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It seemed achievable.
If a bit scary.
I was in training to head to Portugal, Lisbon to live for a few months but then ultimately fly to Madeira as part of that trip to compete in a 115km ultramarathon; heading up into the mountains of this archipelago.
I hadn’t conceived of spending that long on my feet before.
The longest run I’d done previous to this was my Brecon Beacons ultramarathon.
But that had been past a year and stood at 65km on much easier terrain. Although the Brecon Beacons were the famed training ground of the SAS – I was confident there was pretty much no military unit positioned in Madeira – the terrain was too damn difficult.
With all of this in mind – I calculated the distance + incline and realized I’d more than likely be on my feet for more than 24 hours.
The longest I’d ever been on my feet up until that point was 10.5 hours – and here I needed to do double.
Just the thought of the idea was enough to send a chill down my spine – and so it made sense in Feb of 2014 to attempt a ‘dry run’ or rather ‘dry walk’ of the process.
The sole goal for me of this walk was to get accustomed to being on my feet for that amount of time – which would be totally new to me.
I shot the idea across to my good marathon running friend Daniel Botcherby with whom I’d run in Pisa, Oslo and London all at the marathon distance as well as several other halves; alongside Mo Sharif.
Mo was something of a sporting anomaly. A friend of mine whom I’d met through music and ultimately someone who became a good friend as we had similar goals and interests.
He was Kenyan-born and had moved to the UK when he was around 7 and then grew up in the UK, in Wembley specifically. He lived with his Auntie and her family whilst his parents remained in Kenya.
They’d sent him here to enjoy British schooling and opportunities and make more of his life. His family was doing well in Kenya nonetheless but they felt London could be a better option for him.
At the time we met he was a video director and building his own film studio – and having gone to college but not a university – he (like me) was finding his feet in life.
Ultimately we would travel to Lisbon together and stay for 2+ months together there in a house share in Lisbon until he’d a few years later return to Mombasa, Kenya and build a life there with a successful business and child
Before that though – we had a 24-hour walk to go on together.
And for Sharif – a Metropolitan film school graduate and therefore video director for this enterprise – it would simply and powerfully be a fascinating experience.
So as a band of merry men, Sharif the videographer who’d take turns with Dan to record elements of the walk, alongside Botcherby the marathoner, and myself the ‘want-to-be’ ultramarathoner.
We set out at around 5 pm in the evening and resolved to simply still be walking (with no set direction) around London until 5pm the next day.
As we set off the energy in our camp was high.
The first 3-6 hours went by pretty quickly as we chit-chatted – recorded different elements of the walk and enjoyed the randomness of it all.
None of us had done event-specific preparation but were solely relying upon our wit and our grit.
We started in North London near Daniel Botcherby’s house in Finchley and decided to walk into central London and start walking through London from North to South and West to East but all within the center.
It was a cold February day and so we all had wrapped up warm for the event.
I’d stupidly decided to get a tattoo just the day before I set out with the guys – I was partway through getting a sleeve on my arm finished. As we rolled into the night and past 9 pm we began to make use of the snacks we had bought with us.
Various chocolate bars and nuts came out as we started to nibble through them all to satiate our slowly awakening stomachs.
Even at 4 hours all of us were totally unused to walking that distance.
Our bodies began to feel a dull ache as we wandered around and the height of the evening truly began to set in.
We stopped for a moment at King’s Cross station because I needed to clean my tattoo.
‘Let’s have a look then clean it up, mate!’
There we stood in the freezing cold that was crystallizing our breath as the temperature had dropped close to zero degrees whilst I had to strip my clothes off to expose my naked arm.
The ink and clingfilm peeled off as the others looked at my very appropriate marathon running tattoo before I wrapped it up with more clingfilm (being unable to really wash anything clean) and we continued.
Our first true meal came at around 11 pm.
By now we’d all totally underestimated how much food we’d get through from our packs, alongside having not trained our stomachs at all to go for even a couple of hours without food.
The lack of conditioning showed among us as we walked past late-night pizza joint after late-night pizza joint and my stomach pleaded to me.
We’d promised ourselves we wouldn’t be buying any food whatsoever.
This immediately failed when we were met with £9.99 extra-large pizzas we could grab right this instant.
By 11.33 pm we had caved and were standing inside the pizza place wolfing down pieces of an extra-large pepperoni pizza.
It was a lifeline we needed because after several hours of walking our energy levels had slumped and the mood within the camp had dampened.
This was the very thing that was needed to pull us through
Dan, Sharif, and I danced around from inside to outside the shop as we engorged ourselves on pizza but suffered the weight of disappointment of having caved at the first hurdle.
‘Damn’ I silently thought to myself as we stood outside in the cold and the pizza had very quickly disappeared before our eyes.
I looked around into the darkness as the hubbub of the street had thinned and all that awaited us was venturing into the night.
The chatter briefly continued before we dug our hands into our pockets and our necks into our scarves…
And headed off into the night.
The atmosphere had changed now from one of camaraderie to one of survival.
Heads tilted forward, leaning into the path, our breath visible in the night air as the temperature dropped…
Onwards we continued.
We were about 8 hours into the walk now – and for all of us we were in unknown territory and our body was responding correspondingly.
Mo was the first to go down.
As we wandered through London by night we had to sometimes take rest breaks.
To his credit – Sharif was the one with the least training and least body fat upon him – he was very underweight, to begin with and could easily survive on 1 meal per day as was his habit.
The 2014 trip we later took to Lisbon for 3 months
By the time we left Lisbon – Sharif put on some weight!
Walking for all of this time was weighing down upon him (and us all), and with each time we stopped – it wore into him that little bit more.
Finally, at around 630am at Victoria station – 12 hours into the journey – Sharif decided he’d had enough as we sat in a Costa’s hands clamped around some cups of tea.
Despite our best efforts to convince him to continue – he’d had enough.
And then we were two.
Dan and I had run several marathons together – Pisa, Oslo, and London.
With each of those events, the challenge that Dan had to manage was that sometimes there was a tendency for Dan’s feet to take some damage.
So much so that he’d have to be careful with how he strapped his feet in preparation for the run.
As the hours passed by and we chit-chatted, walked in silence and went in and out of other world states of consciousness, the time wore down.
It felt like we were continually in a twilight zone and the events over the following hours become a blur.
But some things still remain in my memory.
At around 2 pm – around 21 hours into the event; the blisters on Dan’s feet (we’d made several stops by now) had become so bad that we needed to find Boots to get plasters and some first aid kits to alleviate the pain Dan felt.
As he finally popped off his sock so we could examine his feet I was even more impressed with the grit and determination Dan had.
It’s really a matter of simple luck as to whether you get problems with blisters or you don’t – because Dan had done all of the sensible things to protect himself but still got them.
I have had the fortune of perhaps having ‘thick skin’ and not suffering the same set of issues.
The blister was huge.
And as Dan pierced it and clear liquid oozed out I could see the pain in his face.
The show, limpingly so – went on!
We ultimately did end up finishing the whole of the 24-hour walk despite the sheer aggravation we felt was coming from our bones as we wound up finishing somewhere in Shepherds Bush and then caught some food in an Aussie bar.
As Dan and I sat there jubilantly high-fiving each other – we looked across our burgers, chips, and drinks with a look of accomplishment.
We’d made it.
For a full 24 hours of stop-start walking – but pretty much walking the entire time.
And again, I’d seen that in the end, it was literally minded over matter.
And coping with the:
‘Why am I doing this?’
‘No one cares anyway!’
‘I can’t go on’
‘People will be impressed even if we did 12/16/20 hours’
These were the conversations I had to continually protect my psyche against to ensure I wouldn’t just stop.
It’s really hard to do that when you’re alone.
But this time I had Dan. And Dan had me.
And together we got through it.
Next time I’d love to do a 48-hour walk.
In fact, I may ask Dan right now.
Until next time my friends 😛