maps that I had last year but couldn’t see clearly due to tiredness.

Day 1

Friday morning, 5th May, finally arrived.  I had a reasonable sleep the night beforehand – my Fitbit says I slept for 4 hours 52 minutes which is 3 hours more than I slept the night before the Dublin to Belfast race too weeks earlier.  Hopefully it would be enough to get me through up to 48 hours of walking.

After showering I had the first of my two breakfasts (two bowls of porridge) and then caught the bus and train from home to Upminster Station, eating a second breakfast while travelling.  I met Joel, the Fundraising and Communications Manager for Limbless Association at Upminster.  Joel was going to be my support crew for the first few hours of the walk.  We drove down to the start – the end of Oliver Close, a dead-end street in Grays, Essex, which was the closest we could get to being underneath the QE2 bridge.  This was where I had finished my walk last year. It isn’t the most existing of places.  All that is there is a cement works, or something similar, and the only people we saw were two truck drivers.

Joel attached his Limbless Association flag to the fence and filmed me on Facebook Live saying a few words about what I was about to do, and then I was off – at 10 minutes past 8am on Friday morning.

My plan was to carry two cellphones, one for my map reading, and one for listening to podcasts/music, posting facebook/twitter updates, and keeping in contact with anyone I needed to.  But within a couple hundred meters something was wrong with my second phone.  I couldn’t get my route map to load and when I got to the first corner, less than 400 meters into my 160 mile adventure, I had to make a decision which way to go.  I had a 50/50 chance of being right, but when I managed to get my map loaded on my main phone I realised that I had already taken my first wrong turn!  Hopefully this wasn’t going to be an omen for the rest of the walk.

After that minor mistake I had an uneventful few hours.  Joel drove 2 ½ miles up the road, waited for me to come past and gave me whatever food/drink I wanted, and then drove another 2 ½ miles up the road.

It was a nice day but due to a slight breeze, it wasn’t too warm and for most of the morning I wore three layers on top – a T shirt and thermal top (both of which I had intended to take off before we started or soon in to the walk) and a Limbless Association T shirt over the top.

M25 circumnavigation photo of Richard McChesney

Because it wasn’t too warm I didn’t need too much to drink either, so when Joel had to leave early afternoon for a few hours, I decided that all I would need would be sufficient food to last me up to three hours while he was away.  It turned out that this was a wrong decision.  The sun came out and the wind dropped away and it wasn’t long before I started to feel thirsty.  I didn’t even have any money to buy a drink, not that there were any shops where I was at the time.

Joel re-joined me at around the 6 hour mark and I immediately downed a 500ml bottle of water, and downed another bottle each time I saw Joel until he departed a couple hours later.

Night 1

I had completed 38 miles (60km) when Joel had to leave.  I stopped at his car and put my thermal top back on again and put my Ultimate Direction running vest on laden down with additional clothing and enough food to see me through to the morning, and filled a plastic shopping bag with a selection of ‘mixed calories’ for dinner – fruit, crisps, biscuits, half a bag of pork scratchings, and a bottle of coke.

Over the next hour I ate my way through everything in the bag – probably something between 1,500 and 2,500 calories – while walking at a gentle pace.  This was the first of my two dinners for the evening.

I passed 40 miles (¼ of the expected distance) in 8 hours 50 minutes, and 50 miles in 11 hours 25 minutes.

Just past the 50 mile mark I saw an Oasis (McDonalds) in the distance and stopped for a second dinner – fries and coke.

To be honest, the night was a little uneventful.  At some stage I put another layer of clothing on, as well as my hat and head torch, and on occasions I thought I was going to have to put my rain jacket on as it kept threatening to rain.  Fortunately it didn’t.

Walking the M25 - night 1I passed the 100km mark in 14 hours 37 minutes and reached half way (80 miles/128km) in 19 hours 20 minutes – at 3:20am.  By that stage I had crossed the top of the M25 and was half way down the western side – half way between the M40 and the M4 motorways.  I stopped in a town called Iver to get the bottle of coke I was carrying in my Ultimate Direction running vest.  The vest is a small backpack designed for runners, and has enough room to carry food, etc, within it and strap additional things such as clothing to the back.  It also has pockets on the straps and the front to carry food and water.  The way I use it is to only take it off my back once every few hours, and to load the pockets on the front as well as the two pockets in my running shorts with the food I remove from the backpack.  I’ve found this to be more efficient than removing the vest every time I want something to eat.

I loaded my pockets, and ate a chocolate bar washed down by coke as I left Iver heading towards the M4 motorway and the sound of early morning flights arriving and leaving from Heathrow Airport.

Day 2

As I expected, circumnavigating the M25 in an anti-clockwise direction helped me mentally as whilst I was tired after walking for almost 24 hours, I was in familiar territory and around 7am I received a facebook message from Andy Nuttall, owner and editor of Ultra Magazine, asking what I wanted for breakfast.  He said he would meet me in Row Town so I checked Google Maps to find out where that was and realised that Row Town was still a few hours away, so I had some more to eat and kept on walking.

Eventually I met up with Andy just before reaching 100 miles (which took me 25 hours 10 minutes).  Andy had asked what I wanted for breakfast when he messaged me earlier.  My answer was toast with butter, and an apple or an orange, plus some water.  Andy turned up with everything I had ordered as well as a chocolate croissant.  Perfect!

Eating breakfast
Eating breakfast

Andy asked if I wanted to sit in his car while I ate, but I reminded him that part of my challenge was to complete the walk without sitting down from the time I started until I finished.  So I refilled my water bottles, and ate breakfast while walking.

One of the things that I tried to avoid doing throughout the walk was to think about how far I still had to go.  When I reached the 100 mile mark, I was happy to acknowledge (to myself) that I had completed my 14th walk of 100 miles or further, but I still had a long way to go, and it was too early to start thinking about that.  Instead I just focused on the moment.  The day was underway in England and I was receiving regular encouragement messages via facebook and twitter, not that I hadn’t been receiving them overnight.  One of the benefits of having friends on both sides of the planet is that when you need encouragement during a walk of this length, friends are awake somewhere in the world.

During long walks I listen to podcasts until I get too tired to concentrate on them, or start losing momentum, and then switch to high tempo music to get me going again.  Normally this means up to 12 hours of podcasts and then switching to music, but this was a longer walk than normal so I listened to podcasts right through until I reached 100 miles.  When I started walking the previous day I was walking at a pace of around 12 ½ minutes per mile (7:45/km), but now I was down to 16 minutes per mile (10 minutes per km).  This was a little bit slower than I wanted and I thought that some music may help.  It didn’t, but over the next four hours I maintained the same pace despite some extreme hills, especially between Leatherhead and Reigate where at one stage I walked non-stop uphill for over an hour!

My feet were handling the walk well.  Whilst they felt a little sore, there was no sign of blisters (thanks, in part, to my Injinji socks) and my legs were still in good condition.  It’s strange, but in writing this report, there really isn’t much to report.  Everything was going well.

I remember at some stage early in the afternoon a man who introduced himself as Christopher joined me.  He had a bit of a limp and said he was from Limbless Association, but I would never have guessed that he had prosthetics instead of legs – incredible!  He walked with me for about 500 meters, thanked me for my support of Limbless Association, and wished me well for the rest of my walk.  Perhaps he knew something because I was on my way towards Leatherhead and the hills when I saw him 🙂

After getting through the hills between Leatherhead and Reigate, there was one last hill to climb before I would meet Paul and Chloe, ultramarathon runners whom I didn’t actually know that had offered to come out and support me by feeding me as I descended Redhill.  And what an amazing site:

Paul and Chloe's Mobile Aid Station
Paul and Chloe’s Mobile Aid Station

Their car was one of the best stocked aid stations I have come across in years of ultra-distance races.  Everything I could ever want!

And not only that, Paul and Chloe volunteered to meet me again in an hour or two to give me some more food.  Such generous people.

Bladder failure

It was around about this time however, that I started to experience the first effects of the walk.  I was almost at 200km (124 miles) – which I passed in 32 hours 17 minutes – when I needed a wee.  Normally if you need to go to the toilet you ‘feel’ the need and have plenty of time to find an appropriate place to stop – whether that is public toilets or behind a bush or hedge – but this was no longer the case.  I had less than 10 seconds notice to find an appropriate place to stop.  I was heading down hill in a semi-rural area at the time and there was a side street going off to the right so I quickly crossed the road and headed towards the side street.

At about that time I think Paul and Chloe must have driven past because another couple minutes down the road, they were waiting for me with their mobile aid station.

My short-notice toilet stops continued for the rest of the journey.  The first time I have experienced this but at least it was only a bladder problem and not diarrhea.

Paul and Chloe met me one more time at about 220km (137 miles), not long before darkness.  At that stage I was still feeling good, but things can change very quickly.

The long slog through to the finish

I said earlier that it isn’t a good idea to think about how far you still have go during a long walk like this, but during the afternoon I had started to work out that I could finish as early as midnight (40 hours) if I maintained my pace, and at the latest I thought it would be about 2am.

Joel was planning on joining me for the last few hours and my wife and son, Ruth and Zac, were going to meet me at the finish.  I sent them all a message at some stage during the afternoon suggesting that a finish sometime between midnight and 1am was likely, but as darkness arrived for the second time I started to really struggle.  As well as the bladder weakness I was starting to have mild hallucinations.  The first hallucination was when I saw a toddler in the middle of the road in front of me.  When I got a little closer I realised that the toddler was actually a dog 🙂

The other problem I was having was a fear that my phone battery might not last the night.  This would be a catastrophe as my route map was on my phone, and being so tired, it was extremely unlikely that I would be able to navigate to the finish in Dartford without my map.

Fortunately, another Oasis appeared in front of me.  This time the Oasis was an all night supermarket.  I stopped and purchased a USB charger that was ‘pre-charged’ as well as a can of coke.  I can’t imagine what the people in the supermarket thought of me.  I was wearing a hat and headtorch on my head, a ‘back pack’ on my back which had a had a flashing red light on the back of it, and I stunk!  38 hours of continuous walking makes you smell a little.

It was 10:30pm and when I emerged from the supermarket I realised that I was cold so I took a few minutes to put my long sleeve T shirt and jacket on, and then did the maths to work out how long it would take me to finish the walk.

I estimated that I had around 15 miles (24km) still to go.  At best I thought that would take me around 5 hours so I sent messages to both Ruth and Joel to advise that my new ETA was around 3:30am and started walking again.

Ruth replied to say that in that case she would have a short sleep and would leave home at 2am to meet me at the finish, and Joel replied to say he was currently on his way to see me and would provide support through to the finish.  Joel would be my saviour!

I met up with Joel a mile or two later and told him that I would like him to drive only one mile at a time.  By this stage, even one mile seemed like an eternity, but mentally it would be a big help if I saw him every 20 minutes or so, and he could feed and water me as required.

My hallucinations continued.  I remember seeing someone walking towards me carrying a whole lot of sticks with lights on them at one stage.  It was Joel, but he wasn’t carrying anything at all.  I regularly saw people waiting on the side of the road for me, but when I got there, they were trees and bushes.  And on more than one occasion I saw whole families (two adults and two or three children of different heights) waiting to cheer me on, and again, when I got up to where they were I found plants and bushes of different sizes.

Fitbit steps for Saturday 6 May
Fitbit steps for Saturday 6 May – I ended up with 158,000 steps in 24 hours

Not long before midnight I checked my Fitbit. 155,000 steps for the day.  I would win the ‘Daily Showdown’ Fitbit challenge that I had invited some of my Fitbit friends to 🙂

The USB charger I purchased didn’t last long, and only charged my phone back to 30%, which quickly drained back below 20% again.  I couldn’t risk the possibility of the battery dying even with Joel guiding me into Dartford, as if something went wrong I might need to rely on my map again.  Fortunately Joel had the ability to recharge the USB charger in his car, and charged it enough for me to charge the phone a bit more.

I was going extremely slowly now though.  And really struggling, occasionally stopping dead in the middle of the road and putting my hands on my knees to get short rests.  I started having thoughts that if I was to collapse then I would have an excuse to sit down for a while, or maybe even quit altogether.

I was in a bad place.

Ivo, a long-distance walker based in the US sent me a facebook message but I couldn’t bring myself to read it.  I really just wanted to quit and I didn’t want to hear any positive comments.  I had stopped reading comments on facebook too.

My pace was down to just 2 miles per hour when I received a message from Ruth saying that they were leaving now and would see me at 3:30am.  It was now 2am.  I did the maths again and worked out that I still had 7 miles to go which meant that the last 7 miles had taken me 3 ½ hours.  2am plus another 3 ½ hours equalled 5:30am.  I sent Ruth a message telling her that it was over.  That I was quitting.

Message about quittingStrangely, even before she rang me to talk some sense into me, my pace immediately picked up from 30 minutes per mile to 20 minutes per mile.  Ruth and Zac rang me to tell me that there was absolutely no option but to finish.  I agreed, but whilst I was feeling better, I was really agreeing just to get them off the phone.  When I caught Joel I told him I was considering quitting but right now I was feeling better and would keep going until things got bad again.  Joel also told me that he thought we only had 5 ½ miles to go, and not 7.

I arranged with Joel that from now until the finish he would only drive as far as the next corner, and then wait for me.  I was too tired to follow the map on my phone any more, and was worried that I would miss a turnoff so needed Joel to guide me to the finish.

Each time I saw Joel he would tell me what to expect over the next little bit of the journey.  I assume he was driving ahead, checking what was coming up, and then driving back to meet me at the corner.

I wasn’t feeling great, but I was going to finish!

With a mile or so to go I sent Joel off to the finish where he met Ruth and Zac.  We had descended the last hill and the rest of the walk was going to be dead flat.  As soon as Joel left my pace dropped again.  The last mile took me 24 minutes.

At 8 minutes past 4am, 43 hours and 58 minutes after starting my walk, I arrived at the end of Bridge Street, and the end of my mammoth walk.  158 miles, 254km.  303,000 steps recorded by my Fitbit.

I was the first person to circumnavigate the M25 non-stop on foot, and also the fastest.

Finish of M25 Circumnavigation

My recovery

Sitting down for the first time in 44 hours
Sitting down for the first time in 44 hours

As soon as I crossed the ‘finish line’ I sat down on a plant holder at the end of the road.  But my brain had been focused on moving forward and being on my feet for the last 44 hours, and the moment I sat down I started to feel faint.  I lay on the ground before collapsing.  I was totally drained.

This wasn’t the furthest I had walked – I walked 381 miles in a 6 day race last year – but it was the furthest I had walked non-stop, and without sleep.  I have said it after other long walks before, but I truly believe that this was the hardest walk I have ever done.  The fact that I didn’t sit down for 44 hours, and hadn’t slept for almost 48 hours (having woken at 4:30am on Friday), combined with the extremely hilly course, had contributed to this being much harder that I expected.

While lying on the ground I changed my top for some clean, dry clothes and Ruth wrapped me in a blanket while Zac removed my shoes for me.  My feet were actually in extremely good condition – just a small blister on the inside of each heel.

Lying down after completing the M25 walk
Lying on the ground after finishing my M25 walk

After a while to recover, we said goodbye to Joel and I was bundled into the back of the car and taken home.  By the time I had had a bath, it was 6:30am when I got into bed and I slept for six hours.  When I woke I decided that it would be best to get up immediately rather than spend too much time in bed, as if I slept too long, I might struggle to sleep tonight.

That said, I spent the whole day on the couch with my feet up.

The following day I walked into work and was asked if I had done the walk.  My work colleagues couldn’t believe how well I was walking.  I’ve found that I can recover extremely quickly from my long walks, and other than an ulcerated tongue (caused by eating too much sugary food, and perhaps a lack of blood supply to my tongue when other parts of my body needed the blood more), I was more or less fully recovered – although still a little tired.

For my own records, I need to record hear that during the walk I had two pain killers and two caffeine tablets.  I can’t remember exactly when they were but think the caffeine tablets were at roughly 4am and 10pm Saturday, and the pain killers were after breakfast on Saturday and then after one of the times that Paul and Chloe fed me on Saturday afternoon or evening.

Fundraising Total

In total, thanks to many generous donations, my walk raised £1,902 including Gift Aid.

Fundraising total for Limbless Association
Fundraising total for Limbless Association

Newspaper articles

The Surrey Comet published this article on the Friday that I started the walk:

The article has a couple incorrect facts including that the walk was going to be on Saturday/Sunday, not Friday/Saturday.

And Go Surrey published this article after my walk:

There are also a couple inaccuracies in this article including the last paragraph which states that I want to do another fundraising walk (true) but don’t know who I want to raise money for (false).  I really enjoyed working with Limbless Association on this project, and have already met with them to start discussions about possible future projects – so stay tuned 🙂

A few more photos

Official Time: 43 hours, 58 minutes, 20 seconds
Official Time: 43 hours, 58 minutes, 20 seconds
This is where I walked!
This is where I walked!
M25 start and finish
It doesn’t look so far on my phone – just across the river!
Finished walking the M25
Zac’s ‘snapchat’ photo of me after finishing

M25 circumnavigation fastest known time:

My time for the M25 circumnavigation is the fastest known time (FKT) for circumnavigating the M25 on foot.  The following is evidence to confirm that I walked the full distance:

Strava record of the walk:

Fitbit Steps: The following three screenshots show my Fitbit steps for every 5 minutes from start to finish.  Whilst I didn’t sit down between when I started and finished, the graphs show when I stopped for foot or toilet breaks:

Fitbit steps 5 May 2017
Fitbit steps 5 May 2017
Fitbit steps 6 May 2017
Fitbit steps 6 May 2017
Fitbit steps 7 May 2017
Fitbit steps 7 May 2017