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My mid life crisis? - The Paranoid Android
...musings of a mechanically depressed robot...
My mid life crisis?
Why would anyone in their right mind try and walk 54 miles across some of the harshest terrain in the UK within a 24 hour period?

I was asking myself this quite a lot Saturday afternoon/evening after 20 some miles and 11 odd hours.

The previous night at the sign in (and "Pasta Party") I was feeling a little trepidation. The magnitude of the task hit home by the hour and a half drive from the finish line to the start in a minibus. All along the way there was the magnificent view of "angry" mountain ranges and little paths threading their way through them.

Friday night was a night without sleep. Getting back from the pasta party at gone 10 didn't help... nor did a planned 05:00 wake up call. The plastic covered beds and pillows and rustling sleeping bags didn't help much either. Needless to say being woken at 04:15 by Art singing in the shower was icing on the cake. Once he had finished Paul and Roy talking and Art "shushing" meant I effectively got up at 04:30.

We made the start in good time. We hadn't managed more that about a couple hours sleep between the lot of us... but the big even was here... and the excitement and dread carried us along. At almost exactly 07:00 we set off on the first leg.

I started out walking with Jenny and Karen - as when I'd walked with them before they kept a good pace. Little did I know they had planned to get the first couple of stages out of the way as quickly as possible and soon left me far behind. Frances and Paul seemed to be going about the right pace so I walked with them to water point. Finding out the water point was under half way was a little demoralising to say the least. Paul stopped there for an extended break so Frances and I headed off without him... "then there was two!"

Frances has walked this before and kept telling me how close the end was. I'm not sure what effect this had... we also talked about stuff you don't normally discuss with work colleagues. I guess walking together for over 4 hours straight with nothing but each others company creates a kind of relationship were you feel you can share.

We finally came to the down hill path (always just round "that" corner) and I radioed to our support crew that we should be with them in just a while. We found out the fast walkers were still with the support crew, some of them having just arrived. I was feeling quite good with myself.

The walk down the hill was insane. My knees felt bad, my shins ached, and had it not been for a late purchase of two walking poles I am sure I would have fallen down several times. The path was nothing more than a pile of rocks of assorted sizes, ranging from small pebbles to the size of a land rover. The recent rain made these slippery adding to the excitement in a way I could have done without. Finally we could see the road and shortly after we saw Andrew waiting to take us to our breakfast.

Breakfast never tasted so damn good. Being waited on hand and foot was a little disturbing. Pete, Nicky, Alison and Andrew were all taking the support duties very seriously. Nicky,who would turn out to be something of a wizard with the camping stove, had barbecued sausages and burgers. I had the best cup of tea I had ever drunk.

Arriving shortly after us was Gareth, Kirsten and Seb. Big Ade was soon to follow, leaving just Paul and Reshma to arrive. Frances and I set off just a few minutes after Gareth and the girls, with Big Ade catching us up as we left the check point. There we saw Paul just arriving. We (Frances, Ade, I) caught up with Gareth and Co. at the base of the "hill"

Stage 2 is a bastard of a stage. From the start you climb 500m (more than 1500 feet) in a steady, or as I prefer to call it: relentless, climb for about a mile or two on a road like surface. The peak you see is never the top of it, as you round the corner there is always another climb ahead of you.

It was a couple hundred yards into this climb that we met Marcus. Marcus used to work with us (I am sitting in his old desk as I type!) and had got to the start point about 40 minutes after we did. He was looking rather fresh and at ease for someone who had walked the last 12 miles faster than I. I was looking bad, and slowly getting worse as the bastard hill took it's toll from me.

About a quarter of the way up I had to stop for breath. The youngsters were looking a little tired, but I was fairing badly... my heart was in my mouth and my vision blurred occasionally. I was seeing light in my peripheral vision that wasn't actually there. I was breathing so hard I couldn't drink for fear of drowning myself. The youngsters left me (at my insistence) to catch my breath properly. Several passing walkers stopped to ask me if I was okay. I was anything but okay but I was determined to go on.

Another hour of slow antagonising climb and I was ready to quit. They must have been joking - I thought - to stick this fucking mountian in the middle of a path. I had managed to slow my heart rate and breathing to acceptable levels... acceptable enough to drink and eat that was. The high humidity and exertion resulted in an all over body sweat soaking me from the inside out. This was cooling rapidly and I was getting cold fast. At the top of the steady road like path there was a big boulder which I took advantage of by sitting and getting my fleece out of my back back. I sat, drank some water and contemplated my situation. The way forward was on a rocky path still rising but not as steeply. I tried to work out how much of the 10 miles of this stage I had completed, and it just depressed me. As I sat some more, my legs slowly cramping, I realised I had two options. I could walk back to the road below going back the way I came and call the support crew to pick me up from there. I could go on. Staying put was not an option. Of the two options, walking down the bastard slope was not preferred I decided. I saw Big Ade coming up the slope to me and so I let him catch me up. We stayed there for a little while longer and headed off together. I think Ade's appearance was a contributing factor to me finishing the second stage. Walking the rest of the stage on my own would have been unbearable.

The way forward was forever up. I swear we was walking to the moon at times. Ade's hill climbing ability was, if possible, worse than mine and we took it slowly cursing the hill all the way. Asking a few friendly walkers going in the opposite direction we found that the devils staircase was about an hour away (for them)... about 2-3 miles or at least a couple more hours for us!

Paul finally caught up with us, and we was soon within range of the radios at the second check point. Near the top of the hill it had levelled off showing some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. For as far as the eye could see in all directions there was nothing to spoil the view. No houses, roads, pylons, or man made structures of any kind. It was about as close to a religious experience this atheist has ever come to.

A slight bend in the road and we could see the path down to the road. The infamous "Devils Staircase." After the climb we'd had it didn't seem worthy of the name. A game of "Rubber Duck calling the Ali-saurus" and finding out the Lions score (30-19) lifted our spirits considerably as we started the decent.

You can see the second check point from the top of the bastard hill, and the walk down to the road heads in the right direction. The water point at the base of the hill tells you the check point is 4.75 miles away. The guy dishing out the energy drinks says the check point is not as far as it looks. He is not kidding - it's at least twice as far away as it looks. The reason for this: at the road you head off to the left, UP a hill, AWAY from the check point.

After this latest blow to moral Ade and I amused ourselves by cursing a lot. The final insult was the hill up to the road where the second check point was.

Check point two was the pot noodle check point! It's quite amazing how excited about pot noodle you can get when you just conquered the bastard hill from hell. The support team (now including Reshma) once again waited on us hand and (badly damaged) foot. I had blisters by now. My feet were very sore, but I was assured that I'd mastered the worst of the walk now. The big sign saying 22 miles completed was both encouraging and depressing. 22 miles completed meant 32 miles left. It was now 17:30 - I was averaging just over 2 miles an hour. At this rate it would be a further 16 hours before I finished not counting any time spent resting at the check points.

The next stage at 8 miles is the shortest. It is mostly "flat" meaning the climbs are more rolling hills as opposed to mountains. After my pot noodle, soup, and tea I was feeling a lot better about myself. My feet still hurt like hell but the new tape and a fresh pair of socks meant they felt relatively better. Relative pain relief works for a while!

Big Ade set off first, with Paul and I following minutes after. For a flat stage, the first climb still managed to take my breath away in short order. But compared to the last stage it was easy. I quickly caught up with Big Ade who was ambling along quite slowly. The relative relief in my feet had worn off fast and the uneven road was causing considerable pain. I decided to get this stage over as quickly as possible... put my head down and marched.

I soon left Ade behind and was walking along behind a group of people who seemed to be going about the same speed. Even though I didn't know these people at all - the company was welcome. For about 2 hours I walked steadily until I reached the water point. The sign at the check point said 4.5 miles. It didn't say if that was what I had completed or what was left. The road was, if possible, getting worse. It was almost a cobbled path, with the rocks forming an extremely uneven surface. The unevenness was causing my blisters to rub, and eventually burst until I couldn't ignore the pain. It was about then that I knew I would go no further. I had to get to the next check point so I could get off my feet. I tried to step up the pace.

I was annoyed and disappointed at myself. I cursed my feet for letting me down. It was about this time that the midges started swooping in.

Scotland is famous for the midge. A tiny flying insect with a sharp bite. I was prepared for this nuisance, but was not prepared for the number of the little bastards. My exposed flesh was covered in 100% DEET and my face covered with a net. A couple of the sneaky gits managed to get under the net, but the DEET got them.

I noticed that the "repellent" part wasn't working... it was an effective insecticide though! The backs of my hands were smothered with little black bodies.

I started thinking about why the hell I had volunteered for this. The midge bites hurt, my feet hurt, my legs were beginning to feel the effects of the efforts they'd been put through, by back ached at carrying as much as 3 litres of water (but never for long!), my arms ached from the new to me use of the walking poles. Why would I volunteer to put myself through this? Had I thought it would be easy? The answer is no. I knew it would be hard. I had completed a couple of 30+ mile preparation walks and after each one I had known that it hurt and that was only a little over half way.

I decided I was having a mid life crisis. I remember days when I could run forever. I could run to my Nan's house and back hardly out of breath. I ran the cross country in the second fastest time ever for my school and was able to run half of it again with some of the slower runners (to egg them on). I ran the 1,600m and managed to keep the same pace running the last 100 as I would if just running 100m. Now I can't run for a bus without feeling beat. I wanted to do this walk to prove I wasn't past it. There was still something left of that kid who could run forever.

That kid is long gone. With the rain starting (which is a mixed blessing - it clears the air of the midges) and the road stretching as far as I could see through my steamed up glasses I vowed to accept the fact I'm past it.

The third check point was a large army tent in the middle of a field. The support crews were not allowed to meet us here, the army supplying all the support you needed. I missed my support team. I was feeling a little retched, more than a little disappointed, and thoroughly disgusted at myself for quitting. I was on my own. The midges were still out in force, even well inside the tent.

Frances and Seb finally found me. They had been there for a while and were about ready to set off again. Ade soon turned up and the three of them set off together. I was informed that Kirsten had quit just moments ago... but she had already got on the bus to the next check point by the time I checked.

I went to the withdrawal tent and quit. Paul arrived soon after with a bad knee - he'd fallen just a short way from the check point. He headed off to the physio tent to get sorted and I hung around waiting for the bus.

I had handed my midge net to Big Ade as he had lost his. His need was greater than mine. It did make my wait for the bus a hell of a lot more uncomfortable though. I waited for about an hour. Paul just missed the bus I got on at about 23:00.

My shitty feeling hit a new low when I got off the bus at check point 4 only to be clapped as I walked in. I mumbled something about having quit and felt myself go red. I radioed the support team and they came to pick me up.

Nicky had cooked a mince and pasta dish that defied belief. How she managed to rustle up something better than I could cook in a real kitchen working with a field kitchen I can't comprehend. After a good meal and the magic cup of tea I was feeling a little better. I was still wondering if I shouldn't have carried on. Thoughts like that soon ended when Andrew drove us to the rooms we had booked for the night and I checked my feet in good light for the first time. They were a mess. I'll post pictures later! The shower brought a fresh bunch of pain.

I died for 10 hours.

I woke with Paul and Gareth in the room. Gareth had finished at about 02:00 (yup - 54 miles in 19 hours!) and Paul had finally got a bus to stage 4 at about midnight.

Still walking was Art and Adrian. The girls had stopped at stage 4. Karen and Jenny had been midge bait. Karen especially looked like she had been rolling in stingers. Jenny didn't look that much better.

Big Ade was the last to finish just before 12:00.

In total we had 7 golds (54 miles), 4 Silvers (42 miles) and 3 bronzes (30 miles). Between us we covered 648 miles in 250 odd hours (±25).

The support team who were awake for the 31 hours looking after us require a special mention. Andrew and Ali popping Pro Plus, Pete and Nicky who appeared not to need any! Even after we'd all finished they were driving us to hotel and making sure we had all our stuff with us. They deserved medals as much as any of us.

Tags: ,
Current Mood: sore sore
Current Music: Lloyd Cole & The Commotions - Perfect Skin

14 comments or Leave a comment
tweezlebum From: tweezlebum Date: June 22nd, 2005 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the fact that you managed 30 miles uphill should tell you that there's still some of the boy who could run forever left in you. I am fucking proud of you, James. Don't you dare poo-poo your accomplishment.
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: June 23rd, 2005 04:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wasn't trying to poo poo my accomplishment - that's just how I felt at the time.
brightspot From: brightspot Date: June 22nd, 2005 04:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
That is *amazing*...I can't BELIEVE how far you went, in the conditions you went in, and the time you made it in! You did a fantastic, wonderful job!!!

I could never have walked that far that fast...never. Maybe I was never a big fitness buff, so maybe I was never in very good shape, although I did do a lot of dancing and swimming and whatnot in highschool. But I'm younger than you, and couldn't do that...not in a million days. Your midlife is about as far from midlife as it gets, darlin'. You're still stronger than most of us.

Baby those feet and love on yourself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: June 23rd, 2005 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks mom! :) It is still sinking in what I did. I will no doubt remember this for some time :)
beckwah From: beckwah Date: June 22nd, 2005 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
well done :) bet you've got aches and pains best get misty to give you a nice massage ;)
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: June 23rd, 2005 04:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks dear. I have aches in places I didn't know I had!

I will let Misty know of your suggestion :)

wan1 From: wan1 Date: June 22nd, 2005 06:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Simply the best.....

.....ok, so maybe I'm just a tiny bit biased!

You may not think you're the best but you did your best and that counts for everything. The answer to your question, "Why would anyone walk 54 miles etc.?" is that you have such a big heart.In my book that makes you "simply the best".

Hope your aches and pains and especially your feet soon make a full recovery. Oh and did I say well done?
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: June 23rd, 2005 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Simply the best.....

Cheers mum! I'm still not sure why I did it - it must be a mixture of reasons. During the dark thoughts at the end of stage three I concentrated on the less noble ones.

My aches are all but gone - the pains - well they'll take a little longer! :) The scars may never heal !
From: ommoht Date: June 23rd, 2005 03:20 am (UTC) (Link)

What can I say?

James, that is one of the best posts I have ever read. You have described the experience in such detail I could feel myself there all over again. I wouldn't feel bad about quitting. The bottom line is you're not into walking. The majority of people who take part in that challenge live for either walking or endurance events. You have different interests like going to the pub for example. If you took them lot down the Moon & Stars on a Tueday night at 5pm and then asked them to consume 10 pints of real ale they'd probably throw up after drinking 5 pints, go home and spend the next day in bed.
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: June 23rd, 2005 05:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: What can I say?

Thanks JT! High praise indeed!

I reckon I really could drink most of them under the table - if only beer drinking was an olympic sport! :)
nuala From: nuala Date: June 23rd, 2005 11:15 am (UTC) (Link)
How very excellent! 30 miles in the mountains? My chest and feet ache just contemplating that! Well done! Hurrah!
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: June 23rd, 2005 05:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
>rubs your feet better<...

nuala From: nuala Date: June 24th, 2005 08:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Hehehehehe. Cheeky thing. ;-)

*taunts you with the Dr Who video* Hopefully I'll be able to catch up with you or the Missus soonish. It was an excellent episode! ;-)
wossisname From: wossisname Date: June 23rd, 2005 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
You did brilliant JDP and never put yourself down,I expect you found out a lot about yourself during that walk.We know you were a good runner,but when you run your on the balls of your feet,walking is totally different.The two reasons the armed forces won't accept entrants are death and flat feet.Either way you can't march.So for you to do 30 miles is not just good it's brilliant.I'll say it again well done JDP.
14 comments or Leave a comment