By Lisel Thomas
How hard can it be to walk 100km in 48 hours? I would find out on the ‘Oxfam Trailwalker’, a team endurance fundraising event to help people in poverty.
The first day our pace was cracking, well above our estimates and we covered 60 km. The second day was much harder. Walking the flat Warburton Rail Trail sounds easy, but 8 hours of consistent impact on your body is horrendous and mind numbing. We arrived at the 85 km checkpoint totally shattered.
We had trained on the final 15 km section and knew how vicious it was – steep hills, muddy tracks and difficult terrain. It was going to take us between five and seven hours; maybe more, and we were starting at 9pm after only four hours sleep the night before.
The hard yards
We needed to get prepared. I headed to the podiatrist to get blisters re-taped, forced myself to eat and lay on the floor to rest. My team members were also getting themselves ready with treatment, coffee and mental preparation.
I posted on the Trailwalker Facebook page that we had hit the wall. Within minutes, suggestions and encouragement came flooding in from total strangers and I started to feel more positive.
We wanted to push on, however one team member had been carrying a knee injury. We were concerned that continuing might result in them suffering permanent damage, and none of us wanted that. After a candid discussion, we agreed to end together at the 85km point.
The Oxfam Trailwalker is a team event. You have to enter as a team of four. A team member can pull out but we had entered together, trained together and walked together. And we wanted to finish together.
Sometimes the courage to stop can be equal to the courage to continue. The injured team member had been remarkably stoic, despite being in significant pain. We could have cajoled them to continue, but it would have been cruel to take advantage of their good nature.
I have far more physical capacity and stamina than I ever realised. Apart from some minor blisters on my feet, I felt fantastic the next day.
My mental stamina is what let me down. At one point I was plodding along so slowly a snail could have passed me, genuinely thinking I couldn’t go any faster. I looked ahead and thought, “good grief, at this pace this hell is going to last forever,” and was able to double my pace instantly.
Our team leader was amazing. Not only was she dragging herself along but she was dragging me too. For Cath – who was easily the strongest member of our team, not getting to 100kms was gut wrenching, and our decision to finish was probably hardest on her.
Having great support around you is absolutely invaluable. We had a dedicated crew bringing food and supplies to checkpoints along the way, and they would have waited until all hours to collect us at the finish point.
It is important to eat. I didn’t feel hungry and really struggled to eat along the way. I came home with a heap of food that would have helped give me energy and lift my spirits.
Distraction can be helpful. Our workmates provided conversation topics on slips of paper. They were great when the going got tough. Needless to say, we chose not to talk about ‘tax reform policy’ or ‘the Kardashians’.
While we were walking, I told my team that if I ever said I was doing the Trailwalker again, they were to slap me across the face. Hard. But you know what, if they wanted to have another crack, I’d resurrect the 40 Black Toenails team and give it a go.
You can contribute to Lisel’s effort @ https://trailwalker.oxfam.org.au/my/team/22948, or direct to the general Oxfam donation page @ oxfam.org.au/donate