Challenge 9 – Thames Path 24hr Challenge

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On Sunday 27 August I set out to take on my 9th challenge of 2017, walking from Tower Bridge in London to Henley Bridge, 80 miles along the scenic Thames Path National Trail. The walk started in glorious sunshine and with it being a Bank Holiday weekend central London was full of people making the most of the weather. As such I found myself weaving through crowds of tourists for the first few miles. Walking this initial stretch see’s you pass HMS Belfast, a museum ship permanently moored on the Thames, behind which you have the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building which is a commercial building named because of its distinctive shape. On further you can just see the iconic dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and then the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, which has now fallen silent for repairs. This is a particularly congested spot as you have the Coca Cola London Eye here as well, which is a impressively huge, slowly turning monster. One new site for me was the Peace Pagoda outside of Battersea Park – a beautiful 33 metre high temple to peace built by monks, nuns and followers of Nipponzan Myohoji, a religious movement in Japan.

Apart from the obvious sites there is a large number of bridges that span the Thames, none of which seem the same. Hammersmith Bridge is particularity impressive, opened in 1887 it cost just over £82,000 to build apparently.

Back to the walking, I reached Putney, around 10 miles and 3 hours in to the challenge which put me about 30 to 45mins ahead of my projected timings. However, on reflection it was this initial speed that was part of my undoing. My hamstring, specifically the tendon at the top of it, has been sore for around a month and I could feel it getting tighter as the miles rolled on, so I  tried to manage it by slowing my pace and shortening my stride, so as not to over stretch as I walked.

Unfortunately, the tightness only got worse, to the point where it was becoming increasingly painful to walk. When I reached the outer edge of Kew Gardens I stopped and tried a bit of self massage and manipulation of the muscles, but to no effect. I considered carrying on in to Richmond, however my options for getting home should the pain not subside would only become more and more limited with a lack of mainline train or tube stations beyond Richmond. After some thought, I opted to limp back and head down to Key Gardens tub station and end the challenge attempt.

I don’t take failure well and sitting on the train only compounded the deep sense of deep disappointment that was sinking in to my bones. Thankfully my mum and a close friend provided some much needed support over the phone.

I have, over the last few days and weeks come to the realisation that I am not superman. I put a huge amount of pressure and therefore expectations on myself but I do have to remember that I have taken on these challenges from a standing start – I wasn’t a runner, I had never ridden a road bike or used clip in shoes and I had only ever dreamed about climbing some of the UK’s highest mountains. I find it hard to step back and see the bigger picture – while I wasn’t able to complete this challenge, I have done some great things this year already, I have pushed myself further than I ever have done and I have raised over £1,000 in aid of Make-A-Wish. This is something worth reflecting on and being proud of and I am proud. There always a but, because I also want, no, need to do more – Make-A-Wish do something so incredibly selfless for the benefit of those children and young people who need a little bit of magic in their lives, I want to be able to do something equally incredible to ensure they can continue to bring that magic to as many families as possible.

So, thanks in part to the great support I have received, again, the disappointment has been replaced by determination. A determination to come back stronger, fitter and better than ever. So over the next two weeks I am going to take some time to rest and begin to recover properly so that I can get back out there and nail the rest of these challenges.

Despite the physical and emotional pain of failure, the feeling of making a difference and giving someone the ability to live a better day is why I am doing this. Make-A-Wish and the people who support it can change lives and for me that is such an amazing thing, to allow children to grow in confidence in spite of the many challenges they face, just take a look at Oliver’s story – www.make-a-wish.org.uk/starwars.

As a huge Star Wars fan Ollie’s wish was to become a Jedi and fight Darth Maul. You can find out more about Oliver’s wish here, but this quote from his mum really sums up why Make-A-Wish is so important “It is important to have  a wish because these children have gone through so much and it helps them with all the hospital visits and traumas they have been through; a wish helps theme escape from that and build some positive memories”.

Over a year on and Oliver is still showing his love for Star Wars and that nothing is ever impossible. He is an inspiration and a really great example of what a wish can lead to. The force is definitely strong with this one.

Oliver’s mum is also taking on her own challenge with Make-A-Wish’s Rope for Hope event, an abseil down the ArcelorMittal Orbit at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Not being a great fan of heights (to put it mildly) I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Wish Mum Krista and the team – please do head over and find out more and donate as well if you can www.make-a-wish.org.uk/support-us/events/rope-for-hope-2017 

The ability to help change a life for the better is the reason for doing all of this, to help at least one child, and their family, make some great memories. Reading Oliver’s story has helped me to re-focus and knuckle down on recovering as quickly as possible in order to beat the rest of these challenges.

Of course there is a selfish element to these challenges, because I wanted to change my life as well. 9 months in and I am fitter, healthier and more importantly I am happier. I know a few years ago getting two punctures on a bike ride (had I have done one, that is) would have resulted in the bike being sworn at, kicked and thrown in a hedge. But when this exact thing happened two weeks ago – I stopped, gave some thought my options (none) and just started walking home. It’s a silly thing to be proud of, but I am and again something amazing happened – a man called Josh stopped and offered me and my bike a lift home. Faith in people restored!

Final thoughts on the challenges still to come… I have a tattoo on my arm with the lyrics from a band I love “Hell or glory, I don’t want anything in between” – I’m not entirely sure of the sentiment for Fall Out Boy but for me this is a reminder of how to live my life – I came in to this world with nothing, I would rather go down in flames trying to be the best person I can be, than settling for mediocrity or unhappiness. This injury may have me down but I am not out and like the Phoenix, I will come back and I will be better than ever.

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