Most marathon training programmes build up slowly, little by little with regular walks or runs and then taper off in the weeks leading up to the event. Usually the longest walk or run is twenty miles, at most twenty two. The thinking being, if you can run twenty miles you can push through the wall to run the final six point two on the day. This was not the way I saw it. When I started off five miles seemed like a pretty long walk. After walking ten, five was a piece of cake. It seemed to me, if I did the whole twenty six point two before the tapering, it would be easier on the night. In April 2013 I’d made it to the penultimate walk.
12 April 2013
So, today was the day for the twenty four miles. I got up early because a walk of that distance takes a long time and I didn’t want to be walking in the dark on my own. The only problem was it was pouring with rain. Not what I wanted to see at all. As I ate my granola I looked outside willing it to stop but it didn’t, not really. By eight o’clock it was easing off slightly so I decided it was now or never and gathered up my walking gear, including the waterproof mac to go over my padded jacket.
Yet again I’d left my walking and reading glasses at work but this time I had the reading ones in my pocket so I could see WalkJogRun. They give me a headache if I walk around in them and I can’t see anything further than arms length, or at all with the rain falling. Going up towards Monks Walk I noticed a beautiful ornamental cherry in full bloom, the deep pink petals speckled with raindrops, just like me.
It didn’t stop raining until I’d passed Woodmill. The sun came out briefly and I was beginning to get hot, what with the mac, padded coat and woollen jumper I’d unwisely decided to wear. Who knew it was going to warm up? There wasn’t much I could do but carry on though because all the benches along the river were soaked and the last thing I wanted was a wet bum. After I’d crossed Mansbridge I had a bit of an autopilot moment. That happens sometimes, I’m lost in my thoughts and my feet just take a familiar path, even if it might not be the one I was intending. Instead of turning off just past the place where the colourful shelf fungus is I carried on walking, taking the old route I took before I knew about the footpath. I got right up the grass bank and almost to the path that runs alongside Mansbridge Road before I realised, then I had to turn round and retrace my steps. Doh!
Of course the route through the woods past the blue bridge was swimming in water again so I did the green bridge, Wessex Lane, blue bridge detour to Wide Lane. That was when it started raining again, not heavily but enough to make me put my hood up, I’d long since taken my pink hat off to try to cool down a bit. With the hood up I was boiling. On the corner on the other side of the roundabout the aubretia was out, a mass of little purple flowers tumbling over a wall. The upturned petals were filled with raindrops. Mother used to have aubretia on her rockery, it made me think of her and I smiled.
It stopped raining after I passed the airport and the sun danced in and out of breaks in the cloud. By now I’d undone my mac and unzipped my padded coat in an effort to cool down. It wasn’t working very well. When I reached the Swan Centre I was actually dripping, and not with rain. The first thing I did was buy a latte, but not a latte to go. It seemed the sensible thing to do was sit down, strip off as many layers as I could and try to cool down a bit.
This was the point things went from bad to worse. I took my mac off and rolled it up but when I opened my rucksack to put it inside I found my two collapsible bottles of latte had leaked and there was a puddle of cold latte in the bottom of the waterproof rucksack. I think I may have overfilled them. Note to self, there needs to be an air pocket at the top when you screw the lids on. There is only so much coffee you can mop up with the one serviette the they give you at Costa so I had to mop up the rest with my hat as best I could. Even without the padded coat on I was boiling. As I sat sipping my latte I looked across at the entrance to TK Max. Maybe I’d be able to find a cheap t-shirt in there then I could take the blasted jumper off. Becuase it wouldn’t fit in the little walking rucksack I’d have to tie it round my waist, which wouldn’t be ideal but better than nothing.
As it happened I found a t-shirt quite quickly, it was even in the sale. Then, as I was on the way to the tills I noticed a black drawstring sports bag, the kind that has the strings attached at the bottom on each side so you can wear it as a rucksack. That was lucky, now I wouldn’t have to tie the jumper round my waist. Once I’d paid it was off to the loos to get changed and stuff the jumper in the new sports bag. Even though I now had two rucksacks on my back they were both quite small and it actually felt quite comfortable, plus I was already feeling cooler.
As I left the Swan Centre another disaster struck. When I went to unpause the WalkJogRun I found I hadn’t paused it, I’d stopped it, probably in all the kerfuffle with the leaking collapsible bottles. So, for the rest of my journey I was going to have to remember I’d actually walked five point four four miles more than my phone told me. As I walked I calculated (not an easy task for me, I’m not good with numbers), the rest of my walk would have to be just over eighteen and a half miles to make the twenty four so I should turn around when the newly started WalkJogRun said six and a half miles. Why is life never easy?
The rain had at least stopped and I was feeling much cooler so that was a plus point. Even so, the sky looked a threatening shade of grey as I walked towards Rapunzel Chruch. There was going to be more rain for sure. It actually held off until I was near the thatched cottage of Ham Farm and luckily it wasn’t heavy. My padded coat was undone for ventilation so I pulled it together as best I could, a tough job with my Camelbak water bottle round my waist and not all that effective.
The shower stopped half way down Allbrook Hill. My new t-shirt was a bit wet but I figured I was so warm from walking it would soon dry out. Just the other side of the railway bridge at the bottom of the hill I spotted some very strange flowers growing amongst the grass and dried leaves on the verge. I didn’t know what they were but there were lots of them, kind of fat spikes of what seem to be succulents covered in little pink tubular flowers. Later I found out they were butterbur. A swan was swimming on the river just upstream from the weir. I’ve never seen one there before and, for a moment, I was worried he’d get caught in the current and sucked over the weir. Then I remembered swans can fly, how could I have forgotten that? On I went, shaking my head at my own stupidity.
By the time I came close to the field with all the horses in cow pyjamas there were some quite big patches of blue sky and quite a lot of sun. It was rather warm in the sun, making me thankful of my new t-shirt. There’s a stand of tall trees there absolutely alive with birds nests. It’s strange how the birds seem to like some trees so much and ignore others, I wish I knew why. There was quite a bit of verge hopping because there was a fair bit of traffic for some reason and, as the verges were pretty soggy, my sparkly black Skechers were getting muddier and muddier.
When I got to the small slipway to East Lodge I decided to cross the road and walk down it for a rest from all the verge hopping and traffic. Down there the cherry laurel is just beginning to flower, spikes of tiny white flowers whose anthers curl round and remind me of little white springs. Sadly it was a short detour and it was soon back to the verge hopping.
At the junction of Upper Moors Road and Highbridge Road I crossed back and found a horse in a blue coat laying down in the filed. That’s the second time I’ve seen a horse laying down now in the last week, before that I never even knew they did lay down. Maybe they’re like cows and lay down when it’s going to rain because, moments later, the heavens opened. This was most definitley not a shower. It poured down in a torrent so heavy it even showed up in the photo I took. The drops bounced back up off the road and, in seconds, I was soaked to the skin.
The rain stopped just as I entered Twyford Village, by then I was literally dripping, my new t-shirt clinging to me like a walker’s version of a wet t-shirt contest. There was a bit of a faux pas on the footpath front in Twyford. The footpath with the benches came out on Queen Street so I began walking down it but completely missed the turn down School Road, probably because I’ve never walked down it in that direction before and everything looked different. By the time I realised my mistake there was a bit of doubling back and some checking the WalkJogRun maps before I managed to get back on the right road.
At the first bench I stopped and drank one of my cold lattes. Luckily, although they leaked, there was still plenty left. I also had a mini packet of chocolate buttons, eaten looking out over the fields and the river. Then I stretched my legs out a bit and set off past the church with the clock on the spire and onto the second part of the footpath.
Before long I passed the turning point of my last long walk and I was heading off towards the motorway and Five Bridges Road. There were sheep in a field just before I came to the bridge under the motorway. That’s the first time I’ve seen sheep on one of my walks, pity they were so far from the road they looked like little wooly dots in the distance.
As the road gets closer to the motorway bridge it gets busier so I had a bit of a wait to cross. Then it was under the bridge and another wait for the pedestrian crossing to cross the Hockley Link road. Good job there is a crossing really or I’d probably still be standing there now waiting. Right on the other side is the path onto Five Bridges Road. Right after I’d passed the bollards I saw my first cowslip of the year. Like most of the flowers I saw today it was splotched with raindrops.
Then I was on Five Bridges Road, the final stretch of road before St Cross Road on the outskirts of Winchester. At the start of the road there’s a metal gate with a high brick wall on either side, covered in ivy. This is the place I nipped into the bushes on my first twenty six mile walk and met a man coming back from doing the same thing by the brick wall on the other side, like it was ladies one side, gents on the other. We both laughed about it. (These brick walls are actually part of the Hockley viaduct, although I didn’t know that at the time. Since then a nice slope has been built to get to the top)
That day it was lovely and sunny and I sat on the grass, phoned Commando and ate some chocolate. There was no chance of sitting on the grass today. So I crossed the first bridge. This goes over a little stream, tangled with grasses, overhanging shrubs and branches. Then I carried on to bridge number two. This one crosses the Itchen proper. Here I stopped and looked out over the river. It divides at this point, one side running into a picturesque mill. There’s a kind of island in the middle with trees and shrubs brightened by the bright red stems of dogwood. This was my turning point….