It was 6am in the morning and it was very, very early. In an hour and forty five minutes we would be setting off for a 50k walk from Putney to Runnymede where I was raising money for Children with Cancer http://www.childrenwithcancer.org.uk/ and my friend Mike was raising money for Make a Wish http://www.make-a-wish.org.uk/.
Once we’d departed our hotel and took the short train ride to Bishops Park we were greeted by the sight of ex gladiator Jet (Diane Youdale) doing the warm up for the 7:15am starters . My 12 year old self would’ve loved this as both Jet and Lightening were high up on my crush list at this time. A quick coffee later and it was our time to go into the warm up area and let Jet do her thing. Once the warm up was done and we’d done a few jazz spins we were ushered towards the start area. I’d toyed with the idea of asking Jet for a photograph but in the end decided against it as she was trying to get a drink and was due to start another warm up as soon as we left so I didn’t want to bother her, although I’ve regretted that since.
(Me at the start, Jet (Diane Youdale) in the background warming up the 7:30 starters)
We were passed over to ex Coronation Street actor Martin Hancock (Spider) who was our official starter and very, very upbeat for that time of the morning. A countdown from 10 to 1 and then we were off on our walk dead on 7:45am.
We’d talked over a kind of tactic the night before and the intention was to hit the first 25k pretty hard and fast and see where we were at the halfway point. The course was split into four parts and there were rest stops at Richmond, Hampton and Shepperton leading up to the 50k finish line at Runnymede. Ideally we were looking at around 4-5 mile an hour to finish around 9 hours which was an achievable target.
(Map of the complete Thames Path Challenge)
The walk from Bishops Park to Richmond was mostly along a dirt track inhabited by lots of runners and cyclists so there was a lot of dodging about to be done and trying not to break our ankles due to the very uneven surface. There’s not much in the way of detail to go into as it was basically just walking from point A to point B. Within about 20 minutes we’d overtaken our group and were in the process of trying to catch up with the people who left at 7:30am having decided that the best way to get through it was to treat it as a genuine race and overtake as many people as possible.
Once we’d reached the first rest point at Richmond and checking the watches it had taken around 2 hours and 10 minutes to walk 14K (8.7 miles). This was around the target we were aiming for of 4 mile an hour and as long as we could keep our pace up we were looking to finish around 16:30. At the first stop there were some snacks and liquid refreshment but we decided to plough on after having a quick toilet break so we could get to the midway point around midday where we would take a proper break.
It was around another 13k before the midway point and we’d estimated an arrival of around 12:30 again the path from Richmond was very uneven and very narrow which made it difficult when the cyclists and runners were trying to get past you but we were making good time and there was no reason why we couldn’t keep hitting our targets.
It was around this time that another group of walkers started to cluster around us. The group that were walking around us appeared to be experienced walkers and talked about all the walks they’d taken part in and how they’d done 64 mile walks etc the week before and they expected to finish around 15:00 and then probably sign up for the other 50k after that. It was around this time that we did start to feel a little demotivated as, not being experienced walkers, the last thing you really want to hear is other people bragging about how quickly they were going to finish. I’m sure they weren’t doing it on purpose but it did start to irritate a little and reminded me of some of the elite runners that I’d encountered who liked nothing more than trying to put me in my place at the start line of races – like the guy in a 10k who told me to “get to the back as the front is for elite runners” of course this was the same guy I passed and beat by around 7 minutes so much for an elite runner eh?
We had to make a conscious effort at this point to either let this group tag along with us and irritate us for the next hour or so or try to push on and lose them. We did the latter and stepped our gears up a bit in an effort to lose them, this lasted all of twenty minutes where we relaxed into our pace again and they caught up with us. Immediately we both decided, without communicating this, that we were going to slow down and let them past. I must re-iterate though that it probably wasn’t their intention to irritate it was probably more to do with us than them.
We arrived at East Molesey around 12:30 which was the mid-point of our walk and sat down to have a dinner of rice krispie squares, jelly babies, fudge, chocolate and an energy drink (we hadn’t packed sandwiches) and decided that we’d have around 30 minutes here to stretch, have a toilet break and check for blisters etc.
We’d done the hard graft as we’d walked around 28k at this point so we were more than half way through. The next part of the walk from East Molesey to Shepperton (our next rest stop) was only around 8k so we’d assumed that we would eat that up easy enough as we’d kept a pretty decent pace going and weren’t really showing any effects at the moment. It was also at this point that I threw away my flask and the two lunchboxes that I was carrying, I’d decided that I wanted to travel a bit lighter and I could easy enough buy flasks and lunchboxes again if I needed them.
From what I remember we left at around 12:55 and we were aiming to be at our next rest stop at around 14:30-14:45. Around 50 minutes after leaving the mid-point we left the Thames Path and arrived into Shepperton, we wouldn’t be joining the Thames Path again for another 4k so it was nice to have a different surrounding and more even ground to walk on. We did arrive at Shepperton Cricket Club at 14:25 and decided to stay here for about 15 minutes. The snacks were cakes and crisps this time so I took one cake and a packet of crisps for later and grabbed myself a coffee. I decided to check my feet at this point and there were still no actual blisters but looking at my feet I knew it wasn’t long before I got one. I put some deep freeze on my feet and my legs as I couldn’t find my deep heat and once we’d stopped at the toilet we were on the move again. Departing at 14:40 we thought that it was feasible to be getting into Runnymede at 16:30 we both still felt ok and there was only 14k to go. 15 minutes into this part of the journey and we re-joined the Thames path so it was back to uneven ground. I’d checked the maps when we’d stopped in Shepperton and decided that the main target was to get to Egham Hythe at around 15:30. Mike was listening to the Liverpool match and joyfully telling me at the same time that Southampton were beating Everton (it’s ok though we won 3-1 in the end). At around 15:40 Mike told me he was in some discomfort and needed to find somewhere to stop for a bit it wasn’t long before we arrived at somewhere called the Water Works on the map which had some convenient toilets to hand. It was noticeable how much we both deteriorated over the next half an hour, I developed blisters on both heels and little toes and my knee had locked up and Mike was finding walking a little difficult also. We arrived at Staines at 16:30 and a quick check of the map showed that we were 3k away from Runnymede.
We both pushed on as knowing we weren’t far away spurred us both on until the end. Once we passed a pub called The Runnymede on Thames we guessed that we couldn’t be too far away from the Runnymede pleasure ground. We were right, 10 minutes later we heard air horns and cheers and knew we must’ve been around the corner. The finish line was in sight and after a bit of a walk into the park we crossed the finish line and were greeted by a handshake from Martin (Spider)
Bib Name Start Finish Total Time
Although Mike’s timing was a couple of seconds after mine we both crossed the line at the same time but I got my bib scanned first.
Mike was greeted by some members of the Make a Wish team who thanked him greatly for his efforts, unfortunately no-one from my chosen charity had turned up (which isn’t a big issue but it would’ve been nice to have seen someone at the end). This was something a lot of people brought up over the coming days by a lot of the participants as there were so many charities that were involved but it seemed like only MacMillan and Make a Wish had sent anyone down to greet walkers at the end.
We were asked if we wanted to carry on and do the other 50k but our day was over. I couldn’t have walked another 50k that’s for sure. There was hot food on offer and I grabbed myself a pork and stuffing sandwich and some cous-cous. Not long into eating I suddenly felt a little dizzy and quite sickly, I walked outside the tent and got a bit of a sweat on so I sat back on the grass and drifted off for no more than a couple of minutes but I immediately felt better when I got back up.
(Yes that is a pained expression on my face, my feet were shredded and it hurt to stand on them – plus I couldn’t get my shoes back on so I was bare feet at this point)
(Mike at the end looking fairly chipper)
We were bussed back to Staines to catch the train back to Harpenden which included a few changes (I had to limp fast for a couple of trains). We arrived back into Harpenden around 20:30 and I made my way to my room for the night in The Silver Cup. The room was lovely but as soon as I put my case down I was very hungry. There was a chip shop around 10 minutes away so I decided to hobble down and get some fish and chips which went down very well. Once back in my room I thought to myself I’ll do a bit of foam rolling then watch Match of the Day and get my head down. No chance of watching Match of the Day though, I watched about 5 minutes then I was fast asleep awaking towards the end I decided to knock the tv off and bed down properly for the night. I had an early start in the morning so I thought I’d get up around 7:30 and try and watch Match of the Day again before breakfast.
I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and the effort it took to get it completed was very rewarding for me in the end. It was also great to see Mike getting something out of it as well, I’d dragged him along for the ride and I was very grateful in the end that he’d talked me out of doing the 100k and opting to do the 50k and see how we got on. What is evident to me at the end of this though is that I am definitely a runner and not a walker. I doubt I’ll take part in any more walking challenges after this as I enjoy running but walking just seems to be a long and boring slog.
Now I had to work out how to get my legs sorted again as I had a half marathon in less than a week.
Videos of the event that I recorded can be found here: