Wednesday 22 May 2013

Making Great Strides for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust

David Turner writes about the the Cystic Fibrosis Trust's Great Strides 65 challenge.

Dawn broke over the North Downs on Saturday 18th May to the sound and smell of bacon being fried on a camping cooker to feed the intrepid walkers participating in the second running of the “Great Strides 65” – a 65km (40 mile) supported team walk from Newlands Corner, just outside Guildford, to Shoreham-by-Sea.

Eight teams took part in the 2013 event, with the aim of bettering the £20,000 plus Gift Aid raised on the inaugural running in 2012. Remarkably the Dorset Dawdlers and Somerset Strollers came back for more, having successfully completed the previous year’s event: the Dawdlers’ Mike Rutter was determined to finish in better style than he had 12 months ago – when he walked the last five miles wrapped in a space blanket.

The Dawdlers were joined by teams from Surrey, London and as far afield as the West Midlands, Bristol, Somerset and northern Cambridgeshire. All of the teams had some connection with CF, whether through family friends or as parents of children or adults with the disease. Walkers ranged in age between their late-20s and 70 and included siblings, parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents of those with CF, and even a vicar who had once baptised a girl with cystic fibrosis! The remarkable Sue Ward from March was walking in memory of her son, motivated by a burning determination to help fund the research which will improve the outcome for current and future generations of patients

Ready for the “off” – Newlands Corner at 7am

After setting off at 7am, and an initial leg which involved a couple of gentle drops and climbs as the walkers moved away from the North Downs, the teams settled onto the Downs Link – a long distance path linking the North and South Downs which largely follows the route of the disused Cranleigh and Steyning railway lines. There were pre-arranged checkpoints every five to seven miles for the teams to meet up with their support crews so that they could refill their camelbacks, top up on Mars bars and bananas and change their socks and T-shirts. Despite earlier forecasts of incessant and heavy rain, weather conditions on the day were kind: dry, reasonably cool and no wind.

The teams made good progress, with the leaders reaching the third checkpoint at Slinfold (about 17½  miles into the route) at about midday. However, by the time that the teams reached Southwater (just five miles further on), many were beginning to suffer from sore feet, and the paramedics assigned to the event were earning their money as they performed a series of essential running repairs to keep people going. One walker’s feet were so badly blistered by this stage that she completed the walk wearing flip-flops!

For many, the final checkpoint at Upper Beeding was a welcome respite: conveniently located in a pub, participants were able to replenish depleted carbohydrate reserves with a pint of Sussex or a plateful of home-cooked chips before embarking on the final five-mile slog to the finish. Unfortunately, half the teams bypassed the pub (through inadvertence not design) and so denied themselves the simple pleasures on offer.

The posse was led across the finish line by the SW15 Ramblers at 7.30pm. The other teams followed, with the last team hobbling over the finish line at 9.50pm after nearly 15 hours of walking. Some of the walkers had pushed themselves to the point of exhaustion and beyond, and there were some spectacular blisters on display well before the end of the walk. The extraordinary determination of all of the walkers was both inspiring and humbling, and has helped the Trust raise a huge sum of money: to date almost £30,000 has been pledged. With gift aid, the total could exceed £34,000. We owe a huge “thank you” to all of the walkers and their support crews; to Katie Burr of the CF Trust who has organised the event for the last two years and who leaves the Trust shortly to go travelling (perhaps she will be back in time to “walk the walk” in next year’s iteration) and to the volunteers who helped the event to run so smoothly (most of all Mel Urwin, another walker from last year, who volunteered to help for a few hours but ended up staying the whole day!).

The date for next year’s “Great Strides 65” will be announced shortly. If you fancy doing something a bit different and surprising your family, friends and even yourself, then give it a go!!

The Mail Publisher Solutions team, and paramedics, at the finish

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