I only went out for nine walks during May – at an average of 34.25 miles (55km) each!
May was all about two separate events – the M25 circumnavigation on the first weekend of the month, and the Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR) on the last weekend. In between, I rested for a week and then just did a few short, easy walks.
The M25 walk was definitely the highlight of the month. I set the fastest known time (FKT) for circumnavigating the M25 motorway on foot, and also managed to complete the 158 mile (254km) walk without sitting down from the time I started until I finished 44 hours later – the greatest distance and time that I have walked without sitting down. And I raised a total of £1,880 for Limbless Association.
The GUCR didn’t go to plan however, and resulted in a DNF at 100 miles. I have discussed this in detail in my race report so won’t go into the details again here.
Total mileage for May was 498km (308 miles). Year to date: 1,960km (1,218 miles).
Looking forward to June:
There is only one thing to focus on during June, and that is the Thames Ring 250 which begins on the 28th June. This is a 250 mile (400km) trail race which follows the popular canal boat route from Oxfordshire down the River Thames towards London, and then up the Grand Union Canal (in the reverse direction to the GUCR) to Northampton, before returning to Oxfordshire via the Oxford Canal.
It sounds reasonably easy. A flat’ish course, which is my preference – I’m not a fan of hills – and 100 hours to complete the race.
The race is only held every second year and this year will be the fifth running of the event. To date 111 athletes have attempted the race and only 54 have finished – that is a 48% success rate. Worse than that, only 49 of them completed the race on their first attempt – a 44% success rate. And in total, the 111 athletes have 138 starts between them for 61 finishes – a 44% success rate.
So it would appear that the race isn’t going to be as easy as a straight forward, flat 250 mile race.
When I first considered doing the race I thought a time of around 72 hours might be achievable – that’s 83 miles per day. But given that only 5 runners have finished in less than 72 hours in the history of the event, I suspect that this is unrealistic.
It’s going to be a great event. I can’t wait to get started! And to find out what will happen during those 250 miles.
P&H Sea Scouts Walkathon
The weekend before the Thames Ring I am organising a walkathon to help the local Petersham and Ham Sea Scouts raise money for their new clubrooms. Established in 1908, P&H Sea Scouts are the oldest continuously run scout group in the world and their current club rooms are almost as old 🙂
About 100 Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, and Explorers, aged 6 to 18 will walk laps of the local common for three hours (two hours for the Beavers) as a sponsored walk.
Thanks to the support of Fitbit I have organised two prizes of Fitbit Charge HR’s for the scouts – one for the person who raises the most sponsorship, and one as a spot prize for one of the participants.
During the last month I have been speaking at their club nights to try and inspire them. Some of them have been inspired by the idea of winning a Fitbit, some by my stories of long walks. It has been a fun exercise so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they go on Saturday 24th June.
Was 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The graphs below show my decreasing speed during the race – from 7:30/km pace to 13 minute/km pace.
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.
When 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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
Strangely, 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.
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.
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.
In total, thanks to many generous donations, my walk raised £1,902 including Gift Aid.
The Surrey Comet published this article on the Friday that I started the 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
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:
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: