The previous weekend we walked an epic 42 miles over 2 days. Great training and it felt that by August 100 km (63 miles) in 24 hours would be achievable. I felt elated at the end of those 42 mile — but the tops of my feet hurt from carrying the weight of my walking boots. Which is one reason why I’d invested in a new pair of trainers to walk the Dodentocht.
This weekend I put on those trainers, took the train to Manchester and at 9:30am while other people were heading off for work or to grab a coffee and take some time to decide how to treat the day, I was walking the canals.
We met someone along the way who asked if we were going far. After last weekend, I was tempted to say “No, not far. Just 22 miles today.” It didn’t feel all that far — I thought that by 4 or 5pm I’d be at home with my feet up.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
The walk through central Manchester is an interesting mix of canal-side dwellings and hip business premises which give way to a sporting hub that includes the Etihad stadium and the Velodrome. We spotted some men in Manchester City strips at the gates to the tennis courts, but didn’t stop long enough to recognise them. (There isn’t much stopping on these training walks — we need to maintain an average pace of 4.5 km to be in with a chance of finishing in time. Even at a fairly brisk walk it still feels hard to maintain.)
There is a fair share of industry along the Greater Manchester canals — new factories with gleaming steel tanks and older ones with dirt smeared windows. We passed under the motorway twice — surprisingly quiet considering the traffic that rumbles overhead.
We stopped for a first lunch at a canal basin where children were feeding a flock of Canada geese. I think in terms of first lunch, second lunch on these big days. I’ve never walked enough for a three lunch day but there are plans for a 35 mile day fairly soon. First lunch was little more than a sandwich, a mini sausage roll and a square of chocolate — nothing too big. It has to be easy to digest. The last thing you need on one of these days is a first post-lunch dip, followed by a second post-lunch dip.
We passed through tree-lined waterways, with the muddy track sucking at our feet. Each slithering step sapped my strength but thankfully didn’t last too long. Through the 500 feet long Woodley tunnel where we groped our way along, splashing through hidden puddles in the pitch black interior — I did bring a torch but for some reason I didn’t use it.
In Romily I stopped and inspected my feet — blisters were starting to form where the seams of my socks met the seams of my trainers. A bit of compeed on each one and I was good to go. So, onwards over the Marple aqueduct — raised high up above the river Goyt — the highest canal aqueduct in Britain.
We were tired — the two hourly stops were no longer long enough. But every time I sat down to rest it just hurt more when I got up. Aches in my legs, my feet — even the palm of my hand ached at one point. At the top of the flight of 16 locks at Marple, I lay down with my feet raised on the lock’s balance beam. A hiking club walked by, remarking that raising your feet above your heart was the best way of easing tired feet.
I can’t say it made me feel any better, but we moved on. Mile 15. Another seven to go. I had walked 28 miles with energy to spare the previous weekend, and yet now I wondered if I would make it home.
We carried on through more mud, trying to keep up the pace. Then the first of the afternoon showers struck and we sheltered under a tree, delving into the bottom of our packs to retrieve waterproofs. Others weren’t so lucky — we watched as soaked Sunday strollers ran for cover under the nearest bridge. We passed them by, not minding the rain.
The shower passed around the time that the blisters hit. Both of us were suffering this time. Mine — no bigger than the size of a pea but a blister is a blister — large or small it burns and hurts like hell. We sat on a bench and adjusted or applied dressings as the rain started to fall again. And in the few steps it took to find shelter under a bridge we realised that it was game-over for today. Not rain stopping play but blisters getting the better of us. We walked slowly and gingerly, arriving at the bus stop at a miraculous time — just before the hourly bus was due.
Limped home, checked our blisters and found ourselves wondering why it was such an ordeal.
In the final analysis, I set out to walk 22 odd miles and walked nearly 20 of them in 7 hours. On that pace, I’d be finished the Dodentocht in around 21 hours. Which I keep reminding myself, is pretty good going, just as long as I can keep going like that for a whole night and a whole day.