• Alex Gibson

52 miles of fun; pain; and amazing friends!



Double Marathon Walk -CMND

18:05 start from BRFC towards Bishops Stortford RC and back home

Friday 31st July 2020

Completed at 19:00 on 1stAugust 2020

52.5miles

146,344 steps in total

Friday total steps = 41,883 /15.89 miles

Saturday total steps = 104,461 /47.53 miles


Pre thoughts

I wanted to walk 50 miles for some time now. Now there was no better opportunity to try my luck.

50 miles I suggested as the furthest that I have walked is 36 miles as part of the Essex Way walk in early September 2018. That was the last day of a planned 82 mile walk and getting lost for much of it completing it in 102miles over a long weekend. It was a fantastic experience and I would certainly recommend it to everyone.

However, on discussing with Cappo he mentioned why not push it out to an extra 2.4 miles and make it a double marathon and I was sold hook, line and sinker. At first it sounded a great idea but later we may have lived to regret it as those last two miles seemed to drag for ever. No regrets though and what a fantastic challenge to complete. I can now say that I am part of a small band of people to have performed an extreme event challenge on my own door-step. Nothing less simple than that.

The original idea was to walk out 52 miles but we then had the decision to make of where towards.

Bishop Stortford Rugby Club is around 26 miles from Brentwood Rugby club but we later learnt that it may be longer!

It doesn’t matter as we set ourselves the goal of a double marathon and it was a target we could walk towards.

It was a choice recommended by Cappo and it meant that I would walk to two of my clubs that I have actually played for. I played for Bishops Stortford as a colt and enjoyed the professional set up of the club. Brentwood was my own local club in which I had been brought up from minis to seniors. I later acted as the strength and conditioning coach and player for Brentwood before sustaining a ruptured knee ACL in a game against our local rivals Thurrock which resulted in me pulling the plug.

We were assisted by our new patron of the charity Andy Long (Longy) who was an absolute delight to be around. Incidentally Longy was the main head coach at Stortford for 8 years. We originally met as part of a presentation that Cappo and myself attended at Radleys glass company. He is an excellent motivational and corporate speaker and it was a real honour to take part in this event.

Covid done its very best of trying to scupper our plans. I originally didn’t want to publicise the event in fear of it being cancelled by the authorities, but by being socially responsible I am absolutely delighted that this event was able to go ahead.

As a result, I didn’t want to set up a charity page and preferred to emphasise the Thames Pedalo Challenge in late August, another fantastic event we had lined up.

It shows that the true spirit of what people will avail to and we will not be brought to our knees by the nature of this pandemic mess.

Life will go on and whilst I still don’t believe in the process of lockdown I understand the necessity to protect the NHS, a fantastic institution. Being extremely vulnerable categorised (due to respiratory based breathing difficulties associated with MND) my isolation period actually ended on the day that this walk was due to commence. Still we had to adhere to Covid based restrictions at all times.

The build-up to the walk involved making a quick address to the troops (19 in total) and I wanted to remind them of the time to come when you will look back on this as a successful event with a sense of pride. To see beyond the pain and project the mind forward.

This was a fantastic event in which I was looking to nail now for some time. There is no better challenge to complete when all the odds are stacked against you and people doubt your overall ability to complete it. This was a major factor in driving me on.

At the same time, I wanted to put the marker down and tell people that no matter what life throws at you there is still an opportunity to complete memorable challenges and push yourself into new unchartered territories.

You can only truly discover what the sort of person you are when you put your body through tough challenges like this. Only then will you truly understand that inner voice and your ability to drive you. I have always said this is when the true character of your soul comes out to speak.

I have been to some dark places and I find that by being in touch with your inner self you can make important decisions that reset your standards or moral compass in your life. I am getting to know my inner self quite well now a-days. It takes a particularly tough training session for you to reach this particular state of mind and for that inner voice to come out later with the emotional turmoils that go hand in hand with dealing with the news that you have been diagnosed with a life terminal illness.

Those who have driven themselves to this state will recognise this as the inner voice that cries for comfort and the easy approach. It is your primary comfort support network e.g. your mum. The person you reach out for comfort when times are tough.

I have always reflected on my life as a series of markers or milestones and this was certainly one of them. I will look back on this challenge in the years to come and say that I managed to exceed people’s expectations and complete it. With which I will reflect with a total sense of pride. It is another notch in your life’s challenges and one to be immensely proud of.

Further I wanted to take the opportunity of making the best use of my own working body (although limited) and I suppose it was a celebration of my current ability to walk. This will be lost over the coming future unfortunately. It is funny really, how most people accept any terminal illness as a decision to give up the ghost and resign to a life of feeling sorry for oneself and accept sympathy from other people. This is not me and it was my way of saying although I have been dealt the cruel hand I want to rise up and attempt to reset this stigma that goes hand in hand of immobility and MND. A beyond expectation challenge.

Building up to this event (approx. 10 days prior) I took the dog Ted on a long 10 mile walk through Thorndon country park with my new FES system (which basically send electric shocks to activate my muscles – similar to a TENS machine) and my feet terribly suffered a week before the event started.

Arising from the drop foot which causes the feet to drag which results in bruising around the toes and toenails being damaged. I am certainly no-where as efficient as I used to be! In fact, I would say with the jerkiness of the movement the foot dragging and adapted biomechanics I operate at 40% of the optimal walking I used to perform.

Furthermore, because of my poor balance I have to constantly scan the ground in front of me for any potential hazards like pot holes, tree stumps or even changes in ground levels. It is quite tiresome as I have to be fully focussed at all times and requires deep concentration. Something you take for granted when you’re fully functioning.

Further, cramps hit me hard too. On this 10mile walk I fell over twice with about 10 stumbles or near falls and felt that if I extrapolated this up over the 52 miles a best case scenario would be to fall over 20 times. So I needed to protect myself properly. To make it worse when I fall over now, in an attempt to rescue myself I try to shift the muscle too quickly which initiates a severe bout of cramp.

To be honest it can be quite comical when someone sees me fall over but with MND you note that your street cred has long gone years ago and to be honest I don’t care what other people think anymore.

The emotional lability can kick in at times causing me to get a severe burst of giggles at inappropriate times like falling over. Funnily enough this is made worse when I try to discipline my children whom unfortunately know this side effect and look for me to start laughing, which inevitably I do!

It can be a issue in the work place environment as people don’t think I am taking the conversation seriously enough. Oh well there could be worse symptoms I suppose!

This emotional lability is probably the bodies mechanism to cope with the inner turmoil that MND is causing to the body and acts as a vent to relieve some frustration and underlying anger.

When I go out in the public nowadays it takes a certain amount of time to get ready and kitted up. The FES system requires a good 15 mins to set up. In addition, protective gear includes elbow supports and knee guards together with a ribcap hat and padded hip pad shorts which takes another few mins to prepare.

With my dexterity going it is becoming increasingly frustrating to do fasteners, tie shoelaces and put buttons on. When you have lost the use of your hands over time it just is another frustration that you can do without. There are times when I can or do scream out in shear frustration. People don’t understand this but all the time these minor irritations are adding to an increasing wave of frustration which has to be vented out at times.

The whole preparation for venturing out is like going to battle every time I leave the house. Using the walking stick for the poor balance would help to minimise any damage arising from the falls too. Although it is not totally fool proof and I have actually tripped up over the walking stick itself! Generally, I have days where I fall up to 3 times per day.

The concern I have is that there is a very unforgiven surface to fall onto on this challenge! When I fall onto surfaces in the woods (where I often walk) I am able to brush myself off and get onto my knees to stand up. I would say though that its becoming increasingly difficult to get to the feet if there is nothing to lean on like a tree though. One particular time I fell over in the garden and it took me 20 minutes to get back to my feet. No one was around to help me. I suppose this is my last cry out for independence and whilst I know I may become dependent on other people in the future for the time being I need to do this alone!

Cappo devised a great idea to use a horizontal pole for support between two guys in front and behind and either side of me and whilst it worked originally on both sides. I still used the walking stick to manage the balance and act as an aid whilst grabbing the pole on the left hand side. People must have thought that either I was totally out of the game or understood the bigger picture. Again who cares!

Considering how much of the walk was completed on the road, the majority of people were considerate and gave us enough space when overtaking. There are always a few selfish individuals who don’t understand the nature of this event. Luckily we only came across one or two of these characters.

This was soon to change. Approaching the half way stage I noticed that the FES machine was not stimulating the right leg enough and I had to increase the intensity to 10 which under normal situations would be unbearable. It is like being zapped with an electrical shock each time you walk. The FES machine triggers both feet so you can imagine how it feels to be zapped continuously over 25 hours. The only limitation of the FES system is it is particularly draining on the body the next day but this was not an issue as there would hopefully not be a next day.

As a result, from 25 miles out we decided to bin the FES and use two friends to prop me up under each arm. This was much better for a period of time but the stumbling certainly got to me and the toes!! On the later parts of the walk when I felt an uncomfortable and stumble forwards, I knew that realistically I had lost another toe nail.

I probably lost 4-5 toenails over the walk but I had always expected this from the outset. The heavy bruising, bleeding and swollen toes were justification of this. It does take a particularly long time to lose a toenail and one can understand how it was used for torture! No matter how you protect your toes they are delicate and subject to being lost. Afterall when you contemplate that both your foot strikes the floor over 140,000 times it is a terrific amount of pounding and stress in that area.

To be honest it is fine to be held upwards for a brief period of time but when you have to walk arm in arm as though you have been escorted out of a pub by bouncers for 25 miles the novelty factor soon evaporates. It must have been hard work on the guys helping me and it is at times like this when you understand how lucky I am. I could not have completed this challenge alone. You guys will always be remembered!

To have a fantastic support network of good friends who can dig in was a real treat. The support was tiresome for me and I certainly felt in the arms. I was physically bruised on the arms but it was certainly worth it. We tried adopting various arm supports to manage through the issues but I always reverted back to the most natural carry which made the bruising. The only time more heavy-going. I have lost toenails was on the essex walk two years ago.

It took for ever to grow through and then they were deformed. This is meaningless in the pursuit of the happiness which I shared with a band of good friends who joined this inner circle of respect and became brothers in arms. It is a life-long memory which I will take to my grave. Many people will lead their whole lives never feeling this unity and respect and we stood together for that period of time and all barriers were broken down. It was very much in the moment, you had to be present to understand it.

It is an amazing thing really. You come to a challenge with a particular hierarchical upbringing, but this soon disappears as you become equal in trying to conquer the challenge. It really sets everything into perspective and you form a bond with those you would never consider in everyday life.

Being in touch with nature and doing such a basic challenge really pulls you back into touch with the basic elements of life. In fact, when you are in touch with nature it makes you appreciate just what you have and I would recommend everyone to do this at some point throughout their lives. You will only truly understand more about your true life when you are brought back to nature. As I said before, you will only truly understand your inner voice.

There is something very fundamental about this that people never touch on in this fast paced world we live in. It is a great way of filtering out so much negative aspects of your life. It acts as a sieve for all that junk you are exposed to and brainwashed into believing. I have given up with following news as it only infuriates me at a time when I don’t need negative emotions.

My vision of completing this challenge was always etched in my mind. When the going got tough I was able to dig deep and draw upon this image of being at the finish and congratulating everyone which summoned up an inner reserve of strength to fight on and gave me a real boast.

It was particularly painful at some points but I was able to look ahead and imagine myself at the finish line. The welcome home party was fantastic. Although not crowds of people cheering it certainly was a hero’s welcome to myself and it made it so special for me and everyone else.

To be recognised in that manner was something I will cherish for many years to come. It was lovely to be escorted home down that finish line of the car park and people showing great support or appreciation for what everyone had achieved. It really capped it off as a special event. I would like to thank everyone who joined us in this magical time.

Cappo – somehow managed to shirk the responsibility of the support man which many of the boys laughed about. Every time he took the support lead his phone would go about 2 minutes into the escort and would conveniently pass me over to someone else. An incredibly positive guy and perfect to have on board. He truly is the personification of the charity and enjoys running the show. Not one grumble from him throughout the trip. A fantastic forged bond we have developed since the charity has begun.

West – An ace supporter, trustee of the charity and a true friend. Would help out at the drop of a hat. Although I still recall the Essex way where a few tears were shed as we came into Ongar. Still jealous of his spa.

Wylie – The most positive and gregarious character on board. A true champion to our charity. Has a good sense of humour too. We missed your old man!

Linden – very positive character who continues to amaze me. Bad jokes but kept the team moral really up. Unbelievably confident individual and good around women apparently. He was the main star bucket collector we had.

Matt O – A lifelong friend who I’ve known from an early age and as a child we used to tease about his Ryvita sardines but hindsight is a funny thing!. True religious character who has taught me so much about life and its outlook.

Mike Linger- Great caring guy who I learnt part owned the cryo wellness shop in the high street. He also completed the 3 Peaks Challenge in September. Hopefully he didn’t take his Louis Vuitton bag with him on that.

Tarz –an absolute gentlemen and good friend. He would again look out for you and rescued me from taking a tumble a few times on that walk. It’s a shame he lives away now as we used to train all the time at my home.

Cabbage- lovely gentle character who is one of those guys whom you can trust. Great dry sense of humour too. Should have been a scrum half from an early age as nippy around the fringes.

Lloydy – once you get to know Lloydy he is a top card and a true warrior. Again one of the true support lead escorters. Good character although unsure why he has moved to Oxford.

Pebs – A man I really respect who’s funny character has really grown on me. A fatherly figure who cares and looks out for you at all times. A seasoned challenger now. Also a massive Sarries fan.

Longy – A superbly positive motivational individual who commands utmost respect as he has had two caps for England rugby. When Cappo suggested him being a patron to the charity I didn’t hesitate to respond. Great guy and has a great sense of humour too. We need him to become more involved in what we do.

Bonno- True wit and I was unsure if he was focussing too much on surviving the walk or Covid as he avoided all contact with everyone. An old racing snake from the decathlon days. Went to the Europa cup with him in Slovenia, which landed me my GB debut.

Sam Raven- Number one fund raiser and brilliant guy, funny and charismatic too. Lovely to meet him and have him on board too.

Rick Hollingsworth -Dry sense of humour who fell in love with Longy on the walk. So much so that we had to distract him to get Longy back in the game. Superb caring guy and a chartered accountant too so watch out ladies! Done his fair work on the escort support.

Rose – A very fit guy who competes in ultramarathon events, when I asked him with a week to go he jumped at the opportunity. Love his dynamism and again an always positive humble character. Hopefully we can get him on many more challenges to come.

Pebs son, Charlie – kept to himself most of the time but real grit and determination to battle on. He had the squeakiest trainers you can imagine.

80 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

©2019 by CHALLENGING MND.
CHALLENGING MND is a registered charity in England and Wales (1182607)