On Saturday 8th September 2017, I attempted to walk from London to Southampton as part of a charity fundraising event for Cameroon Catalyst. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete the whole route, as I had to withdraw due to injury at the 50 mile mark at Basingstoke, but it was an overall fantastic experience which I was proud to undertake.
This blog post aims to capture the enjoyment and pain of undertaking the challenge! And as the route was recorded using Strava, it seemed like a good opportunity to do some data analysis as well!
The route we followed prioritised directness over scenic beauty. Figure 1 shows the route we followed, and it is almost a direct straight bearing between London and Basingstoke. This was great for efficiency, but as explained later, some of the roads definitely made it hard to remain motivated.
There were some really distinct moments of the walk, as broken down in the following below.
0 to 26km: Leaving London
Starting at 8am, we left the Cameroonian High Commission, and were in good spirit. It is hard to really appreciate the scale of the challenge ahead whenever you start an event like this, but we were happy to see the distance remaining slowly ticking down.
As we left London, there were fairly few points of interest. The early morning sky was largely full of the planes approaching Heathrow airport which can us (me) occupied as we watched them coming in to land. It was great to finally reach the edge of London and passed under the M25.
We started really well, and our pace was on track to complete the distance in the 24 hour target we had set, even once factoring in our short breaks every 3 hours.
26km to 49km: the long and (not) winding road
Once we were outside London, we had always known the next 15 miles would be fairly uninspiring. The route followed the A30, and our path would take us along a largely disused pavement. The constant stream of traffic made it hard to talk to each other, so we largely remained in single-file as we patiently waited for the miles to tick down.
49 to 56km: off the main road (briefly)
After passing through Backwater, we were treated with the joy of leaving the A30 for the first time in almost 20 miles. We passed through Hawley Common and Yately Heath Wood. Both these places were peaceful and felt like a world-away from the busy roads we had largely been following for the previous 10 hours.
It is amazing how much this lifted the spirits of the team, and particularly mine. We had not been able to talk properly for the best part of 4 hours, and finally we could walk side-by-side as a group and talk and laugh our way as the time passed. It is easy to focus on the physical exertion of these kind of challenges, but these kind of moments are really important in keeping going on such an event.
56 to 75km: approaching Basingstoke
After our brief break off-road, we were back on the A30 for one last slog. just 10 more miles and we would be in Basingstoke. We spoke of reaching Basingstoke as being some glorious goal, but this was largely the sheer excitement of getting off this one bloody road!
It was around this stage where the pain really started to increase. Pretty much every step was causing a slight bit of pain, but I was able to ignore this for the first couple of hours. My brother, Chris, drove out to support us and gave another much-needed boost of motivation with his cheerful spirit and ample supply of food and drink.
75km to 80km: pain, pain, pain
Once we reached Basingstoke, things quickly hit a new low. We were working our way through the outer housing estates on the city, and I could feel it was becoming worse and worse for me to walk. As we passed 12am, I had developed a pretty good limp caused by swelling to the right ankle. On the plus side, it helped me blend in very well with all the drunk revelers returning home from their night out!
At 79km (49 miles), I knew that I couldn’t go any further, and that walking the 17 miles to the next stop at Winchester was just impossible. I found the nearest bit of grass and just had to collapsed onto it to relieve the pressure from my feet. It was bliss! It was here that we agreed as a group that we weren’t in a state to continue.
I felt particularly sorry for my friend, James Warbey, who had really wanted to complete the challenge. He would have continued had it not been a terrible idea for someone to walk alone through the night in fields which we didn’t know!
As we waited for my wonderful wife Agi to rescue us, we decided to make it to the nearest McDonald’s. This would not only be a place to keep warm, but in getting there we would cross the 50 mile mark! It was a real struggle, and to cut a long story short, we made the 50 mile distance, but ended up waiting on a bench.
Thank you so much to all the kind donations made! It was such a great morale boost to raise money as we went, and definitely helped keep spirits high as the day turned into night. It is still possible to donate through our Justgiving page, and any funds would be greatly appreciated.
Check out all of our photos on Google Photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/hjyXJQMh2yyin7dKA
Despite not completing the full route, I am really happy that we were able to complete over two-thirds of the route. I really don’t like quitting things, and it was really hard to throw the towel in with this event. However, it is important to learn at times that it is better to quit something sooner than to let it continue and cause you pain. This is something I probably should have realised earlier, as I have spent the two days since finishing the event being hardly able to walk!
But, I still feel the challenge shall be completed. Once this old foot of mine recovers, I will finish the walk off. Watch this space…