The true meaning of endurance

There are the high places and there are the dry places.

For a certain breed of men these are the two arenas we voluntarily pit ourselves against, both present their potential risks and rewards.

The details of each expedition may vary greatly but the narrative, the underlying structure is always the same:

“Can I withstand the challenges of this environment, endure the levels of discomfort necessary to keep moving forward no matter what, fight against the pain, the urges to retreat, until it’s seen through, or will I break?”

All expeditions offer challenges, most being physical or mental; internal obstacles, questions of confidence or self-doubt, fatigue, fitness, strength, sleep deprivation and  lack of energy etc.

The great expeditions have all of the above of course, but they go beyond merely challenging ourselves; these also challenge nature, climbing or traversing terrain and environments where man cannot naturally survive.

Frozen deserts, hot deserts and the thin air atop of the highest peaks; save from using technology, man does well to keep away from these places, he has not nor never will he belong there; that is unless he wishes to suffer, to be tested. In these circumstances it’s still a question of withstanding rather than surviving, on a short timeline over exposure to either of these elements will cause death.

For the majority, keeping a safe distance from such bitter domains is a no-brainer, the idea that some would want to experience such harsh conditions voluntarily, is incomprehensible . To a few however, there’s an inescapable lure, part of their self-identity is interwoven with the experience of overcoming such challenges. It’s how we feel truly alive.

This isn’t suffering for suffering sake, far from it. There are far easier cheaper and quicker ways of inflicting pain upon ourselves if that’s what we were solely after.

But this is about endurance, the true meaning of the word.

Forget VO2 levels, body fat percentage, lactate threshold watts/kg ratios and all other ‘scientific measurements of endurance fitness’.

Endurance is a measure of one’s ability to withstand. Literally how well can you endure?

Where better to find out than crossing the Nullarbor Plain, a 1200 kilometre treeless desert.

Wish me luck!

“Run over” in Perth

When I landed in Perth I was excited to be reunited with ‘Supertramp’, the original trailer that I set off with from Haytor back in July of last year. It has since been remodelled and sent out to me for this next part of my run, the entire 3950 mile width of Australia.

I took a few days in Perth to reassemble my trailer after it had been dismantled for transit, equip myself with any extra items of kit I needed, and arm myself with plenty of supplies before heading off.  It is essential that I am well prepared for this leg of the journey as I will be crossing the famous Nullarbor Desert; the name comes from two Latin words ‘Nullus’ and ‘Arbo’ which literally means ‘no tree’. It stretches for 1200 kilometres across Southern Australia and I will need to be able to carry enough water to take me 200 kilometre stints with absolutely nothing in between.

Forty-two kilometres into my first night of running in Australia, I was hit by a car. I remarkably didn’t have a scratch on me although I was badly shaken and felt pretty dizzy having been tossed in the air and the trailer flying over me before slamming into the road below (quite amazing as it weighs over 60kg). Unlike me, ‘Supertramp’, was badly bruised; the front wheel had folded in half and one of the carbon fibre arms was split. Luckily I managed to find the only person in Western Australia who can fix carbon fibre only a few kilometres away!  So after a day recovering from the shock, and essential repairs for the trailer, we were back on the road again. It could have been a lot worse, I try and block out the frightening image of the car hurtling towards me. The following day I made my way back on the road where I had been run  over and slightly nervously carried on.

Whoever said Australia is as flat as a pancake hasn’t ever run the 13 kilometres uphill out of Southern Cross and definitely wasn’t pushing my cart which had 30 litres of water in it as well as my kit and a decent supply of food that was to keep me going for the next 120 miles of nothing! The following morning, having run 27 miles, I reached Yellowdine Roadhouse which I was expecting to be closed (as most roadhouses open at 10am) but amazingly it was open and the owners invited me in for a few hour’s kip as they were concerned about me running through the storm that was brewing.

The next day was tough, the electrical storm hadn’t subsided and there were strong head winds of 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph as well as rain, something I hadn’t felt on me for quite some time! I needed to carry on but didn’t do quite so many miles that day.

Thankfully a few days later I was rewarded for my efforts in the bad weather with a 41.2 mile day of running a gradual downhill stretch, it was much needed relief!

I am currently 355 miles outside of Perth, heading to Norseman, the last town before I embark on what is probably going to be the toughest part of my run…

I look forward to sharing this experience with you in my next blog.

Losing sight but gaining insights

Finally I was back on India’s scary roads again; it was mainly the trucks that were the problem. They are overladen and under-powered, they can’t accelerate very fast which means they try and keep their momentum by not slowing down but just swerving to miss anything in their way. The other thing that I found very exasperating was the constant sounding of horns that rang through my ears all day. I am more familiar with the horn being used in an aggressive way back home, whereas in India it is used just to alert people that you are there, even on the back of the trucks it says ‘sound your horn’.

One of these trucks hurtled passed me and threw up a cloud of dust and stones. The whole town was based around slate processing and several tiny sharp fragments of the slate had gone into my eye. I couldn’t really see anything because when I opened my good eye, it made the other one move around and scratch more so it meant I couldn’t open either eye! I was aware that India doesn’t have an ambulance service and I couldn’t get a taxi as I wouldn’t have been able to fit all my things in it. It was very scary being in a foreign country, unable to speak the language and unable to see.

Luckily three guys from a local factory saw what had happened and came out to help me. I felt quite embarrassed but after 40 minutes of not being able to see, I felt really very scared and vulnerable as I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I began to go into shock and my knees started shaking involuntarily. This was probably down to low energy as well, as I was already 29 miles into that day’s 32 miles.

One of the guys sped off on his motorbike and came back with eye drops from a chemist.

After an hour of washing the eye with bottled water, followed by buckets of water, and then submerging my whole head in water and holding my eyes open, I finally managed to open my very sore, bloodshot eye. They kindly made me a bed on a pile of slate in the factory and forced me to rest while the eye drops soothed the scratching.

Throughout my journey through this fascinating country, I was faced with many challenges but much heartfelt warmth and kindness, in fact more than I have experienced in any other country, I will save that for my next blog…

 

An Indian Embrace

The people of India were fascinated by my crazy challenge. Admittedly I did stick out like a sore thumb in their country. Mile after mile I was stopped by locals eager to find out what on earth I was doing running with a baby buggy filled with my worldly belongings. It wasn’t long before national media caught up with me to find out from the horse’s mouth what was actually going on.

I did interview after interview and was featured on the front page of many newspapers. India’s biggest news channel caught up with me, did their own interview, took many pictures and followed me as I ran along the road to shoot their own coverage.

I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen next. The news channel had featured their broadcast of me three times a day over the subsequent three days which meant 120 million people now knew what I was doing and they wanted to come and meet me. I had swarms of children running out of their schools, to pull me in to talk to them about my challenge, why I was doing it, for what charities I was doing it for and the hurdles I had faced.

I was also officially greeted by the elders of the village and they would place garlands of flowers around my neck, mark my face with powder made from turmeric, symbolising their traditional Hindu beliefs. They adorned me in turbans, their customary headwear and I was taken to visit their temples and was even invited to spend the night in one. As I approached each village the same thing would happen, as the next village didn’t want to be outdone by the previous.

This kind of attention didn’t come without its problems though. I found myself outside in the searing heat for hours longer than I wanted to be and my days were becoming longer and longer as I signed autographs and accepted their pleas to go to locals’ houses for tea.

This aside, it was truly very heart-warming; I was touched by the genuine hospitality that people showed towards me.

I didn’t camp in India as I was running at night and sleeping during the day.  It was therefore impossible to put up a tent amongst the millions of inhabitants and expect to actually get some sleep, so it meant me having to run from lodging to lodging. This played havoc with my miles and meant some days I was running more than 45 miles and others not so many in order to find somewhere to put my head down. It also took a few misguided hunts for hotels, only to find that ‘hotels’ were actually restaurants and the name they use for ‘hotel’ is actually ‘lodging’.

Remembering all the challenges India threw at me, the people truly made up for it and I will be forever grateful for how they welcomed and supported me through their country.

I eventually reached the city of Chennai on the east coast of India, having run a painful 1250km, ocean to ocean to get there, ready for my onward flight to Perth on Australia’s west coast. Another continent to conquer with its own crazy challenges.

 

People, parasites and parasols

I wasn’t sure if India might finish me before I finished her…

To say this leg of my journey was difficult was an understatement. I started on the beach in the world’s largest city, Mumbai, and fought my way out of the 13 million inhabitants, most of which seemed to be on the roads. At one cross roads I counted the waiting vehicles; there were 23 stretching across the width of the road. It was scary; running through traffic like this took so much concentration which left me mentally drained before I had a chance to tire physically. I counted between three to four squashed snakes on the road every day; I didn’t want the same fate as them, one of the reasons why camping in India wasn’t an option.

As I left the city and made my way into the more rural parts of India, I was eaten alive by the mosquitos, I counted 187 mosquito bites on me in 38 hours but it was the soaring temperatures that finally got the better of me. I ran over 350 miles of India successfully in temperatures between 31 and 36 degrees, only suffering with mild heatstroke. This I managed, and even took the opportunity to use my Blue Peter skills by adding shade to my buggy in the form of a parasol. However, it wasn’t long before the temperatures rose to an unbearable 38-40 degrees in the shade, it was relentless, extremely humid and it barely cooled down much at night. This was when I was faced with severe heat exhaustion. I felt sick, confused and very weak.

This set me back two days, I had no choice but to lie under a fan, with a sheet soaked in cold water on me to try and cool my body temperature down. At this point I took the decision to start running through the slightly cooler nights. It took some adjusting to but I literally had no choice.

My time in India was a week longer than the four weeks I had allowed to run across it. Following my two  days off with heat exhaustion, I ended up being stranded in the same village for a further three days as I wasn’t able to withdraw any money from the bank. I never carry that much cash on me because it is dangerous, so the morning I had planned to leave, I went to the bank to withdraw money to pay for my lodging only to find it was a public holiday! Having queued for 45 minutes only to be told they were limiting cash withdrawals to approximately £10 per person, I was none too pleased. This meant another day waiting. I returned the following day only to be faced with the bank being closed again as their workers were on strike, once again I had no choice but to stay put as I couldn’t pay for my room. I was itching to get going again and in the back of my mind I knew it was a race against time as I had a flight booked from Chennai to Perth that I couldn’t miss!