Neil Featherby: The story behind our challenge to conquer Hadrian's Wall
PUBLISHED: 15:39 04 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:54 04 October 2018
© 2013 Mark Hewlett
An experience that none of them will ever forget, Neil Featherby tells the story behind their challenge to run the length of Hadrian's Wall within 24 hours
Getting lost in the dark, eating burnt pizzas and being chased by cows - our 2018 Hadrian’s Wall Challenge was certainly one to remember.
As expected, myself, Chas Allen and Jason Wright had to overcome a few rough moments last weekend on our way to completing the 84 miles (well 85.8....more on that later) along the wall - but we did it!
The three of us departed on Friday along with our support crew of Baz Hipwell, Mark Hewlett and John Fensom, arriving at Bowness on Solway at around 10pm. The original plan was for us to set off at 2am but instead of sitting around we decided to go just after midnight.
Head torches on, we were about a mile in before we were already looking at signs, scratching our heads, discussing which way to go. Not an ideal start.
By the time we had got to Carlisle we had already gone off course half a dozen times due to diversions or not being able to see direction signs.
A quick drink, change of socks and shoes and we were away again but I knew that all was not well when I became aware of the soreness in my hip. Jason and Chas were in good spirits though by this point but I just said let’s get to 30 miles as a warm up and then still have the legs to go to work.
We were ahead of schedule at this point and had time to stop several times to take in some of the awesome scenery we were running through.
However, we were still taking a few wrong turns and we decided that it would be advisable for Baz to start tracking us on my mobile from the van.
Once we started hitting the real wall sections and the undulating terrain, it was several hours and miles before we would all meet again.
We met up again at 42 miles, which was supposed to be the halfway point. It may have said 42 miles on my watch but I knew having gone off course several times that it wasn’t halfway.
By the same token it was a relief to see the van at this point and never has a charcoaled (burnt) pizza gone down so well...
The next phase saw us all running really well but I could feel my hip swelling more and more. My second dose of solpadeine helped matters and morale was further lifted when Baz rang to say that my old friend Ian Bloomfield was waiting for us at the next pit stop. I hadn’t seen Ian since running in the Hong Kong Marathon in 1992 and I knew that his energy and personality would give us all a lift.
He probably had to wait longer for us than we expected and as fatigue began to set in there were more wrong turns but his enthusiasm when we arrived was definitely welcome.
The next section was as mentally tough as it was physical and we all had our moments of doubt. At times it turned into a brisk walk rather than a jog but as long as we kept moving forward I knew we would be fine and within the 24-hour time limit we had set ourselves.
Tiredness was really settling in now and we had all now gone 34 hours without sleep. When Ian announced ‘well done lads only 30 miles to go’ - our faces just dropped as our GPS watches suggested it was less.
The next leg was one of a lot of silence, including another diversion and some very big hills. Chas was going through a really bad patch and was also getting annoyed with himself. I knew everyone needed a lift - Chas was not in a good place, Jason was starting to get very tired and my hip was getting worse.
It was here that having Ian around really helped. He gave us a captain’s team-talk: “Look you’ve got just 16 miles to go. You have some climbing to do going into Heddon and then it is downhill to the finish. Get your heads up because if you don’t finish this, you will be gutted.”
The lads took off like a rocket from there and before we knew it we were being stared down by another herd of cows. Suddenly they came straight for us and we were running for cover.
I was honestly waiting for the thud, but somehow we got to the bridge and through the gate with about one second to spare. The fact Chas had to bundle me over a barbed wire fence certainly hadn’t helped my hip but we had a laugh once we were safe!
The light was now fading fast and by the time we got to the van again my hip was really in trouble. Chas got me a support to put on my leg and to put it bluntly stuck his fist into my hip and backside trying to alleviate some of the pain.
Baz followed up with another blow when saying there was 12 miles to go when we thought there was about nine.
It all got quite comical when a police car pulled up next to us wondering what on earth we were doing in the dark and I’m not sure they believed our explanation! All I really wanted to now do was see all three of us to get to the finish and cross the line together in one piece.
Jason was in a place he had not ever thought could exist and walking on the tightest of tight ropes. Somehow his real character came out and whilst I knew just how difficult it was what with every minute feeling like an hour, he stayed with it.
Chas was also doing an excellent job watching him and chatting away to try and take his mind off the pain of every stride.
Then with six miles to go, Baz told us that we still had two hours to spare.
“Come on! We can do this!” we all said. We carried determinedly on and despite once again taking a wrong turn off Hadrian’s Way which saw us going up another huge hill after passing all the lit up bars along the quayside, we somehow came in to Wallsend and arrived at the Roman Fort of Segedunum.
The relief was awesome as we jogged back down on to the wall path again so as to finish those final footsteps to what is the end of the Wall.
The 84 miles had turned into a distance of just short of 86 miles, but we did it with 41 minutes and 39 seconds to spare. The relief and satisfaction was enormous!
All in all, it was still a great experience with lots of money being raised for The Hallswood Animal Sanctuary and Nelson’s Journey. We’ve raised more than £3,000 for the causes and I can’t thank all the people that played their part in our journey enough.