BHF London to Southend 100K Walk Review by Gail Shorney
Sunday 17th May, clad in a sparkly bra, London Moonwalk. As usual, accompanied by the highs of the achievement and then the anticlimax of the event being over! So what next? 26.2 miles was an achievement, but I’d done it before and felt I had more in the tank.
Google, as always, was my friend and I was soon finding numerous 100k events that were imminent. It had to be soon (patience is not a virtue) and the finish in easy access of home (work on Monday L) and so the BHF London to Southend 100k sounded just right! And it finished at the end of the pier…cue panoramic images of the pier bathed in early morning sunlight, sparkling turquoise waters, the backdrop of the golden mile, the cliffs, Hadleigh downs and castle in the distance….
The prospect of 100k alone was a little daunting to be honest, especially as the night section wound through the picturesque towns of Rainham, Tilbury and Basildon, so I endeavored to find myself a walking buddy, though with three weeks until the big day I appreciated that this was no mean feat!
Then there was Richard. A complete stranger who I found to be posting details of long runs he was doing ‘just for fun’. He sounded a little crazy. He sounded perfect. After an initial rebuff as it ‘wasn’t a run’ he came to realize he didn’t have a better offer for that weekend (persuasion is my middle name!) and decided upon a practice walk of 28 miles to see how hard it could be! It seems ‘just walking’ is tougher than it sounds, as Richard’s feet discovered after 28 long, lonely miles of country paths and June sunshine and in nine hours, his feet were wrecked. Strangely he wasn’t deterred for longer than a day. Spurred on by the coincidence that the day of the trek fell upon the anniversary of his father’s decease and it was to raise funds for the BHF, he set about resting and repairing his feet (squeezing in 30 odd miles at HARP in the meantime). Having not actually met him before, we had a chat at HARP and with relief I realized 24 hours in his company would be manageable!!
In those 18 days Richard became a regular in Boots and could often be found perusing the foot care aisle, day and night. He also became quite an expert on compeeds and apparently used up an obscene quantity of Vaseline!
In the days preceding the event I experienced a range of nerves ranging from the anxiety of the exhaustion that I knew would kick in during the early hours of Sunday morning, to the worry that I may have been overambitious and that I was going to let myself and more importantly at this stage, Richard, down.
Our first and last training walk complete; 10 miles, 5 days before the big day. Conversation ü Richard’s feet survived I mocked him gently over his dalliance with walking poles, he threatened to poke me with them…and we saw a deer. It was all good.
Our approaches to the walk were quite different…Richard had a full two rucksacks full of numerous pairs of socks, a complete medical cabinet, various foot remedies, plasters, a picnic and enough talc and Vasoline to fill a small outlet of Superdrug… I had a bumbag with a phone, flapjacks, lip balm, space blanket and some water. With not much sleep and two alarms set, we met on the train at 6am and headed off to Fulham Palace.
‘Did we want a return ticket?’ ‘Er, no thanks, we’re walking back…’
Bag drop, wee stop, cuppa tea later and we joined a jolly chap for an energetic briefing on predominantly health and safety issues, flanked by an entire Kent and Lowland Search and Rescue Team and their pups. Apparently if we got lost they would track us down…somewhere between there and the end of Southend Pier.
The first ten miles flew by with fresh feet, the sights of London and the hustle and bustle of other walkers around us. The first checkpoint brought some welcome first aid for Richard’s feet…I didn’t envy the job of the first aiders that day….and we were on our way!
The next twenty miles were filled to the brim with laughs, tears and games to pass the time and take a certain someone’s mind off their blisters, a pit stop for lunch and some photo opportunities; The Cutty Sark was a particularly memorable and poignant one as my mum’s great uncle was first mate on board in the late 1800s. I took a few minutes to stand and admire the restored ship that held so much history for my family and to remember my late grandma. I think I hid a few silent tears from my walking buddy. His feet talc’d up, we cracked on towards the half way point at Rainham.
We arrived at the 50k half way point in good time and although apprehensive about stopping and potentially not wanting to start again, appreciated a brief sit down, dinner and a clean pair of socks….Richards fifth pair…..and that’s where we met a unique individual, who we affectionately renamed ‘Hi-vis Dick’. He made his move in the canteen, whilst Richard was seeking out another first aider….he sat down opposite me and offered me his pearls of wisdom on endurance walks, as he’d ‘done one before’. I made my escape as quickly as possible but annoyingly we came across him several times during the next couple of hours. He was attempting the single stretch of 50k as he felt that the 100k was too far for him again…and as we walked past him he helpfully called out to us that we shouldn’t start off too fast as we couldn’t possibly keep up that pace for the duration! Needless to say we didn’t see him again! Apart from a brief interruption in walking, due to a marshal stopping us from using a public footpath across his fields. He seemed reluctant to give us a reason but asked us to be patient and take a five minute break while he ‘sorted out the problem’. Is there a crazy farmer I asked? Does he have a gun? Er…yes….it seemed that was the reason….Somewhere in the Orsett area there was a crazy farmer wandering around his fields at 1am, with an angry Doberman and threatening to use his gun at the next walker who crossed his property using a PUBLIC FOOTPATH!! Another dickhead we really could do without, five minutes turned into a thirty minute unwanted delay and this led the marshals to resort to the only other viable option, which was to redirect the walkers along a dark, unlit, unpaved, 50mph stretch of country lane….head torches on, with Hi-vis Dick temporarily caught up with us, we all stuck together and safely reunited ourselves with the route to Southend. I don’t know if anyone knows Orsett but someone has built a ridiculously long hill there…don’t recommend it but the hug at the top was just the best! #everycloud
Heading into the darkest, hardest part of the trek we were encouraged by texts and social media posts, from Paul Matthews, Tracy Bliss and Alex to name a few, encouraging us to keep going and inquiring about our ETA at various locations. This was really heartening, especially when there was no checkpoint in sight, we hadn’t seen anyone for miles and we were gagging for a cup of tea! I’m not sure whose idea it was to plan the hills of Hadleigh Country Park into the route…but it was a really bad one! OMG they went on FOREVER! On the promise of a hug at the top of the last hill, one final push and we were at the top! All downhill or flat to the pier now…sounded achievable! And there, around the corner, who should we meet but Tracy Bliss! Got up at the crack of dawn and thrown on her tracky bottoms to come and cheer us on…she walked with us for a mile or so, bringing with her a huge boost to morale and we laughed and chatted about the last 24 hours as we picked our way through the dewy grasses of the Hadleigh Downs. The final stretch, Leigh station to the pier was upon us and in the distance we could see a couple of fellow trekkers…there was NO WAY we were letting anyone overtake us at this stage and we upped the pace!
Chalkwell…and there was some waving of hands and a small dog heading our way…unbeknown to us, laden with bananas and chocolate!! Anne, Graham and Storm…another welcome sight and they accompanied us along to the casino.
And then we were at the foot of the pier! The last mile and a quarter of The Longest Pleasure Pier In The World to go. My dad was unexpectedly waiting at the steps and he walked the last stretch with us, wanting the odd photo opportunity along the way! The view of the pier head at 7am was not quite what I had envisaged at the point of entry three weeks previous. No sparkly morning waters, no clear blue skies….grey clouds, wind, drizzle….not exactly prime pier walking weather! But a vision of pinkness brightened our spirits for the last time and it was Maggie, welcoming us with smiles and hugs! A few photos and a quick glance back to check we had no one behind us and we were soon past the train station and heading up the steps to the official finishing point!
The finish was, to be honest, a bit of a let down! No finishing arch, a few people milling around and a naff medal! However we were given breakfast and bubbles! Maggie made us a cup of tea! More first aid opportunities for Richard, who, I have realized, never passes by the chance to get his feet out! (I must admit they were pretty wrecked though!) And we had done it! The last decision of the morning was whether to walk back down the pier or take the train?! Errrrrrrr, it was a no brainer!
Now for the statistics…280 people signed up to the challenge, 270ish started the trek on the Saturday, 107 finished. We were pretty proud to be in the top 10 to go through all the checkpoints and Richard informed me I was first lady to go through all the checkpoints…I’m still querying the ‘lady’ bit! 🙂
Thanks to all of our friends and family who made generous donations to our Just Giving pages, we made a combined total of £553 for the British Heart Foundation, which was just amazing, so another huge thank you to everyone who supported us!
Would we do it again? Definitely, without a second of hesitation! Fab memories, huge achievement, both physically and mentally and I went into this event with, essentially a stranger and we finished as great friends! Bring on Saltmarsh 75…!