I’m just putting another pillow beneath my calves to try and raise them above my bum in the vain hope that this will reduce the ache. After our Half Marathon walk for Macmillan today, which turned out to be slightly more than the normal 13.1 – by over two miles – the soles of my feet are throbbing slightly less now but my calves are still burning.
I’ve just looked at the route trackers of both my big sister and my niece, and both of them are over fifteen miles. So it’s no wonder I’m suffering. It’s one thing to run a half marathon in two and a half hours, it’s another to be on your feet for over six, in the sun, on an ‘undulating’, with a capital ‘U’, course.
I did think, when I’d run/walked a half marathon in north Wales, which included Moel Famau, and several hills that were steeper than this, that I’d be well trained for this walk. That took less than four hours. I had put out a small, apologetic fundraising call on Facebook thinking that the whole escapade would be easier as it was walking, and wouldn’t be killing me.
I take it all back. It did nearly kill me.
I’m finishing this off now on Sunday morning because my blog writing got distracted by a glass or two of celebratory fizz, foot masks (big white socks filled with peppermint balm etc that you wrap around your feet, sit back and relax), and a general inability to keep my eyes open.
My sisters, my eldest niece and I were doing the walk yesterday as a way of remembering our dad, who’d died just over a year ago. And actually, to remember our mum too, who’d also died of cancer over fifteen years previously. Our sister-in-law was going to come too, but her six-month-old had other ideas, so it was just us.
Macmillan, whose nurses support cancer patients, had created a huge camp at the start, with portaloos, tents for teas and coffees, and food stations ready for the 26-miler walkers who were returning here later in the day. They had set off at around 7am, which hopefully gave them a cooler first few hours, and we rolled out around 10am.
The first hours, for us, were a little overcast and breezy, thankfully. Still t-shirt temperature, but comfortable. I had decided to try an experiment of using a long-sleeved white sports top instead of a vest, to see if that would reflect the sun back and therefore keep me cooler. The others had their green, Macmillan Tees on, but we were all in shorts.
Our time group was one of the largest of the day, so the initial walking was slow, as we collectively navigated some narrow woodland paths. Unlike a run, where you separate out quite quickly into small pockets, a green wavy line was visible all the way until around mile ten because nearly everyone was going at a steady pace.
The terrain was undulating, and mainly grassy or earthy underfoot. It made a lovely change from the miles of tarmac that I normally pound along each week. The start, at Penrice Castle, was a little way inland, but it only took a couple of miles to be able to spot the sea. Technically, that first section was the Bristol Channel I think, but it was still vast, and blue, and glistening in the sun, so we’ll call it the sea. Beyond the waters, the ghostly headlands of Devon and Cornwall kept us company for the majority of our walk.
At around four miles, along the beach of Oxwich Bay, we made our first impromptu stop, as a walker ahead of us peeled off from his group towards the toilet blocks. We decided that that was a better idea than looking for a private bush, so followed him up. It was also a chance to break into the homemade cookies that my niece Maia had made with her mum. They were a tasty treat to keep us going, although at this stage we were all feeling pretty good. The clouds, however had disappeared, and this was only two hours in, so we needed to make sure we kept drinking, and periodically munching on salted crisps.
The vast majority of the route was very accessible but there were a few hairy points, especially on the downhills, where we were glad we had our walking poles, to create an extra leg for stability. We saw some of the walkers coming down those parts on their bums, just to reduce the fear of falling.
We had an official pit stop at mile 8 where there were lots of snacks and drinks laid on. It was tempting to spend longer than the fifteen minutes we sat here, but there were still about seven more miles to go so we pulled our packs on and headed off.
That second half was starting to feel harder than the first, and I could have done with a few more sit downs. I remember needing many more of those than my fellow walkers when I did the Coast to Coast walk several years ago. Some people can keep plodding on, hour after hour, but without frequent little breaks I can feel myself start to get grumpy. It’s not a good look.
For the last few miles, the ground had a few gentle rises and falls but was nice and soft to walk on. Maia and I started doing a bit of jogging on this bit, just so we could go ahead of the others and then have a break. At eighteen (nearly), Maia is the spriteliest of us all, especially as she’d done a recent hike (with tents on backs) and camp in Dartmoor. It was in preparation for an amazing sounding trip to the wild parts of Iceland. We had loaded her backpack with a few extra things (in order to help her training we said) but she had borne it all well. However, by now, even she was starting to flag.
I walked the last couple of miles into base camp with my eldest sister Shila while the others had run on ahead to the finish line. As we got closer to Rhossili, there were some very appealing looking benches for gentle amblers to admire the coastal view. Shila, however, was not for sitting until she’d reached the end, so I had to let my calves scream unheeded and keep walking to the final camp. Maia, her mum Hersha and my other sister Usha were there to meet us and walk over the line together. It was a blessed relief to finally sit down. My white t-shirt experiment, by the way, was a success as my body wasn’t overheated at all.
My calves took a long time to recover, and I think they were further hindered by Hersha’s hairbrained idea to get our legs up to the waist in the sea for ten minutes when we got back to our accommodation in Swansea. She told me it would be therapeutic and help me recover quicker. The walk to the beach wasn’t far but the tide was way out, and although we persevered through the muddy flats, we didn’t get much deeper than our shins, and that was only because some of the sand was sinking beneath our feet. I think that added a further mile on to our day’s tally. But the foot masks helped a little at the end, once we’d scrubbed the sand off our feet.
The organisation of the walk was superb. I’ve never done one this well arranged by a charity before, and I would definitely recommend this one. We even got a full meal at the end. It was, despite the exhaustion, an amazing way to experience the Gower Peninsula. The scenery was spectacular, and we had the chance to remember our dad, who was a keen daily walker, and our mum who had held Maia in her arms when she was a baby.
If you haven’t already donated and wanted to add to the coffers of a well deserving charity, then our Just Giving link is below.