It’s a walk, how hard can it be?

So long ago that I can’t actually remember agreeing to do it, I signed up to a 100km charity walk. I’ve done and said lots of stupid things over the years but this one was up there. The words ‘walk’ and ‘charity’ fooled my reptile brain into thinking it would be easy. I’ve done harder I told myself, it’s a few park runs at worst. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I won’t bore you with the all the logistics but I arrived at the start line having been well fed on spag bol the previous evening (thank you Helen!) and well rested surprisingly. The starting pen reminded me of the Tough Mudder starts, all portaloos and rock music. I grumbled when they shuffled us into the starting zone for a dance based warm up. Surely walking 100km was a warm up enough, I don’t need to bounce around to poor pop mus……hang on….I love this tune! I got into the buzz and had a little skip around with my colleagues, burning off the nervous energy.

Coming out of the gate it very quickly became apparent that the crowd would make the day harder. Walking at someone else’s pace is tough, especially if you’re having to shorten stride to avoid catching people’s heels. I began to skip around some of the masses to get some clear air which made a huge difference. As we strung out it became much more enjoyable, until we hit the first hill. The profile on the map wasn’t joking. The first turn up hill saw plenty of hardy souls having to stop and rest. The structured me immediately started checking my heart rate and working out how many hills we had until the next rest stop. There are times, as with my riding, that sometimes I would just slow down and take in the journey.

Pacing, Racing and Chasing

In preparation I’d managed a whole 30k of walking. Over the course of separate sessions, my longest single hit was 15km. That tells us two things. Firstly, I’m an idiot. Secondly I’ve no idea what a good pace is other than what feels normal to me. Normal to me is a hear rate of about 115 for all day cardio. I figured ramp up’s on hills and get it level as soon as possible after. What that didn’t account for is social walking or breaks. It also doesn’t account for liquid and food intake. I’d argue to do this properly I would have to plan nutrition and hydration as I do for the ‘bigger’ events.

The other thing pacing impacts is my general ego. I find it difficult to have people in front and I find it difficult being overtaken. This isn’t the event to have that feeling.

The first break was at the 14km mark roughly. Someone told me it was near the lighthouse on the horizon, so mentally I set that goal. As we closed on that target the two guys with me said they were going to jog to loosen up. I let them go…..then set off after them. Immeadiately feeling the skin on my heels start to give. I resigned myself to getting to the tower and sorting them out and upon arriving discovered the stop was a km further on. I grumpily sat down and got the tape out as all the people I’d jogged past simply walked back past.

I hobbled down to the rest stop and parked myself in the medical area to get properly taped up..I can’t thank the medical guys enough for both giving up their time to placate middle aged idiots like me.

Lesson 1 : Nothing New on Race Day

When we’d been chatting the night before someone had mentioned blisters and I’d somehow overthought it. Instead of wearing socks I always wear, I’d opted for some injinji socks I’ve used once 5 years ago.

They felt comfy and I had no toe blisters (remember that) but they were too thin at the back as I only had the super small none ankle covering ones.

Lesson 2 : Fail to Plan, Plan to Panic

We stomped on eating up the km’s and after dropping into the river valley it was a flat speed march to 25km. That makes light of the ups and downs on the top of the cliffs but it was an enjoyable yomp with amazing views and good spirits all around. There was always a walker near by, I tended to walk alone in spots and in a group in spots, sometimes in silence, sometimes in full chat. It really was enjoyable.

What I didn’t account for is how long had elapsed. When we arrived at 25km far too long had passed and I began to do mental maths to figure out finish times. Again a symptom of a lack of training, planning and preparation.

Food was provided, salty crisps and a sandwich and I’ll come back to salt later on, if you take one thing from this post, eat more salt.

Taped and ready we set out for the next stop. At this point I’ll say the food was a little disappointing. Not because it wasn’t any good, purely because I’m not sure I set my own expectation. I filled my bag with the Nakd bars (which aren’t that appealing when compared to a Trek bar for example. (Trek have got me through so many events and tight spots, second only to flat coke as a miracle nutrition product).

Filling my bag was daft. Not reading the pre-event bumpf was daft. Not bringing my own gels, hydration tabs and food choices was daft.

What that leads to is uncertainty, so instead of the comfort of a well structured plan, I’d winged it and that leaves doubts at every step. Something that played out later.

Road to Perdition

The second section, 25km to 57km was a slog. There were break points to reload drinks and food but my mental assumption of what a park run (5km) feels like did not account for 5km of hills on stony paths and off angle slopes. Carrying the remnants of a torn MCL I began to feel knee pain from about 10km, but it didn’t worsen and was soon minimised my the feeling of bruising in my feet.

As we progressed we splintered more and the grouping ebbed and flowed. Headphones went on for most people but I ended up in step with Dave who had decided to bring enough stuff to last a week in the wilderness. I’ve worked with Dave for a couple of years but I can honestly say our conversations never repeated, we figured out when to say stuff and when to keep quiet and when to say this entire day sucked and when to say the views were great. Dave, I salute you!

Blistering Pace

The rest stop at 35km resulted in another stop at the blister shop with the poor young doc having to tape up my little toe which had decided to blister as it rubbed with the adjacent toe. I refer you to the reference to Inijini socks. Having changed socks at rest stop 1, the rubbing on my heel had stopped and I’d introduced a rub on the toe. Lesson number 3 says for long distance walking, calf length Injinjis are the answer! A pain in the ass to put on, but my toes were perfect at 25km, and perfectly screwed after I took them off.

When the group broke to just Dave and I for the 47 to 57km it felt pretty isolated. The general traffic was thinner and conversation became about who’s feet hurt the most and more revealing was the conversation about whether we’d continue at 57km or not for the overnight session. I think mentally I’d checked out, I had sore feet yes, but my cardio and energy felt fine. I was drinking and eating more regularly and was in pretty solid control of my pace. The missing part of the puzzle was it felt like doing more would be for the sake of it, rather than the enjoyment, perverse though the enjoyment was.

Salt Bae

The last stretch along Brighton sea front felt a drag. After eventually turning inland for the final 2km we came across a fellow walker, sat and struggling against a wall. Another couple of walkers had stopped but something made me want to help her out. Dave and I pulled up and had a chat with her. SHe’d been drinking plenty of water, she’d eaten lots of jelly babies but bitter experience from years ago told me she’d neglected salt. Sickness, dizziness and a general vague responses left the poor woman having to eat the packet of warm salted nuts that had been festering in my pocket since the 37km rest stop.

We waited while she ate then took her bag to let her walk freely up to the finish. That last 1500m was a drag, she was struggling, my feet were screaming to get it over and I think Dave felt the same. We got her across the line and she demonstrated more character in that last few yards than anyone who had been on the course that day that we’d met. Digging deep and getting it done – if you’re reading this, I seriously hope you know how well you did, many would have quit there and then – you did amazing. And to anyone else, don’t neglect your salts!

Done and Dusted

I think Dave and I both knew we were done as we crossed the line. We quickly got stuck into the food and checked the state of our feet. I thinking carrying on would have been doable but certainly would have left more than a few days of sore legs, so was the right choice.

In terms of final lessons, my logistics were awful. I wasn’t prepared and had no plan for clothes or transportation. Pacing was ok after I settled down, but poor choice of footwear, lack of walking practice and relying on fitness from riding was probably daft. Not having any way to get home wasn’t a great plan either, I’d left my car 40km away so still had an Uber and a drive to get anywhere to rest. Stupid after 12+ hours on my feet.

It’s worth mentioning that a number of people from work made the effort to walk the route, all faced their own challenges and all contributed to it being a great day. With all events I look back and enjoy them more in hindsight and this will be one of those. I’ll go back and do it again, with planning, training and will do the full 100km.

There’s only 2 events I’ve pulled out of as a personal choice, one through sickness and this one. I’m glad I made the choice, a few years ago it would have plagued me as failure but now I look through the lens of I’ve just completed an ‘Ultra distance’. It didn’t go as half arsed planned but I can be proud that I walked 57km, over marathon distance and under target. Next time I’ll smash it.

Photo Credits : If they are bad quality, mine, if they aren’t then Phil Welch or Jeff Ball (Aiki-Jeff) are fully accountable!