Monday, 27 June 2011

The ITEX Walk 2011- in Sarah's Words


Firstly, a 1am wake up call for a 3am start was the earliest I have been up for anything and even with a week of ‘acclimatising’ to early nights and early mornings I still managed very little sleep the night before through nerves, excitement and the fear of sleeping through the alarm.



It’s worth to mention here that I had planned the ITEX walk similar to a military mission, everything had been packed 2 days in advance, sandwiches made the day before, bedtimes adjusted to make sure we got maximum sleep, so when we arrived at the car park that morning and realised we had left the sandwiches in the fridge, which involved a ten minute drive home, another back and a late arrival at the start line, meaning we set off at the back- panic set in and for the first 2 hours my sole concentration was not to be last into the check point- not the best start!

It was an amazing sight though in the dead of night, under the streetlights with a fine mist of rain, watching 1200 walkers set off around Elizabeth Harbour and I tried as much as possible to take it in and remember moments.

The first few hours were fairly unmemorable, a few people, crazy enough to be up at 4am, waved from their gateways then there was the 2 guys in deckchairs, who very obviously hadn’t been to bed yet giving out Alpen Bars and bottles of water at about the 7 mile mark- a little light relief after the initial adrenalin had worn off.

Breakfast was a bit of a nightmare and we wasted nearly half an hour strapping up my feet again and trying to work out which was the breakfast queue and which was the check out queue. Eventually we gave up on breakfast, deciding to have one of our sandwiches… that were still in the rucksack with my walking poles that were now well on the way to the next check point in the back of a truck- aaargh!!!

A bacon roll and coffee at St Catherines Café, made up for the missed stop at Jersey Potteries and we were onto the “North Coast”. This is one of the toughest sections of the walk- nearly 20 miles of cliff paths, lots of ups and downs and steps which are a killer on the joints! It’s also one of the most beautiful sections, although to be honest the most I saw was the tip of my boots plodding one foot in front of the other!

At the half way point of the walk, was a great stop supported by the Freedom Church. A cheer and Mexican wave welcomed us to the La Fontaines check point and we were soon in a marquee with cupcakes, tea and coffee in abundance. Feeling refreshed we were on our way again, 3 miles on at the next stop the treat was ice-lollies and seeing as I’d burned about 6000 calories at this point it was great to eat guilt free!

Unfortunately the eating soon came to a stop as I reached a personal mileage goal of 26 miles, my left hip and knee decided it wanted to go no further… however determination and fantastic support from my husband had other plans. Breaking my walking stick, by continually getting it stuck down rabbit holes at about the 28 mile point, didn’t help matters physically or physiologically, but I was determined to get to at least Grosnez at mile 30 and the end of the North Coast.

At Grosnez a quick sit down, banana and carton of orange juice gave me the fuel needed to get back up out of the chair and head to La Braye, 5.32 miles further along. We had been getting soaked with heavy rain showers, before boiled with hot sun all day, but now we faced our worse weather yet- wind, from the side and with gusts up to 50mph- literally strong enough to hold Ben up when he lent into it and to knock me sideways off my feet! 

Previous walkers had warned of the feeling of standing at the top of L’Etacq and seeing the 5 mile stretch of beach ahead- enough to make many walkers give up. I gave into the temptation of looking but when I could resist no longer and feeling of dread filled me so my head went down once more and I concentrated on my next stop- getting to the loo near Jersey Pearl- yep that was as bad as it got when ‘treats’ became toilet stops as I could no longer face eating anything other than raisins!!! The toilet stop, nearly became the last stop when I feel asleep sitting down, but thank fully revived myself and swallowed an energy shot to keep my eyes open.

Reaching La Braye the temptation to quit was strong, but I now knew that with only 13 miles to go and many of them flat, I couldn’t give in here, I’d got this far in pain with my hip and a whole load of painkillers to try and numb it, so another banana, some more juice and another top up on water and we were on our way with more of a tail wind now.

By this point, I had started a little routine which involved tears, tantrums and check points. As I hot a check point my mood would be buoyed, I’d feel ok and decide to carry on, as we left the check point I would suddenly feel tired and in pain and the tears would fall, as we settled into a rhythm I would feel blank, no feelings just one foot in front of the other, in the last miles or so before the check point the tears would pour, I would utter ‘I can’t do this, this is the last check point’ and Ben would assure me I could keep going and then I would be filled with determination that I had to reach the finish line, then reaching the check point it would start again. This routine occasionally changed with the middle 2 bits being repeated more than once if there was a hill (up or down) or other ‘obstacle’ in the section or if it was a particularly long one or during the last 2 sections when I was literally running on empty and blistered feet.

At the 3 mile mark, encouragement from colleagues gave the final push and when I realised we had slowed to less than 2 mph along the sea front and the finish line we could see was not getting any closer, the thought of being able to stop walking the quicker I got there gave me the push to step it up and get on with it.

We finished at 9.45pm, in the dark, as we had left. On seeing the finish line I could not control the tears any more and I literally sobbed my way across the line. I’d love to say there was an amazing feeling of elation, of achievement and I suddenly got a second wind to make it back to the car, but I can’t. I creid to the tea stall, sat down, cried on the phone to my mum, nearly passed out while Ben went a picked up the car, cried when I took my boots off and saw blood on my toe nail, then shivered my way home to a hot bath.

3 days on, the aches and pains are subsiding, the toe nails are still (for now) hanging on and that feeling I expected at the finish line has finally been felt.

Of the 1200 walkers that started that miserable rainy morning, only 677 completed it and I’m pleased to say that me and Ben were 2 of them. Some people run it in 8 hours, others do it as a ‘fun’ day out, but I can honestly say it was the hardest thing I have done in my life so far.

As we were walking around one of the things that got me to the finish line was that I never wanted to do the walk again, on Sunday I pleaded with Ben to remind me of the pain I was in should I ever think about doing it again, but now as I’m slowly starting to walk properly again and my blisters are healing I’m already excited about taking on the challenge next year of beating the thing in 15 hours!

So here are my stats as of the Monday after the walk:

48.1 miles
18 hours 45 minutes
Average heart rate: 147
Max heart rate: 179
Calories burned: 11302
Blisters: 2 (they just cover the entire feet)
Cut fingers: 1 (from a staple on a packet of sweets from Finland- it was the most I bled on the whole walk!)
Knees working properly: 0
Toenails I’m about to lose: at least 1 big one and maybe a few more

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