Saturday, October 02, 2010

Just Pushing Your Leg

There are, I believe, people who enjoy pain just as there are people with blonde hair or clever people or athletes or people who are inclined to be fat.  I don’t understand this but I believe it’s true.

I am not one of them.  My motto is “No pain, no pain”.  One of the really annoying things about pain is that once you have it, it tends to hang around for a while like one of those boring friends who don’t understand body language.

The problem is that I am gullible so when my wife and younger son explained that the Big Issue, which helps homeless people, was a really good cause I agreed and that is how I found myself walking 25km/15.5 miles last night.

It was the 19th Big London Walk, with a few hundred people walking around London to raise money for the homeless.  Oh, how exciting!  We signed up and I recruited two “friends” from work and we nobly enlisted our friends, workmates and merest acquaintances as sponsors.  Somebody in our team wanted to know if she would get a free jacket and I decided I would bring my stupidly big camera.  Why do Nikon make these so big?  I am sure people buy big cameras with big lenses because they feel inadequate.

Then autumn came.   Cold rain.  Oh joy.  Hourly checks on the weather report by anxious team mates led us to believe the rain would drift away as the walk started. And so we met up in the late evening of 1st October at the Imax theatre near Waterloo station.  Yes, there were free shower-proof jackets, but apart from a few spots of rain we didn’t need them.

Off we went, with the “fast” walkers.  Zip, zip.  Vim and vigour.  Enthusiasm. Past the Oxo tower, Tate Modern and HMS Belfast and over Tower Bridge, which looked gorgeous in the evening light.  Then the first rest stop but we were through it quickly.  It was midnight and we still had 12½ miles to go.

Fortunately we had with us the 3rd Best Novice Orienteer in the UK.  So after the rest stop we set out briskly past the Royal Courts of Justice.  Some walkers behind us popped up Greys Inn Road but the Third Best Orienteer (Novice Category) in the UK told us they were wrong.

It’s a funny thing with orienteering.  A fold in the map can be very misleading.  Indeed it was.  It took us half a mile out of our way; a critical half mile, although at the time we were blithe and ready to walk fifty miles.  We got back on the right route and stopped off near St Pancras, the second rest stop.

After this stop, some of us decided we weren’t walking fast enough so they picked up the speed.  Some of us were more civilised.  We cruised through Camden, over the lock (what’s a lock doing so far from the Thames?) past a strip joint called the Spearmint Rhino and some ladies with pelmets.  Third stop.  We’d been promised chocolate brownies at one of these stops and were getting hungry.  Some of us set off at high speed on the next leg.  Some of us were more civilised and sauntered, mainly because our legs were starting to develop this pain thingy.  I don’t know if I have mentioned it, but on my list of Top 100 Things I like, pain doesn’t even make it to position 1000. 

We were now somehow going down the “Outer Circle” of Regents Park.  Very Posh.  I would have been in awe but my brain kept getting interrupted by my wimpy hip, which was complaining that it needed an operation and now would be a goodtime for it.  I managed to shut it up by pointing out that the Outer Circle was a closed road and no ambulance could get there.  Then the bloody calves and thighs started whining.

I can tell you that Outer Circle is a very long road.  One big consolation was that at least I wasn’t walking as fast as some members of the team and therefore logically they must be feeling more pain.  Yes!

Well there was just no point in stopping at the next rest point.  My hip, thighs and calves were clearly plotting against me and I just knew they would insist that I sat down and then they would mutiny at the first sign I wanted to leave so I foxed them and walked past the rest near Centre Point.  Down Great Russell Street, down Southampton Row and then a right turn and through a very quiet Covent Garden.  Surprising, really.  I’d been told that Covent Garden was a buzzing centre of London Fun but all we saw was somebody sitting on a step.

The lower body extremities had caught on to my dastardly trick.  They tried going on strike but I caught them in the nick of time.  My two loyal sons, Craig and Anthony, had taken turns carrying the heavy camera.  3am.  How long can this stupid walk take?

Suddenly we found ourselves in a very dodgy area.  Dark, mysterious and threatening people.  I couldn’t care less.  They couldn’t hurt me more than my legs.  Past St Martins in the Fields.  I wondered how far ahead some of my team were.  The impatient ones.  I tried to call them but their mobile was switched off.

Now, the finish line was ½ a mile away.  Unfortunately some clever clogs had decided that instead of going straight there, we should go via the Lambeth Bridge, which is so far south it’s practically in Brighton.

My legs decide to play good cop with me.  “Look”, they say “just over there, a few hundred yards away, is the end.  You really don’t need to walk those extra two miles, do you?  Remember … they have a massage at the end.”  This is very persuasive.  I look left at Westminster Bridge and Big Ben.  I concede.  My legs are right.  I have done my best, but it wasn’t good enough.

Then the miracle occurs.

The others in my team phone up. 

“Where are you?” they ask.
“Big Ben” I croak.  I haven’t yet turned left, but the guilt is surging through my veins.
“Big Ben?” they ask.
“Yes”, I reply.  “Where are you?”
“St Martins in the Fields.  How did you get to Big Ben?”
“We didn’t stop at Centre Point.”
“Oh, thanks very much for going on without us,” they say sarcastically.

Oh, great!  They are behind!  A few hundred yards behind.  Adrenaline pumps through my system.  Excluding the leg bits, which are very annoyed because they know now that there is no prospect, no chance whatsoever that I will cheat.  South we head towards Lambeth Bridge as Big Ben chimes 4am.  Well, the others “head”.  I hobble.

Do you have any idea how steep Lambeth bridge is? 

At the top there is a good view of the London Eye.  I stop to take a photograph.  Later on, I see it is blurred.  I am conscious that the others are doubtless increasing their pace to try and catch us.  

Now there’s just a mile of the South Bank to walk along.  I cannot possibly imagine walking that far.  I have to do this one lamppost at a time and explain to the calves, thighs, hip and back (yes, my back is snivelling now) that we are just walking to that lamppost.  No that one.  And the next one.  And on.  We cross the road by the Westminster Bridge.  Getting close and no sign of the others.

And then suddenly, there they are.  Merrily chatting and walking as though they have just set off.  Oh, how smug they are and they cruise past, just as we get to the London Eye.  They talk some tosh about going for a personal best.  Well, sweetie, so am I.  If I don’t die before the end that will be my personal best.

I think I have slipped into a delirium because suddenly I find myself turning right at Waterloo Bridge and a few hundred yards later it’s the finish line.  A medal.  A medal?  Is that bloody all, scream my legs and back.  No, I reply.  Come with me.  And just over there are three sports scientists from University of Kent who have got up at stupid o’clock so that they can offer massages to the walkers.
My body cheers while whispering “Don’t even think of doing this again next year.”

So, I have a suggestion: if you are the kind of person who enjoys pain, have a go at this.  You’ll feel immense pain while raising money for charity. 


Footnote: we take a train back to Hook and arrive just in time to see a glorious sunrise.  This is the point where I am supposed to write that the sunrise made it all worthwhile.  It didn’t.  But it was a pretty sunrise.

Credits:  This walk wouldn’t have happened without our sponsors.  So thank you very much Alicia, Alison, Allan, Andrew, Andy, Anna, Anton, Christina, Claire, David, Doug, Faye, Geoff, Hasit, Iain, In San, Inderpal, Jamie, Joe, John, Lawrie, Leigh, Mariana, Marisa, Mark, Michael, Neil, Pascale, Paula, Robin, Ruth, Sara, Scott, Simon, Suzanne, Verity and Viv.  As I write this, we have raised £987.22.


Slim said...

Well done!

Cathryn Grant said...

I feel a nap coming on.

Sean Haffey said...


A blissful 12 hours last night.

That's News said...

I enjoyed reading that, well done. Very descriptive.