There’s a delicious anticipation in heading off to an event like the Coast to Coast. A call of the wild. All right, it’s not quite as delicious as a call of the cake – but it is elemental. Like pilgrimage, there is a distance to travel, with woods, trails and lakes to negotiate, and the elements, and there is a good sense of community. All of it remote and magnificent country. It is the Great Glen after all. It will be physically demanding, and doubtless go on for longer than we want it to at the moments we are struggling. And all this in the knowledge that it could all go horribly wrong, leaving us beaten psychologically as well as physically. But hey, if you don’t take on a challenge, from time to tune, what else will you treasure in your dotage?
I haven’t entered an event like this for years. Well, that’s not quite true – I haven’t done one for a whole month (but, for complicated editorial reasons, I won’t be writing about that until later). Still, before that I hadn’t been in one for six years. And I have no idea how I will fare. I don’t know the Coast to Coast and its intricacies. I do know, however, that running, of which there is too much for me in the event, is just plain hard (it doesn’t help having a knackered left Achilles, but these events come around only once a year).
Still, it isn’t all bad. After a regime of pissy teas and unending fruit for the past few months, for the coming few days, and during the event, I can eat anything I like, and as much of it as I want. Chocolate biscuits, dozens of them, cream on my cereal – yes, that’s cream on cereal, it's called fat-loading – burgers than glisten, chips suppurating in fat. For a few days I can be replete: the lardbucket to which I really aspire.
Arrival at Cawdor Castle for Registration is a bit of a surprise. Hundreds of people tracking back and forth, wheeling bicycles, chugging energy drinks, adjusting equipment, taping energy gels to their cross-bars... Organisation. Whereas when I open the back door of the car a cascade of family detritus pours onto the ground: Wellington boots, bike helmets, a desperate thing called a Car-Tidy that my wife once put in there in a moment of hope, and a small but bad tempered rodent: it looks at me in disbelief and scurries off (see the first entry of this Training Journal). We go through the registration process. Kit checks, disclaimers, flexing muscles outrageously in an attempt to psyche everyone else out... and we are issued with safety pins, plastic bags and timing devices.
It’s always a bit alarming at these moments. Everyone else seems so much more organised. Well, they are more organised, obviously, though that’s not hard. It’s the sense of purpose, the self-possession, the calm… intent. It’s the fact that they just seem to know… What do they know? Well, I don’t know. Is it… the secret...? Inner peace? Or perhaps it’s just their game face, giving nothing away.
There is one moment of heroism in this whole thing by the way. Above I mentioned 'we'. I will be accompanied by the lad, the next generation. We are entering as a father and son team. He is 18 and recently left school and, in what was possibly a loose moment, he uttered the fantastic words that start off any adventure: “Yeah, OK, I’ll have a go at that…”.
He has even less idea of what he’s letting himself in for. At least I know I hate running. So bloody good luck to you, my lad, and may it be the start of a lifetime of extreme activity. We’ll see how handy he is. For which read: “Please, please, don’t leave me behind. Or… or… I’ll cut off your allowance”.
Read a rather more formal review of Rat Race's Coast to Coast 2017... And to read the second part of this less formal review, see Camp Life.
If you'd like to keep in touch with James Henderson's training mis-adventures, then sign up to our mailing list, please see below. We promise not to bombard you, just to send an occasional hilarious reminder of what we're up to. Or you can follow them through our facebook page and occasional, probably slightly random tweets.