100 Km London to Brighton in 24 Hours, 6/7 June 2015

Thank you for reading my account of the above event. I am writing a generic report which is to inform my wonderful sponsors (very many thanks to you all and I will thank you in person when I have recovered!), also for the information to Blind Veterans UK (The most excellent charity who do such an amazing job) and finally to all those who may be interested and who would be encouraged to make a donation.

At 52 years of age and weighing around 17 stone with my best fitness around 4 stone ago I could be forgiven for thinking that Ultra Marathons were targeted at the younger, slimmer, fitter members of our society .Time to think again!When I joined the Royal Navy in 1981 it was my own decision.Entering the 100 Km came via a press-gang Nelson would have been proud of, consisting of my wife and Craig, Physical Training Instructor at the Blind Veterans UK Residential Training Centre in Brighton.Whilst on a visit in November 2014 he asked me in the presence of my wife if I fancied doing a little physical event for the Charity in the New Year. My wife Helene thought it would be a good
idea and they agreed my participation! At the time I thought it was a 15 mile stroll across the South Downs.

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Steve & Helene

I knew I was seriously wrong when I had to fill in a medical questionnaire indicating my next of kin details. When I found out the brutal truth it was too late and my pride could not condone my withdrawal. I was in and committed, or perhaps I should have been looking back with the benefit of hindsight!

As a physiotherapist specialising in musculoskeletal and spinal conditions I am only too aware of the physical condition and health required to complete this type of challenge. Notwithstanding my degenerative macular condition which requires the support of a guide, a requirement of the charity to undertake the event. It was astonishing how many of my friends were away on the days of the event but wished me well and gave me ‘hush’ money donations. Some were planning on visiting sick relatives that weekend despite their relatives being well at that time, whilst others planned on being on business abroad – when they could arrange the meetings! I reluctantly called Craig with the sad news that I did not have a guide and would have to bail out and spend the day at The Derby in Epsom as a guest in a box with fine dining and good wines. Knowing how much I was looking forward to the 100k Craig put out an SOS amongst friends of the Charity.

You would not have believed how happy I was when Craig saved me from that awful day at Epsom with the news that he had secured a volunteer. The only bar to our meeting up was the need for the kind person to receive a CRB check so they could work with vulnerable adults, namely me. I used to think I had friends in the Metropolitan Police especially after serving a number of years in the service after leaving the Navy. It would appear that it is much harder now to doctor police computer records, despite my best efforts. Joey Tailor passed muster with an exemplary record and was duly appointed as my official guide, and the Derby would have to wait until another year.

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Joey, Sookie & Steve

In reality I have been privileged to have such a brilliant person to help me. Not only with the preparation for the event and the physical support during training and on the march, but the positive spirit has she exuded. Nothing seems to phase her and she is happy to roll up her sleeves and help out no matter what is required. A real Trooper who Blind Veterans UK are fortunate to have as a supporter and fund raiser. You can imagine how difficult it is giving up control to a stranger and trusting them to make decisions on your behalf but Joey made things very easy for Helene and I from our first introductions and I am now delighted to say that she and her husband, Daz are new friends.

Joey and I set out a training schedule which involved lots of long walks, with some at night using head torches on the Army exercise areas
in our region. During my training I was also accompanied by my beautiful 3 year old white Swiss Shepherd, Sookie.Uncomplainingly she would bound along by my side, tail wagging, just happy to be in the great outdoors – a super companion. Her energy seemed boundless and as the walks went further and took a lot longer she seemed to become more excited when it
was time to get going. The merest glance at her lead would cause her to spin in circles and yelp with anticipation. I think Sookie, Joey and I formed a
formidable team and they say animals have a sixth sense to detect mood and
personality, Sookie identifying so positively with our new walking companion
from the first outing.

As month followed month so the walks became longer and in May, Joey guided me on the 50 Km Pony Express hike across the New Forest. I felt a great sense of achievement and also a lot of confidence as we managed the event very well. All we needed to do was to magic up another
50 Kms of energy and our target would be achievable.

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Steve & his Pony, Pony Express, New Forest May 2015

The week before and of the event was extremely memorable. The last week of May I was sailing on the Lord Nelson with the Jubilee Sailing Trust. A three masted Tall Ship and a dream come true. The real sailing experience complete with calloused hands from all the rope pulling and tiredness form keeping nightwatches. Absolutely brilliant to have a ship under full sail on a moonlit night with just the sound of the sea and the rustling of the rigging and sails. My training walks that week took place on Alderney and later in the week on Jersey. On return from the high seas we were into the final week of preparation. Joey and I had a planning meeting to finalise the details and it was all systems go.

On Thursday 4 June, Blind Veterans UK were honoured with a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace marking their centenary to which Joey
and I were invited with our partners. A great day we will never forget and a timely reminder as to why we were signed up for the 100 Km walk. The majority of the guests at the Palace were blind or severe vision impaired ex-service personnel. Speaking to men who were injured in pursuance of their duty is very humbling, especially when they relate to the advice, help and support they have received from the charity. Proof in the success of the work BVUK does is in the stories told by its Members. How the staff and volunteers have made such a difference to so many people’s lives both vision impaired and the carers and guides who support them on a daily basis.

The following day meant another trip to London, to the team hotel in Chelsea where the 11 ex-service personnel and their guides were gathered for the eve of the event. With final health and safety brief, last minute admin tasks and the pre-requisite inter-service banter, albeit one sided with all the personnel being ex-Army and myself being the only matelot. Of course I reminded my colleagues that the Royal Navy was the senior service and I would
see them at the finish to remind them of that fact. Just another modicum of pressure to pile on myself as if I needed any more, what with my pledge to my sponsors, guide, family, charity organising committee and all the patients at my Clinic whowished me well!

D-Day, 6th June, Departure Day arrived after a poor sleep filled with doubt and trepidation. Continental breakfast, last minute check of the rucksack to make sure that everything was in its place, including the kitchen sink, and then it was
off to the start. A local Fulham school was the venue for the off and after registration, issuing of route map, water, hydration salts, glucose snacks, first aid kits, photographs, a final safety briefing and a loud hurrah , the time ticked over to 0845hrs and we were off. I thought it was a positive sign that my registration number for the event was 63, the year of my birth – tenuous but still a sign. The vision impaired members and guides of BVUK went off first with the main throng of hundreds going off one hour later. We must have looked quite a sight with matching event shirts, most with combat fatigue trousers holding their guides hands whilst marching through South London! Obviously it was the Army lot who were skipping along, hand-in-hand whilst the Navy contingent stumbled independently following the route of the River Wandle. We walked along busy roads, quiet residential areas and proper pathways but I was pleasantly surprised to find so many lovely parks in that part of London. Wandsworth, Earlsfield, Merton, Morden, Carshalton all had very welcome green space with happy families cycling, running, picnicking, dog walking etc., many cheered as we paraded through which proved very encouraging.

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Blind Veterans & their guides getting ready to go..

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Joey & I ready to go

The route was well marked with large orange arrows, in addition to the map and we were also tracked with a GPS mobile app in case of an emergency. On route there were very welcome check-in stops, to top up supplies, take on some fresh hot food and in my case consult with the medics. The stops were
manned superbly by volunteers and some local Army Cadets who were keen to assist and help us on our way. The stops were, on average, 12.5Km apart and were a very welcome relief, even just for a quick tea and biscuit, and an official loo instead of watering someone’s camellia in Croydon. A note of thanks goes out to the helpers and their resounding encouragement and cheers.

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As mentioned above, I needed to consult with the Events Doctor at the 25Km stop for what was nasty blisters on both heels, a bad portent for the future. Blister pads, anti-inflammatories, paracetemol, codeine and a healthy dose of TLC by the medics and Joey kept me on my way but as my gait changed in an attempt to off load the hot-spots so new ones were created. Coulsdon came and went and we continued south reaching the 50Km point in around 10 hours, but with further deterioration of my soles, toes and especially heels. A hot meal was served and a chance to visit the specialist medical unit to see what could be done. When socks were removed it was clear that many of the blood-blisters had burst and others were extremely large and needed the scalpel treatment to take off the loose tissue. I hope my screaming didn’t wake up the local residents – it certainly caused the para-medics to proceed a little more cautiously. It was at this point I was advised to withdraw, as a number of competitors had. I declined the offer, had the wounds dressed, took 30Mg of pure codeine, changed my footwear of a size up to allow for the swelling and we pushed on.

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Coulsdon - done

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Yay..the M25!

Joey was brilliant and having given me the option of withdrawal and agreeing to sail on, she galvanised herself for the most difficult phase, night-time!

Warm clothing applied, walking poles, hats, head torches and fresh provisions secured we set off into East Grinstead. Rather surreal with the Saturday night vibe in full flow and the revellers keen to enquire as to our mental states, but all in good jest. In our planning we forecast that the night stage would be difficult but what we had not bargained on was the exhaustion that the constant pain caused, added to the mental effort of stumbling along following Joey in a high-viz jacket. It seemed that most of the terrain at night
was off road with ditches, rutted fields full of animals or crops and a never
ending sequence of styles and gates to climb over in the dark. Joey did sterling work guiding me and trying to follow the glow sticks that illuminated our route. We did not fall once to her credit but our pace was considerably slower than in the daytime on roads. Between 50 and 75Kms we adopted a new friend, Suzanne who did not wish to walk the night stage alone. She was very welcome with an extra pair of eyes to spot the markers and a powerful head torch to accompany our beams.Unfortunately due to a medical issue she
withdrew at the 75km stop but having seen her suffering and effort in the last
10Kms that was an amazing achievement.

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Steve, Joey & Suzanne - the 'Night Stage'

The cold, dark, stressful night gave way to a stunning dawn, with a bright, clear sun to warm and encourage us into the final quarter. The last stages are the hardest in terms of terrain with severe hills and long rutted paths across the South Downs from Skeynes Hill, through Falmer and onto the periphery of Brighton.The last 10Kms felt like purgatory. Knowing we were finishing but walking at an unfeasibly slow pace due to the pain and fatigue. It took nearly three hours and with 500metres to go we had to really pull out an extra effort for fear of going over the 24 hour target. We made it with time to spare!

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We did it ...the Finish!

I would like to say that crossing the finishing line, being hugged by my wife, receiving the cheers and applause from the crowds and stepping up to receive my medal, should have given me a little lift and a sense of achievement. It did not. I was too overcome with fatigue and pain. The medical team were brilliant at the finish and I need to apologise to Rachel and Nicky for fainting when they were trying to treat my feet. Having had a pedicure recently I used to be proud of my model like appendages, but now they look like those of Frodo after a particularly arduous trip to Mordor. Don’t tell the Army personnel, they might think I am getting soft in my old age.

After half an hour I felt a little more human especially with my feet up, shoes off and pressure reduced. It was then the feeling of self-satisfaction
and pride kicked in. All credit to my focused, honest, trustworthy guide, Joey who deserves a special medal for her patience and care. On arrival at home I
ate a light meal and slept for 12 hours. On waking my feet had grown about two sizes larger and I had a medical certificate to present to my GP to have my wounds checked and re-dressed as well as a top up on the analgesia. I have taken this week off to recover and I look forward to being able to stand up and take a short walk with Sookie. On a hugely promising note, my whole
body feels entirely pain-free. No muscular aches, joint pain, chaffing or any such complaints.I am amazed and delighted with my obvious training and preparation and the success of safe completion.

Lots of people have asked me whether I would do it again, my reply is simple, NEVER! But you never know if the reason is worthwhile and feels right – who knows!!

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