It’s important to give background to some stories, and this one needs a little explanation as to where it fits into the 4L4A story.
This is not a story of camping, or time with my children or really even great adventure. But what it is a snapshot in time of silly boys getting themselves into trouble for no real reason other than we wanted to.
A great friend of mine, Barney, who I had commissioned through Sandhurst with called me up and asked if I wanted to join him on the 2017 Trailwaker race. I had no idea what that was, but said yes immediately.
Before I knew it he had me and my brother Fanny the Tranny signed up as team members to race 100km across the South Downs with the Gurkhas.
Let’s be really clear, 100km is a really really long way. You would only ever drive that far in real life unless you had a screw loose or found yourself in some sort of Alive/ Lost/ Survival shitty situation. This particular endurance race isn’t just a long way it crosses the South Downs, possibly one of the most beautiful geographical features in South England, but a steep, chalky, slippery, gruelling landscape.
We did some training, we spoke a lot about kit, blisters and energy drinks. We did some training walks on the South Downs (up to about 50-60k) I bought fancy off road shoes, an endurance runners back pack and a new pair of shorts. Showing up at the registration was a fabulous reminder of life in the army, The Gurkhas put on a great show, proper Army brekkie to kick the day off at 4am, excellent marshalling to cajole a huge amount of suspiciously skinny looking “athletes” into some sort of order. I still had no idea what was coming.
Suddenly we were off, guns fired and we started running. WTF?? Running, that was never discussed, I thought it was a bloody long walk, but suddenly here I was at dawn running up a slippery muddy hill wishing I was still in bed, how do I get myself in these situations??
Barney’s father the legendary Brigadier and his delightful wife provided us with much need support, every time one of us tried to crawl into the back of his Land Rover he would tease us back out with a sausage sandwich and a cup of coffee.
The race is supposed to take 30hours to complete, it turned out I had missed the bit of Barney’s detail free briefing about trying to do it under 20hours. Quite a key detail to have missed.
Barney had assembled a great team, my brother who I had never done anything like this with was a great addition and was particularly special for me to spend time with. Fanny developed a walking gait with these very long poles that made him look a little like a daddy long legs skipping over the downs, anyone who has read Spinderalla to their children will know what I mean.
A mate of Barneys, Alex, also joined us, I didn’t know Alex before but was instantly charmed by his laid back approach to life. Clearly a very bright and successful man he has an easy confidence in himself that is a pleasure to be with and provided great support to all of us on the route. In particular when he arrived at the start in a pair of green flash shoes that his dog had chewed the laces out of, he didn’t miss a beat for 100k, quite unstoppable, quite remarkable.
As the sun went down on us and the light drizzle turned to generous rain I knew we were in for a long night. We came out of the checkpoint at 70k and with the lions share behind us all of started to flag, fog made it hard to see, rain made it wet, wind made it bitterly cold.
I don’t entirely remember the final 20Km’s. It was dark, we were running on extraordinarily low fuel and we had been on our feet for over 15 hours. Our feet were taking a beating, every step seemed to be slippery flint that stabbed the bottom of our feet whilst jarring the ankles and causing so much pain it was almost unbearable. Blisters had well and truly set in, and were causing particular strife for my brother, he seemed to suffer at the slightest blister like no one I have ever come across, so really an endurance race like this was always going to hurt.
As we started out of checkpoint 8 @ 80km my brothers energy levels, and enjoyment levels reached an all time low. As the 10k’s to Checkpoint 9 trickled past us we realised he was in dire need of food and rest. When people get to the end of their energy reserves the drop off is like falling off a cliff. Suddenly walking was near impossible for Fanny and he just wanted to lie on the hillside and be left alone. Sadly as we carried him across the line of the 90km point it was obvious his race was over, hypothermia and zero energy meant he would be facing really damage if he carried on into the night. So we were forced to abandon him with the Gurhkas and the medics and such on. It was heart breaking, to leave a member of the team with so little distance to go was demoralising for us all, mostly as we felt so bad for him having worked so hard to get so far.
We finished Trailwalker that night at 1am, 19hrs after we started, but one man down so in my mind we didn’t really complete it as a team. In my brothers eyes he left unfinished business on the South Downs and I look forward to the day he gets round in one piece with his head held high!
Watch this space…
We also raised £4,750 for Oxfam which feels great!