Hills, heartache and hugs… Surviving the Cotswold Challenge

03/07/2017

Finishers… Anya Burton and Debbie Flowers (r) with their medals

“It was an exciting start to the Cotswolds Way Challenge. My walking partner Anya Burton and I were among 2000 entrants warming up to music in the shadow of Bath’s Royal Crescent. We’d chosen to take on this challenge in aid of Action for A-T who raise awareness of Ataxia Telangiectasia – a rare, genetic degenerative disease of childhood.

From then onwards let’s just say that it was a walk of two halves.

The first 25 kilometres were easy and quick. As we walked along we met some lovely people participating for a variety of worthwhile causes and who themselves had amazing stories of bravery to tell. Even by 50km – the halfway point – I felt good enough to do a little dance for the camera despite having a few blisters. With checkpoints every 12-15km, we were encouraged to snack and drink regularly (even though the cool dry weather conditions were in our favour). These stops offered some respite, a chance to refill my camelbak water carrier and take painkillers.

The second half of the challenge was an entirely different proposition.

By the time we reached Coley Peak (at 64km), it was getting dark and cold, with food stops an increasingly welcome sight as hunger set in. With only occasional glow sticks on trees and our headtorches to guide us, we also learnt quickly about night-walking. For safety reasons, walkers were released in groups although Anya and I walked alone for much of the time often up and down thickly wooded hills and over rough terrain (the tree roots and rocky, uneven slippy surfaces really slowed us down). Going uphill was easier, with downhills by this stage a killer on various parts of the body.

Consequently, the checkpoints at Coley Peak, Painswick and National Star weren’t pretty. We witnessed plenty of injuries, with some participants even taken off by ambulance including others walking for the same charity as us. For us it became a ritual of getting feet re-strapped and blisters popped by St John Ambulance at every opportunity.

Not surprisingly, the hardest part was the final 20km (80-90km for Anya and 90-100km for myself). Walking in those dark silent hours provided time to think and reflect on a lot of things. It was here where we had to dig deep, push through the pain and keep going. The legs had pretty much gone by now so getting over the regular stiles and down rocky paths on very steep inclines was, frankly, horrific.  We laughed, we sobbed, we cajoled… quite simply, we couldn’t have done it without each other.

With 95kms completed, my two children – Daisy and Alfie – and Anya’s children (Ella and Alex) met us. Their hug was very much needed and they offered wonderful words of encouragement. In fact both sets of children accompanied – and motivated – us for the final two kilometres. This was certainly the hardest part for me; my knee felt like it had detached itself from my leg, and some earlier stomach issues and subsequent dehydration had taken its toll. I couldn’t eat or drink anything in those last few kilometres but having our children alongside and telling us how proud they were made it all worthwhile. I could only take my hat off to the guys who ran this course! I crossed the finish line in a time of 27 hours, 53 minutes and 58 seconds.

One day on and Anya and I are recovering. We’re slightly broken – but immensely proud to have crossed the finish line and hit our target of £1,500 (the Action for A-T group raised a staggering £37k). The support of friends has been nothing short of magical.

And finally, if Anya asks me to do anything else with her I’ve suggested jumping out of a plane. It’s infinitely quicker and less painful.”