It was the final day of the hardest week of my life. And I was exhausted. My heart was a-twitching, my lungs a-panting, and I felt sick. After seven days of pushing myself to the extreme, my body was screaming for rest. But I barely noticed. 🙂 Instead, I had the biggest smile on my face. Pride and astonishment and happiness and relief. Cause through the mist I could see Phil cheering me on from the virtual finish line. Amazingly, wonderfully, thankfully, I was about to achieve my impossible. Happy happy happy days!
In my life before Pulmonary Hypertension, I loved walking. Hiking with D of E as a teenager, climbing mountains with friends as a student, multi-day treks with Phil when we travelled. But all that changed overnight in 2013- when I awoke to find myself blue, struggling to breath, and barely able to stumble two metres. My lungs were at quarter capacity, my heart in failure, and I was left bedridden almost 24/7 from extreme fatigue. Every time I tried to walk, my body struggled, it zapped my entire daily energy allowance; and left me poorly for days. Over the last seven years, despite being on powerful medication, doing daily strengthening and cardio exercises, keeping myself as fit as possible… I’ve never regained enough health to easily walk. But I have improved immensely. 🙂 I remember the excitement of walking two metres around my hospital bed, the achievement when I first trudged from lounge to kitchen. Each extra few metres that I am now able to walk, took months of medicine and training, and many many poorly recovery days. Consequently, despite trying and trying and trying, I’m reliant upon my mobility scooter whenever I leave the house. Walking is my nemesis. 🙂
In September this year, storm clouds rolled into my world. After months of shielding and isolation and missing friends and constant fear, and with no end to the pandemic in sight… life began to look dark and grey. And with many of my usual coping mechanisms off-limits due to the virus, I struggled to prevent the downwards pull. For a while, I was like a lone tree flailing in the winds and the rain and the thunder. At the mercy of the gale. I desperately needed new umbrellas. I needed a routine and exercise and sunshine and something to look forward to. So I entered a 5km walking event. 🙂
It felt like a mad challenge. An impossible challenge. Walking exhausts me, steals my energy, makes me ill. My legs go wobbly, my heart works too hard, and my lungs struggle to breathe. In seven years, I’ve never managed further than 490m. But despite the evidence against, a little voice inside me was excited to try. If ever there was a time, this was it. I could take the negatives of the pandemic and turn them into positives. My free diary meant, for once, I had time and energy coins to devote to walking and its repercussions. With events banned, the race was being run as a virtual one, so I could walk locally, whenever I felt well enough, and spread it over seven days. And thanks to shielding and a summer devoted to gardening, I was stable and well and the healthiest I’d been since becoming ill. Now was the time to try. All the stars were aligned. 🙂
But even so, the mountain seemed enormous. The challenge unachievable. 720m for seven days straight was still too much. Too dangerous. I’d never walked that far, nor exercised on consecutive days. So for the next month or so, I prioritized training above everything else. A few times a week, I’d get off my scooter in the middle of a dog walk, and slowly saunter across a field. Mud and grass, boggy and dry, hilly and flat. First 400m, then 500m, then 600m. Every time I upped the distance, or walked too fast, or I was already fatigued, my body would go on strike, and I’d end up bed-ridden. Eventually, a fortnight before the big event, I managed 720m for the first time. And then a week before, I managed to walk for two consecutive days. I knew there was a high chance I’d not manage the 5km, the distance was a bit too far, the odds weren’t in my favour. But for me it wasn’t the outcome, it was the trying. It wasn’t the finish line, it was the journey. It wasn’t the medal, it was the walking my way out of that Autumn storm.
And what a journey it was. Race week was the physically hardest seven days of my life. Although we strategically picked routes that were flat and solid underfoot, went out at my optimum time, increased my oxygen level… the walking was bloomin’ tough. Although I laid down for 23 hours a day, did absolutely nothing else, got looked after by Phil (on top of full time work and running 100 miles himself!)… my wonderful body struggled to recover. As the days passed, I was just getting increasingly poorly. Every day I’d feel worse than the last. By the second half of the week, even when resting I was breathless and fatigued and almost-constantly nauseous. I couldn’t sleep on my back or side, I had the squits, and even night sweats. And scarily, my heart developed new worrying symptoms. It was psychologically hard to go out each day, knowing I was making myself ill, possibly causing damage. It turned into a battle between head and heart; health anxiety versus determination.
But, gees, I loved it. I’d seriously missed walking in the countryside. The mud underfoot, the ridges to step over, the long grass tangled in your boots. The silence, the bird song, the peace. Seeing over hedgerows, surprising wildlife, stepping over branches. Walking hand in hand with Phil, holding Lottie on her lead, looking ‘normal’. I loved having a challenge, I loved pushing myself, I loved having something to aim for and focus on. I loved being forced to go out each day, I loved experiencing the mist and the frost, I loved being ‘in’ Winter. And I was forever in awe that my own lungs and heart were moving me forward. Each walk may have lasted a mere ten or fifteen minutes, but whether in training or doing the real deal, those moments were always the highlight of my day. 🙂
And I was overwhelmed by the showering of love and support. I’d initially been reluctant to share the challenge- I felt embarrassed and vulnerable and exposed. But I’m so glad I did. 🙂 Thank you family and friends and strangers and the Centurion running community for getting behind me. The comments and messages I received after each daily update, cheered me, gave me confidence, encouraged me to keep trying. They were the medicine that made the poorly hours easier, the sunshine after the big bad storm. And best of all, thanks to everyone’s incredible incredible generosity… Phil and I raised an unbelievable £16,300 for the wonderful PHA UK! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
It has been a wonderful end to a tricky year. 🙂
Thank you everyone for your kind donations. If you would still like to support our fundraising challenge for the PHA UK, please follow our link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarahandphilcenturionchallenge
2 thoughts on “The Longest Walk”
An amazing achievement. One of the things I love about these challenges is that everyone has their own challenge, whether it’s running 100 miles by yourself, as a friend of mine did (completing their first ever 100-miler) or walking 5K over a week requiring all your energy. Congratulations on completing your challeng; on your fundraising; and – and on spread awareness about pulmonary hypertension.