7:30am, on what would turn out to be the hottest day of 2023, so far: I arrived at the starting line in Kendal with all the gear and very little idea on what a 28km trek through the Lake District would entail. There would be 1500 walkers taking part in the challenge, 16 of them representing Team Virtue. Members from every department limbered up to tackle routes ranging from 28km right through to 100km to raise money for Derian House Children’s Hospice – our chosen charity for 2023.
The first 10km was a leisurely walk towards Kentmere. Dan Hiley’s neon-pink knee-length sports socks captured Team Virtue’s enthusiasm. That was until we came under attack from local wildlife (bugs) as we neared our first rest point. The screams from Claire Steele & Tracy Findell carried us along country lanes as we reached Longsleddale: our first rest-point.
Those who had done 2022’s walk didn’t shy away from warning about the assent we were approaching – the highest on the entire 100km route. So before departing Longsleddale, I made sure I scoffed a flapjack, applied blister plasters & refilled my camel pack.
Those aiming for 50-100km didn’t hang around for too long & and we each began to settle into our own pace as we approached the first hill. The women of Team Virtue initially stuck together for the first hour of the climb but eventually it was me & Tracy who committed to representing Virtue towards the tail-end of the walkers. I wasn’t out to set any records – only to reach the finish line with a bit of a tan & my dignity intact.
Tracy & I quickly adopted a strategy of stopping every 20 steps to catch our breath (and reconsider our life choices). We’d been in direct sun for a couple of hours; our water was running dry & every few metres we were coming across people who were dropping out of the walk entirely. The stationed Medic was low on emergency supplies & was literally thanking people for turning back.
Ironically, 900 metres up was the lowest point of the walk. Tracy will admit she practically collapsed at the feet of the Medic, partly because he provided some shade, but mostly because she’d reached her limit. Sure, strength of character & mind edged us along. But it was a pack of Aldi’s Mamia Baby wipes and Extra mints that got me and Tracy over that 900-metre hill.
What I came to realise after Kentmere was that Tracy was entirely delusional. “Once we get round this corner it’s all downhill”. Sure, we ambled (read: plodded with momentum) down into Troutbeck, but only to find ourselves crawling up several more hills towards Ambleside & our final destination. Was she succumbing to heat exhaustion? Highly likely. Did she have selective recollection of last year’s walk? Almost certain.
Ryan Partington was the first of Team Virtue to arrive in Ambleside, 5 and a half hours after we’d first set off from Kendal. He’d go on to reach 50km, closely followed by Simon Steele & Phil Lawson. Tracy & I were fairly confident that we would be the last of Virtue to cross the 28km finish line in Ambleside. I think our fellow teammates were pleasantly surprised when we rounded the corner on foot & not in the back of a shuttle bus. We’d made good time, all things considered, finishing in just under 9 hours, where the biggest group of the 28km walkers placed.
It was an impressive feat from the entire team, and undoubtedly worthy of the sponsorship we’d received for Derian House. Next year I’ll be checking the weather forecast before considering 50km…