News room: CompletelyNovel and the bloody long walk

CompletelyNovel and the bloody long walk by Anna Lewis

As an online publishing company, we spend most of our time working at computers and reading books. Deciding to participate in an event described as “the ultimate physical and mental challenge” was, well, a bit outside our comfort zone to say the least. The Oxfam Trailwalker involves a team of 4 people walking 100km in less than 30 hours. Our team consisted of Sarah, Jess, Jon and me (Anna) – with Oli heading up the support crew. The route starts just north of Portsmouth, snakes across the South Downs (which also include a lot of Ups) and finishes in Brighton.

Our team completed the walk in 29 hours and 42 minutes. Hooray!!!

Out of the 397 teams that started, we were proud to be among the 260 that managed to complete it with a full team. The weather that had been beautiful on the Saturday when we started, had turned to horizontal, driving rain by the end but we crossed that finish line tired but triumphant, and of course immensely grateful that we lead lives where a long walk like this can be treated as a challenge, rather than a necessity. It was all to raise money for Oxfam, who fight poverty by responding to emergencies like the earthquake in Nepal earlier this year which killed over 8,000 people and left 2.8 million people without homes.

We raised £1950 thanks to the generosity of our friends, family and authors on CompletelyNovel – if you’d like to donate you still can by heading to our fundraising page.

Here’s what the team thought of the walk:


As a fiction writer, most of my adventures happen inside my head. But at the end of last year, I was speaking to a few non-fiction authors – people who had accomplished amazing, crazy things in real life, and were producing real life books to share their story. So, when Anna suggested we all enter the Oxfam Trailwalker this year, I said; “Sure. Why not? Sounds fun.”

Having completed the course now, I wouldn’t say ‘fun’ was quite the right word. So what is?

Torturous? Definitely. Starting with two dodgy knees didn’t help. Ten miles in and most of my body had given up already, but here’s where my fiction brain started to shine. It’s easy to do mind over matter when you spend most of your time in your head anyway. My broken feet were left to work on their own accord whilst I went somewhere much nicer.

Amazing? Oh yes. After walking in the dark for hours with only a tiny light to focus on – you feel dawn like a hot bath. Birds, where there’s only been silence. Colour, where there’s only been darkness. Watching the sun stretch over the hills was one of the most amazing and most energising things I think I’ve ever experienced.

And yes – okay – maybe it was a little bit fun, too. But if it was, it was only because of the awesome people I was walking with. We sang Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of our lungs. We played stupid guessing games. We laughed when Jon jumped out of his skin when something big shuffled in the bush next to him in the dark. Despite the pain, tiredness and relentlessness of nearly thirty hours of walking – my brilliant team members made it fun.

…That being said, I think I’ll keep to having crazy adventures in my head from now on. I lose far fewer toenails that way.



I’ll be honest, I didn’t really want to do the Trailwalker. Did I want to walk the South Downs? Yes. Perhaps with a few nice pub lunches, interspersed with boutique B&B accommodation, and restful sessions reading books or napping on a picnic blanket. Did I want to walk it in 30 hours straight? Um…The clue is in the question. I’d been dreading it for months.

In fact, the first part of the walk was amazing, perhaps due in large part to the relief that it wasn’t raining, following a frightfully wet Friday. The sunlit countryside was beyond gorgeous. My feet and legs felt fine. The team spirits were high – even though Sarah’s knees were obviously hurting even at that point. One of my highlights was having a ‘foot spa’ and cucumber slices on my eyes at a checkpoint. Sarah’s face when she realised that my foot spa was actually her emptied out sandwich box filled with bottled water was pretty funny too! Another great moment was seeing a random person running towards us through the dark, and realising it was in fact Oli, dressed in a dinosaur costume.

The last part of the walk…was amazingly difficult. I am astounded at Sarah’s strength of spirit to keep going, and Jon’s too, when obviously in a lot of pain. Anna was incredible, keeping strong, caring, positive, and retaining a sense of humour even when her boot fell apart.

I would like to thank each and every one of the support team: Oli, Lorna, Tom, Georgina, Hannah and Neil (plus my partner James for staying home with our two young sons, and giving me the helpful advice ‘Don’t fall into a ravine’). They raised our spirits every time we saw them, smiling, encouraging, walking alongside us at the end when it was really getting farcical, and it seemed perhaps the course designers were just evil and vindictive. Seriously, we couldn’t have made it without them, and I’m just so grateful.

Jess’ website


It’s fair to say that completing The Trailwalker Challenge broke me. I knew it was going to be tough but I was not prepared for just how mentally challenging it would be. I had an inkling, having completed Duke of Edinburgh expeditions many years ago. The Trailwalker Challenge gave me a chance to relive those DofE experiences and an excuse to invest in some new walking gear. I’m was so glad I splashed out on some nice waterproofs as the storm clouds rolled in early on Sunday morning. Keeping somewhat dry underneath my many layers as rain lashed sideways against my face was small solace as my stalwart team mates and support crew literally carried me, spirit and right knee broken, into the final checkpoint. I can’t thank them enough for getting me there, tears of pain and joy rolling down both cheeks.

This was my low point. I don’t know where I found the energy to continue, to fight through the pain and keep going, but I’m so glad I did. Perhaps it was the determination in the rest of my team to push onwards, or the encouragement and cheers of our support crew who joined us in the cruel weather to get us home, or perhaps the promise of a hot bath and a much needed hug from my wife Hannah, who came to meet us at the final kilometer marker to drag me over the finish line. I did it!

I think it will help make the whole thing even more memorable. It adds a bit of drama to the narrative and it’s a story I’m sure I will be telling anyone who will listen for years to come.

Earlier on the walk (around 10pm on the Saturday) Hannah hiked out to meet us on our way to the halfway point. I was so glad to see her there. Even at that point I was running on willpower alone. Leaving that checkpoint with 50km left was surreal. With fresh socks and pants and warm food in my belly I felt ready to tackle whatever the second half would throw at me (if I only knew it would be half the English Channel). The team was in high spirits and we were sent on our way with a winning bingo line of english countryside tropes. Within a short distance we saw dairy cows grazing in a lush field of green, hay bales scattered in a warm field of gold, a combine harvester busily at work, a train passing by under a stone bridge and the Sussex countryside rolling away into the distance under a rich red sunset dotted with hot air balloons.

For me, the Trailwalker Challenge had a bit of everything, ups and downs of all kinds. I will never forget it. And I will never forget the co-workers – now close friends – that I did it with. But I will never, ever, do it again.



As it got to 9am in the morning on the Sunday and we had been walking for 24 hours…and still had a quarter of the distance left to go I realised what I had done. By suggesting that we do the Trailwalker, I had actually created the team building exercise from hell.
As someone who has managed to get round Ikea in Croydon in under 50 minutes and emerge with furniture but without a mental breakdown, I had been confident that I had the grit and determination that was needed. This, however, was even harder.
There was blood, sweat and tears aplenty, but the feelings of incredible pride (and relief) I had when the whole team finished together will stay with me for a very long time.

In fact I was so pleased, I even gave everyone the next day off.

My highlights:

  • The fact that Jess walked half the route in a pair of Tesco trainers.
  • Walking through a wheat field with hands out to my sides, feeling the soft brush against the palms of my hands and imagining I was Russell Crowe from the end of Gladiator (minus the being dead part). And then looking behind me and seeing Sarah smiling and bouncing along to the tunes on her iPod.
  • The whole team rapping The Fresh Prince of Bel Air as we walked up a 2km hill at midnight.
  • Walking into one of the checkpoints as they played the theme tune from Rocky and welling up to the extent that I made someone else start sympathy crying.
  • When Oli (who had also been up all night) served us all a bacon sandwich out of the boot of the car in the morning. Although it did feel a little weird as we had, only a few hours before, walked through a pig field in the dark and heard their alien-like squealing.
  • Seeing Jon up and ready to walk the last 10km despite him having been in absolute agony for the preceding 3 hours.
  • My mom and dad being so wonderfully supportive and encouraging throughout the whole of the walk.
  • Laughing hysterically with my sister (one of our support team) when, 5km before the end, the sole of my boot came off and she heroically swapped me one of her trainers and then walked with me wearing a weird half-shoe, hopping through the puddles.



I manned the checkpoints from 60km to the 100km finish. 11:30pm was the target time for the first checkpoint. Anna phoned about 1am to say they were nearby. Wearing my favourite green plush dinosaur suit I greeted them just up the road from camp. I thought it would be high fives, and jumps for joy. Making it over this far was cause to celebrate! But when I saw them it reminded me that they had already been walking for 16hrs and 60km (~38 miles)!

Tea and cake and 20 minutes to rest and they were on the next leg. There was so much stuff to pack into the car – bags, ground sheets, camping chairs, gazebo and food boxes that we literally squashed it in.

Devil’s Dyke (70km) was the next checkpoint. There was hot food and tables supplied by the Ghurkas, who were helping to run the event. We, the support crew, made the most of the facilities and ate a hearty pasta bolognaise! When the walking team came through, each step I saw was a deliberate and concerted effort to push the the pain of blisters, muscles and joints. By this time the team were running close to the deadline (the checkpoints closed at certain times) so we needed to get them fed, watered and on their way. Very little time to enjoy the Ghurka hospitality. As the sun started rising they marched on.

As the team had had no time to eat and relax we put on bacon baps at 80km. Anna kept pinging their location so I could perfectly time their arrival with the bacon being ready, so they could go straight on and hit the last checkpoint before cut-off. It’s hard to describe just how a human looks after 24hrs of walking, no sleep and 80km under their belt. I’m sure most of us would have called it a day and get some well earned rest but not team CompletelyNovel – as other walkers fell by the wayside they set off on their penultimate leg.

The weather turned, from delightfully dramatic sunny/cloudy skies to a storm. Force 6 gales and horizontal rain battered the little temporary Nepalese village. 28hrs of walking, soaked to the bone, blister:foot ratio high, and one team member in the medics’ tent. This was surely the one to break the team.

But it wasn’t to be, after a cup of tea and pep talk they were back at it, off to conquer the last 10km. I saw them trek off into the blizzard-like rain and proceeded to meet them at the finish.
Well done team!

We now have even more respect for all our authors who publish amazing tales of their mammoth cycle rides, walks and other crazy adventures. You’re all incredible!

Further Reading:

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Written by
Anna Lewis
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