There comes a point when you are training for a major event when you will hit the highest possible level of endurance. It is at this point that you start to question your sanity, your ability and you simply wonder why the hell you have paid to enter an event that causes you so much physical and mental pain.
Saturday was that day for me.
The date for the longest training walk was booked into my diary months previously so I knew it would be coming. I had trained consistently for weeks and weeks, pushing myself at a faster pace during long walks and short walks too. Sunday mornings had regularly seen me awaiting training buddies at 7am in abandoned car parks whilst most were still in the land of nod.
So I was prepared, I should have been able to cope. However, it was on this day that my mind and body suddenly started to comprehend the enormity of the challenge at hand.
Beginning our journey at a social time of 9am we followed the River Stort path from Harlow Mill until it joined the River Lea at Rye House. With the sun shining, and feeling rather energetic we were making good time, so we continued to push at a strong pace.
Taking the River Lea path northwards we carried on through to 11 miles, stopping for a short refreshment break, before continuing along the river path to Hertford Town centre.
To help us get through the hours of walking, we started to break the route down into sections, with the next part following cycle path 61 from Hertford all the way to Panshanger – where we hit the half way point – 18 miles.
With the weather being warmer than it had been of late, I found myself drinking more water than normal, feeling rather dehydrated and rather nauseous shortly after the half way mark. I had no choice but to carry on, so I took more water on board and simply just put one foot in front of the other. Focusing on our next milestone.
Miles 18-25 saw us having to retrace our steps. Back along route 61, back through Hertford town centre, following the river until we reached Ware town centre and the most welcomed refreshment stop – a Fish and Chip dinner (or simply just chips and a much needed Diet Coke for me).
This would be our last major stop before our finish. Therefore it was the perfect opportunity to add layers to prepare for the daylight fading and to change into a fresh pair of socks. With the mixture of a proper rest stop and changing of kit came a renewed sense of energy. I felt ready to take on the final 11 miles back to where it all began.
We continued on, sometimes talking, sometimes in comfortable silence – each of us focused on our own thoughts, finding our own way to get through. However, my fresh feeling did not last much longer. My feet were throbbing, my poorly bunions causing shooting pains as they swelled against the walking shoes and fatigue generally started to set in. We had been on our feet for around 10 hours at this point, with very little rest. Daylight was fast diminishing and all we wanted to be finished.
Our final point of rest was at the point we marked as “the five mile bridge.” The bridge that we stated was the home stretch on the way out, many hours earlier.
Here the night torches came out in preparation, final layers were added and I gave my poorly feet a chance to get through the last few miles by changing into my trainers. And they thanked me for it. With darkness setting in, the comfort of my trainers and a great longing for a shower, pajamas and prosecco – I pushed myself to keep going to the end. Not focusing on the path in front, instead keeping my eyes on my training buddies feet in front, I made it through feeling rather emotional and delirious to the end.
36.7 miles clocked up. 12 hours after we had set off, we made it back to our cars, exhausted and elated.
Whilst I am extremely proud of getting through the training on Saturday, I have not stopped thinking about those extra 30 miles that are going to be added on top in less than three weeks time.
I wonder if my feet are going to cope, how I am going to find the ability to push through, how I am going to get through the long night hours, how is this even possible and what the hell was I thinking in signing up for this in the first place.
Last year I thought the London Marathon was the hardest challenge I had ever faced, I thought I would never be faced with anything that would push me more than 26.2 miles had done.
I could not be more wrong.
With just little under three weeks until the Isle of Wight Challenge I need to know how this is actually possible.