Endurance challenge: 90 miles non-stop with Royal Marines

endurance

They can because they think they can

Virgil

Does 90 miles non-stop endurance challenge hurt?

Yes. As suspected, it was a rather painful endurance test. I would go as far to say, it is the second most challenging ‘thing’ I have yet been privy to. Although working in an office has to be up there too! 

Back in 2015 I considered my Sunflowers for Soldiers charity initiative on the South West Coast Path as challenging. 630 miles and fourish climbs of Mt Everest around the SW peninsula planting a sunflower seed for each of the severely wounded soldiers from the Afghanistan Campaign. It was really tough at the beginning but once I got over a minor injury setback and into the flow of walking, my fitness increased and it became easier day by day. I didn’t want it to be like that, I wanted it to really hurt.  

A couple of months later on completing that expedition I took the executive decision, after a considerable rethink, to walk 90 miles non-stop around the Dartmoor Way. A decent endurance test combining roads, moorland and footpaths. 

I thought that a shorter and more intense endurance challenge might give me whatever ‘it’ was that I was searching for. This would be in aid of the Royal Marines Charity as Her Majesty’s finest had helped me so much on my Sunflower walk. I wanted this challenge to shadow the intensity of training that these chaps undergo. I wondered if it could break me. 

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Royal Marine Commandos have several tests to complete to earn the coveted Green Beret. One of them is the 30 miler on Dartmoor, they complete this in eight hours with kit and weapon. I am not a Royal Marine and I am walking three times the distance.  I have a touch of arthritis and various other ailments from horse riding related injuries. 

The above considered, I will attempt a steady 90 miles in 36 hours which, roughly equates to 30 walking hours at  three mph and six hours worth of admin, loo and refreshment stops. Factored in to that time is also the odd navigational error, there will be a few, nav never being my strongest skill. However the cliche applies ‘practice makes perfect.’ 

Fast forward 9 months – Summer 2016

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John, me and HM’s finest Royal Marine Commandos

I emailed John Peel, Chairman of the Royal Marines Association North Devon a veteran Royal Marine, swimmer canoeist and all round legend. We met last year on my Sunflowers for Soldiers challenge. He is a machine and possesses a most admirable enthusiasm, zest for physical exertion and a selfless commitment to the band of brothers that are the Royal Marines.

John listened to my challenge and I told him I would like to recce it as a route that we can open to the public and raise even more money for the charity than I could alone. I started a new job a couple of months prior that demanded every other Saturday. My timings were tight for making it happen after my probation and before winter hit, we had roughly a month.

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L to R: Bob the Yank, US Marine Corps & Vietnam veteran and John Peel RM

If John could join me or encourage others from the RMAND to participate as well I would be over the moon. Otherwise the show would simply have to go on.

Let the planning commence

Lady luck was on my side, John was free! He went to town on helping me plan whilst I remained, feeling completely hopeless, behind my desk in Pimlico. Together with Bob the Yank, a US Marine Vietnam Veteran, they recce’d every checkpoint I had identified on the 90 mile route. They made appropriate changes to enable vehicles to park and people to come and go.

John pulled some strings and organised five of Her Majesty’s finest serving Royal Marines and two veteran Royal Marines, Derek and Harry, as support and encouragement on this challenge.

I was thrilled to bits to have their company on this walk and better yet I was not as likely to get lost during the 24 miles of moorland over night. As mentioned prior nav not my strong point, especially in the dark.

Give me a little more time to organise next time, please!

Let the walking commence

A couple of days before I considered the best approach at mentally breaking this walk down. 90 miles split into seven legs, each leg between 10-16 miles. I ignored mileage and stuck with legs. Mileage meant I wasn’t in single digits until 81 miles down. That would not be good for my morale.

So there it was, first step in achieving mental control, bite size chunks all in single digits, and not long to achieve the half way point, three and a half legs, yup easy?

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Fresh as a daisy

0600 at Okehampton Activity Centre. We would kick on from there and hopefully arrive back in one piece 36 hours later. 

The first two legs were problem free and blessed with fair weather we had a jolly warm up. I got to know the lads and apologised for thinking up a ridiculous challenge and dragging them into it.  They considered it free phys and were happy to partake. Though they did mention this was a weeks work in less than two days. A very valid point which I had failed to consider.

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Over Dartmoor towards Princetown

Veteran Harry, lit up a fag at every given opportunity, Jack ate loads of blackberries on route and was full of interesting facts, our chat was considered somewhat dull by the others. Gilly chattered away, cracking jokes non stop, Luke dripped (whinged) alot, but was carrying 70lbs for 20 miles, so could be excused, Ross was a solid walking companion, Arron was injured and remained with the van and veteran Derek joined up before we were all born. Bob the Yank drove the mini bus, Dad and Katie were there for moral, Cliff, my partner, looked out for Sid & Winston and forced me to eat and drink. 

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5 min sit down

Into leg three, post 30 miles and the old tootsies were beginning to feel the battering. The stinging and itching was chronic, it reminded me of travelling in Australia 10 years earlier. I had over done partying in Thailand prior to arrival; gave myself a kidney infection, had an infected coral cut and a resultant itchy allergic reaction to the antibiotics. Not fun then and not fun in the feet when you have another 40 odd miles to complete. 

My nerves endings must have been having a fit.

Little flash before nighttime across the moor

An unscheduled pub dinner at the Princetown admin stop raised spirits no end and we were well prepared for the night time leg. If I learnt anything from my last challenge, it was too look after the people looking after you! The support crew have just as important and tiring job. However on this occasion I didn’t have too much sympathy to be throwing around as they got there heads down between stops. 

An hour or so later, Jack, Ross, Harry and I hit the open moor under the moonlight. A liberating experience of freedom and serenity and the stillness of the night was all encompassing. As you can imagine, I might have reported this differently had it been blowing a hooley and pouring with rain.  

I left Jack and Ross to take the helm and control the compass and map and what a wonderful job they did. We did not get lost once. Oh, what a different story this would have been if I’d been on my own. (booked into a nav refresher) 

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A challenge navigating on Dartmoor at night

We all knew there would be a moment of wall hitting/crashing. Mine reared its ugly head just before day break, crepuscular, and it lasted roughly an hour, too long. It was misery, just like the 1990 psychological thriller featuring James Caan and Kathy Bates. I dragged my feet, I went floppy, and felt like a spoilt child dragged to Westfield for a day of shopping.

However, ‘pull yourself together’ I thought, I am with some fine young men, I have John Peel in the back of my mind and my moral support team, Dad & Katie, and Cliff, also a Royal Marine, all putting themselves out for me to achieve this. Seriously get a grip, don’t let them down, or yourself.

The lads had been tasked to see me finish. I have to say I was truly grateful for their presence at this remarkably low point. Seeing the state of myself on taking a selfie though could not help but make me laugh.

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I have seen better days

Now then, with several more legs to go, the muscles over my whole body became ridiculously tender and sore to the touch. Quite a unique sensation I had not experienced before. My muscles felt like they were melting off my bones and conjured up more horror film images or alternatively and a little more light hearted characters from the 1980’s animation series, Trap Door. 

So, I am feeling immense physical pain but at the same time a sadistic mental enjoyment which, if I’m honest was a little alarming.

That said, I felt a little lost as to what to do at the rest stop with two legs to go. Do I sit, stand, lie, laugh or cry. All but the latter, crying inside a little bit…maybe. Laid on my back, with Jack, scratching our feet mercilessly against the back of the car, Sid & Winston watching over, gave marginal temporary relief.

Jack was suffering the same affliction, call me cruel or whatever you want, but I drew comfort from that. He revealed weeks later that his feet were still shedding. Gross, mine didn’t, thank god. 

Point to Note

It was considered that our boots might have been laced up too tightly but the damage had been done.

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Jack and I after approx 70 miles. Feet are in pieces

At the penultimate checkpoint John had to disappear to meet his very understanding, potentially long suffering, wife. He was under strict instructions to be at the Royal Marine Association Reunion at CTC Lympstone at 19.00. Had he not made that timing I think it might have ended in divorce. Not on my watch, or John’s for that matter.

He made it on little sleep and, no rest for the Chairman of the RMAND, was then on parade and fund raising for the remainder of the weekend.

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Harry and his foot admin 10 miles from the finish

Usually, on a regular day I have a very healthy appetite. Towards the later stages of this challenge it was non existent. However important to keep energy levels up at this point. I still can’t look at muesli bars in the same way. My stomach lurched and food revolted me. Apologies for banging on about this, but the pain in my feet was a different gear and they felt as though they were disappearing into my body.

We were running over time and I was concerned the chaps would be late home,

you are doing this for us Jane, take as long as you need,

all said with a wonderful twinkle in their eyes and cheeky grins, that Royal Marines possess. I was touched and if you hadn’t guessed I have a soft spot for these lads. So it’s quite fortunate that I have one that I can call my own and a supportive one at that. 

Little Dare or Lima Delta, as she is affectionately known, my partner’s 13 year old daughter, an inspiring sports women, joined us for the last couple of miles. Bringing up the rear were Ross and Arron the suppliers of endless teas and coffees. They were blasting out AD/DC’s Thunderstruck, my favourite motivational tune. Legend has it the SAS were playing this when they crossed the Iraq border in the first Gulf War. This song, kind of, means business and our pace picked up.  

Harry, 51, had been at my side throughout, he might smoke 20 a day but man could he could move. The swagger that developed was something that should only be seen in fashion week.

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Harry and I finish in 39 hours. A bit broken.

Three hours overtime and full circle the smiling faces of my support team and a take away curry greeted us on the bonnet of the car. A bit broken and useless, slumped on the passenger seat, not willing to eat but having chicken tikka forced into my mouth, I thought, ‘I’m not sure I’ll do that again.’  

On arriving home an hour later I was promptly violently ill, I knew the last chicken tikka chunk was a mistake. I considered it to be a projectile, I was assured by Cliff, it was not, but a good effort regardless.

The evening was rounded up with a quick shower and then to bed for the entire weekend. Five months later and my feet are still not back to pre 90 miler health but I am champing at the bit to crack on with more physical endurance challenges. The struggle makes me feel alive.

I have decided that I am definitely more of a donkey than a thoroughbred, preferring slow endurance to a faster pace, the arthritis doesn’t help!

Always present on John Peel’s desk:

The Royal Marines Commando mindset:

Be the first to understand, the first to adapt and respond and the first to overcome.

John and I decided this was not a wise route to open up to the public. So back to the drawing board to find a more suitable option. Wait out.

Massive thanks to all that contributed to organising, supporting and sponsoring this charity challenge for the Royal Marines Charity.

To donate to the Royal Marines charity please click here.

2 Comments

    1. Thanks Jo – it was type 2 fun at the end moving into dangerously close to Type 3! Doing it was awful and then you think actually it wasn’t so bad 🙈

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