After 33 miles I started running again. I was approaching the sixth checkpoint but I feared that my walking pace – by now an awkward struggle – had dropped below 3mph.
At the start of the day I’d been in high spirits. I, along with 100 of so other runners and walkers, had filed off the bus at Overton Hill and stomped up the chalky spine of the ancient Ridgeway. Our destination, Goring Village Hall, lay 40 miles east.
For the first few hours I fast walked uphill and gently ran downhill. On the downhills I was overtaken by lithe ultra runners wearing super-lightweight backpacks and calf compression socks. On the uphills I was overtaken by 6 foot tall men striding with great seriousness. It was a fashion show of oddness: nylon gaiters, floppy hats, heavy duty waterproofs and plastic map cases. One senior gentlemen sported bright red knitted calf warmers of that sort that my grandmother would have darned. Probably old enough to be my grandfather he overtook me at the 10 mile mark and I didn’t see him again. On I plodded.
From the top of the ridge you can see for miles. You can see the weather come and go: here, the sun shone in bright patches over the rape seed fields. There, the jagged blur of grey joined the sky to the land (that’s what rain looks like from a distance). A young foal followed its mother nibbling the thick grass in the paddock. The sky above reverberated with the sound of skylarks. The occasional shot of a rifle echoed off the side of the hills. And on I plodded.
Miles 23 to 33 were a struggle. Being on top of a ridge meant being exposed to the elements: one moment the cow parsley was jingling in a light sky-blue breeze, the next the grass was flattered by a blowing gale. The wind was so strong it pushed me off course as my feet searched for a sure landing in between the ridges of chalk, mud and puddle. The rain drummed on my waterproof hood, reminding me of camping evening spent listening to the rain on my tent. As quickly as it started, the rain ceased. And a rainbow spread across the ripening fields below.
At mile 26 I treated myself to a bag of M&Ms and a fresh pair of socks. The socks were instantly sodden by a new wave of rain. So far I’d stuck to my schedule, based on a 3.5 mph pace, but now my speed slowed ever more as the muscles and joints in my legs protested the distance. On I plodded.
At mile 33 I put on my third pair of socks and my iPod. I swallowed two painkillers. Come on, Dino, you can finish this now. It was nearly 6pm by the time I tottered into the sixth and penultimate checkpoint. I was only 10 second ahead of schedule. Eurovision started at 8pm. Eurovision! I gulped some squash, pushed my earphones back in and began running again.
As I approached the final checkpoint I saw the cheerful outline of a lone walker coming towards me: my mother. Last year she’d walked the Ridgeway 40 and this year she’d come out to meet me for the last 4 miles. We ran together down the rocky path through the woods. Occasionally we’d overtake a stray walker, wobbling awkwardly on their legs like a bird with a broken wing. Do I look that bad?
Then: the last mile! We picked up speed, pushing as fast as my legs could go. Each stride felt like lifting an iron weight. Each stride was another punch against the ground for my tender feet. After 39.9 miles I was halfway over the bridge and the village hall was in sight. Come on, Dino. Sprint! Sprint! My legs found one more drop of energy to speed me to the end. I’d made it!
40 miles in 11 hours and 28 minutes.
It was the furthest I had ever walked or run. Finally, beyond shattered, I crawled the final metres from the front door to the bucket of ice awaiting me. By 8pm I was lying on the sofa, feet up on a pile of cushions, Prosecco in hand, and watching Eurovision. What a day.