Monday, 12 August 2013

A review of the Oxfam Trailtrekker - part 3

Now on painkillers we left for Conistone. I was in absolute agony here the blister I'd just treated on my right heel was killing me and my boot was rubbing on my left ankle. My stomach was still playing silly devils and my knee was giving me grief. I figured that we had about 7 hours to go if all went well, then it would all be over. The only saving grace that I didn't have to concern myself with chafing.

The light was just coming back here but it was still absolutely freezing, even with all the layers on with mittens and hat I couldn't get warm and we were some way into this section before I finally shed a layer.

It was also on this section of the hiking trail where questions were asked about the feasibility of completing. I'd stopped for a second and when I caught up with the other two guys they divulged that they thought they didn't have sufficient in the tank for another 30k's, I advised I'd come too far to sack it so I was going to plough on - likely with another team for safety reasons. One of the guys accepted the challenge and said he was with me. Dave was looking greener and greener by the minute. Not long later there was a tent giving warm punch laid on by Oxfam Trailtrekker, there was a steward here and a girl who was retiring. Dave took the opportunity and gracefully bowed out. Gutting that one of the blokes you've come so far with and has endured so much with you isn't able to continue with you. He was completely shot and had absolutely nothing left in him, he was hallucinating and didn't have the energy to keep his head upright any more. He later admitted he thought it was down to the fact he'd not eaten enough. We gave him a hug and left him in capable hands.

We headed through Kettlewell and on to Conistone. Our support team met us again, we weren't there long. We'd sacked off food now and were relying on dextro tablets, Kendal mint cake, lucozade sport and nurofen. I figured that we wouldn't have time to digest the food for it to work, plus I was so bored of eating. We just troughed sugar and high/fast energy stuffs to drive us on.

We were now only 21.5kms from home. I thought this wasn't far, I would normally not even be feeling any fatigue on this but after 80kms its a bit of a different matter. The climb out of Conistone was not an easy one either, well not at this stage in the game. Now every step was excruciating. I'd not changed my socks at the last stop thinking I could endure 20kms from here, after all it wasn't far, what an error. My feet felt massively bruised on the soles and the blisters were biting badly, the failure in my quest to prevent blisters was overwhelming. It was now a case of one foot in front of the other, I kept saying "inching ever closer" repeatedly to myself. This was fast becoming the most painful thing I'd ever done in my life. At the top of here the path leads you over moorland which was mud that had dried to be like uneven concrete which again isn't great for the soles of your feet. About halfway over the moorland though there is a section of about 100 metres of road. There was an ice cream man here giving all the Trailtrekker participants an ice cream, a great touch.

On the next section we were talking to some guys, I divulged the pain I was going through, they suggested I change my shoes, I told them I'd gone light and didn't have any, so they suggested socks, again - I'd gone light and didn't have any, one of the guys offered me a pair or his. My team mate had a pair which he let me use, this eased the pain and onwards we went. It was a nice gesture of the other chap though underlining the feeling of camaraderie that runs through all participants of the event. Before long we were onto the stretch into Hetton and the temperature was starting to soar as the sun was high in the sky.

It was uneven underfoot and was sore, I think the softest of marshmallows would have been met with a wince at this stage. The road into Hetton was like a Roman road and was as straight as a dye for as far as the eye can see, which wasn't great for morale, I found the best way to deal with it was to look at the floor as I trudged on.

At the end of this straight we turned right into Hetton and walked to the church where the water stop had been set up for us. I was running out of steam at 90 miles an hour now but this was the time to dig deep and find the resolve to get to the end, it was no distance now (comparatively) to get to the finish line.

The Oxfam Trailtrekker crew were amazing here though, they were all very chatty about nothing in particular trying to keep us all buoyant. As soon as we arrived they told us to sit down and take a load off our feet and asked us what we wanted. I asked for a coffee and a juice which were in my hands in no time, shortly followed by a tray of biscuits for us to help ourselves to. We were also asked if we had any bottles they could fill for us, I asked for my camelbak to be half filled as I didn't want to carry the extra weight. One of the support crew asked how many were left in our team and on discovering there were only 2 he told us to join another team in case one of us passed out en route to the finish line. Which we duly did (join another team, not pass out) but with refreshed fire in our bellies and the line so close we were now fuelling solely on Kendal mint cake and dextro's and were really pushing for the finish.

Coming out of Hetton we headed left through a stile and the hiking trail took us alongside the stream. Essentially we followed the stream all the way to Flasby where we went through a gate and took a left over the stream. The road went up the hill and passed a farm before the hill continued through a countryside field. We were now continuously chewing our way through Kendal mint cake and dextro's. The feet were still pretty painful but were numbed by the adrenaline of now being able to smell the finish line. The route continued through High Wood then into what was Crag Wood although this has now been felled.

Before long the uphill is done and its downhill all the way into Skipton although it still is about 3 miles or so to go. This slog whilst painful was endurable as the finishing line was lunging towards us. Before long we were heading over the overpass with Skipton in sight. We were marshaled through a housing estate and into Aireville Park. This truly was the last straight of was had been the toughest undertaking of my life both physically and mentally.

My wife and my teammates girlfriend appeared in the distance, cheering us along, what a welcome sight they were. My shoulders could take no more and I offloaded my pack onto my wife, it was as though my shoulder muscles were continuously being stabbed with red hot needles. A few yards later the hiking trail arrived at the school gates and were met by marshals and supporters. Our numbers were radioed it to someone, I had no idea who. As we rounded the corner onto the field the finish line came into sight and the cheers from the supporters became louder. We crossed the finish line, completing the Oxfam Trailtrekker, 100km (63.5 miles) in around 27 hours and 50 minutes mostly in pain of some description in some part of my body or other. What an achievement... We sat and had a couple of beers which never touched the sides. I said at the time never again but the following week we all met up for beers for a birthday and with the blisters healing and the sense of achievement sinking in we thought that knowing what we know now we could slaughter that time and those that didn't do it wanted to complete it. So that said - bring on the Oxfam Trailtrekker 2014.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

A review of the Oxfam Trailtrekker - part 2

On departure from here all our kit was checked by Oxfam Trailtrekker staff as we were now to be walking through the night and at this point it was raining further along the course so we had to be ready for the wet. We also needed to show we had high viz vests, head torches, space blankets, food, water, map, compass and Oxfam Trailtrekker instructions for safety reasons which we did.

We ploughed on to Cam Farm which was to be quite a leg. The hiking trail kicked off being mainly uphill. It was turning dark by the time we arrived at Cam Farm and my blisters were now starting to bite despite the taping and using stride out along with fresh socks at every opportunity I definitely hadn't prevented them. The chafing however was under control, I was ladling the Vaseline on at every opportunity and fortunately it was working - I had no inclination that anything was a problem down there. We were fed homemade soup and pizza at Cam Farm which was great for morale along with biscuits and hot coffee. There was a medical team on standby too to look at participants feet if they were in bad shape. I daren't even look at this point, they were feeling bad, and we pushed on.

This was where it had rained (although we never actually got rained on) and it was really soggy underfoot. I was suffering waves of nausea at this stage and my stomach was doing somersaults, I can only put this down to the food I was gorging in order to continue to fuel myself. I think over the course of the Oxfam Trailtrekker I would burn around 7000 calories, around two days food consumption so I would need to consume that many more calories then I would normally in order to stand still. Obviously this wasn't possible so I just had to chew through as much as I could.

The absence of any hiking trail here meant us yomping through the mud in the pitch black which eventually led to road. It was demoralising in the pitch black but the road only marginally improved things, you don't notice when you're not walking so far but the road is so unforgiving and the soles of your feet take a battering when the ground is so hard leaving the soles feeling badly bruised.

At Deepdale water stop one of our guys retired. He'd given it his all and couldn't go any further. To be fair he'd not trained as he'd been pulled in as a replacement as one of the other guys had pulled out on the Thursday night. In fairness he should really have retired much sooner but through bloody mindedness he'd carried on.

We gave him a hug and left him at Deepdale to be reunited at the next check point in Buckden, which for those doing silver was the finish point at 65km. This section was really quite rubbish, we were hurting, it was pitch black, we were literally following the glow stick on the back of the pack of the person in front of us. It was unpleasant and morale was low. It was a slog through to Buckden. We were however welcomed by the team with sausage sandwiches which was awesome, before I could enjoy the feast though the toilet was calling, my stomach was getting the better of me. I almost dozed off. The sandwich was thrown down as there was too much repair work to do with my feet and we were up against it. The temperature was down at 1 degree which we later found out and sat still was bitterly cold, meaning we had to don all our layers whilst we lanced and plastered our wounds. This was getting pretty unpleasant, stick a pin in your skin a jet of fluid fires out of your heel, squeeze it dry and plaster it up.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A review of the Oxfam Trailtrekker - part 1

There was a briefing and meal organised for the Friday night at the school where we were due to start on the Saturday morning. With 350 teams competing, if you can call it competing, there were 4 start times, 6am, 7am, 8am, and 9am. Being that we were to come from Leeds we decided to go for a 9am start so our sleep wasn't limited. If we were camping at Aireville School as some people were I think we'd have likely gone for 6am.

Naturally the meal was a hefty pasta feast as we were carb loading for the 3 days prior to the walk. The briefings were at every hour from 6pm until 9pm, due to the volume of participants we wouldn't all have fit in the briefing room at the same time, 1400 people is a lot of folk. The briefing only reiterated the info we'd read in the booklets that were avalable online, what I hadn't realised though was that over the 100km we were to ascend the equivalent of Ben Nevis and Snowdon put together which is a fair challenge.

We were back in the morning for the breakfast that the Oxfam Trailtrekker had put on for us which was a fried breakfast and porridge. Apparently fried breakfast is good for slow release energy and is good for morale to kick off with. We'd been eating like pigs for a few days though, so much so that I was getting bored of eating, it was all for a purpose mind.

We got away at just after 9 and the walk took us through Aireville Park and along the canal to Gargrave my knee was starting to give me grief at quite an early stage, like within a couple of miles, which was quite disconcerting and I was wondering if it was gonna be my downfall. In fairness it was only 7 months since I'd had reconstructive surgery on my knee and i hadn't really given it time to settle down. I couldn't sack it off at such an early stage though. I couldn't quite get the cycling shorts in the right place either, I wasn't sure if washing them had compromised their integrity and I was altering them every few hundred yards, this too was starting to concern me, if I couldn't get this right now only a few miles in what would I be like at 40 or 50 miles, chafed the living daylights out of, that was what! Not good. All my work trying to prevent chafing would have been in vain.

The intention was to breeze through the first water stop, which we did only stopping for the loo and to get food out of our bags, which we ate on the move. I'd made stacks of peanut butter sandwiches and cheese and pickle sandwiches, I had bananas, cashews, haribos, tracker bars, boosts, and enough dextro's to sink a cruise liner. This was all to be washed down with whatever water i could carry and 16 bottles of lucozade sport (sports drinks are better as they have salt in to replace the salt you lose through sweating).

The first check point on the Trailtrekker (our support teams were allowed into check points but not into the water stops) was at Malham. At all stops, be it water stops or check points, there are devices whereby you carry a toggle on your wrist that you put into a slot and it recognises you as you check in. This has two main functions, one is so that friends and family can log on online and see where you are and the other is so that the organisers can track you for safety reasons and so that if you go missing along the hiking trail they can identify your last known position and search for you from there.

At Malham we had a quick sock change to keep the blisters at bay and restocked on food and were off again. This section we were faced with the ascent of Malham Cove which is a series of steps all the way up to the limestone pavement. My knees were really suffering here but I seemed to be suffering less with my groin so it appeared I'd managed to prevent chafing to a reasonable extent, there was still a long way to go though. For the major ascents I'd decided to use walking poles in an effort to conserve energy. There is a payoff with poles though I find, that your shoulders end up in pain. This ascent out of Malham was reasonable but that wasn't the end of it, we just kept on going up and up and up to about a height of 660 metres.  When we got to the top of Fountains Fell you get a great view of the back of Pen Y Gent but at the same time what goes up must come down. I don't like going down, or should I say that my knees don't like going down. Some of the other guys love going downhill and flew, I was on knee preservation so took it steady and in pain.

At the bottom of this hill was the next water stop where I had a coffee and used the loo. We took five minutes to patch up feet and blisters before we headed off. For some reason, I can only assume there was no phone reception for the check in units, the check in point was a few hundred metres down the road. We did this before we struck off on the hiking trail up and over the side of Pen Y Gent before we descended into Horton in Ribblesdale for the next check point.

Again our support crew were there, along with a surprise and incredibly morale boosting visit from my parents, and at 25 miles or thereabouts our feet were starting to suffer. We stuck pins in all the blisters that looked like they'd pop as my quest in how to prevent blisters had clearly failed and patched them up. I used blister plasters and taped them on with zinc oxide tape then put on fresh inner socks and outer socks. At this stage though, whilst sore, they were still bearable. We had hot soup, made for us by our support team again great for morale. With the same swift process of stocking back up with food that was now becoming a chore to eat but without fuel we're going nowhere.
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