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The accidental marathon (you are capable of more than you know)

I walked a literal marathon last Saturday. 

I wanted to go walking and exploring - i have a list on my phone of places I want to explore, which I haven’t been able to travel to for the past year. And now the travel ban has been lifted I’m heading out as often as I can.

But after one or two adventures the brake pad warning light went on in my car (probably because my car was so shocked to discover we now go further than Aldi’s sometimes), and since brake pads aren’t something you mess with, I booked an appointment at the garage and then looked around for places I could get to without a car at the weekend.

Where I really wanted to visit was a place called the Devil’s Pulpit, in Finnich Glen. (It’s called that because there’s a rock that is shaped like a pulpit, and it’s red sandstone, so, obviously, devil.) It’s rather hard to get to without a car - it’s only about an hour’s drive from my house, but there’s no public transport to speak of, no nearby train station, and really no good parking, either! 

I checked with a few friends who have cars but they all had plans or weren’t up for it, so I shelved that idea and decided to go there another day. I went back to my list and another place was walking a portion of the West Highland Way from Milngavie near Glasgow. 

(I’d love to walk the entire 95 mile West Highland Way, but that’s a week or more of walking, so, maybe not for a Saturday on its own.) 

So I walked to the train station from my house, took the train to Milngavie, and started off on the WHW. The weather was glorious and predicted to be so all day long - blue skies, slight breeze, sunshine, happiness. 

I walked, and walked, and walked. I didn’t have a detailed plan of how far i would go - I was thinking maybe the 8 miles to Drymen and back, which is a total of 16 miles. I was only a few miles from Drymen when I passed a particular Glasgow road that made me wonder, hey….that road near Finnich Glen was near Glasgow too...I wonder if that’s anywhere near here? I wonder how far off my track I’d need to turn to get there? 

Pulled up my old friend Google Maps and discovered lo and behold it was only a half an hour’s extra walk in a different direction, and i would be at the very place i had originally wanted to visit so much! Winning!!

So I did. I walked the extra miles and found the gorge and almost literally swam through it to the devil’s pulpit, and watched the sun streaming in and looked in fascination at the red sandstone and climbed carefully up the stone steps to the other side of the gorge… and it was amazing and I was thrilled I made it and I felt pretty good and then I needed to walk all the way back.

Which was okay, until i realised my feet were wet so they were getting a bit sore. I changed to dry socks after about an hour, but my shoes were still a little wet, and then after a while my feet were really sore. 

But I wasn’t back at the start yet. 

So I kept walking.

And walking.

And walking.

I felt like I was getting slower and slower, but my watch assured me i was actually keeping a fairly decent pace considering how far I’d gone and how sore my feet were. 

As time went on I was passed by literally everybody. EVERYBODY. People meandering, older people who looked even to me they were walking slowly, small children whose legs are about a fifth as long as mine, everybody. I even got a few pitying looks by people who could clearly tell I was in pain and (for the last few miles) limping. 

Usually when I’m out walking I have lots of thoughts swirling through my mind. By this point in the walk I had only one thought, which was to put one foot in front of the other and just. keep. going. It was all I could do. There’s no other way to get home (unless I asked a passing stranger to carry me on their back and drive me home, I guess, and my pride was probably too strong for that).

I remember hitting a point which looked like it was getting quite close to the end. Because I was walking back on my own original steps at the start of the day, much of the path looked familiar, and the last sign I’d seen said 3 ¾ miles to my destination. And I felt like I’d walked a few miles, so I figured the next sign would be one more mile. I could handle that. I could walk (barely) one more mile.

By now I was at the point where I would pass a bench or a seat, think of stopping to sit, and decide not to because it was just as hard to sit down and then get back up again as it would be to just keep going. 

I kept going.

I got to the sign. 

The sign that was supposed to tell me it was only 1 mile left.

It said 2 miles. 

“I can’t walk for 2 more miles,” I thought. “I literally can’t. I’ll just collapse here in the dirt. It’s too hard. My feet hurt too much. It’s too far. I’ve overdone it.” 

And yet as i thought these things, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. 

So I kept walking. (I nearly cried with relief when I hit the sign that said a half a mile remaining.) 

And I made it. Back to the beginning, to the train station. I even managed to walk to the train, and switch trains, and arrive at the station nearest my house. I did balk at walking the 1.5 miles from the station to my house, because I thought I might break my feet. So I ordered a taxi, and waited as it got cold and dark and the taxi took a long time...and then I limped into the taxi and limped into my house and collapsed (almost literally) into a bath of epsom salts.

Once I’d crawled into bed with the heating pad on, I suddenly thought to check my watch. “I wonder how many miles I walked in the end,” i wondered. At one point during the day I’d seen either 14 or 16 miles and had felt a little nervous about checking again, since sometimes knowing how far you’ve been makes you feel even more exhausted. 

So I checked, and it told me I’d walked 27.22 miles that day, all in. 

A literal marathon. 

Actually, more than a marathon. It’s an “ultra”.

When I texted my family, my sister, who is a marathon runner (on a slow day), said “You did an ultra!!”

I didn’t even know what an ultra was. I associated it with amazing, talented, super fit people like my sister, who run ultras and run 100k’s and night marathons and rugged-terrain-races and wins medals and is basically a cheetah. 

Apparently, an ultra is anything longer than the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles. I did read that technically it’s usually called an ultra when it’s 50km or longer, but who’s quibbling? And I thought you had to run an ultra, not walk one. And I would never have imagined I could do it. 

The thing is, if I’d set out on Saturday morning to walk an ultra, I doubt I’d have committed to it. I’d say no, that’s not very wise, I’ve only done 16 or 18 miles in a day before, and it’s better to work up to it. Or I’d pick another location, or better shoes, or I’d pack extra things to bring with me, or or or. 

But I ended up doing the best I could with what I had, and my best was far, far longer and further I’d ever imagined. Literally the most I’ve ever walked in a day - at least that I know of. Certainly more than my watch has ever recorded! 

I’m not a cheetah. I don’t like running. I wouldn’t even say I’m very fit - I’ve still got 23 pounds to shift to hit my goal weight, and am only barely getting back to more regular activity. (I was only 4 pounds off my goal last year and then i just lost motivation entirely and started eating more and ordering takeaway more and not counting calories and not exercising much and lo and behold it started to just pile back on). 

But I can walk.

I can put one foot in front of the other - even (as I discovered later), one blistered foot in front of the other blistered foot, mile upon mile, slowly, even limping in places, until I finish. 

I can finish. 

And I can finish a lot further, and achieve a lot more, than even I had imagined. 

I’ve already found it to be an incredibly motivating and encouraging thing. I’ve got something to work on which is hard? Or a difficult conversation to have? Or something I’m not sure I can do as well as someone else? 

Well, I did an ultra, after all. And I finished, and I made it, and I didn’t have to ask someone to carry me pick-a-back at the end. 

So if I can do that, I can do this. 

Whatever “this” is.

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