I'm sure I'm not the only one who occasionally has a weekend which is extraordinary and uplifting and unforgettable. Well, last weekend was one of those for me.
Our youngest son, Tom, decided some time ago to enter the P Company Challenge in Catterick, Yorkshire. In essence, this is a 10 mile "race" over some pretty tortuous terrain carrying a 35lb pack on your back in boots, not trainers.
Just think about that for one moment - 35lbs - that's 2.5 stone or, in real terms 18 bags of sugar or bags and bags of wool!
This "challenge" is the Parachute Regiment's way of sorting the men from the boys. If you complete it in under 1 hour 50 minutes (yes, you did read that right - 10 miles, 35lbs on your back, 1 hour 50 minutes) then you qualify for the Paras. Over 1 hour 50 and you don't.
You cannot run the course in advance (unless you're a Para) and Tom assures me that the hills on the route make our Cornish ones (which many people find challenging enough) look like little pimples!
Tom has been training for months for this. No coach, no training schedule other than the one he prepared for himself, no professional help at all. We have had chafing, his back rubbed raw by the pack during training and, finally on his return from France, an infection in his foot. It has not been plain sailing!
So - we drove up to Catterick on Saturday (8 hours from Penzance) with the pack loaded in the back:
(yes, those are towels taped on to his straps with duck tape, in order to minimise chafing).
The day dawned warm and sunny - which, as all runners know, means dehydration! But is, nonetheless, better than lashing rain.
Tom was ready for the off:
His parents felt physically sick!
The runners went first - these are the "sensible" guys who choose to run it without the hindrance of the 35lb pack and are actually allowed to wear running shoes! They are the "hares" and the lunatics ("tabbers") aim to catch them:
Here are the tabbers leaving - with our Tom on the left:
Note in this picture that all the others around Tom are quite large men (!) - and I am willing to bet that the vast majority of them are Paras - certainly the ones in the red t-shirts are.
Over an anxious hour and a half later Tom reappeared:
looking absolutely exhausted
He completed the route in 1 hour 46 minutes and 16 seconds.
He came 122nd out of 792 entrants.
The first tabber home came in in 1 hour 15 minutes.
The last one came home in 3 hours 23 minutes - an hour and a half after Tom.
At the age of just 17 Tom could have qualified for the Parachute Regiment.
We couldn't be more proud. He - of course - is beating himself up about how much better/faster he could have gone - such is the life of these endurance
I am still applying various healing unctions to his raw back.
He is planning his next challenge!