NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

The Kiltwalk: My 26-mile challenge in aid of charity

Poppy and Ken Banks
Image caption My daughter Poppy and I raised more than £1,100 for charity

My wife has given birth to three children. But completing the 26 miles of the Kiltwalk last year clearly proved more of an ordeal, as she vowed never to take on that particular challenge ever again.

So, naturally, I decided I should give it a try. The Kiltwalk, that is.

The reason? To raise money for charity, and also for - hopefully - the sense of achievement at the finishing line.

I am a keen, regular swimmer, but distance walking or running is not my thing so I knew it would be tough.

In the weeks leading up to the Aberdeen to Potarch event I would get up at 05:30 a couple of times a week and walk about five miles in 90 minutes, getting home in time for the children getting up for school.

Under no illusions

It was a physical and mental breakthrough to get some form of training under my belt, and it felt easier each time.

I also did one night of intense training on a sandy beach, the energy-sapping intensity of which proved almost beyond me.

My final rehearsal walk was a longer 12 miles in just over three hours last week.

Image caption A healthy breakfast was needed before starting

However, I was under no illusions that the full 26-mile Mighty Stride would be an entirely different kettle of fish.

My other preparation was getting the soles of my poor old training shoes properly glued back on. I'd made the mistake of sticking them in the washing machine. The left shoe also now squeaked with every step.

The big day arrived on Sunday, and after a breakfast of a certain famous cereal, topped with banana, and a rucksack packed with supplies, it was off to the starting line at Aberdeen's Duthie Park.

It was a sunny morning, and hundreds of people were ready for the challenge.

After a few warm-up stretches, we were off at 09:00, with a guesstimate of about nine hours - yes, nine hours, based on a walking time of three miles per hour and any stops - until the finish.

Image caption Mooove it: cows were among the countryside spectators

The first couple of miles was pretty congested, as we made our way along the Deeside Way past Aberdeen suburbs including Cults and Peterculter. I got chatting to some fellow walkers and it helped pass the time.

At about 10:00 we passed our first water and chocolate or fruit station.

The walk continued west out of the city and into the Aberdeenshire countryside, in a mixture of sunshine and rain showers, before reaching Drumoak for a 10-mile lunch stop - soup, a roll, some shortbread, and an energy drink - and a toilet break.

The 16-mile Big Strollers also started their challenge here.

We then continued on our way and I have to say that, even as I reached 13 miles, I felt OK and positive, as half-way was a psychological breakthrough.

Image caption Half way was a welcome sight

However things began to change, as I was now entering the unknown.

I noticed my pace was dropping, my thighs were starting to ache, and my right heel was suffering too.

Of course carrying equipment to record the challenge for a radio feature only added to my burden.

And I was passing fellow Kiltwalkers who were clearly beginning to struggle too. I overhead one lady saying she could not risk taking her shoe off as her foot was so swollen she would not be able to get her shoe back on.

However, Kiltwalk personnel were on hand along the route to offer encouragement and high fives.

Secret weapon

At 18 miles, my secret weapon was unveiled.

One of our three children I mentioned earlier - my nine-year-old daughter Poppy - was joining me for the final gruelling eight miles, from Banchory.

Her big sister Daisy had done the same closing stage - the Wee Wander - last year and she was determined to follow suit.

Image caption The closing uphill stages were a struggle for Ken and Poppy (and Teddy)

Her constant chatting, and supplies of sweets, kept me going as that final stretch was incredibly tough.

The route goes into the hills, and the uphill struggle saps your energy and willpower.

But we made it to the final pit top with two miles to go, and from there - as we knew the end was in sight - it was relatively straight forward.

Poppy's closing section probably took us about three hours, and we staggered over the finishing line at Potarch at 17:45 to cheers - with a welcome cold beer waiting.

Never again?

My final figures? More than 50,000 steps walked in eight hours and 45 minutes.

And between me and Poppy - Team Banksie Power - we raised more than £1,100 for Cancer Research UK, thanks to an extra 10% from the Hunter Foundation onto all donations, and Gift Aid.

Would I ever do it again? Judging by the pain I am now in, and the memory of the struggle, probably not. But what a sense of achievement.

And I would encourage any other first-timers out there to give it a go for a good cause. If I can do it, so can you.

You can hear my Kiltwalk Challenge on BBC Radio Scotland's Out for the Weekend this Friday afternoon. The Dundee Kiltwalk is on 20 August and the Edinburgh one is on 17 September.

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