Monday, August 22, 2022

Pain is temporary, victory is forever, planning is everything

What's the phrase? Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. No, I don’t fail, not on Freshwalks, or on outdoor adventures. I just don’t. I don’t bring up the rear either with the walk leader giving me the option of dropping out and taking the road. Some people get injured, I get that. Just not me.

I did the walk. I don't quite know how, I'm just beating myself up about how hard it was and how close I came to quitting.

I’m so tired now, 24 hours after coming down into Hayfield, that I can’t easily remember the last time I did a 20km walk. April, maybe? A couple of magical evening strolls up Kinder and Bleaklow over the summer. Either way, it's poor preparation for 42km.

We were late signing up for the Seven Trigs Challenge, which Freshwalks organised with Tink Adventures in support of the Peak District National Park Foundation and all week I was worried it was a stretch too far. Then the warnings came through. Checking we were up for it, up to it, and then the dropouts due to swollen knees, etc.

I desperately wanted this feeling, the one I had as I inhaled a Manchester Egg (thanks Alex) at the incredible Pack Horse at Hayfield. The aftermath, the sense of achievement and togetherness. That's what I needed, that's what sustained me. Think of the glory, think of the delirium, even. But I'm going to be dead honest with myself. I failed to prepare for the pain that was to come.

Here's how it went down. We started in Hayfield and the climb up William Clough towards the top of Kinder Scout to the first trig point of the day (1) at 624m was a breeze. In warmer weather I slow down on that steep climb, but we passed Kinder Downfall en-route to (2) Kinder Low at 633m. Heading along the southern edges of Kinder, passing the tops of Crowden and Grindsbrook Clough, before a slight diversion off our usual beaten track to find the (3) third trig point on Kinder Scout at 590m. The route was a descent off Kinder via Crookstone Knoll, heading for Hope Cross where the old Roman Road takes you to the top of (4) Win Hill at 462m. Thereafter, the drop into the Hope Valley with a water stop under the railway bridge set us up to begin the climb of (5) Lose Hill, 476m. That's when I first felt a need to take the pressure off my feet. 

The two hardest bits both involved foot aches. That steep ascent up Lose Hill was tough, but though it put a painful strain on my shins and knees, my hips kept working, and I didn’t want for the energy. Every bit of my 56 year old frame did OK, but my feet were hot and I started to feel every bump and stubble. Attempts to engage me in conversation from friendly fellow walkers were met only with grunts, of which I'm so sorry. 

I changed socks at Win Hill summit, enjoyed the breather, and slapped on some peppermint foot lotion. I was OK along the delightful ridge walk to (6) Mam Tor, where we took another breather in the presence of the full Edale Mountain Rescue team and I was pointedly asked if I wanted to bail out while changing my socks again. If anything that just made me more determined than ever to keep going. 

Rushup Edge was fine - where I must applaud the new stiles and fences - and I actually felt quite bouncy again passing Lord’s Seat up along the flagged path to the final summit of the day on (7) Brown Knoll, 569m (pictured above). That section was just grim though. Every bone and tendon in my feet seemed to hurt, pressing up into my ankles and shins. It wasn't sharp pain, just uncomfortable, and hard going. It turns out I have two blisters, but they weren't giving me any grief, maybe because I just didn't know they were there and I couldn't think about them.

Even though I knew the finishing line was soon in sight as we started to drop down into Hayfield, the absolute worst bit was the steep pebble path down from Edale Cross before the last gentle stretch of the final straight on an actual road. I felt unstable underfoot and stubbed my toes half a dozen times, making sore feet worse. I think it must have been the tiredness too, not lifting my feet enough to avoid catching any protruding rock. Thinking on, I've done this route at dusk and unpleasant as it is having the ground move beneath you occasionally, I didn't do it in such pain.

So was that the fatigue and dehydration that I could have avoided?  I was OK on food and water, a nuut protein shake gave me the energy for the day ahead, and I nibbled little and often. Bread can tend to sit heavily on me so I was pleased to have calculated against taking sandwiches this time. Maybe a pasta salad with chicken would have given me superpowers, but tired as I was my engine never really gave up on me.

Gear-wise, I really have been blessed since I discovered Haglofs. The L.I.M. range in particular has given me high-quality technical layers with no chaffing and excellent temperature control in all conditions, even with a small self-inflicted rip on my shorts. When the wind gets up my hands can get numb, so I wisely packed a pair of thin gloves.

No, it was my feet. The Scarpa Ranger boots have served me well, never a blister or a leak in two years. Dry as a bone in the wettest of conditions. Definitely the best walking boots I’ve ever had. So the only reason I was feeling every pebble was that my feet were out of practice and my socks had made them worse.

That's the mission. I need to up my sock game. Thick wool walking socks made my feet too hot, which meant as good as they are the sweat reduced the protection and padding. I've been recommended Bridgedale midweight merino wool comfort boots socks. 

There will always be another walk. I will prepare better for the next one. I don't intend to hang up these boots, or put these feet up for a long time. 

Please support the Peak District National Park Foundation and the amazing work they do.

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