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Trudi Takes on London 2 Brighton and The Thames Path 100km!

Have confidence in the training programme – it builds you up gradually and if you follow it, you can do the challenge

Read how Trudi trained for and conquered not one but two 100km ultra challenges with Walk the Walk... truly inspirational!

I peered through the thick damp mist and my heart leapt – the faint lights of Henley-on-Thames were a homecoming beacon. I was cold, damp and tired. I never wanted to eat another jelly baby ever again. All I wanted was to be warm, dry, a hot cup of tea, a hug from hubby and a medal. Oh yes, I wanted a medal. Because, after all, it’s all about the medal. Isn’t it?....

Back track to 2012 when, after undergoing a hip replacement to remove a bone cancer tumour, I set myself the goal of completing a Walk the Walk MoonWalk to focus my rehabilitation. I followed the training programme and in 2014 completed the The MoonWalk Scotland. Deciding that one Moonwalk was not enough, the following year I completed the 3 Land Challenge. The hip held up well and by now the walking bug had truly bitten ….. next stop – the London to Brighton 100km.

I know that the WTW training programmes work. I added an extra 4 weeks onto the 15 week programme because I wanted to have time to gain confidence in my hip’s ability to ‘last the distance’ and to make sure that I could get all the key long walks in around the inevitable illnesses, family events, last-minute-emergencies that occur. January, February and March were spent finding local routes of set distances (8, 10 and 12 miles) that I could easily do in my programmes. They also needed to be dog-friendly so that Oscar-dog could accompany me. I conveniently live within walking distance of a lake complex and the Grand Union Canal so could find routes which were quiet and dog-friendly. These had toilets and cafés so I was able to take advantage of the facilities. TRUDI’S TIP – find local routes with facilities such as café, toilets, shops.

Each Sunday evening I would plan my training for the week. I am a bit old-fashioned and still use a paper diary and kitchen calendar. By planning my week I was able to plot what route was required and how to fit it into my day. I attend Pilates once a week and the class is 3 miles from home. I programmed one walk each week to be to the class (3 miles) 1 hour Pilates and then the route home for whatever distance I needed to cover. TRUDI’S TIP – try to schedule walks into your usual routine.

Except for Oscar-dog, I walk on my own so listen to music. Throughout the training it was interesting finding out what music actually helped me and which slowed me down! I created a playlist specifically for when I was tired and need motivation! That got played regularly on the longer walks! I carry a portable charger with me all the time. TRUDI’S TIP – make sure electronic items are fully charged after every walk.

In late March I noticed that my legs were feeling heavy even with copious amounts of stretching. So I started having sports massages. These were initially painful but I quickly began to feel the benefits. An added bonus was ‘Katie of the magic hands’ was able to identify which muscles were the tightest (for me the lower calf and top of thigh) and so I was able to really focus on these areas pre and post walk. TRUDI’S TIP – leg massages can be expensive but worth it.

Ditchling Hill. There is much discussion on the FB forums about the climb up Ditchling Hill and I, like many, began to be a little apprehensive. As much as physical preparation is key, for me half the battle is mental confidence – believe you can and you are halfway there. So I decided I needed to check out this hill for myself. I checked the route on the L2B website, bought a map and plotted a section of the route. Early one Saturday in April hubby dropped Oscar-dog and I off near to where one of the checkpoints would be, and we headed south. Hubby rescued Oscar after 8 miles and I headed on solo to the hill. Now, let me be honest. Yes, it is a hill. Yes it is steep. And if you saw it fresh on a sunny day you would be ‘happy’ to climb it, looking forward to the amazing view at the top. But imagine you are cold, tired, legs ache, feet are swollen, you’ve been walking for 16 hours – suddenly I could see why it can take on Mount Everest proportions. I put on some music with a regular steady beat and walked up the hill, keeping my breathing steady and my arms powering me up. And I got to the top without stopping. And it was such a confidence boost. I appreciate that visiting DH is not possible for many, TRUDI’S TIP is find a steep climb in your local area and give it a try. Why not factor a steep climb into each walk. DH is a climb but it is conquerable.

A bonus of a long training programme is the opportunity to test out what clothes and equipment suit you best. Everyone has their own preference, and there were some great tips shared on the WTW challenge FB pages. I used walking poles in my training and carried them on the event. They were essential for me when my legs began to tire and especially when crossing boggy, muddy areas. They also kept my hands from swelling – I wore fingerless cycling gloves to help with chafe prevention. Keep everything in plastic bags – even if it doesn’t rain, the grass can get damp from dew in the morning.

There are a couple of ‘significantly longer’ walks on the training programmes. To make life easier in terms of navigation I decided to walk along the Grand Union Canal from central London out to where we live. So early one Saturday I got the train into London, found the Canal, turned right and kept walking. After about 20 miles I expected to recognise the scenery but instead of green fields it was becoming more built up. As I walked into a rather swish residential area with moorings for boats, I sensed something had gone wrong. I rang hubby who tried to locate me by some landmarks I could see. And had to break the news that instead of walking northwest out of London I had walked south west and was nowhere near home! Apparently canals have branches … and I had turned onto one at some point and had walked obliviously along it for a few hours. Needing to get home, I headed for a main road, consoled myself with an ice cream and asked the seller for directions to the nearest tube. 2 miles later I found the station and headed home. I was somewhat dejected when hubby collected me – but at least I had walked over 25 miles!! TRUDI’S TIP – double check your route for long walks – keep them simple such as following a national trail or main routes (but not canals!!!)

The following week I decided to try again! And so retraced my route into London and onto the Canal. This time I found the place where I had followed the wrong stretch of canal and headed homewards. However, it was a very hot day and with no shade along the canal I was suffering even though I wore a cap and took on lots of water. Hubby met me at the 24 mile point and the plan had been to walk the 10 miles home with me. But by then he saw how light-headed I had become and slight disorientated so he took the decision to take me home by car. I spent the rest of the day sipping water, refuelling and staying in the cool. TRUDI’S TIP – be extra careful when it is hot and/or sunny – plenty of water, walk in the shade where possible, stop if you feel ill.

Whilst I had no medical after effects, my perceived failure to complete the long walk made a big dent in my confidence. Hubby was aware of this so he suggested a plan for the weekend of The MoonWalk London. I finished the Moonwalk and he met me at the end, whisking me home by car. After a well-earned breakfast, we headed out on one of my usual 10 mile routes – finishing up at our local café for a large plate of chips. So I had completed over 36 miles and my confidence was back. I could do this. TRUDI’S TIP – do not beat yourself up if you do not manage all the training walks – but the long ones are key for checking equipment and confidence.

On the day of the Challenge itself, hubby and Oscar waved me off with rest of the WTW pack. He was going to meet me at the main check points which was a huge morale boost for me and, more importantly, provide clean socks. I am used to walking on my own, and although I started with the WTW group, I was happy to settle into my own pace and listen to my music. The first half went well until just before halfway when I felt very drained. When I arrived at the half way point (57km), I burst into tears and said I couldn’t go any further. Hubby, ever the practical sort, insisted I eat before I made my decision… and after a hot meal and some cups of tea (and fresh socks!!) I felt much more enthusiastic. Although I had stopped feeling hungry, I really needed the ‘fuel’. TRUDI’S TIP – keep yourself hydrated (take a good sip at each km marker) and refuel as you go along – if you feel hungry, eat (and there is plenty at each checkpoint) and keep snacks handy in your pockets. And change socks at main check points.

After dark you have to walk in groups and I had to wait to leave the halfway point until the next group left. And so I met Paula and Carl – complete strangers but who I spent the next 43kms with, sharing life stories, jokes, singing, eating jelly babies, and taking it in turns to make the tea at the rest stops. And then I recognised the section I had walked in April and it became easier as I knew what to expect. It was a challenge to walk with the head torches but we had many giggles coordinating legs, walking poles and rucksacks overs stiles when lower limbs refused to do what they were told! We hit the top of DH just after dawn, having climbed it steadily but in one go, and looked back over the route we had come, knowing that the end was so close. The finish was emotional – hubby, Oscar-dog and champagne – and The Medal!!! ‘Never again’ I declared loudly! ……

Two weeks after L2B I had a message from a dear friend who had sponsored me, thanking me for what I had done to help women like her who were fighting breast cancer. Sadly although she had fought the cancer some years previously, it was back and this time it was terminal and she died in July. Knowing that I had to do something in her memory, there was only one thing to do – register for the Thames Path Challenge 100km. And so the rucksack was dusted off, the trainers replaced, the leg massages booked and bags of jelly babies purchased. Oscar-dog and I headed out again, following the same routes as before but feeling more confident. 

The day arrived and it was raining. And it rained all day in complete contrast to the balmy spring day in May. It is hard work walking in the rain – I kept my head down, collar up and pushed on. At least there were no hills on the route – and many more walkers. After a while you notice the same people walking around you and I would strike up a conversation. But as the day wore on and the weather did not improve, it was a case of just keep walking, saving energy for the long night ahead. Again I was so lucky to have the amazing morale boost of seeing hubby and Oscar-dog and the WTW Support Team at each checkpoint.  After dark, the rain stopped but by then the ground was soaked and the heavy mist was like walking through a light shower. And so in the early hours, the lights of Henley-on Thames appeared out of the mist. And I cried – for my friend and all the other ladies who are affected by breast cancer. I cried with pride that I had done not only one but 2 100km challenges. I cried because of all the support I had received throughout the whole year and the events themselves. And I crossed the finishing line for that glass of champagne, a loving hug and The Medal.

So, my final thoughts are: have confidence in the training programme – it builds you up gradually and if you follow it, you can do the challenge. The real challenge comes when you are tired, cold and possibly wet. That is when mental strength is needed – believe you can do it and you will. Use the knowledge of the WTW team in your preparation and their support throughout the event – it is priceless.

Good luck to you all.

As for me, I can hear Nijmegen calling me in 2017 …. just need to break the news to Oscar-dog!

Has Trudi inspired you? Are you ready to take on your own Ultra Challenge? walkthewalk.org/challenges

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