The aches and pains of the long-distance hiker: Steve Canavan

Does the name Paul Tierney mean anything to you? It should do for he has just done something astonishing, completing the Lake District’s Wainwright peaks (all bloomin' 214 of them) in a new record time of six days, six hours and five minutes.

Monday, 24th June 2019, 3:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th June 2019, 5:55 pm
Steve is amazed that someone completed all the Wainwrights Peaks in the Lake District. Pavey Ark and Harrison Sickle, pictured.

All power to the ultra runner for what he has done is truly amazing. He covered 318 miles in six days – I’ve owned cars that haven’t managed that. He ascended a total of 36,000 metres – the equivalent of climbing Everest four times.

Not surprisingly he looked absolutely spent as he staggered into Keswick at the end of his epic run and one can only imagine how his feet smelt . But why would you want to put your body through such stress and suffering to do something that must be so completely unenjoyable? I am being slightly hypocritical because I myself once did something similarly bonkers.

When I was a young man, back when I didn’t need a lengthy sit down after climbing a flight of stairs, I entered something called the Parish Walk. It takes place annually in the Isle of Man and involves having to cover 85 miles in 24 hours.

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Quite why I decided to do this I have no idea. I can only assume I was having a mid-life crisis.

I trained for this event for months beforehand, which wasn’t easy because walking is rather time-consuming.

When training for a marathon, for example, you might do the odd two to three-hour run.

Training for an 85-mile walk, however, involved regularly doing 30-40 mile walks, which, because average walking speed is about 4mph, takes about eight to 10 hours. I lost count of the number of occasions I started walking, after a day at the office, at 5.30pm, stumbled home at 2.30am, and then had to get up for work the next morning with legs so heavy I once had to hire a forklift truck to manoeuvre them off the bed.

True story this – on one training walk, I got stopped by the police walking through a car park at 3am in shorts and bright yellow trainers.

‘Certain activities go on round here’, the officer said, nodding in the direction of a couple of parked-up vehicles. I thought he meant there was a mechanic working late but later discovered it was a dogging site. When I told him I was preparing for a long-distance walk, he looked me up and down, presumably came to the conclusion that no one looking for cheap thrills in a car park in the middle of the night would possibly wear trainers as garish as mine, and sent me on my way.

The Parish Walk event itself was fascinating. Me and 2,000 other nutters gathered in a field in Douglas at 8am and began traipsing around the island.

I wish I could tell you I heroically completed the course but I’m afraid to say I dropped out at the 52-mile stage after 14 hours. 

That same year – and something which puts my pathetic failure to shame – a woman by the name of Bethany Clague somehow managed to walk 170 miles in 48 hours. She wasn’t in a good way at the end – she virtually crawled across the line and was so exhausted she couldn’t speak. 

In defence of my failure, though, it is a tough event – only about 180 of the 2,000 folk who enter actually finish.

There are strict rules. You must wear a microchip to prevent cheating and you must not run. You have to reach each of the 17 checkpoints inside a specific time otherwise you are disqualified.

This year 28-year-old electrician Liam Parker led the field home in a time of 15 hours and 44 minutes.

Both he and Wainwright runner Mr Tierney, and all the others who take part in these madcap events, deserve great credit – it’s this kind of eccentric behaviour that makes our country great.

And keeps blister ointment companies in business too.