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This will probably be the penultimate post I produce prior to the WNWA96, the walk is just 2 weeks away and everyone is starting to get excited, but it’s also a very difficult time for those more deeply involved with the campaign as last week the inquest into the Hillsborough tragedy opened, and this is a timely reminder of why people like myself are joining this wonderfully powerful and symbolic event.

It is perhaps too easy to forget, in the haste of preparations for the event, the reasons we are walking but that reason is as a thank you for the 25 years of support that have been given to the families of victims and to the survivors of the disaster.

I am sure that many of you who have read my posts about this walk will at least know something about the events of the disaster and will probably have seen the news reports that have been filling news channels and online services for the last few weeks – I am sure you, like I, can see how hugely emotionally and physically draining it is for those there.

Yet despite all of this there are a group of people who will sing, chant and make merry as they head from Hillsborough through to Anfield, via various northern football grounds. It’ll be a little bit like Scousers on tour – can you imagine it, dozens of Liverpudlians traipsing across some of the most inhospitable hills that Yorkshire and Lancashire have got to offer?

The walk obviously runs parallel to many of the other tributes being planned but this one has an air of joy about it and idea that my father could have not only conceived this lovely tribute to his brother and all those affected by Hillsborough but also take part in it, fills me with a pride and a joy that I will never truly be able to express. And so when he bangs out another old Irish folk song at 4am to lift the spirits, or tells one of his ‘classic’ jokes, rather than do my usual ‘sticks fingers in ears’ I shall afford myself a rye smile and hum along to the tune or help him with the punchline.

On the day
My dad or in this event perhaps ‘leader’ would be a better title, remains concerned that nobody can complete the whole distance in the time and that a relay is the best and safest way forward. I agree very much that in the main he is probably 100% correct but I have no such concerns for myself. Having just come off the back of the 4800ft of elevation of the South Downs Way 50, completed in under 11hrs, with two twisted ankles I am more confident than ever that I have the capacity to do the distance in the time.

My goal
I would love to complete the 96miles, not just because it is a truly remarkable achievement but because it will serve as a lifetime reminder to me of the effort and strength of those who have sought the truth for nearly a quarter of century – more than two thirds of my lifetime. I consider that a couple of weeks of slightly sore feet is a small price to pay to honour all those people affected.

I look forward to being able to put my arms around my dad at the end and saying ‘well done’, I look forward to telling UltraBaby of the brilliance of the men and women who undertook this challenge defiantly and I look forward to explaining the symbolic nature of it in the brightness of the truth that the families so very much deserve.

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I’ve been really lucky to have been on the start line with some great runners in my time, I think my favourite was probably Tobias Mews who I met briefly in the bacon sandwich queue for the Snowdonia Marathon but even that pales into insignificance when I was able to train with my dad for the WNWA96. He was down in my neck of the woods to have a little check on UltraBaby and also do a bit of preparation for the walk. We had decided that we would spend the Monday looking over new shoes (many pairs tested and even more examined). Interestingly my dad said that the Hoka were possibly the most comfortable shoes he had worn in years, I only felt moderately smug as people tend to laugh at the stupid look of the Hoka.

Anyway, enough of the Hoka and retail love.

On the Tuesday morning we set ourselves up for a 21.2km walk, both of us kitted up to the hilt and using this as an opportunity to test the Black Diamond Ultra hiking poles, which I had suggested that my dad might want to use across the 96 miles. We set out from my house about 9.30am with the aim for the walk to take around 3hrs 30minutes (including photography and traffic stops) this included a halfway stop for a bacon sandwich – sounded like a genius plan and would also mimic the conditions on the walk which has been broken up into (roughly) 6 mile sections.

As we left the house a lady called over to us and said hello, my dad and I, being rather polite, said hello in return and then suddenly we found ourselves deep into conversation with ‘Pat’ a lady, originally from Burma but now… Hmmm I could go into her life story (believe me I received it all in the 45 minutes we chatted) but I feel that is for another time.

Anyway, armed with the kit, Thunderpad the Spaniel and Justice Jimmy the Westie we started out but also damp and cold from our untimely meeting with Pat… The weather was cool and mildly windy but great conditions for walking, so despite being chilled we soon warmed up.

The first mile was very much downhill and primarily on the tarmac but as we came to the first of the trail sections we could see that there might be problems as the uneven nature of the course meant a slowdown in pace. However, a return to the tarmac and better roads meant that we were able to pick up the pace and maintain somewhere in the region of 3.5miles per hour. This was excellent and even the undulating and even hilly nature of the course I had selected bothered neither of us and with the dogs now off the lead we headed at pace towards the first of the major inclines we had to attack.

My dad pushed well through the incline and as we hit 5km only 45minutes had passed and I was keen that we went as hard as we could because I feel it is important that in the sections were you have the most energy you use that enthusiasm to cover the ground, especially in the training. A brief respite in the incline brought us to kilometre 6 and with it probably the hardest section of the walk with over 400ft of positive ascent. This according to my dad would mimic some of the section of the WNWA96 between Sheffield and. Huddersfield. Despite the challenge of the incline we again exceeded expectation but the cold had started to set in and so with some common sense kicking in we both wrapped our buffs around our heads and despite looking like knobheads felt all toasty. The buffs had the added benefit of cutting out the noise of the traffic which was at points quite loud.

The final 3km to the country park were relatively quiet, save for the traffic, and crossing into our ‘checkpoint’ meant that there was hot coffee and a delicious baguette. Again in line with the walk we kept the stop short(ish), 20 minutes for the food and a few minutes for a couple of photographs (enclosed). Both the hounds were excited to be hitting the road again as there had been no sign of bacon sandwich for them and I explained to my Dad that the return leg was much more of a downhill effort than an uphill slog. Our pace quickened to account for downhill and we made swift progress to the major decline, here my dad tested the hiking poles I had brought along and found that, once he had gotten the hang of them, they might be invaluable in terms of walking the actual route during the event.

We dropped on to the 5km point bang on time for a roughly 3hr 30min finish and with a bit of a flourish we could probably trundle the last leg without any problems. Annoyingly the finish has some gently inclines to account for the decent from my house onto the main track and so the last section required a bit of a push – which we both gave and then straight into the town. Thunderpad and I fancied a bit of a big finish and the a chance to get to the kettle on, so at the top of my road me and hound said goodbye to daddy and sprinted the last couple of hundred metres – lovely.

Upon arriving home, cup of tea in hand and armed with some soda bread toast we agreed that this was a good test walk, it had a bit of everything. The route was heavily undulating, challenging but manageable, multi terrain, noisy and windy. This was the kind of training walks that really help set you up for big events and in all fairness we managed it with great aplomb. The only very minor downside is that the route wasn’t 30miles but with time against us this was excellent.

I’m very proud of my dad, and of course the rest of the people who are giving this a go, they really are amazing and I’m looking forward to not only to the event but also to blogging about it as we walk as I’m confident that we will all need your support on the day.

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