Having just completed my first marathon, the thought of completing a 96km walk seemed simple. “It’s only a walk,” they said. It didn’t take long after beginning our training that we realised the difference that steep, steep hills and undulating terrain can make to the severity of the experience.
Before commencing the walk, we consulted veterans such as Jenny Cawood, Mary Jackson, Antony Banfield and Karen Brown. All whose wisdom we quickly forgot.
Undertaking ultra-distance is summed up in the well-known quote by Dean Karnazes, “If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon. If you want to talk to God, run an ultra.” Although our intention was never to run, and only to walk (due to the aforementioned terrain) we undertook the event for some or all of the following reasons:
- To raise money for charity
- To support our friends on the team
- To try something new/different
- To see what the human body can do
- To reach a goal
- To form new friendships
- To gain new experiences
Many people in this world equate comfort with happiness and this is not necessarily true. What is guaranteed from completing an event such as this is that you will learn more about humanity in its purest form and about yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone. Some typical ailments, injuries and problems you can expect to encounter despite careful planning:
- Blisters- unavoidable, sort them out early
- Excruciating foot pain and loss of toe nails
- ITB Syndrome
- Extreme fatigue
- Underwear chaffing
- Bum crack chaffing – never underestimate where you might need Bodyglide
The hardest part of the event was the graveyard shift; 4-6am. During this time, it is like the walking dead. Everyone plods along in silence on the dark bush track. You drift in and out of sleep while you are walking and are woken by your hallucinations. The high-visibility vests dancing in the distance do some crazy things to your eyes and mind. Even though everyone knows the golden rule of events “Never try anything you haven’t tried in training”, desperation to stay awake during the night led us to try a concoction of pharmaceuticals; ibuprofen, anti-inflammatories, Panadol and No-doze. All of which led to some of the abovementioned ailments. How to stay awake? I sung aloud at the top of my lungs while listening to an iPod and a well-timed hill helped kept us alert until the sun rose. The breaking of day and nearing the end gave us a renewed energy to get to the finish.
Being out on the Kokoda Challenge Track has some likeness to being on a battlefield. It is brutal. Some additional things you might expect to witness:
- People vomiting
- Disorientated people being pushed up hills
- People walking sideways or backwards down hills to avoid ITB strain
- People bailing out – on the side of track, at checkpoints and in the luxuriously warm and comfortable halls, the bailout figure seems to increase significantly
- People sliding down to the ground while descending hills
- Crying (as I did myself for 30km)
The most special thing to witness though is the encouragement and support between teams and strangers, which is at the crux of the event.
At many times during the event, particularly at the end, I was about to bail out. Some of the things that keep me going were:
- The people who donated
- The shame in announcing my failure to others
- The fact that we had walked so far already
- The amazing support crew
- My strong team
- The amount of time, effort and money put into preparing for the event
- The glory of the finish line
The recovery days following the event were not at all bad and the elation that you feel is extraordinary. The experiences of the walk will keep you reflecting and pondering for years to come.
Written by Zara Di Bella