Reflections on our Trailwalker failure

It has been a couple of weeks since our two ‘Tobleroner’ teams largely ill fated attempt to complete the sixty-two miles of Trailwalker within the thirty hour time limit was brought to a premature end and I have given our efforts a great deal of thought.  Why did we fail and what can we do differently for next year?  It should be stressed that Trailwalker is a team challenge and attempting to blame one or more persons serves no useful purpose.  We entered and failed as a team.

Our problems actually stemmed from well before the event when we initially formed our team from persons with significantly different comfortable walking speeds.  We had thought that training together would gradually narrow the gap between these preferred speeds but this turned out not to be the case.  We ended up with an estimated completion time for Trailwalker that probably wasn’t ever going to be possible given the team’s composition and this lead to inevitable problems.  Our most significant mistake however was the way we managed the teams during the complications thrown up by Trailwalker itself.

During the event and in the weeks preceding Trailwalker the conditions both overhead and underfoot were quite frankly atrocious.  This led to several issues, the most obvious being that walking took more effort and we were slowed down.  A further unexpected complication was that the weather closed some of the checkpoints set-up along the route to provide refreshments, a measure of progress and to allow team administration.

At around half distance the conditions underfoot and our disparate walking speeds began to cause one of our team members to slow down significantly.  Had the first checkpoint we encountered been available for walker retirement when it became apparent this was going to cause significant problems we may have been able to rescue the situation.  Unfortunately this was not the case and we had another three hours of scheduled walking before we were able to legitimately alter our team’s composition.  By the time we managed to reach that checkpoint we had missed the official deadline for rolling checkpoint closure and thought we could no longer continue.  The one saving grace to the whole situation was that early on during that last stage of walking we agreed that our two teams should go their separate ways and some members of the unencumbered team, of which I was not a member, made it to the finish.

Grace and Paul at the finish – magnificent effort!

It is obvious now that those members of my team capable of continuing should not have accepted that the checkpoint where we stopped was our ultimate destination.  Had we decided to push on straight away we probably would have stood a reasonable chance of finishing before the deadline.  Why we didn’t do this will remain a puzzle to me.  During the previous stage we had had to walk slowly and became resigned to not being able to continue.  Perhaps the twenty hours of exertion and lack of any sleep had robbed us of the ability to make the mental leap from failure to hope that would have been required to push on from the checkpoint.

Trailwalker is the first instance that I have not made it to the end of one of our adventures and contemplating this result has not been enjoyable.  Thinking I had failed before completion was impossible is a mistake I will not readily repeat.  For future adventures I need to be fitter and get more sleep before the event.  Hopefully this will result in the right decisions being made at crucial moments during whatever endeavour is being attempted.  Perhaps attempting Trailwalker in the weeks following the birth of my first child was not such a great idea but I enjoyed the event and will learn from the failure.  I am confident that the Tobleroners will try again…

On a positive note, my ITAP and I suffered no ill-effects from walking forty-three miles through awful mud in twenty hours.  That’s not a bad effort for a person with one leg!

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