Monday, 25 May 2009

What do you mean that was only training?!

Afternoon all!

Whilst I appreciate that my last blog was dramatically short, it did sum up all I wanted to say at 2am. But now on reflection I feel I must fill in a few of the gaps of my personal experience of the final training walk.

Whilst the other guys seemed more and more vitalised during this walk as the terrain got tougher, I on the other hand was constantly reminded that however tough this walk got, next time I would be approaching it after already being completely drained having walked 65+ miles. This was not funny anymore! I was hoping for a smooth and steady assent having only ever tackled Pen-y-Fan from the Storey Arms approach, but to save an extra 10 miles by needing to walk around the Brecons, our approach, twice was more than eyeopeningly steep, and in all seriousness looked quite like the "Challenges" picture thumb which Ken posted before our walk. I was not impressed!! That coupled with the fact that I was the least experienced fell walker amongst the team that day, as I had never climbed at night, gave me an uneasy feeling about the final push. Please don't get me wrong the easy bits were lovely, i.e. the canal and section over the top. But the climb to the cairn was for me, the toughest part of the walk. This section of the walk is large contrasts, spectacular reviving views, and a few heavy climbs! But it is nobody's fault, no-one said this was easy!!

It doesn't mean however that I am at all prepared to give in, I'm just bracing myself for what I know will be a hard slog. This is where your help will be appreciated, we are gonna need all the moral support we can get in the final walk, so I must ask, if you have volunteered and said you would like to walk a stretch will us, that would be awesome, but please make sure you contact Jonty, and he will organise the details with you.

On an alternative tact, now that the training walk is done, we need to focus on why we are doing this.... raising money for Macmillan. Therefore can we impose on you? If you are a regular reader of this blog, are you able to help the Spa2summit team and have a small fundraiser in your work place or office, i.e. an impromptu coffee morning or simply distribute fliers or take a sponsorship form or simply tell others about the challenge? I'll leave you ponder this matter, but any extra assistance would be hugely appreciated by the whole team and Macmillan as we build up to the walk with less than four weeks to go.

Finally, as Ken mentioned earlier, we have had a team member who has not received much of a mention. Wilson. Wilson, the bold and noble. Wilson, the spherical and golfy! He was unavailable to come with us on Saturday, but so far he has walked (or should that be rolled?!) with us for roughly 55 miles. He is a strong asset to the team and seems to be a better conversationalist than me on these walks. I feel he has taken a back seat in this challenge for too long.... so people, I have the tremendous privilege in introducing.... WILLLLSOOONNN!!!..........

Thanks for your support!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

What a day!

The Brecon Beacons is one of those areas that can really capture your imagination. I speak as one who has had his imagination captured. There is something about the sheer northern faces, the incredible sense of space and peace, and the seriousness of their ascent that keeps me coming back for more. They didn't disappoint yesterday!

From the beautiful approach along the Brecon and Monmouth canal, the view across the Talybont Reservoir, the stunning vista of the northern ridges illuminated by a neon sunset and the crystal clear view of all the stars you can imagine, we could very easily have suffered from Awesome Overload. However, the crack Spa2Summit team does not get overloaded easily. We girded our loins (particularly Chris) and got on with it!

Like some of the other guys, I was feeling a little apprehensive after the last walk. My chronically blistered feet really made me concerned about my ability to go the distance. Well, yesterday, I switched back to my Scarpa ZG10s and voila, no blisters. As a team, I think yesterday had a big impact on our morale; things that we had doubts about have been cleared up. Hydration (or Drinking, to the lay person), footcare, food, navigation and pace have all been fine tuned. We're ready to go. Ish.

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I would just like to add one thing before I go. The climbs up into the hills from the Talybont reservoir, and the final push up on to the summit of PyF are steep and unremitting. We'll be doing them after 65+ miles. They will hurt us, they will hurt us very much indeed. In fact probably everything from mile 15 will hurt us in way or another. We know this, and yet we're still doing it. Why? For Macmillan Cancer Support. Please donate so that our effort is well rewarded!

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OK, two more things! Yesterday, as has been mentioned, we were two men down. Self-supporting even this small part of the route was a real faff and made us truly appreciate the benefit of having a Gadget Wrangler of Jonty's quality on board. Also, Olly was away somewhere in North Africa (yeah, I bet) and we missed him for two reasons. Firstly, the extensive and bizarre selection of noises he can generate provide much amusement, and secondly, he is the transporter of the official Spa2Summit mascot, Wilson. Succesful as our walk may have seemed yesterday, without Wilson it just seemed a little empty... A further post on Wilson, and maybe even his own section on must surely follow.

"Come On Wrighty!"

Doing Summit

There's not a lot that can be added to what Grant has already said, he is indeed the first to blog and I believe him when he said he was pooped.

Saturday 23rd May saw the final Spa2Summit team training walk, covering the final 17 miles or so of the route. It began at Crickhowell where our last walk ended and headed up Pen Y Fan to the summit. There were only four of us this time - myself, Ken, Pete and Grant - Ollie was away (he bottled it!) and we had no Jonty.

After a long and drawn out journey positioning cars at specific points along the route (realising at this point how much we missed Jont!) we finally started, much later than we had planned to. Yet again we had been lucky with the weather, after a week of constant heavy showers we walked in brilliant warm sunshine. Trees were every shade of green, lakes had the kind of sparkle that make you want to jump in and the hills and mountains had the kind of majesty that leave you in awe. A perfect day that we hope to have during the real thing.

The first quarter of the route yesterday passed alongside a canal under a thin tree canopy. There were people walking dogs and others moored up in canal boats. Grant had brought some leaflets so we handed them out to those we passed. There was one couple that Pete and I chatted to and they very kindly made a donation on the spot but I'll leave Pete to tell you about them.

Not long after the canal we made our way upwards and across fields, minute by minute the views would get better and better. Then I began to worry, my stomach had begun to cause me a lot of pain. After crossing a couple of fields the pain didn't subside and suddenly got worse. I turned to the lads and said, "Boys, I think I'm going to have diarrhoea!" This verbal acknowledgement seemed to trigger a green light inside me and I realised I had to find a nice quiet spot immediately. The other guys kindly walked on into the next field (I think more for self-preservation than for my sake) and I found a convenient spot where I removed pack, poles and anything else attached to me in record quick time.

After a forage for dock leaves and a hasty, er, burial I caught up with the others and left this now 'special' place behind, having given the sheep in the adjacent field a horror story to tell their grand-lambs.

I'm not sure what caused this "outburst" as it was still relatively early into the walk. Dehydration was out as I had been drinking plenty all day so I assumed it must have been something I'd eaten - maybe last night's pasta & potatoes that I'd had for lunch and planned to eat before ascending Pen Y Fan or it could have been the smoked kabanos sausages I'd been eating as we walked. Whichever it was I avoided both for the rest of the walk and faced no more problems.

We arrived at the car we had positioned at the foot of Pen Y Fan and its surrounding peaks. After filling up Camelbaks and changing socks and footwear (my trail shoes were replaced with the boots that caused me so many problems on the first training walk) and we headed upwards past a beautifully enticing reservoir.

This is the terrain I am most comfortable on and I quickly got into a rhythm, eating into the ascent and unfortunately disappearing into my own world, becoming oblivious to the pace of the team as a whole. But then that's what the training walks are about and I think that on the day at this point, after 65 miles or so, there won't be much difference in pace.

After some absolutely stunning views and being able to see much of our route from above (we could roughly trace the route back as far as The Skirrid, as well as seeing landmark towns beyond) we ploughed onwards and upwards until we emerged with a 360˚ view, welcomed by an impressive sunset which cast our shadows onto a nearby cairn. The hardest part was over.

As the sun went down so did the temperature so fleeces and windproofs got a run-out. A mild descent along stone-slabbed paths (and a dad out camping with his son) saw us pass around Cribyn and face the now cloud-topped Pen Y Fan. A steep but clearly marked path led us to the summit and, despite it being around 10 o'clock at night, there was still enough visibility to see without headtorches.

Finally, at around 10:45pm we reached the summit, the seventy miles covered. At one point the cloud at the top parted in a Moses & Red Sea kind of way and we could see an abundance of stars, yet another reward for our effort. As we made the shorter descent down the other side of Pen Y Fan to the final car spot we were kept company by a beautifully clear night, with more stars than I have seen for many years, this was a perfect end to a day of perfect conditions!*

*I won't mention how after descending we then had a struggle finding a 24 hour petrol station to fill up my truck which by this point was scarily low on fuel! This was not fun. Thanks to all the boys for sticking with me while I free-wheeled and drove painfully slowly when they were desperate to get home!


I enjoyed this section of the walk. I mean I really enjoyed this section. I have to admit that after the second training walk I was dubious of our chances of success. Now, having done the whole route, my goal is to successfully reach Crickhowell unscathed. The next 17 miles are the reward for the first 54. Psychologically that is how I plan to treat things. The flat and beautiful canal section will more than make up for the monotonous 5 miles leading to Crickhowell.

The adjustments I made to my Raichle boots since the problems of the first walk paid off although the right boot was still cutting into my heel and causing me pain but nowhere near as bad as before. A few more modifications should get them perfect for the final section.

Fitness wise, there were no problems at all and, if anything, I found myself getting stronger as the walk went on. Obviously this won't be the case in June and that is something I will have to take into account. And hopefully diarrhoea won't be an issue, although I now plan to pack some toilet roll!

Thanks for all your continued support and keep the donations coming!

Oh, and if you're planning on joining us for some of the walk in June, please contact Jonty ( and coordinate with him. That should keep him busy!

Bloggin' to go to bed!

Yay! First to blog..... I'm pooped!... Good Night!!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Final Training Walk

It's time for the final training walk so expect more blog entries with titles like 'the horror, the horror...' over the next few days.
I'm a little nervous after my passing out episodes last time but this time I'm better prepared, it's only a 17 miles (we must be doing well, I never thought I'd be able to say it's ONLY 17 miles) and the other spa2summiteers will be constantly hassling me about drinking plenty I'm sure.
Today's walk is the last section of spa2summit going from Crickhowell to the summit of Pen-Y-Fan. The first section is alongside the canal so will be nice and flat, but the last section will be anything but. We climb up the eastern end of the Brecon Beacons and follow the ridge until we come to Pen-Y-Fan.
We'll see how we get on and update you in the next day or two.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


Struck me as worringly appropriate!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Only A Penitent Ken May Pass...

Some of you may be old enough to remember the last "Good" Indiana Jones film, from way back in 1989. In the climactic scenes of that film, our hero Dr. Jones, had to pass three strange and deadly tests before he could nab the Holy Grail. The grail for the Spa2Summit boys is, strangely, the summit of Pen-y-Fan. But before we reach it, we must undergo three strange and deadly tests, or training walks as we also call them. If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll know that I had blister problems on our last walk which meant I was unable to finish the final stretch with the team, and had to sit in the pub nursing a whisky...

This has caused me a few problems (the blisters, not the whisky). Hurty blisters took a week to calm down. What footwear am I going to wear? Will my feet last the distance in June? Etc., etc... To put some of these worries to bed I thought it best if I undertake the 9 miles I missed, which is what I was intending to do today. Unfortunately, for various reasons, that wasn't what happened but I still went out and did 15k, out of Cheltenham towards Leckhampton Hill, across Daisybank and Sandy Lane to Seven Springs then out toward Kilkenny, turning off toward Wistley Hill and then down through Charlton Kings to home. And guess what? No blisters! No pain of any sort in fact. I feel a little bit more in tune with the whole S2S thing again, having had my confidence knocked a few weeks ago.

I also wanted to try a couple of things out on the walk today. Firstly, the GPS unit which has very kindly been loaned to us by Garmin through Nicki at Cotswold - Brecon. I have been using to plot our route on. I thoroughly recommend it, it's a really good tool. You can plot your route on a Google Earth style map, with the roads overlaid, but also there is a terrain map option which is really handy for plotting your way around steep ups or downs. Another excellent feature is the option of exporting your route data as a Garmin friendly GPX file. I struggled at first to get this data on to the Etrex unit, but thanks to the magic of Google found easygps which is a free program which made it, you guessed, easy. Once the route is on the unit it was very easy to follow it, and get an accurate of time, distance, speed and so forth. Very nice!

Related to that is the other thing I wanted to try out and that is averaging 4kmh. As a team, we have maintained a pretty high average speed on our previous walks. By slowing down and averaging 4kmh, we can preserve our energies but still have time for refueling stops and have a few hours as a contingency. So using the gps I tried to monitor my speed and bring it down to 4kmh. How hard is that? I'd watch the Average Speed section on the display, it would hover round about 4-5kmh, I'd put the unit away and then... I averaged 5.7. It's hard to walk slowly, I think you get a destination in mind and you just put your head down and go for it. It's something I think we really need to get dialled for the big one, tortoise and hare springs to mind!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A Special Mention

Very quickly I'd like to add a quick post thanking my dad for his spontaneous and, well, shameless promotion of Spa2Summit. Without being asked he's been distributing leaflets and telling anyone he meets of our cause. This includes an unplanned presentation to members of his local 41 Club. I don't know what he said but it resulted in a very generous donation which we are grateful for.

Thanks dad and thanks to 41 Club! Their website is here. My dad doesn't yet have a website.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Time for a confession...

I've been told that I need to come clean and explain what happened after the last walk, if only just to make people realise how hard this is (basically so you'll give more money!).
It seems that I didn't drink enough during the last training walk and having only had 5 litres during the 13.5 hours we were walking for, got badly dehydrated. I still finished the walk but started feeling sick on the drive back. I had to get Jonty to stop so i could be sick, and at that point I passed out.
Grant and Jont brought me round and forced me to drink something but I really didn't know what was going on. We got going again but 20 minutes later the same thing happened again. At least one of these times I landed face first on the road (my face doesn't need any help to look bad) and with my tongue between my teeth which cut my tongue quite badly.
The boys got me home and after a good night's kip I didn't feel too bad in the morning but this episode really highlighted to me the level of this undertaking.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Top Billing for Spa 2 Summit!

Cotswold Outdoor have a website called We Get Outdoors, where they feature stories about activities they are sponsoring, stuff their stores are up to and so on. Well, guess who's got top billing at the moment? No, guess again. No again, third time lucky? That's right, it's us!
Go here to see more.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Shiny Things

This week, some goodies came through the post. Firstly, my S2S Summit-Cotswold Brecon fleece, which I'm really chuffed with for two reasons. One, it's a really nice piece of kit and two, I had to get a size smaller than I thought I needed!

The next day, this showed up. It's a Garmin Etrex Vista HCX GPS unit, and has been loaned to Team S2S through Cotswold Outdoor - Brecon by the very nice people at Garmin. This will be a really useful tool, as not only will it tell us where we are and where we are going but it will also enable us to have a very accurate idea of our speed and average speed on the walk. That is going to be vital to our successful completion of the challenge, tortoise and hare stylee! More updates once I've had time to play...

Big thanks again to Cotswold Brecon and Garmin, your fantastic support is appreciated by all the Spa2Summiteers!

Sole Train #2

It's been almost a week since Spa2Summit's second training walk and the confidence that we'll complete 70 miles is flooding back. I have to admit that after this 35 mile training walk I was doubting whether we'd be able to do another 35 straight after.

As with the first training walk reaching the end was not necessarily the main goal. Familiarizing ourselves with the route, becoming accustomed with our gear, finding a suitable pace and noting any potential blister areas were of more importance. In these areas the day was a success.

Since the first walk I had acquired new footwear, socks, walking poles and pack (among a few other things).
  1. Footwear: The new shoes (The North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR) were a revelation! On the first walk with chunky walking boots I had blisters within a mere six miles; on this second walk I had mild hotspots just forming by the time we reached 35 miles! It can't be ignored that their success is also due to some fantastic socks and lashings of Compeed plasters applied to my feet before and throughout the walk.
  2. Walking Poles: I've never been a fan of walking poles but thought I'd give them a go and, once you get used to them, they make a difference. I went without them for most of the walk but introduced them with about fifteen miles to go when I began feeling my energy levels dropping.
  3. Pack: One fault I have while walking is that I tend to ration my water intake. This is a big mistake so I bought a Camelbak Mule, a backpack that holds a resevoir of water that runs through a tube to your front so that you can hydrate yourself at any time without having to hunt around for your bottle or flask. At the points where we met up with Jonty I had a big bottle of Lucozade Sport waiting to provide me with the needed salt and its isotonic goodness. Hydration on this walk was not a problem. I did get some back pain in the final stages but this can probably be sorted by tweaking the position and tightness of the pack on my back.
  4. Food: With a constant supply of Science In Sport bars and gels, Mars Bars, bananas, Wine Gums and Dextro Energy tablets, as well as sandwiches for lunch, food was not a problem either, although towards the end of the walk the effort of actually eating something saw me cut down my intake - something I'll have to keep an eye on.
All in all, problems encountered from the first walk were eliminated in this one. There is still a great deal of fine-tuning to be done between now and 19th June, most of it being psychological. In the last six days I feel confident that most of that has been done and the enthusiasm to take on the full seventy is fast returning!
. . . . . .

In this age of efficient and quick travel the Earth has become smaller. This is great because, generally, one is never more than a few days from anywhere. As with all progress, though, something has to be lost. With the advances of modern travel, western man has forgotten distance in relation to walking. For example, when telling people that we plan to walk 70 miles non-stop we encounter either one of two responses: awe on one hand and polite indifference on the other. Those who display a sort of awe (this is my ego's favourite type of response!) are ones who you can tell are, or have been, walkers; those who display indifference are arguably ones who have embraced modern transport options and think of 70 miles as an hour's journey on a clear motorway. Before Spa2Summit came into existence I suppose I too struggled with understanding just how far 70 miles is on foot, even though I've always lived an active life and done regular large walks and hikes. This is the first time, however, that I've had a specific distance to aim for rather than say, a ridge, peak, hostel, pub or whatever. What I'm trying to say is this task is difficult. It will take its toll on the five of us taking part. So please continue to donate, not just to help the nurses and hard-working staff of Macmillan but also to give us a boost when we struggle, knowing that we have your enthusiastic support!