Whilst Martin doesn’t respond to our set questions specifically, he rewards us with a delightfully written account of his journey to becoming a Centurion. As something of a lightweight I remain in awe of all those who’ve cracked the 100 miles. It was originally penned for the Dark Peak fell running club newsletter.
WALKING ROUND IN CIRCLES
49 laps, 98 miles down, 1 lap to go. About 1 and a half hours left and it’s in the bag unless I have a major cardiac event. As I walked past the various marshalls and judges for the very last time I thought back to how this Centurion obsession began…..
The idea of walking 100 miles within 24 hours started shortly after the club Alport Castle race way back in June 2013. I was in good shape and finished within seconds of Tom Westgate and so was delighted—until the next morning when I realised my left ankle was sprained. Tried resting if for a few days before running again but on reflection I was just too impatient and it became a chronic problem which culminated about 3 months later in an MR scan and an offer of a steroid injection which I politely declined. Instead I decided to get sensible and just stop running.
Walking didn’t seem to hurt though and it was around this time that I came across an article in Strider ( the LDWA magazine ) about someone who qualified as a British Centurion by walking 100 miles around Lingfield race course in under 24 hours. It sounded quite a barmy thing to do. But a seed had been planted !
With slight trepidation I told my regular running partner Jim Fulton about my plan to have a go at the Centurion, expecting a bit of light ridicule, but to my surprise he was quite taken with the idea. In fact within hours I know he was on the net researching race walking technique! So we started going out midweek on fast 2 hour urban walks and on Saturday mornings we ventured out on longer walks, sometimes taking in country lanes out into Derbyshire whilst on other occasions we would head into the estates of Parsons Cross, Woodbourne, the Manor and Parkhill.
We contacted the secretary of the British Centurions but they were a bit slow in deciding the venue for the annual qualifying event for 2014-so we looked further afield and signed up for the Dutch version in Schiedam in early June. Flights and hotels were booked and our training got ever so slightly serious as we started the new year—but not too serious with Jim around as you can imagine.
After we had exhausted the roads near and far, Jim devised an excellent route which made good use of the national canal towpath network. One particular Saturday in February we set off from Lodgemoor to eventually reach the Peak Forest canal by way of Castleton and a sewage works just short of Buxworth canal basin. After all the ups and downs on the hills it was full steam ahead along the tow path to eventually reach our destination, New Mills Central railway station for a train back home. Whilst enjoying the well earned sit down on the platform we were a bit put out to hear the announcement that the 16-10 train to Sheffield had been cancelled. Disappointing but it gave us time to check out New Mills and grab a tea and some cakes before the next train back. Fortunately the cafe owner, Ali, seemed to be better informed than National Rail as he gently informed us that there wouldn’t actually be another train to Sheffield until next Tuesday ! The only way back by rail involved a jog to New Mills Newtown station and then a train to Stockport where we would then pick up a Sheffield connection. I explained our predicament to the guard on the train en route to Stockport and he quoted something like £45 for the price of a single ticket to Sheffield—each. Jim muttered something about “not wanting to buy the actual train” and fortunately the guard saw reason and let us off with a £6 ticket each instead. We eventually made it to the Tap at Sheffield station for a well earned beer or two.
On another Saturday we walked to Congleton via the canal system, a distance of 50 miles, in a shade under 12 hours, and on arrival at the station we were both feeling a bit damp around the edges. Still, the train to Stockport arrived very promptly and I sat back feeling quite mellow until Jim told me that he wanted to get out of his damp clobber and into some dry gear that he had stashed in his rucksack. There were no toilets in our bit of the train but that didn’t seem to worry Jim who insisted on getting out of ALL his clothes and into the dry stuff. I must say he was quite slick about it which made me think he’d done it before in similar circumstances, but slick or not I sat quietly praying that the guard or another passenger would not come strolling down the aisle in our direction.
On another occasion I remember feeling a bit anxious when Jim suggested that the route for the midweek evening walk, in darkness, would be along the Tinsley canal starting at the canal basin in central Sheffield. He was very reassuring and against my better judgement we set off with torches one moonlit Wednesday evening. I must admit it was lovely to see the moon reflecting off the water and very peaceful as we approached Tinsley locks but just when my defences were down a young chap just appeared from the shadows to ask us if we were dogging. I can’t recall the exact response but I do remember the rather sudden surge in pace as we strode on and away heading for the Tinsley viaduct, a fine place to walk offering excellent views of the water treatment works down far below.
For a bit of “mental toughness” training one Saturday we drove to Rother valley country park and proceeded to walk a 2 mile loop around one of the lakes, again and again for a full 8 hours. We performed well and felt just about ready to take on the 100 miler in Schiedam. Jim and Hilary flew to Amsterdam and spent a few days exploring the city before heading onwards to Schiedam where I joined them the day before the event. Although we had done lots of long fast walks we felt rather nervous as we made our last preparations for the event.
The Dutch were friendly and welcoming and at 12 noon we set off in a group of about 50 walkers in Beatrix Park. We soon settled into a decent pace on a 2.5 mile loop-but could we keep it going? In the afternoon the park filled with locals who tucked into beers and BBQ’s enjoying the sunshine as we plodded on and on around them, lap after lap after lap. In the night Jim’s feet started to give him some serious grief and eventually he had to seek help from the first aid station. He actually fainted in there and after dressings had been applied and coming round he was strongly advised to retire. My feet were fine but my mind was all over the place and after about 66 miles we both decided to throw in the towel and we slunk off back to the hotel feeling quite miserable. Jim showed me his feet later and the soles looked like a Dominos pizza topping. Not good. Strange how Jim can run for miles and miles without any blisters but when he walks he just can’t seem to avoid them. Something to do with biomechanics I guess, but whatever he wasn’t keen to try another Centurion anytime soon. I had about 6 weeks to regroup though and try again as I had already entered for the British event in Southend.
There was no park at Southend-this time it was a 400m track in an athletics stadium.
About 25 walkers set off and round and round we went in the sunshine carefully
watched by judges sat at various points around the track to make sure we didn’t break
into a jog. Unfortunately it was quite a hot day but at midnight I was pleased to be on
target and treated myself to my Ipod nano and a change of trainers. Sadly the ipod had
lost its charge which was a body blow as by then I was losing all interest in the
“scenery” and needed something to distract me. Anyway I carried on and managed to
keep going, just, for the full 24 hours, but only completed 97 miles so failed in my bid
to become a Centurion. My initial thought was to stop there and take up something
more sensible like train spotting but after a decent night’s sleep I decided that I should
try again the following year.
The qualifying event in 2015 was to take place around a 2 mile course along
pavements in Castletown which is quite a scenic port just down the road from the
airport at Douglas on the Isle of Man. I sent in my entry fee early and cracked on with
the training which often involved walks out to Macclesfield , returning by train. At the
end of December in 2014 my old car finally died and I decided not to replace it and
instead walk to and from work as a way of providing a little bit more weekly mileage!
Jim continued to keep me company on some training walks which was great for
morale and perhaps our favourite walk out of all of them was a night outing to
Manchester, leaving my house in Lodgemoor at 11pm one Friday, arriving in good
time for a Wetherspoons’ breakfast in the city centre near Piccadilly gardens. We
were surrounded by groups of young lads and it was difficult to decide if they were
starting early or finishing late as they knocked back their pints. Needless to say Jim
joined in with a couple of Robinsons’ best whilst light weight that I am stuck to a pint
of Builder’s tea. Although it rained the whole way it was a fantastic outing and the
breakfast was the best that I’ve ever had. We even obtained seats on the train back to
Well, August soon arrived and after a short flight from Manchester I checked into my
hotel in Castletown. After a solid breakfast I registered and then just tried to relax
until the “race” started at 2pm. There were about 100 entrants and the locals were
very supportive as we fast walked round and round the 2 mile course. I recall going
through 50 miles in something like 11 hours 10 minutes and I felt pretty good at that
stage. My lap times were quite consistent, generally 25 to 28 minutes for the first half
and 28 to 30 minutes for the second half of the event. There were 48 finishers within
the 24 hours, the fastest with an incredible time of 19 hours and 14 minutes but I was absolutely delighted to be the 32nd with a time of 22 hours and 59 minutes, making me
the 1153th Centurion since records began back in 1911.
ALSO SEE THIS POST FOR THE LIST OF CLUB CENTURIONS, TO WHICH WE SHOULD ADD MARTIN’S NAME.