Erratic behaviour that makes our country great

Scafell Pike, the highest of the Wainwrights Peaks
Scafell Pike, the highest of the Wainwrights Peaks
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Does the name Paul Tierney mean anything to you?

It should do for he has just - as some of you may have seen - done something astonishing, completing the Lake District’s Wainwright peaks (all bloomin’ 214 of them) in a new record time of six days, six hours and five minutes.

I can vouch for what an incredible achievement that is because I myself attempted to break the record a couple of years back (I had a week off work and needed to fill my time somehow) and after a couple of light training sessions (walking to the shops for milk a few times instead of driving), did all the Wainwright’s in six days and eight hours. It would have been quicker but I took a break halfway up Scafell to have a slice of carrot cake (made my by Aunty Lynda – it was lovely, very moist) and to watch an episode of Escape to the Country on my iPad. I regret it now because not only did it fatally hamper my chances of smashing the record but it was a really poor episode – Brian and Susan, a retired couple from Oldham, were thinking of buying a three-bedroomed cottage in the Cotswolds because Brian suffered from bad eczema on his legs and they thought the country air might help, but in the end they decided against it and are presumably still in Greater Manchester where Brian’s still struggling with his eczema.

But I digress.

All power to Mr Tierney, for what he has done is truly amazing. He covered 318 miles in six days – I’ve owned cars that haven’t managed that – and ascended a total of 36,000 metres (the equivalent of climbing Everest four times). Not surprisingly he looked absolutely spent as he staggered into Keswick at the end of his epic run (he’d only slept a couple of hours each night so keen was he to push on and break the record) and one can only imagine how his feet smelt at the end; put it this way, I doubt even his wife wanted to handle his socks.

So what he’s achieved is great, no doubt about it, but I’m not sure what possesses a man of sane mind to do such a thing? I mean why would you want to put your body through such stress and suffering to do something that must be so completely unenjoyable?

Then again I am being slightly hypocritical because I myself once did something similarly bonkers.

When I was a young man - back when I didn’t need a lengthy sit down after climbing a flight of stairs, didn’t need to trim my ear hair, and didn’t visit a National Trust property and remark to my wife, ‘ooo, the neoclassical architecture in the scullery really is remarkable’ - I entered something called the Parish Walk.

It takes place annually in the Isle of Man and involves having to cover 85 miles in 24 hours.

Quite why I decided to do this I have no idea. I can only assume I was having a mid-life crisis. In fact that was definitely it because it was the same year I squandered my life savings on a Lamborghini and briefly left my wife to embark on a passionate affair with a young blond Swedish student called Helga who, though fulfilling in many ways, had terrible music taste (we weren’t allowed to listen to anything other than Abba’s Greatest Hits) and never once helped with the grouting in the bathroom so I dumped her and went back to Mrs Canavan.

I trained for this event for months beforehand, which wasn’t easy because walking is rather time-consuming.

When training for a marathon, for example, you might do the odd two to three-hour run.

Training for an 85-mile walk, however, involved regularly doing 30-40 mile walks, which, because average walking speed is about 4mph, takes about eight to 10 hours. I lost count of the number of occasions I started walking, after a day at the office, at 5.30pm, stumbled home at half two in the morning, and then had to get up for work the next morning with legs so heavy I once had to hire a forklift truck to manoeuvre them off the bed.

True story this – on one training walk, I got stopped by the police while walking through a car park at 3am in shorts and bright yellow trainers and questioned as to what I was doing. ‘Certain activities go on round here’, the officer said, nodding in the direction of a couple of parked-up vehicles. I thought he meant there was a mechanic working late but later discovered it was a dogging site (if any readers don’t know what dogging is, use a neighbour’s computer to Google it). When I told him I was preparing for a long-distance walk, he looked me up and down, presumably came to the conclusion that no one looking for cheap thrills in a car park in the middle of the night would possibly wear trainers as garish as mine, and sent me on my way.

The Parish Walk event itself was fascinating. Basically me and 2,000 other nutters, many of whom clearly had no friends, lived alone, and hadn’t trimmed their beards for several years (some of the blokes were the same too), gathered in a field in Douglas at 8am and began traipsing around the island.

I wish I could tell you I heroically completed the course but I’m afraid to say I dropped out at the 52-mile stage after 14 hours of walking. I could have probably pushed on but right by the 52-mile checkpoint was a café selling bacon sandwiches and coffee. My choice was to walk another 30-odd miles through the long cold night or to take a seat in a cosy-looking café and sip a latte. It was a tough decision.

That same year – and something which puts my pathetic failure to shame – a woman by the name of Bethany Clague actually did it twice. Miss Clague - who, marvellously for one completing such a heroic feat, worked as an administrative assistant at Specsavers – somehow managed to walk 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 though - she virtually crawled across the line and was so exhausted she couldn’t speak. I daresay she wasn’t as on the ball as usual in the Specsavers office the next day.

In defence of my failure, though, it is a tough event – so tough that each year only about 180 of the 2,000 folk who enter actually finish.

There are strict rules. Walkers must always have one foot on the ground (ie. 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.

This year’s race took place on Saturday, funnily enough, when a 28-year-old electrician called Liam Parker led the field home in a time of 15 hours and 44 minutes.

Both he and Wainwright runner Mr Tierney, and all the others who take part in these madcap events, deserve great credit – it’s this kind of eccentric behaviour that makes our country great. And keeps blister ointment companies in business too.