Grand Union Canal Challenge

Grand Union Canal Challenge 2014This weekend saw the start of the inaugural Grand Union Challenge and it was time for me to stage another attempt at a 100km hike.

Vicky and I set off in glorious sunshine, from Paddington just before 10am. We were down on the canal in no time and began watching the looming storm clouds with interest. When it did eventually start raining it seemed to stay with us for hours. It wasn’t too troublesome though, we both had waterproofs and the constant drizzle prevented it from getting too darn hot.

Grand Union Canal Challenge 2014Despite the impressive nature of the Grand Union Canal, which cuts an entirely green and remarkably remote corridor from London to Birmingham, it is probably best not consumed in one continuous trog. There is a limit on how many ducklings you can coo at and how many locks you can admire and I certainly had complaints from back home as the instagram updates were getting a bit samey.

Grand Union Canal Challenge 2014Lynn joined us at 35k and I think we were still in high spirits, the pick n mix helped with a bit of a sugar rush and we’d caught up with the stand up paddle boarders who were joining us on their own crazy version of the 100k Grand Union Challenge.

On the approach to the 50k rest stop I was ravenous and picked up the pace while dreaming of fish, chips and Stella. The chicken noodles and cold diet coke actually on offer came a close second and filled a big hole. My calf had cramped up at this point so I got myself in the long queue for a massage. This added an hour to our rest stop and although it enabled me to continue in relative comfort, it did add to the pressure at each future stage as we were clearly bringing up the rear.

It was gone midnight now so the lights came out and we got to experience the canalside at its gloomiest. This is not a walk I would consider doing alone. It’s not a huge event like London2Brighton and you can spend hours walking alone. The canal feels completely isolated even when it is cutting swathes through cities and towns and it is probably home to more than its fair share of odd balls. Even with Vicky alongside me, there were times when I thought we might have to start running very soon.

This was a bad stretch for me, my legs felt like they were blowing up with water retention. Coming up to the next stop we were both disappointed to see it come early. The length of each stretch was a bit erratic and if one rest stop arrived early it meant the next would be painfully long and tagging an extra 1 or 2 kms on at this stage just felt punishing.

Sitting with my head in my hands at this stop, I just talked myself out of the walk. I hurt but mostly I felt sick and tired. I wanted to sleep more than I wanted to finish. I was also pretty convinced that I could not finish, that I did not have another 39 km in me, and accepting that, it seemed fairly pointless to add any extra miles to my tally.

Vicky on the other hand could not quit. We left the 61k rest stop after a brief break with the intention of walking into the daylight. When the sun rose Vicky would carry on alone and I would abandon the event.

The sun came up at about 4am and Vicky released me from my torment. At 68k I veered off the canal and waited for Lynn to drive by and rescue me. People had tried to persuade me, saying there would be no medal or t-shirt if I didn’t finish but at that point, those things that seemed so powerful at the start of the event meant nothing to me now.

6 hours later, after bed, bath and breakfast I felt more human, but I also felt like a complete heel for leaving a teammate out on the course. Lynn drove me back out to the canal and I walked back to meet up with Vicky to pace her through the final 7km to the finish line.

She’d had an emotional time and was suffering with her feet and knees and overwhelming tiredness. I felt incredibly proud of her and all the other walkers still out on the canal. It was slow going but she was going to get there.

Lynn dropped down on to the canal at various points bringing supplies and then nipping to the finish line to wait for us. She rang me at the 98k marker to tell me that the finish wasn’t actually at 100k, presumably for logistical reasons the finish gantry was sitting in a field at 101k. I didn’t feel this was the right time to tell Vicky. She practically counted every step from 99k and knew full well that the 100k had been swiped.

Lynn and one of the marshalls came out to join us, to see the final walkers cross the line and broke the news of the extra kilometre.

Grand Union Canal Challenge Finisher 2014I don’t think she was rewarded with a euphoric state of achievement at the end, more the sheer relief that all the suffering was over. As she said the next day

I am just so pleased not to be on that sodding towpath!!!

I imagine the pride of such an achievement is a slow burn affair. The sort of inner confidence that stays with you. You’ve done something pretty damn amazing, you’ve suffered, endured and finished what you’ve started.

I on the other hand, thought big, started something amazing, walked a long way and then quit. I’m not sure what I’ve learned but have confirmed that I am indeed a “Starter Leaver”

**Other Grand Union Challengers**

  • Stacey at StaceyLovesSUP, blogs about the 100km Stand Up Paddle Boarding challenge.

How to Tape Your Feet for Blister Prevention

Foot Taping for Long Distance WalksI’ve had some great results from pre-taping my feet prior to long hikes and can now walk around 40 miles, confident that I won’t get blisters. Even on this year’s London2Brighton challenge where the weather conditions were appalling and I ended up wearing two pairs of unfamiliar shoes, I managed 57km feeling physically broken but with my feet still intact – not a single blister.

My Blister Prevention Routine

  • Keep your feet in good nick – in the run up to your long walk you should keep your feet free of callouses and moisturise to prevent cracked skin.
  • Practice taping before your big event – there is a knack to applying tape so start practising early.
  • I apply tape to my own feet so I can flex while I’m applying it to make sure it is not too tight.
  • After taping, dust down with talcum powder to absorb any excess adhesive
  • Wear Bridgedale lining socks on top of the tape.
  • Put the hiking or running sock on next, being careful not to introduce creases.
  • During the event, change the lining socks regularly and check the the tape is still secure.

Zinc Oxide Tape for Blister Prevention

I’ve worked my way through a number of different brands of zinc oxide tape and have now settled on Leukotape P. I’ve found this to have excellent adhesive properties and a good degree of stretch. It somehow manages to avoid leaving adhesive on the non-sticky side of the tape, which is a big bonus and a problem I’ve noted with every other roll of tape I’ve tried.

Tape Adherent

A lot of guides suggest that you purchase an additional spray adhesive to apply to the foot before adding the tape. I’ve tried this technique but I’ve stopped using it because there is a fine balance between too little and too much stickiness. If you get a decent tape you shouldn’t need extra glue and you don’t want to have any extra adhesive on the outside of the tape as it will stick to your socks, increasing the chances of fabric folds under your feet. I apply a liberal sprinkling of talcum powder before I put on my socks as well.

Where to Apply the Anti Blister Tape

Ideally you will have slowly built up your long walks or runs and should now have a clear idea of where you tend to develop hot spots. When I first started training for 100km walks I would get blisters forming after only 10k when wearing hiking boots, and they would always be in the same place. Mine started under the heel and across the ball of my foot and for good measure, the back of my heel would regularly rub raw.

I chose the taping technique illustrated in the video below, as it covered all my weak points. If you develop hot spots in other places you may need to extend the covered regions.

Pre-Taping for Blister Prevention

  • ┬áStart by applying anchor strips along the inner and outer sides of your foot.
  • Join the two anchor strips with a piece that goes across the heel.

Foot Taping for Blister Prevention

  • Start applying strips across the underside of your heel, with a slight overlap on each strip.
  • Be careful not to introduce creases and keep your foot flexed upward (dorsi-flexed) so that you don’t apply the tape too tightly.
  • Continue with more overlapped strips on the ball of your foot.
    Foot Taping for Blister Prevention
  • Finish by re-applying the anchor strips on either side of the foot.

Let me know how you get on……