Livingstone200ExhaustedThe Livingstone200 was a one-day fundraiser in aid of David Livingstone and the Ugandan children and farmers he is helping to rehabilitate in post-conflict Uganda. People were asked to sponsor me as I aimed to rollerbladed 200km in a single day. It was organised in response to the difficulties experienced when my students tried to raise funds to help David as part of a school project.

As a logical extension of other skating fundraisers I have run in the past (China Inline Trip, Skate The Island, 110k Skate), the Livingstone200 was really simple: rollerblade further than I have before, pushing my personal endurance limits as far as possible. As it turns out, rollerblading 200km in a day may be my personal limit. The following is an account of the day.

We are still accepting sponsorship, which can be made through the Crossroads Foundation online payment system. Please enter “Livingstone200” in the “What For?” section.  I know that every cent donated will be appreciated by the people David is trying to help.

Following a sleepless night drenched with nervous anticipation, I got out of bed at 04:30 and readied myself for the day. Clad mostly in Lycra, I snuck out of the house with my skates and a minimal pack (to last me until my volunteers would come online at 07:00). A quick taxi ride through the very quiet pre-dawn and I arrived at Science Park, my base for the day. The route I had planned would see me skate parallel to the Tolo Highway, repeating a 10km journey out to Tai Po and back. Plasters applied, thick socks pulled up, skates on and I was ready to go. Pushing off on that first stride, which I knew would be the first of many, went a long way to halting the low-level anxiety I had been feeling every time this event popped into my mind.

From the off, though, I knew the day would not go as planned. Each of my training skates, totaling 350km between Christmas and Chinese New Year, had been on dry tracks without wind. Within minutes of setting off I was tired from battling gusting winds. Trying to keep warm and dry I was wearing a few layers, through which sweat and rain were already starting to meet. 5km in, and I reach my turning point for the first time. I could not believe how tired I was feeling, disheartening given that the outward leg was the easiest: turning into the wind and heading back uphill my heart sank at the thought the I could not achieve what I set out to do.

Slowly (at 15km/h compared to 20 in training and 18 on my plan) I crept through the dark, pushing one foot out at a time, gaining a few meters with each stride. After 30km (3 legs out of 20) my first three volunteers arrived to set up camp, carrying the supplies that would help me through the day (thanks Carly!).  After 40km I sat down for the first time to take stock and eat some breakfast (banana and Clif Bar). Most worrying at this point was the fact that an old ankle pain, which was absent through training, had come back. Caused by ill-fitting skates, the outside ankle bone on my right foot was being constantly rubbed and pressed by part of the plastic of my boot.

Refueled by breakfast and 20 minutes of being stationary, I got back to work, and started to accumulate kilometers 20 at a time (2 laps, or four legs up and down the harbour). Alternating between lisening to music (fun but confusing for skating rhythm) and just starring into the distance (boring but easy to focus), I slowly began building up distance. Sticking to lap times of around 30 minutes, cruising slightly downhill and downwind on each outward leg and then battling the wind and grade back to the support station.

As the distance on my GPS app started to grow, I started to feel more positive: the aches weren’t getting much worse, and at least the rain had stopped. At 90km I felt the pleasure of approaching the half way mark, but on hitting 100km I was left feeling despair that after over 6 hours I had to take all my work and double it to get finished. I pressed on, encouraged by visits from friends and family, and managed to reach 110km before stopping for lunch. Setting off from lunch I knew that I was in unknown territory, having never skated this far before.

Morning became afternoon, but a chill remained on the air. Each time I stopped to rest, my body cooled off in seconds and I was left shivering and shaking. Even a heavy blanket and wooly hat did little to keep me warm, and I put this down to sheer fatigue. After 130km I had to resort to breaks after each lap, no longer able to go more than 30 minutes without taking off my skates, going to the toilet and eating a little snack. I was taking in fluids faster than I was sweating them out, but needed the energy and salts in sports drinks (Pocari, Gu Brew, Lucozade) to stop my muscles from cramping.

After 130km I started to get more confident that I could go the distance, but the emotional burden was getting harder and harder to bear. I could feel myself alternating between positive and negative, and several times tears seemed to be on their way. I was fortunate to receive a lower leg massage from a volunteer, and this kept some incipient cramp at bay, at least allowing me greater freedom of movement. Later in the day, cramp twinges started in my upper legs, but nutrition, hydration and rest fortunately kept them at bay.

At the 150km mark, the end seemed at last to be in sight: 200 minutes of extra effort and I knew I would be there. Thoughts of giving up were constant, and the rationales for stopping were easy to find. The thing that kept me going was the thought of getting close, but failing, and somehow needing to do it all again: there was no way I was giving up all that work, and not getting the job done.

30 minutes of skating at a time I pulled my body through 160, 170 and finally 180kms. Each lap ended with a rest, and each new one started with hobbling, cursing and slowly willing my body to warm up and move. By this point the sun was finally out, and the late afternoon light was gorgeous. Elation was starting to set in, and I could almost taste the sensation of being finished. With the warm weather came crowds of cyclists, from speedy pros to adult beginners with stabiliser wheels. All of a sudden there were people flying everywhere, and it became a mission just to stay on my feet. A little boy without a helmet came of his bike and placed his head almost under my wheels, a woman crashed into a stationary bollard, a man served almost across my toes. Exhausted and pumped up, I tried to stay calm and focused, I tried to predict the unpredictable. As I inched closer to the finish, I began to wonder what it might feel like to be finished. The image that came to mind was Seve Ballesteros winning the 1984 Open…which probably shows how delusional I was by this point:

And then, just like that, it was done. A final push over the line, my lovely wife and children waiting for me, a few photos and taking my skates off. Finally, after 13 hours and 2 minutes, being still and knowing I did not need to skate anymore. I was elated yet reflective: what if I had to back it up and do it again tomorrow? What if I had no choice, forced to my limit every day, forced to march, to kill. What if I was just a child? My resilience and determination seemed somehow mute in the face of what so many suffer…somewhere, through my aching, hurting body and my confused, elated mind, I understood that I was lucky, pampered and weak.

At the end of all of this, through a combination of luck and preparation, I was left with only a swollen ankle and some very stiff muscles. The day after was tough, especially moving up and down stairs. Hot showers and greasy food helped to ease some of the discomfort. Writing this three days after the fact, my range of movement is still limited, but most of the pain and stiffness has gone.

The Livingstone200 would not have been worth undertaking without the gracious support of my many sponsors (including some wonderful students), who have helped to push to total sum raised to just over HKD $20,000. It would also not have been possible without the support of the following volunteers and supporters: Carly, Ellen, Sarah, Jen, Mitch, Monika, Peony, Emily, Queenie, Chrystal, Mike, George, Reinhard, Alexandra, Yo & Jamie. Thanks so much for taking the time to come along and lend a hand!

Featured below are some stats and a map of the day, taken from my phone’s GPS, using Google’s My Tracks:

  • Total distance: 200.29 km (124.5 mi)
  • Total time: 13:03:01
  • Moving time: 10:51:36
  • Average speed: 15.35 km/h (9.5 mi/h)
  • Average moving speed: 18.44 km/h (11.5 mi/h)
  • Max speed: 35.35 km/h (22.0 mi/h)

View Livingstone200 in a larger map