Correspondent editor Tony Bugby joins Denton-based group fitness group Team Hiitman on an epic journey.
A 40-MILE charity canal walk was far from a gentle stroll in the park for the members of Denton’s Team Hiitman fitness group.
And Haughton Green personal trainer Andy Hughes, who devised this as one of five summer challenges to raise funds for Tameside, Oldham and Glossop (TOG) MIND, admitted it was far tougher than he ever envisaged.
Messaging Team Hiitcamp members afterwards, Andy confessed he had initially suggested a 50-mile walk.
He explained: “When I was organising these events, I was speaking to my mate Rick Dyson and said they had to be worthy challenges, not a five-minute walk.
“When I suggested 50 miles as that was pretty intense, he said: ‘Are you sure?’
“Rick came up with 40 miles. Let me tell you 40 miles is a magnitude of an event and so hard.
“I cannot explain how hard walking 40 miles is unless you have done it. Whatever opinion you have, keep it to yourself until you have tried it.
“I can tell you it is very, very hard, even though it is flat. Believe you me walk of the flat gives you the most pain in your heels, feet, knees back and, as well as physically challenging, it is mentally challenging.
“It is relentless, monotonous and does not stop and so, so hard.”
Andy, despite being a personal trainer, was forced to abandon after 35 miles explaining he had nothing left in the tank.
It was a 4.40am start for the 22 of us who were to tackle the entire route as we assembled at the Fletchers Arms, Haughton Green.
Gary Healey provided the transport free of charge, three minibuses, to take us to the start at Macclesfield where we departed one hour later from outside the Puss in Boots pub on Buxton Road.
It was still, overcast and humid start to the day as we snaked along the canal towpath in the direction of Marple passing the impressive marinas in Bollington and Higher Poynton.
But soon the reality and enormity of the challenge struck as it would take 15 hours to complete, a mental as well as physical challenge. As far as I was aware, none had previously done tackled a walk of this scale and it was therefore a journey of discovery for them.
Everyone walked at their own pace with the first rendezvous at the aqueduct at Marple where we all reassembled.
The canal through Tameside provides a green lung and at times it is hard to believe you are so close to densely populated towns and huge industrial estates. It is the stillness of the water that provides peace and calmness and that is what I love about walking along canals.
Portland Basin, the midway point, was reached by lunchtime with three members calling it a day, but others joined for the second half.
By now many were beginning to feel aches and pains but what was hugely impressive was the team spirit and encouragement provided to drive everyone on. The camaraderie was uplifting and at time emotional.
The next six miles took us past Droylsden Marina to the Etihad Stadium where we gathered and stayed together for the next leg into Manchester city centre and to Castlefield.
Here we retraced our steps to Portland Basin before cutting through Haughton Dale and following the bank of the River Tame and getting back to the Fletchers Arms at 8.45pm.
Though an experienced walker, the last couple of miles were exhausting as fatigue set in. It had been many years since I had tackled one of 40 miles or more.
It was no surprise how many called it a day in those final five miles as about half the original 22 starters completed the full distance, an amazing achievement to have so many finishers bearing in mind they had never done anything like this before.
For me, it was a case of drawing on previous experiences.
While many complained of burning feet and blisters, mine were blemish free. The trick was whenever we stopped. I took off my trainers to allow air to get to my feet and to put talcum powder inside the shoes to soak up the moisture which results in blisters forming.
This ritual caused amusement, but it was effective and did the job.
Another piece of advice was keeping well fuelled, eating at regular intervals and especially early in the day with a diet of barm cakes, bananas and fruit cake to keep energy levels high.
Don’t wait until you are hungry because it takes time for the food to digest and replenish energy levels.