Charles Malet's 94 Miles In 24 Hours

Charles Malet's 94 miles in 24 hours
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In order to raise money for our Gloucestershire Homes for Veterans, Charles, and his two friends Tom and Alex, decided to take on the Gloucester Way challenge. Charles and his co-Ambassadors have been integral in enabling us to expand our Veterans support in Gloucestershire. Here's Charles' full account of the experience;

I promised you a post exercise report and, since my fingers are in the minority of unaffected body parts, here it is.  As orders go, this was on the tall side.  There must be other people out there who have had a crack at running 94 miles in one go, but I only know two of them and they are Tom and Alex.

After the sinking feeling that each fresh wave of rain brought on Saturday morning, so the floods of donations lifted our spirits before the off.  By holding back for a 1600 start on Saturday, Chepstow Castle was splashed with glorious sunshine and the ground appeared to have dried out a bit.  Tom, Alex and I had little idea of what to expect, but we struck off full of cheer, lifted by the sign that welcomed us to Gloucestershire and England on the far side of the Chepstow bridge.  

As you know, the stated intent was to complete the course within 24 hours.  For the first 30 miles or so, our pace was over the asking.  Tom shot off like a hare, swathed in all forms of nettle inoculation kit, and Alex and I pursued at a lumbering plod.  Our feet were drenched within the first 5 miles, and so they remained for the overwhelming majority of the journey.  This took its toll and a short, painful inspection at the 42 mile mark revealed that I had deep blisters on both heels.  Thereafter, at each checkpoint, the benefit of removing or changing my socks cost the sensory equivalent of having a blade run across the back of each heel.

Darkness fell shortly after we puffed to the summit of May Hill (974 ft), where we tried to enjoy the vast and atmospheric view.  It brought with it the expected confusion and disorientation and, in retrospect, a couple of moments of comedy that were not so visible at the time.  As we squelched through yet another field of ankle-deep cowpat-infused mud, enough of a mist had slid off the Severn to make picking out the critical gap in the hedge trickier than we'd hoped.  Foolishly, without stopping, I turned on my torch for a squint at the map and led Alex into the middle of an enormous clump of very angry stinging nettles.  I suspect it was the only one in the field but, somehow, we were never going to miss it.  In fact, the first half of the route is so well lined with nettles that my thighs are still numb from all the stings.

We could feel the pace dropping off by the half way mark - the Air Balloon roundabout on Birdlip Hill - though this was in some part due to the climb up to it.  Brilliant sunshine, cups of tea and smiling faces met us at the top and it was here that we realized how dependent we had become on the support we were receiving.  My wife had spent the night beetling about the Gloucestershire lanes and setting up checkpoints for us; Muppet's Magic Mobile Morale.  All manner of food and drink was on offer, with towels for trying to mop some of the moisture from our now misshapen feet.  It was by this point that we had been awake for 24 hours, and we still had half the course to go.  The only certainties were that the second would take us longer than the first half and that it would become more painful and more tiring with each step.

The psychological battling began shortly after half way.  As the end became closer in distance, so it moved further from us in time.  Stepping off from each short stop at a checkpoint became, increasingly, a hobble and it would be at least 30 minutes before one could move properly again.  The one enormous gain from entering the Cotswolds was that, eventually, the paths were navigable.  During the first half of the route we had waded through countless fields of long, wet and strength sapping grass, tangled oilseed rape, brambles, bracken and, of course, nettles.  And when we weren't doing this, we were picking our way through fallen trees, ducking under low branches and splashing our way along stream courses that were supposed to be the path.

It became clear that Tom had developed some serious and debilitating knee pain and he was forced to retire at the 72 mile mark, which he completed in 22 hours.  It was a big blow to see him have to stop, but astonishing that he had moved at such a lick with a major impediment for such a long time.  It was at about this point that conversation between me and Alex had become more sporadic, and definitely more mundane, but we still had the mental capacity to realize how amazed we were that Tom had got so far with no company at all.

For us, the final 22 miles was, simply, an ugly and mindless grind.  We were slow and ungainly, but absolutely determined that we would see Tewkesbury Abbey.  The thought of the many messages of support and the knowledge that the fundraising will make a difference to the lives of others kept us on track. As if reading our mood, the heavens tipped buckets of rain on us and it was almost goretex til endex.  However, as Tewkesbury Abbey poked its tower out through the trees, it brightened and the most wonderful late evening sun warmed us again.  I would say that it spurred us on but the last hour was marvellously dreadful.  It was as though the Abbey was on wheels, being constantly dragged beyond our reach.  Every ache and pain that had contained itself for the past 28 hours jumped out and started dancing.  We had been awake for nearly 40 hours by this stage and clinging to conscious thought was a challenge.  I found that I would regularly experience the feeling of waking up, before looking at the path ahead and wondering if we were still going.  We were.

Finally, we rounded the bend towards the Abbey and, to our delight, we could see a band of loyal supporters, cheering us on.  The beautiful wrought iron gates marked the finish, thank goodness, as they were something to cling to before we collapsed.  

So, that was the Gloucestershire Way in a oner, completed in 28hrs 59mins.  I lost 10 pounds of bodyweight on the route and I cannot find any parts of my feet that do not scream in pain.  Was it worth it? Unquestionably.  Donations add up to £9,800 as I type and I hope this will continue to climb.  After all, we did.

These funds will make a significant difference to Alabaré and, most particularly, the homeless ex-servicemen that are supported.  Please pass this tale on to anyone you think might be interested, the donations page will remain open.

If you did have this down on your To Do List, give me a ring and I will endeavour to talk you out of it.

With so many thanks and some apologies if, like the challenge, I've gone on a bit long.

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