Last April I walked 50 miles in 21 hours as part of the Action4Diabetics Peak District Challenge. It was such a success that we’re running the event again in April 2019 – you can find out more and sign up here!
First of all, let me tell you that despite what you might think, I am not the sort of person who walks 50 miles in a day for fun. I have too much respect for my rapidly falling-apart body for that. At any one moment, typically at least 3 bits of my body hurt, and that’s often before I’ve even got out of bed. However, the odd thing about the challenge last year was that I loved every minute of it, even the last few miles at 3am when almost every bit of my body hurt. I promise you I am really not a masochist, but the day was so amazing that adrenalin got me through it. So amazing that having got to bed around 5am, I went to a Body Pump class at 11am the next day because I woke up at 9am still on a high from the adrenalin rush. So amazing that I immediately vowed to do it again the following year, because I wanted to beat my time. I won’t deny that I have a competitive streak.
So first of all, why did I take part in this ridiculous challenge? And why am I doing it again this year (other than wanting to knock an hour or two off my previous time)? Partly because I love a challenge, and I genuinely wanted to know if I could walk 50 miles in one go (the most I’d ever done before that was around 22 miles, and that was many years ago when I was young and fit). More importantly, because as the organiser – in my role as Action4Diabetics UK events manager – I felt I should set an example and do it myself if I was trying to convince other people to do it. And third, because other than raising money for the charity, I strongly believe that everyone can – and should – push themselves just a little bit out of their comfort zone, and this was a great way to do it, and to prove that having multiple medical conditions doesn’t need to stop you doing challenging things.
I must admit, I was terrified at the thought of the challenge, and had limited time for training, due to having shoulder surgery only a few months before the challenge, and then being struck with a cold and chest infection that left me coughing for weeks. My first training walk in February was 16 miles, and I was exhausted at the end of it, with very sore feet and tired legs. I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would ever walk more than 3 times that distance only a couple of months later. But I gradually stepped up the training, despite having terrible problems with sore feet, and then horrible blisters as I tried various different boot and insole solutions to combat them. I discovered new routes around Sheffield and gradually increased the distance, until before I knew it, I’d walked 30 miles and more or less found a solution to my foot issues.
The night before the challenge, I barely slept, however, terrified about what I was letting myself in for. I had no idea how I was even going to stay awake long enough to complete the walk, let alone have my legs and feet still intact by the end of it. However, the gods were smiling on us at least, as we had bright sunshine all day and unseasonably warm temperatures for April, despite the forecast for thunderstorms which luckily never materialised. So it was shorts and Tshirt weather, which is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face, and we had 50 miles of the beautiful Peak District to explore (not that we could see much of it after darkness set at around the 30-something mile point).
It’s amazing what your body can do when you put your mind to it. I think it helped that as the organiser I was so excited that all the preparations had finally fallen into place and all these people had turned up to walk or help out as marshals. Somehow, we ticked off the miles one by one, punctuated by marshal points every few miles where we would gratefully accept water, snacks, and encouragement from the smiling marshals. We actually ticked off a few extra miles as it turned out our navigation was occasionally a bit ropey (mainly because we were chatting and missed a critical turning a few times).
I’d love to say it was pain-free, but the power of adrenalin didn’t quite stretch that far, particularly as I’d started out with blisters already from the last-minute training I’d done (there’s another story there as to how and why I ended up walking more than 30 miles of the route the weekend before). However, a steady stream of an ibuprofen/paracetamol combination helped to dull the pain, and once the halfway point was reached (with a much-needed sit-down, cup of tea, and hot pasta meal in the Scout Hut at Youlgreave), I knew that every step was a step closer to home, and I knew I could make it.
By now you’re thinking that I really am a nutter, and that no sane person would want to put themselves through nearly 24 hours of pain for the sake of not even a medal but just the sheer satisfaction of having survived the challenge. I wasn’t the only one who had an absolute blast, but more importantly, the feeling of achievement is absolutely unbeatable. It wouldn’t be a challenge if it were easy, and I wouldn’t expect people to sponsor me to do something easy. Without the sponsorship money, the charity would have benefited very little from my efforts, but thanks to a few hours of pain, the money I raised is enough to keep 2 children in SE Asia with type 1 diabetes alive for more than a year. Think about that again. A few hours of pain and some blisters, or 2 children dying through no fault of their own? I know which I would choose.
If you’re now feeling inspired, head over to the A4D True Grit Challenge page and take a look at this year’s challenge. It’s the same thing again, but there are also 15 and 25 mile options in case you don’t think you can make the whole 50 miles (but I’d strongly encourage you to have a go, you never know till you try!). And if you don’t think you can walk it, you could always sign up to be a marshal and spend a few hours without any pain at all helping to make the event happen.
You might also want to check out these tips for long-distance walks: