85-mile walk – when was that ever a good idea?

Steve Canavan in training for his charity walk

Steve Canavan in training for his charity walk

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GAZETTE football writer STEVE CANAVAN has always been an active lad, regularly making the two-minute walk to the local shop to buy milk for instance.

But quite what he was thinking of when he accepted a place in the Parish Walk is another matter. He gives us the lowdown on his preparations and thanks those who are supporting him.

If you live on the Fylde, there’s every chance you’ll have seen me in the last couple of months.

Remember a small, weedy-looking fella, dressed in trainers, shorts, rucksack on back, walking along the pavement looking on the verge of collapse and with blood oozing from a blister on his right foot? He was probably grimacing, breathing heavily and ashen-faced.

It was me.

A few months ago I would have laughed at this pathetic figure traipsing the streets. Now it’s no laughing matter.

It all started a few months ago in the pub with a mate of mine, Gareth Jones, from Lytham.

He mentioned that he’d come across this crazy thing on the internet called the Parish Walk. “It takes place in the Isle of Man,” he said. “You have to walk 85 miles in 24 hours. Imagine doing that?”

We laughed. Then, bravado, along with a horrendously misguided appraisal of our own fitness, kicked in. By the end of the night we’d vowed to have a bash.

The next day, sober and sat at work, I received an email from my pal. “Just entered us in that walk,” it read.

A phonecall and several expletives later, I realised he wasn’t joking.

But never one to shirk a challenge, we began training.

Our first walks were gentle six-miler once a week, once a fortnight if we had a few things on. This was in early March, and we were chuffed with ourselves. Later we read that we should have been doing six-mile strolls in September and by March be regularly walking 25-30 miles.

And that in a nutshell is the problem.

We started training way too late. In a bid to make up for lost time – and to avoid complete and utter humiliation on the day – we’ve taken it much more seriously in recent weeks and have done a couple of 30-milers of late.

The problem is it is so time-consuming. Running a marathon, for example, might take four to five hours maximum. In the build up you might do two to three-hour training runs.

Doing a 30-mile training walk, however, takes eight hours minimum. When you’re working full-time, this is tricky. I’ve lost count of the number of times my mate and I have, after a day at the office, started walking at half five, stumbled home at half two in the morning, and then had to get up for work early the next morning. When your body is on fire and aching so much it’s hard to even sleep, it is no fun getting out of bed the following day let me tell you.

On the upside, I know the training is paying off because I’m fitter now than I was.

Our first major walk last month, for instance, was 24-miles. I’m not exaggerating when I say I spent the last mile feeling light-headed and disorientated and in so much pain, I had tears in my eyes. On staggering through the front door, I collapsed onto the sofa with the violent shakes. I was sick in the middle of the night.

Not for the first time, the thought ‘Why the bloody hell are you doing this?’ flashed through my mind.

Now, though, I’m regularly walking 30-plus miles and feeling fine afterwards so I’m getting there.

There is a reason for all this madness – to raise money for charity. I’m getting sponsored and anything I raise will be split between the family of Gary Parkinson (the Blackpool FC youth team coach who suffered a stroke last year), and CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young). The latter is in memory of Luke Rutter, a 15-year-old Lytham St Annes high school pupil and a big Blackpool fan, who died last year.

Two fine causes – the more cash we get the better. But there is also the element of relishing a challenge.

I’ve always liked the outdoors, regularly heading to the Lakes for a hike. Indeed my summer holiday this year is doing the Dales Way – an 82-mile ramble from Ilkley to Bowness. The difference with the latter is you get five days to do it, not 24 hours.

Never before have I attempted anything as tough as the Parish Way, but it appeals to me in other ways too: I like eccentric past-times and they don’t get more weird than this.

The Parish Walk’s history dates back to around 1849 when the Manx Sun newspaper published an account of a Mr Harry Kermode, who walked from Patrick to Ramsey on the Isle of Man, a distance of 48 miles. Why he did it wasn’t quite clear. Maybe he was just bored, maybe he was the local nutter, who knows?

Four years later the paper published an article entitled ‘a summer’s day journey’, recording the exploits of coroner John Cannell, who set off on horse back, covering 90 miles in 15 hours. Later that year, in 1853, he undertook a similar journey on foot around the Island’s 17 parishes.

The idea of a regular walk slowly caught on and in 1913 the first Parish Walk was organised (so-called because those taking part must walk around all 17 parishes on the island). There were only two entrants that first year – this year 1,500 are expected to take part (or 1,498, should my friend and I see sense).

In 1963, Flt Sgt Eunice Davies of RAF Jurby and Irene Cottier became the first women to complete the gruelling 85 mile course, the former finishing in just under 21 hours.

The number of entrants grew steadily and sponsorship allowed the event to flourish.

In 2001, a new start-point was agreed – the National Sports Centre in Douglas. Entrants now do a lap of the 400m track before heading on to the roads.

The walk begins at 8am and there are strict rules. Walkers must always have one foot on the ground (i.e. no running) and wear a microchip on their foot to prevent cheating. You have to reach each of the 17 checkpoints inside a specific time otherwise you are disqualified.

So much food and water are required over the 24 hours that all those who enter must have a support driver – just in case you fancy a ham sandwich at 3am.

The fastest time recorded is 14 hours and 47 minutes by a very fit fella called Sean Hands in 2007. The even fitter David Collister has the most finishes – 26.

A record 187 walkers (out of more than 1,400 entrants) completed the race within the 24-hour time limit two years ago. One woman – by the name of Bethany Clague – actually did it twice.

Insane I call it, but in 2008 Miss Clague, an administrative assistant at Specsavers and part-time gym instructor, walked 170 miles in 48 hours. She stopped only once – after the first 85 miles for a quick shower, a change of clothes and a bite to eat. She wasn’t in a good way at the end (that’s an understatement – she virtually crawled across the line and was so exhausted she couldn’t speak) but she did it, an incredible achievement. I’ll settle for doing it just once, though in truth anything over the halfway distance (42.5 miles) wouldn’t be too shameful – apparently that’s pretty good for a first-timer.

But you never know. It’s about willpower as much as physical strength and of that I have plenty – indeed I once went three whole days without eating my favourite chocolate bar.

Whether I complete the course or not, all sponsorship is welcome.

You can donate at: www.justgiving.com/canavancanter or simply click on the link to the right of this article and it will take you straight to my sponsor page.

*MANY businesses and individuals have already got behind my charity walk, a few of whom I’d like to say thank you to.

Mark Wilson, an hotelier and Blackpool FC fan, heard about my intention to take part in the walk. As well as being MD at the Carousel Hotel in Blackpool, he has three hotels in the Isle of Man (The Claremont, The Rutland and The Chesterhouse) and has very kindly offered to give myself, my friend and our support driver accommodation and food.

“I am from Blackpool and have a season ticket with my two sons, Daniel and Benjamin, so when we saw Steve planned to do his walk for two such good causes I was delighted to help,” said Mark.

Blackpool kits sponsors Wonga have donated £250, with Seasiders owner Owen Oyston and former director Peter Whitehead also giving generously.

Many thanks to all the Pool supporters who have also backed me, including the likes of John Cross, Nick England, Mark Claridge, Phil Trow, Phil Corbett, Fiona Martin, David Squires, Lee Roberts and David Whitworth. Phew – and apologies if I’ve missed anyone out.