A month ago I had absolutely no intentions of entering the Shine Cancer Research Night Walk so just how did I end up traipsing over the finishing line in the shadow of London Bridge at 6:40am in the company of five other people who began the night as complete strangers?
And I’ll warn you now, this account could take almost as long to read as the 9hrs or so it took us to complete the marathon so settle in for the long haul … or, in the words of hit 80s kids show Why Don’t You, go and do something less boring instead!
It all began when I answered an email from Charlotte from the National Running Show looking for bloggers to form a VIP/media team to take on the challenge for Action PR/Everyone Active.
The Shine Walk has been on my to do list and I had tentative plans to enter it in 2018 but given the opportunity of a free place I just couldn’t resist.
I’ll admit to not really giving it too much thought in the weeks leading up to it and it was only really in the few days beforehand that I began to think about what I would need on the night and to wonder if I was actually capable of doing it.
Before I knew it I was in Southwark Park making my way to the Everyone Active gazebo to meet the rest of the team, namely Miranda, Charlie, Richard, Edward and Paul.
Full disclosure … I feared I was going to be like a fish out of water. These guys had done it all, they’d accomplished mind blowing feats of speed and endurance in a variety of disciplines and terrains and here was me, a little short fat bloke from Northern Ireland, with only a couple of years or so of (slow) running under my belt. How was I ever going to measure up?
The only thing that reassured me was, bizarrely, my lack of speed. I mean, you’ve seen how long it takes me to run a marathon so spending hours and hours (and then some) on my feet was something I knew all about.
Throw into the mix my accent, natural shyness and lack of confidence (I’ve got plenty to say, I’m just not convinced anyone else wants to hear me say it) and I was somewhat concerned it was going to be a long, lonely night.
But I needn’t have worried. Right from the start everyone seemed dead on (to coin that great NI phrase) and there were no strong or overbearing characters which was crucial if we were going to spend the night together. We started as strangers, ended as friends and whilst we might never meet again we’ll always have Knightsbridge at 3am (or some other London location at some other ungodly hour) to look back on!
The start was set out like a festival, complete with stage and tents, but because we were ‘ahem’ VIP’s we were taken backstage into a little tent to prepare for the night ahead. It was good to look out at the crowds and to see the build up from the other side – although at one point I thought the organisers were going to bring us up on stage to participate in some sort of warm-up routine!!!
Thankfully that didn’t happen but what did happen is that we were taken out the back and guided to the starting line to lead everyone else off. That felt pretty cool, to be honest.
Off we set in what was a carnival atmosphere, everyone was buzzing and the ‘rock’ choir as we exited the park was a nice touch which really added to the sense of occasion.
Anyway, after all the festivities, it was down to the serious business of walking and just getting this thing done.
Some of the team had designs on completing it in around six hours but given the numbers out and about that wasn’t going to realistically happen. Even though we started from the front a lot of over exuberant, eager and most likely inexperienced (it’s a marathon, not a sprint etc.) walkers passed us quite quickly meaning we got boxed in a fair bit during the early stages.
That said, we still managed to keep going at over 3mph which might not sound a lot but when you’re doing it consistently mile after mile after mile it’s no mean feat. Intensity wise I spent 70% of the night in HR Zone 2 (according to my Garmin) so it was fairly gentle compared to a run but over nine hours power walking is quite some going!
Obviously that time include the half-a-dozen pits stops scattered throughout the route. At times these pit stops were very welcome, a chance to stock up on water (both in and out!) and treats, as well as a good indication of our progress with each one getting us ever closer to the finish.
On other occasions they were almost a hindrance when the temptation to sit down for a rest became almost overwhelming. But I didn’t. I know from experience that once I complete a run I start to seize up quite quickly, so I made a point of keeping my legs active throughout.
The route encompassed all the major London landmarks (sometimes twice) so I’ll not bore you with the details.
Prior to the walk I tried to break it up into chunks in my head. The first half didn’t worry me. Checking back over my Map My Walk stats from a few years ago I saw that I’d previously walked 13.1 miles in around three-and-a-half hours.
For me this first part was the chance to get to know the rest of the team better and I think I did, spending a little time chatting with each of them. From my marathon runs I knew that I would find it difficult between miles 13 and 20, so I figured I wouldn’t be much company then and didn’t want to inflict myself on anyone else! It’s not that I couldn’t do it, or that I couldn’t keep up, but the biggest struggle might have been mental.
However, it was just after the halfway point – precisely when I worried I’d start to struggle – that something amazing happened …. I bumped into Cam! I knew she was doing the walk too but didn’t really expect to see her at any point given that there were thousands doing it but, crossing the road in front of me, there she was!
That gave me quite a lift … seeing a familiar face, albeit one I usually only see once a year at the same gig, but familiar all the same. I walked with Cam until the next pit stop at around 17.5 miles (sorry team, I was still with you though!) whereupon we went our seperate ways again. At this point I was walking on air, I had got through the toughest part – a little while longer and we’d have only 10k left to do, all downhill from here!
Ummmm, yeah, right. By this stage all the fun and excitement of the night had long since waned, even the normally vibrant streets of London were largely deserted and quiet. This really was time to dig in and just get through it.
It was eerie but, in many ways, it was also beautiful. It felt like we had the city to ourselves.
But each step, each mile marker, took us tantalisingly closer to the finish and the excitement slowly but surely began to rise again. Crossing over Westminster Bridge, onto the South Bank and seeing the 25-mile marker was quite something, only a mile to go. I was going to do this!
Of course, at this point, whatever sadist that designed the route decided it would be lots of fun to make us walk over the cobbled surfaces around Borough Market! Ouch. My poor feet.
Then, as we crossed London Bridge, we saw it below us on the river bank – the finish! We stopped to regroup and have a team picture taken with Tower Bridge as a backdrop before finishing as we started … together.
We were joined for those last few yards by my daughter, Michelle. She had been putting in an overnight shift as a volunteer dishing out the medals but had finished her stint so waited around to give us a personal escort over the line (and to keep me upright!).
That added a little extra special touch for me. She had (as a competition winner) run a little part of the London Marathon course with me back in April – which was amazing – so to have her walk the red carpet with me at the conclusion of this latest adventure was also something that deeply touched me. We messaged each other throughout the night and morning with regular updates, and it really helped to know she was waiting at the end of it all.
I also need to pay tribute to Dawn. Regular readers of my blog will know that she goes above and beyond in her support of my running … well, she did it again, albeit not in person this time but with constant messages throughout the night. She sacrificed her night to keep me going with words of encouragement and I can’t thank her enough for it.
I can’t also not mention one person that kept appearing at different stages of the evening, a bloke by the name of James, who sat at the side of the road in a chair. I saw him just after the start, and a little later someone who looked like him but at that stage I thought nothing more of it.
Then he appeared for a third time, and a fourth … in all he popped up, I think, about six times. I’m not quite sure how he did but, in a strange way, this monotony of seeing him also broke some of the monotony of the night. He became someone to look out for and it became a highlight to spot him, just for a high five and a little word.
A massive thanks, also, to the volunteers. Some of them would have been out on the course for longer than the walkers. Indeed, I spotted one poor girl asleep against a lamppost at one point! It took real dedication to give up your time like that, but the event simply couldn’t have taken place without them.
But, most of all, thanks to my fellow team-mates. It really was a pleasure to ‘serve’ with you. Thanks to Miranda for the opportunity in the first place, and to the rest of you for your company and support.
I’ll be following your future exploits closely via social media and I know I’ll be suitably inspired to go on further adventures myself. Hopefully, guys, we can bump into each other at the National Running Show, or at some event yet to come.
Relive my walk (my Garmin died at 24.8 miles but you get the idea)
Action PR blog
If you’re still with me after reading all 1838 words of the above and you would like to donate to Cancer Research UK – which this is all in aid of after all – you can do so on my JustGiving page.
And one last tiny little favour … if you enjoy my blog could I be so bold as to beg for your vote at the Running Awards? Click here and navigate your way to Publications & Online > Blogs > Huff, Puff and Shuffle. I’ll not win but I’ll mean loads to me to get some votes!
Great read Martin. It’s fascinating to read back on someone else’s view of the night we shared. Was a pleasure serving with you also and look forward to that catch up in January at the NEC. Best wishes until then. Paul