Monday, 9 May 2011

BRMBs Walkathon - I did it!

I walked slightly over twenty-six miles yesterday, and I don't feel nearly as bad as I expected.

I left the house at 7:30am, and caught two buses to Summerfield park, which, incidentally, is a twenty minute walk away - the buses took forty, what with waiting for them, and them taking a longer route. It was a psychological thing - I wanted to start totally fresh.

I got a text from my friend Stan while I was on the bus. Turns out, he was one of the volunteers working at Summerfield, so I went and had a chat with him when I got there. Then I wandered about taking pictures.

Not many people started from Summerfield - the majority were starting from King's Heath, where they'd actually staggered the start, they had so many.

All of the rest points and start points (which also functioned as additional rest points and end points, during the walk) had food, water, and toilets available.  At Summerfield, Asda were giving out free bananas, cereal bars, and water.  There was also a burger van, a tent with souvenirs, where Stan was, and one of those annoying DJs from BRMB (I find all DJs annoying, but I am not terribly well enamoured with BRMB at present - you'll see why later).

...I'd be brave as a blizzard...
One of the cereal bars that Asda was handing out was their Vitality Banoffee bar, which, according to all the sources I can find, is vegan.  Annoyingly, there was no ingredients list available, on the packaging or from the staff, so I had to go by the allergen list at the time.  The packaging doesn't even state whether they're vegetarian or not, although the website confirms that they are.

We did a brief and ridiculous warm up.  We were going to walk, for gods sake, that normally is a warm-up, and, secondly, how exactly did they think we got across the park in the first place?  But, that said, it's probably some kind of requirement for this kind of event, to provide a warm up for the people taking part.  I can understand that.  I don't understand why they had us stretch out our arms and shoulders, but not our legs or hamstrings, though.

I think some of the best people started from Summerfield, notably, a lion and a group of Vikings, which I heard mentioned by the DJs all day, as we moved from rest-stop to rest-stop.  After we'd started walking, I asked one of the Vikings if they were going for specific characters, or just a general time period.  The Viking - Naomi, her name is - told me that they were a mix of time periods, though all costumes were authentic.  Most of them did wear modern shoes, though.

The Lion ran ahead, and finished the whole thing within two or three hours.  At the first rest stop, I realised I'd gone to school with one of the Vikings.  I did not expect her to grow up to be so big, hairy, and muscular, but, y'know, time changes people.  No, I'm just kidding, she was dressed as a tiny witch with a giant wig, which is why I hadn't recognised her till then.  I talked with Laura for quite a while, and found myself unofficially adopted by Vikings, which was much nicer than my original plan of listening to podcasts for most of it.

Charlie, Jake, and The Chainmail
We were all starting to feel it a bit by Yardley.  Even Laura admitted to her little toe hurting.  Jake had the worst of it, though.  He was in full chainmail, and authentic shoes.  Just for some context, his chainmail weighed about six stone, making the entire weight he was lugging around close to twenty stone.  My bag was starting to make my shoulders ache, but I felt quite churlish complaining.  I still did, I just felt silly about it.

It was around this time that we noticed the first problem with the signs.  Two of them had gotten mixed up, so, shortly after seeing that we only had nine miles to go, we found out that it was actually eleven.  To be honest, I was amazed at how much ground we'd covered.  I'm even more amazed now, at how fast that distance went.

The wardens were quite good, really.  For all of those first twenty miles or so they were at every corner and crossing, telling us which way to go, and the way was pretty well signposted too, apart from that mix-up.

We stopped for a bit at Yardley, to get various wounds checked out.  One poor Viking reached that point of exhaustion where she just sort of went pale and toppled over, but she agreed to try walking a bit more.  We carried on to Acocks Green, where Anthony managed to find us.  He wasn't officially walking, he just came to keep me company.  It did help.
At the Shire.  No hobbit jokes; Tolkien grew up around here, so it's probably not a hilarious coincidence.

Naomi and Charlie both left at the Shire, too injured to go on, and on the walk to Kings Heath, Anthony and I got separated from the rest of the group.  I was going to slow down, to catch up with Laura, Jake, and Gur, but then we reached Kings Heath, and figured, well, everyone will meet up here.  But, after looking around a bit, and picking up water, bananas, more banoffee bars, and a ridiculously over-priced flapjack (£2!  They must have been relying on the sugar cravings to make people pay up, it's the only reason I did!), we couldn't find anyone.  Anthony and I kept walking.  It was at around this point that the route went to hell.

Firstly, for about three miles, there were no signs whatsoever, and there were some tricky turns, too.  We kept to the 11 bus route, knowing that the Walkathon loosely followed it.  At one point, we had to figure out which way to go from bus timetables.  Eventually, though, we found the signs again - along a perfectly straight road.  One sign every other lamppost, saying 'straight ahead'.  So helpful.  We didn't see a warden until about twenty minutes after this point, and they told us that a lot of wardens just hadn't shown up for their afternoon shift.  We didn't see any after Bournville, until we got back to Summerfield.  This is doubly ridiculous, because the part of the walk between Kings Heath and Summerfield was the single busiest part, with it being the first leg for everyone starting at Kings Heath.

We got back on the right path for a while, then the signs disappeared near the Queen Elizabeth hospital (I was born there!), and we got lost again.  The route had abandoned the eleven route shortly before this point, so we couldn't rely on that.

We'd just passed a sign for '3 miles to go!', so I just brought up google maps on my phone, and found Summerfield park.  The distance it gave us was three miles, so we figured it wouldn't be cheating to just follow the map back.  We did miss out on the Metchley Lane rest stop though - later on, we figured out that we'd walked on the road behind it, instead of the one in front.  Slightly wrong turns, but right distance.  I call it good (and BRMB incompetent.  If they're going to plaster their names on the signs, they can take the blame for the horrible organisation here.  And, seriously, if you want people to walk this distance to raise money, you can at least make the route clearly signposted.  Okay, wardens didn't show up, it happens.  That's why you need the signposts in the right places).

You would not believe how excited I was to see this.
Completely accidentally, though, we stumbled back onto the signs, and I remembered from the map - which we didn't have with us at the time - that the last bit of the walk took part on the Harbourne rail path.  Where I run, so I know the damn thing intimately.  This is why google maps gave me a longer distance than the actual path - because the Harbourne rail path is a handy shortcut which doesn't show up as a route on google.

Knowing the path that well meant that I walked the thing two or three times in my head, as well as once with my feet, which really didn't make things easier.  That last mile took forever.  Incidentally the signs reappeared here.

Yes.  YES.  Because this totally straight path is confusing, not that roundabout with several plausible routes and no sign whatsoever.

At the end of it, though, medals!  And a cheering horde of Vikings!

Turns out that several of them had stopped at Kings Heath, and gotten the bus back to Summerfield.  Jake had carried on for three miles with Laura and Bob, before eventually calling it quits.  Which was pretty damn awesome, with that six stone of chainmail (I tried to lift it; I couldn't).  Everyone was camped at Summerfield, waiting for Laura and Bob to finish walking.  They were only about twenty minutes behind Anthony and I.

The organizers were packing up, so they gave us all the extra food.  Ham and cheese sandwiches, jam doughnuts, a case of water bottles...

There were only three jam doughnuts, so we saved two for Laura and Bob, since they'd walked the whole distance, and gave the spare to Jake, since he'd walked twenty-three miles in chainmail.  I was the only other person to cover the entire distance (though Anthony walked nearly twenty miles, purely to keep me company, and they gave him a medal for that), but Tesco jam doughnuts have dried egg powder in them.

When Laura and Bob got to the finish line, Laura told us that they had found the Metchley Lane rest stop, but people were already packing up.  We finished at seven or so, so we were hardly that late (we lost an hour or so through injuries and lunch).  Plus, the last leg of the walk is the time when people most need encouragement and more water.

I seriously thought that was blood at first.
Gave me such a shock.
It's the dye from the under-armour padding.
I didn't expect there to be any vegan items available during the Walkathon (which is why I carried a stack of PB&J in my bag, along with some apples and bananas), so I was quite pleased about the bananas, and ecstatic about the banoffee bars.  It's a shame that there was literally nothing I could consume at the finishing line.

To be fair, it's hard to think of a vegan sandwich filling that's as simple to put together, and as inexpensive as ham or cheese.  And I do suspect that I was the only vegan walking, judging by the number of people who had no clue what vegans don't eat.  Seriously, if you work in food, we should not have this exchange;

"I'm a vegan."
"What about this?"
"Doesn't that have milk in?"
"Oh, are you allergic?"

I blame the bloody pescetarians who go around calling themselves vegetarian, and the vegetarians who claim to be vegan because they 'want' to resist milk, but not quite enough to actually get on with it.  Yes, sometimes labels are silly and pointless - emo, goth, rocker, whatever weird high school stereotype TV is on about now - but, if they describe what you will or will not consume, at least try to use them accurately.  Otherwise everyone gets confused.

Sorry, tangent.  Anyway, it'd be nice if I could come up with an easy-to-put-together vegan or gluten-free option - I know a few meat and dairy-eaters who'd have trouble with sandwiches too - but I think, until veganism becomes more mainstream, it's always going to be something that involves a bit of extra time to put together.  We can dream, eh?  If I come up with an easy vegan sandwich I'll let you know.  Houmous is out, because you'd have to spread it, ditto PB&J (not a problem with cheese or ham), and, with seitan, you need to make it.  Buying pre-packaged vegan cheeses or lunchmeats are expensive.

In other news, including Gift Aid, I raised over £100!  My friends are awesome!

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