Sometimes doing the right thing hurts!
That is what I thought to myself a year ago, having just completed the 2018 Palace For Life Foundation Marathon March. One of my first articles for BOTN, titled Fat Man Does Miles, covered my experience that day. It was the first time I had ever attempted such a thing, and while I ended up in a world of pain for a couple of days, the experience had been fantastic, and the cause very much worth it.
My mate Curly and I, along with James, the 'stray' we picked up on route, had all discussed doing it again, and going into 2019, that was the plan. The plan though, drifted for a while, and I had decided to not do it this year. Then a few months ago, chatting with James, who had already signed up, I made the decision to take part once more, and convinced Curly to do the same.
Last time, while I didn't exactly 'train', I probably prepared a bit better physically than I had this time round. Then, last Monday, just 6 days before the event, I hurt my upper back. Taken down by the deadly duo of a filing cabinet and a soft play roller(the weirdest things seem to injure me), I spent the week with broken sleep, breathing struggles and issues with my shoulder. For a guy that is overweight and totally unfit, it was not the preparation that I needed.
Now, here is the funny thing. Last year, I went into this totally blind, not knowing what to expect, with my biggest concern being , could I actually finish? This year, I went into knowing that I am capable of finishing, but also knowing how much physical pain I would be voluntarily putting myself through! Still, I was determined, I was not going to fail, for I had a cunning plan!! One of my biggest issues last year, was blisters. During stage two, I developed several blisters on both feet. I would then spend the rest of the walk adding to these blisters, and feeling them all pop. The blisters made it hard to walk normally. As I couldn't put my feet down, I started putting strain on my legs, causing muscles to crumble. The awkward walk then began to hurt my back, and so my whole body was struggling. I needed to prevent, or at least cut down, on blistermageddon! My solution, was socks. Last year I had one pair of socks, my usual thin novelty ones, and was told that you need to change them, to keep your feet dry. This time I was prepared. I bought a pack of four specialist walking socks, providing more protection, and enabling a fresh pair for each stage!
Saturday came, it was time! James, sadly, had to pull out, leaving me and Curly. The morning started better for me, tucking into my bacon roll, while Curly struggled through the disappointment of having accidentally picked up the veggie sausage option! Breakfast done, and it was into the stand for the briefing and team photo. Present, as last year, were Steve Parish, Mark Bright and Andy Gray(yes, the cool black one). I thought Clinton Morrison was doing it too, but he was not there. Neither was Andy Johnson, who had also been struck down with a back problem last minute. There was a new edition though, in Eddie Izzard. Eddie gave us an entertaining pep talk, but would only be able to take part for the first two hours. Having come from a show in Oxford the night before, he needed to get to Plymouth for another show that night. Sitting there, listening to it all, I noticed something different from last year. The blue sky and sun had been replaced by dark clouds and rain!
With the briefing over, it was time to suit up and roll out! One final check of everything, and a brief encounter with Mark Bright outside the toilet, and we were ready to go! On a side note, Brighty and I are involved in a blanking each other battle(unknown to him), that he started back in 1991, and is currently winning 2-1!!
So off we went, in the rain, for stage one. This is the time that you see everyone, before the group quickly spread out. It was during this first stage last year that we met James, a cracking guy who had been left in the lurch last minute, and became a fantastic part of our experience. We reminisced of that moment as we passed the spot on the common where that meeting took place! The rain certainly changed this element of the walk, providing a much slipper surface to conquer. Absent of the burned out moped and abandoned shopping trolley from last year, it instead had muddy slip slides and a vine that chose to savagely attack Curly's left calf! Having slipped twice, I found great entertainment in seeing Curly slip, while he was in the process of trying to mock me for slipping! The slippy threat navigated, the rest of this stage was quite straight forward, and within a few hours we arrived at our first stop, in the pouring rain.
So, a key question I am sure you are asking, how was the sock plan going? Well, last year at this point, I had one blister starting to form, and the same applied this time, so in this sense nothing had changed. However, a compeed on the blister and a fresh pair of socks on(with some difficulty) and straight away I felt the benefit. With a cup of tea, some food in the old gut, and my water topped up, we were off for stage two. This was the stage that took me down last time. This time though, I knew what was coming. I knew about the dreaded path along the Thames, the bringer of blisters. I knew how long it was(after we thought it was going to be short last time). This time, I was ready. Within moments of leaving the cafe, we found ourselves a stray! Angus was on his own, and we started chatting. He had been talking to someone during the first stage, until she then put her headphones on and he got the message! Like James, Angus was a great guy, who enhanced our experience for the day, as he would stay with us right until the very end. Our duet now a trio, we tackled the killer stage head on. As we hit Richmond Park, I had my first obstacle. The uneven surfaces had caused issues with my right knee, which in turn was causing tightness in my thigh. Pushing through it, we hit the path of hell! Just like last year, the path was bloody long, and I was eventually cursing it. Not because of blisters though, but because of my knee. Mentally though, I was better prepared, and I pushed through, as discussion of pick your worst ever Palace XI helped get us to the second stop on Kew Green.
This, was probably the one frustrating point of the day. Last year, we had a very enjoyable buffet lunch, to help keep us going. This time, having finally arrived and found ourselves a much needed seat, we went to the buffet, to find it sparse. Everything decent had been taken, except some veggie bits, such as battered broccoli(think I will pass thanks!) We were told more was coming out, so we got in a queue. Only, as the food came out, other people seemed to ignore the queue and jump in front, grabbing it all. Several attempts were made to get food, but anything that came out, barely made the table. So two pieces of bread and a slice of salami were all I got! On the plus side though, along with a much needed sit down, my feet were in a better condition to last year. Yes, a second compeed was required, but other than that, I was about 4 blisters behind last year's trauma. The sock plan was working! With fresh pair number three on, I was ready to go.
Last year, stage three was a miserable one for me. It was when my back started to go, while my feet were unbearable. This time, despite the fact that my left knee had started to struggle, I actually found the stage much better this time around. Having talked about my already self published book, and the fact that book two is almost finished(Yes I am an author), we negotiated flooded paths and the continuous downfall of rain to cross over the Thames. We made it to the third and final stop, and overall, I was feeling better both mentally and physically than I did last year. An even bigger boost, was knowing that we only had 3.5 miles to go. So, on went one more compeed, and my final pair of fresh socks. Stepping out of the pub, I realised that we were opposite Stamford Bridge. I suggested we pick up Batshuayi while we were there, but we had to leave!
Stage four, due to the protests, took a different route. Instead of walking along the Thames, we cut into central London via Piccadilly. The bonus of this, was that crossing passed bridge after bridge, having to stop at each, was a little soul destroying last year! This time, the issue was avoiding tons of umbrellas carried by people who paid no attention to what they were doing with them! My own personal issue, was two knees that were severely struggling and stiff as hell. It made the final stage tough, very tough, but yet still better than last year. Though my knees tried to stop me, they failed, and at last we made it to Rileys! Oh, but there was one final moment. When you have been walking for 26.2 miles, you are totally drenched, and your knees have given up the ghost, when you reach the finishing line, you just want to cross it, get your medal and go collapse somewhere. What you don't want to do, is have to wait just before the finish line, so that people can pose for a photo with a dog!!
Still, we did it, what another unbelievable day! My knees are a wreck, my feet have plenty of blisters, my thighs are tight and my shoulders sore, but it was worth every moment. Sometimes, we need to go that extra mile, in order to help someone else who needs it. I am delighted to be able to help, even if it is in a small way. I also love, that both years, we have met someone walking on their own, and given them company for the journey. I am proud to have been a part of it, with so many fantastic people who are all heroes, playing their part in providing better lives for those less fortunate.
I will say though, that the completion of this second Marathon March, signals my retirement from the event. It will be tough seeing others do it next year, and not play a part myself, but physically, It's the right choice! Plus, I get to go out with the claim to fame that we caught up with, and overtook Eddie Izzard, the Queen of Marathons! For those who have not done it yet, I encourage you to get onboard and do it next year. For those who have done it, I salute you all!
Just to add, still looking to reach the target for sponsorship. If anyone could spare a few pennies it would be greatly appreciated!