The Thames Path Challenge can be done in various stages ranging from 25 km through to 100 km, via a 50 km length… and it is probably the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. I wanted to push myself and set myself a challenge… What I got was certainly nothing less than this. There were points where I thought I wouldn’t be able to go on, and whilst doing it (and even shortly after) I swore that I would never do it again. However here I am writing this a week later (and my feet are still bruised with the remnants of blisters, whilst my ankles are still swollen and fragile) and I am already considering whether to do it again next year!
The main factor in this decision is that overall, for my chosen charity (this is a sponsored walk) during the 2016 event, which was Wingham Wildlife Park Animal Welfare, I managed to raise just over £900!
The Thames Path Challenge
This is generally a sponsored event however you can self fund it. When you first sign up there is a registration fee to get you going, but then there is a further fee which comes out of your sponsored amount, which is why there is a minimum which you need to raise – to make sure that the charity doesn’t end up out of pocket!
- Snacks galore at every stop
- Drinks at every stop
- Hot food at main stops
- Medal at the end (although I think a different medal for the different distances would be nice)
- Electronic timing chip
- Neck buff
- T-shirt at the end
- Free massage at 50 km, 78 km and 100 km
- Medics at every stop
- Well signed and laid out route
It really is worth the money, and you get looked after incredibly well right from the start, and all the way until the end!
The route, follows the Thames tow path so you pretty much always have the river to your side and as a result it is generally fairly flat. The start is at Bishops Park, so the first thing you do is cross Putney Bridge. From there you pass Kew, Richmond, Teddington, Hampton Court Palace, Windsor, Runneymead and finally finishing in Henley on Thames.
Tips For Getting Through It
Having gone the whole way there are a number of things which I would recommend, all of which got me through this mammoth walk, whilst also picking up some things I’d change if I did it again:
If you’re not local (I live an hours drive from Greenwich, and then there is another 1 hour tube journey) it is worth making sure you are nice and fresh for the event by staying somewhere local. I stayed at the MK Hotel in Putney which is just around the corner.
To be honest if I was staying in London for pleasure I wouldn’t choose this one as it is very basic, not overly comfortable or inviting an a little on the expensive side for what you get. However for what I needed it certainly served its purpose very well and allowed me to start with a clear head and well rested body!
Everyone has heard about chaffing on long walks and during marathons, with the preferred grease of choice often being Vaseline. However I heard that Bepanthen (or other nappy rash creams) work just as well, if not even better. The thinking is that nappy rash is chaffing, and as such a cream which not only prevents this but also soothes if it does happen, should work as well on adults as it does babies… That thinking isn’t wrong! Put it on your nipples and inside thighs – I walked for 25 hours with no chaffing. However, and this is one for the boys, if your bottom is a little on the hairy side, also put some in your crack! I found this out the hard way and had to apply it to a very sensitive behind whilst walking through Old Windsor, shortly after the half way point.
There are a lot of things which will help you through the walk, and making sure that these work or you have spares will help you if one of these lifelines fails! The main example of this for me was that just 2 hours in to the walk my headphones stopped working. I think it was an issue with the micro SD card, but I should have taken a backup lead and mp3 player as I ended up walking in silence for over 23 hours! It also helps (in fact is recommended by the organisers) if you bring 1 or 2 power banks, which you can get on ebay for just a few pounds these days. They will let you re-juice your phone during such a long walk (long gone are the days where a single charge will take you through 1 or more 24 hour cycles).
However it is not just electronics which you need to worry about. Make sure you have plenty of spare pairs of socks! I changed mine at every major rest stop, and this really helped as it also encourages you to take a look at your feet, which brings me on to my next tip…
Look After Your Feet
They are one of your most important assets during this walk and could also just as easily bring you to your knees. The most important point is to watch out for “hot spots”. As soon as it feels like a blister is developing or you have a bit of irritation, sort it out! I used compeed (in fact I got through 2 whole packets, but many of my blisters never developed fully due to their use). They might be expensive but are worth every penny! I also started to get an ache in my left ankle following a previous injury and stopped to brace this – getting to your next target can be your biggest enemy… I didn’t want to stop, but as I did, I had very little trouble with that ankle.
One thing I would do if I wanted to do such a walk again would be to tape my feet. This is what the medics were doing for people and some people who taped their feet before starting had no blisters… Even at the 78 km mark!
Have a Walking Buddy
I took this challenge on alone, but most people seemed to do it in teams, and I soon found out why. Walking for that length of time, especially during the night stage is a very lonely experience. As mentioned above, my headphones stopped working and as such I was left with nothing to listen to and no one to talk to – this meant that all I could really do was to think about how much my feet and legs were hurting!
It was actually quite funny, when I collected my medal, the lady who gave it to me said, “I’ve never seen anyone heading towards the finish whilst talking on the phone.” There was however a great reason for this. Completing was one of my biggest ever personal achievements and there was no one walking with me or waiting at the finish… I had to share the experience with someone and as such had to phone my wife who had to work that day!
Try and Enjoy it!
The second you start to think it is a chore, or you feel like you don’t want to be there any more, you’re, to quote Aliens, “on a express elevator to hell – going down!” And it certainly is an express journey at that point. At around 80 km the thought crept in to my head, and I really had to try hard to shake it off. Find something about it which you enjoy, whether it is thinking about the achievement at the end, looking forward to your next stop, taking in the scenery (during the day) or even just having a snack… You’d be amazed what a chocolate bar or some fruit pastilles will do to your morale!
Choosing which things to take with you on your walk is a very important decision to make, and fully dependent on which distance you choose to take part in. The list below is what I decided to take on the 100 km walk, but there may be items which you won’t need or others which you think you’d want but I didn’t think of! If you want some inspiration click on any item to see which one I purchased and where you can get it from.
- High 5 hydration tablets
- Sports bottle (some come with free hydration tablet samples)
- Universal power bank
- Headphones with integrated mp3 player
- Backup mp3 player (wish I had taken one)
- Easy store rain jacket
- Lightweight fleece top
- Compeed (mixed pack)
- Mini first aid kit
- Savlon cream
- Bepanthen ointment
- Comfortable head torch
- Spare socks
- Ankle support(s) – if you ever have ankle trouble
- Snacks (I had fruit pastilles and made my own trail mix by just mixing raisins, dried cherries, dried papaya, dried pineapple and smashed up sesame snaps – delicious!)
The Results Are In
After the event there are some very interesting stats about the event to take in. I didn’t realise that these are available during the event and that friends at home were tracking me throughout the day to see how I was getting on at the main stops.
In total over all of the distances 4,394 people started the walk and 4,018 of those managed to finish… Ridiculously the person who finished first managed to do so in just 9 hours and 11 minutes! Of the people who started only 842 of us were crazy enough to go for 100 km and there were just 689 of us who managed to finish the full 100 km in one go (the highest number of drop outs came at the half way mark)… You need to reach 50 km with a good head.
Now most importantly, where did I finish? I am counting the full 842 people who started, and among those (considering this is the first time I have ever done anything like this) I placed 450th… It’s not a great result but I was over the moon that I managed to finish, and did so in 25 hours and 23 minutes! There was a cut off time of 33 hours, with the last official finisher getting in after 32 hours and 39 minutes.