LDWA 100 – Rory Bennett (the Story of the 100)

Over the last weekend there were hundreds of entrants in the LDWA 100, all brave attempts to walk 100 miles in 48 hours. Every one of those walks comes with its own story, with some being successful in their aims and some not, but that doesn’t take away from the achievements that were still reached. One of the little interviews I did before the event was with Rory Bennett, and although I’m collecting up other stories to post a selection of experiences, I felt that this one warranted its own post.

We had a Facebook group and WhatsApp group for entrants and I was aware that Rory was retiring as he posted briefly about his decision at the time. I noted Dave tried to offer him encouragement to keep going, as this completing 100 miles is very much a mental challenge, but sometimes it’s best to concede defeat and try again another day (or learn from the experience and not try again another day, which is usually my strategy).

In Rory’s account below, I thought that the issue with the battery pack is interesting, sometimes these things can seem like it’s life’s way of telling you to stop, although a lack of power is in itself potentially a huge problem (I mean that in terms of navigation really, although some of us have a need to check social media feeds as well).

And so, this is Rory’s story of his walk, one which I found a very honest and interesting account of his adventure.

In the months prior to this 100 I had been focusing on pushing myself mentally as I knew physically I could take on the 100 having completed one with huge support last year. There were 2 aspects that I would follow through to make this a greater challenge to myself.

Firstly, I would be walking the majority of the route alone relying on shops to refuel and the huge effort put in by the LDWA into the social media channels and the WhatsApp group to keep my mind sane. I would only be joined at 2 points on my walk by friends and family totalling around 25 miles, and at the half way point (The Skirrid near Abergavenny) for a ‘checkpoint’ with my half way bag and pre planned change of boots for the night section.

Secondly I had planned to set off at the earliest point possible (midnight on the Friday night). This was initially to make sure I caught the food shops on my return leg so I could stock up for the night walk, but I also had this desire to see how my mind and body would cope walking through 2 nights having not experienced it fully before.

I had managed to grab just under 2 hours sleep Friday evening before the alarm went off at 11pm. After some last minute preparations and an impromptu ‘first baby kicking’ special moment for me & my partner I was out through the door just after midnight and starting on my next 100 journey.

View from Hergest Ridge towards the Black Mountains

It was a beautifully warm night and over the first 16 miles I had plenty of hills, encounters with bats, deer, worms and sheep before rolling down into Kington with my first view of daylight which was a welcome sight.

Marker stone distance marking Pandy, the halfway mark and Hay Bluff in the background

The next 15 miles into Hay flew by and I was making good progress and feeling fine, only hampered by soaking wet feet. After a quick refuel and a change of socks I headed out of Hay, up Hay Bluff and down the Black Mountains onto Hatterall Ridge.

The ridge with The Skirrid & Sugar Loaf in the background

It had all been going a bit too well up until this point and the monotonous ridge line of the Black Mountains soon hit home. Thinking I was making serious progress, all excitement soon past when I realised I had only covered a mile or two. With the heat increasing I really began to feel the pain in my feet having not properly dried them out in 12 hours and the constant pounding on hot ground.

The pain was all worth it when I hit Hatterall Hill and descended down into Llanvihangel Crucorney where, most importantly, a well stocked checkpoint, fresh boots and family awaited. After a 20 minute sit down (my first break up until this point) we were back up and running and onto the halfway mark – up and over Skirrid.

Halfway at The Skirrid trigpoint

Maybe not my finest choice to push myself over halfway, but a beautiful mountain and one of my favourites.

Unfortunately that was the end of my good run. What I hadn’t realised is that spilt liquid from a bottle had knocked out my battery pack which I was relying on for the night section to keep me on track and in touch with fellow walkers and family. Not a problem for the daylight though as I was using paper maps. Queue the next issue – I hadn’t had chance to recce the next section as it was mostly lanes with a couple of linking footpaths and I thought it best to concentrate on the night section. On paper it looked simple but in reality it was an absolute killer. Firstly I had a nightmare of a time trying to navigate a footpath that was on the map but classically didn’t exist. After hopping over ditches, hedges and fences I made it back to signs of normality and back onto the lanes.

The next problem was the mileage – I was expecting to cover this section in 3 hours, be in Ewyas Harold by around 7:30pm where fish and chips and my partner and puppy would be waiting. In reality this section took over 4 hours, was five miles longer than I was expecting and meant I had to really push to make it to the stop and the ever crucial food restock. By this point I’d been thinking for a while about stopping and slowly the thoughts had come clearer and clearer.

With the prospect of being nearing 2 hours behind schedule, 65 miles in on 2 hours sleep and 21 hours walking, completely exhausted and no way of keeping in touch with family and fellow walkers through the night section I decided to bow out and catch a lift home. It was a really tough call to make but at the time I just couldn’t face heading back out into the dark alone. Especially as parts of the next section had some particularly difficult navigation in.

In reality I should have taken an hour out and reconsidered my options, but I don’t regret my decision. It’s funny how much of an impact exhaustion can have on your body and mind. Physically I felt great and the next 40 miles didn’t seem a problem. Mentally I was in a bad place, had tears in my eyes and couldn’t face taking another step. Really the scenarios leading up to this moment were all small and manageable but together and combined with lack of sleep pushed me over the edge. I should have mentioned it sooner to fellow walkers who are always full to the brim of constructive advice that maybe would had got me through the night but i’m certainly not thinking of what ifs.

However that was all the point – I wanted to push my body and mind to the limit. To see what I was capable of in that situation. On Saturday I found my limits, for now. Now I just have to find a way around them and extend them, to push them further. To say I was gutted to withdraw is an understatement. It really hurt for a while after knowing I failed to achieve what I had set out to do, especially as I’d never pulled out of a challenge walk before. That being said, I’m certainly more determined for the next one with a huge amount of lessons learnt along the way. I’ve never felt this good after walking a strong 65 miles and I’ve also never before planned 3 x 100+ mile walks within 24 hours of a challenge walk – bring on the next one & the Trans Pennine 100!

PS. if you’re ever passing Ewyas Harold, The Old Stables fish and chip shop is seriously on point. I would probably recommend driving there though…

[I’d add that I think Rory’s suggestion on this fish and chip shop is a marvellous one!]

When I started planning this walk it felt like a potentially very lonely 100. What it turned out to be was a nationwide walk with friends. The constant support prior to and over the weekend was a huge bonus and completely unexpected. A huge thanks goes out to all the organising team behind this event for making it happen and for being on call with constant support, banter and congratulations for what seemed to be every minute of the weekend (did you even sleep??) And a massive congratulations to everyone who got up and stepped out of their door. No matter how far you walked you achieved something seriously impressive. It certainly was a 100 with a difference!

[I did sleep a little, but the excitement of the whole event meant I had to keep checking what was happening (as did Dave Morgan and Alan Warrington who were ever present], I didn’t want to miss any gossip! Also, people sacrificed time to help me with my 100, so it was a delight to help others with theirs]