Lessons from a 50 kilometre night walk through London
“Shall I order an Uber to take us somewhere for dinner and we’ll forget about this?”, I jokingly asked Hosnieh when we were just 10 kilometres into a 50 kilometre night walk for charity. It was a Friday night in June and my question had some seriousness to it. Having not trained for the walk, I had my doubts about whether I would finish it. But Hosnieh, a walker who I had previously oversold the experience to as “a scenic walk through London at night”, spurred me on. She recalled how an acquaintance completed two marathons in two days. With both feet over the finish line, his body collapsed like an unsupported marionette puppet. What got him through it even when his body wanted to give in? Mind over matter. Never underestimate the mind’s ability to doggedly take over and get us through life’s challenges.
I somehow knew this but I would only fully appreciate it the next morning once I had finished the walk. There were other driving factors at play too. I was walking with industry colleagues from Comms for Good, an initiative set up earlier this year to connect people in banks and fintechs to collaborate over good causes and then talk about them through the written word. Supporting the charity Dimbleby Cancer Care (DCC) through sponsored activities such as the walk was one of them. I was also inspired by some of the walkers who were in remission and for whom 50 kilometres were a minor part of a bigger challenge they had faced. Their strength, as well as collaborating with people I know and admire for a good cause got me through the six stage walk, which I now have the pleasure in recounting.
Friday, 8:40pm The Start: St. Thomas Hospital, Waterloo
Mood: Feeling excited
A group of about 50 walkers met in the hospital canteen on the riverside wing and were split into smaller groups. With back packs fully loaded with water, sandwiches and snacks, we were seen off with a raucous cheer from the charity’s supporters. We began our journey along an effervescent Thames embankment southbound past the Tate Modern and towards Battersea. As a photographer documented our then fresh faces to film I met other walkers in our group, which included two financial services technology professionals, two doctors, a teacher and our paramilitary guide. We walked through Battersea Park and further down the Thames riverside towards Wandsworth. Two girls, who saw our branded DCC t-shirts, quizzically asked what our walk was about. On hearing our explanation, one of them guiltily extinguished the cigarette she was smoking.
Friday, 10:45pm #Pit stop 1: a yacht club near Wandsworth
Mood: Feeling contemplative
We carried on along the river past many pubs, where people were enjoying themselves outside, and reached the first pit stop at 11 kilometres. The yacht club, with its trophies and blazers in cabinets, was a sanctuary where we could briefly rest our legs, change our socks and replenish our sandwich and water supplies. We were then beckoned by our guide Rob to continue further along dense uninhabited riverside, in complete darkness saved only by a few torches. We passed the charming former Harrods Depository, now a residential building, and looped back over the Hammersmith bridge towards Chelsea.
Saturday, 1 am #Pit stop 2: A primary school somewhere in Chelsea
Mood: Feeling a bit tired
At 21 kilometres we reached a school where I had a cup of coffee and lay down for 10 minutes. Despite the tense back and shoulders I was somewhat amazed at how far I had come. But as we set off again through Chelsea and marched towards Sloan Square, I started to feel a burning sensation on the underside of my foot. I stopped briefly to investigate. I could not see anything unusual so I continued. We walked down Victoria Embankment past Blackfriars and St. Pauls and through the city towards Tower Hill. The burn was getting worse but I continued chatting to my fellow walkers to ignore it.
Saturday, 3:30 am #Pit stop 3: The Grange Tower Hill
Mood: Feeling tired and sore
We weaved through the city streets at dawn past the Old Bank of England. After meandering through the city of London we reached the Grange Hotel in Tower Hill. Amazingly I had somehow managed to walk 32 kilometres and I felt that having made it this far, I might as well continue. I sat on a lounger in the hotel lobby, took off my shoe and was greeted by five big blisters. During our half hour break, a first aider helped me with the necessary bandaging to continue with the walk. After that we set out into a beautiful sunrise at 4am to complete the next leg of the journey. We continued along the Thames River towards Greenwich passing through the tranquility of St Katherine’s Docks, Shadwell and Wapping. The walk was turning into a limp but stopping was never an option. We hobbled through it, supporting each other and were amazed that Comms for Good founder Kate was even able to jog by that stage. We zig-zagged our way through Limehouse and Canary Wharf, and on to Greenwich.
Saturday, 7:15am #Pit stop 4: Greenwich
Mood: Feeling amazed
We stopped at a church hall in Greenwhich town centre, having reached 42 kilometres. My feet were a mess but I was amazed by the distance I had walked. I asked the first aiders to add some padding to two newly acquired blisters and we were on our way for the last eight kilometres.
Saturday, 9am #Finish: Guys Hospital, London Bridge
Mood: Feeling elated
With a second wind and a spring in our steps we set off from Greenwich towards the City via Rotherhithe, enjoying the growing business of the streets and the warmth of the morning sun on our backs. We walked through Tower Hill and then past Shad Thames where cafes were readying themselves for the day. With sore legs I moved forward at a snail’s pace but I was relieved to be almost finished. We finally reached Guys Hospital where the charity’s supporters cheered us home. With tears of joy we entered the hospital’s cancer centre and were welcomed with an enormous breakfast spread. After a few group hugs, a foot massage and some reiki healing from the hospital’s specialists, I gathered myself and finally called that Uber to take me home.
Despite the aches and pains the Dimbleby Cancer Care Walk50 night walk challenge across London was an enriching experience and one that I would do again, with proper training and foot ware next time. The charity is already organising next year’s challenge on 15th June 2018. It is looking for participants in order to raise the vital funds needed to provide care and support for people living with cancer. Click here to sign up for the walk and join Comms for Good to get involved in causes such as this one. Let’s walk together and tell more good stories.