“What, in one day?”, “I bet you hurt after that?”, “why?”, “I could never do that”, “Good luck”, “wishing you the very best luck”, “well done you”, “really proud of you”, “bet you felt great.”
Just some of the many comments made to me before and after my modest plan to walk 40 miles along the South Downs Way last month, June 2015.
My route was very simple, no explanation needed, leaving Storrington West Sussex at 7am and walking along the South Downs Way as far as Jack and Jill, the Clayton Windmills in East Sussex (near Ditchling Beacon) and returning the same route. A total of 40.8 miles in 15 hours to the minute.
Preparing Mentally and Physically
If you read my blog on a regular basis you will know that I walk about 12-20 miles per day-hike. A sensible distance for someone who is not close to physical perfection and the wrong side of 44 yrs old. I’m 6’1″ tall and kitted up close to 17 stone, a skinny stick I am not.
On several occasions recently I had walked 25 miles and 31 miles in a day, so I had been gently pushing my own limit upwards.
I wanted to prove something to myself and at the same time prove, wrong word, demonstrate to others that with a bit of effort and a modest amount of will power you can knock down mental barriers with relative ease.
I know from previous 30 mile walks that energy is my biggest failing, the lack of. I don’t intake enough of the right food types and towards the end of a long day walking my muscles are tired. So for the 40 miles I had to rethink my normal plan. It didn’t go well on the day I might add – so read the following paragraphs as a warning, not a suggestion.
Energy Bars and IsoGels
I did some research online (not always good – too much hype) and spoke to my good friend Keith Foskett about food types to take on the day. I would be out walking, in my estimate at least 15-16 hours.
I like bananas and bananas like me, they are a very good source of potassium. You lose potassium via sweating, bananas are also a good source of carbohydrates, essential for endurance activities. So bananas were on the list to take and consume in moderation a few days before. Along with a lovely pasta bake my other half cooked for dinner the night before.
Nuts and oats are also a good food to take on a long hike, again lots of health and energy benefits to be gained from a relatively lightweight load (no tins – easy shaped packets to stow away).
Peanut flapjacks assuming you can eat them safely, are a great source of energy on a long walk.
Isogels and Isotonic Drinks
Now this is where my plan deviated from normal and went wrong. I know from experience that I do not consume enough salts and minerals during a long hike and I lose lots via sweating, the end result is normally a thumping headache at the end of the day. Not a healthy thing to be doing.
I carry plenty of plain water but I didn’t used to carry any food or drink that would replace the lost electrolytes. I started listening to my body and now always take isotonic drinks with me in addition to plain water.
There are many brands available such as Lucozade Sport (not the normal Lucozade but the Sport version). Lucozade Sport is an isotonic carbohydrate-electrolyte drink and is proven to help maintain your body’s levels.
IsoGels – Sick of Hype
For the 40 mile walk I decided to try isogels, basically a concentrated version of the Sport drink in handy sachet form. They can be sachets of liquid or as the name suggests, sachets of gel. Quick to open, quick to consume, easy to carry in your pocket and used by 1000s of athletes around the world.
I would take two 60ml isogel sachets every 2 to 3 hours, along with plain water and bananas and nuts on longer breaks.
I had read lots of independent reviews about the brand of isogel I was using on the day, High5 IsoGel and I didn’t see any mention of causing a feeling of nausea. Unfortunately as the hours unfolded it became obvious to me that every 20-30 minutes after consuming 2 sachets of IsoGel (below the recommended dose) I would be left with a strong feeling of nausea.
I never suffer any kind of nauseous feeling when out walking and the timing between consumption of the sachets and the sickness feeling couldn’t be ignored. So my conclusion is very much that IsoGels are certainly not for everyone and in fact off the shelf Lucozade Sport can and does work just as well in combination with plain water and hiking foods.
How Much Water?
This is a question many people ask and really is a question that cannot be simply answered. We all sweat at different rates and therefore lose salts at different rates. I always set out, even for a 6 mile walk with at least 3 litres of plain water and 500ml of isotonic drink (NOT as I now know, the isogels).
You must do your homework and work out where you are guaranteed fresh drinking water along your route. If the weather changes and the day becomes hotter you will consume water quickly. You don’t want to consume all your plain water and Sport drink during the first few hours as this can cause an electrolyte imbalance, dehydration and can lead to heat stroke and other serious issues.
On my 40 mile route, there was confirmed fresh drinking water available at 4 well spaced out locations along the walk, meaning that if for some reason on the day one of the supplies was turned off, I would still be able to replenish my 3 litre hydration kit from the other locations.
Don’t assume that your initial supply of water will last you all day, it most probably won’t, also don’t rely on shops or pubs being open. Always check before you set off the drinking water options. Consider having a friend meet you half way with fresh supplies if need be.
A rough calculation but I consumed close to 6.5 litres of fluids, including isotonic Sport drink over 40 miles. It was a humid day and as I mentioned at the beginning I’m certainly not carrying the body weight I would ideally like.
Hiking Boots and Socks
A recurring comment after my walk was “how are you feet feeling?” The simple and honest answer is that my feet felt fine during and after my walk. There is no magic, trade secret or potion x. I have well-fitting boots. Different brands suit different feet.
I had my feet measured and tried on many styles and brands before choosing these, you cannot and shouldn’t simply choose boots on price, online availability and reviews alone. Go and get your feet measured up by outdoor specialists.
I wear Bridgedale Merino Fusion socks, a mix of natural wool and man-made fibres. Not too thick, not too thin. They wick away sweat from your feet helping prevent damp conditions inside your boots which can cause slipping and blisters.
This affordable boot / sock combination, along with Superfeet Green insoles has given me many miles of blister free walking. Of course I get aches from using my muscles but I don’t suffer from any sharp pain or blisters.
Mental Barrier – The Why?
Perhaps the hardest part of any long distance hike is mental preparation, are you reading this and saying “I know I can’t do that”? Several of my friends, who on appearance lead active lives with healthy diets say we can’t do that.
I am absolutely sure they can do this; back in November 2014 I went for my first proper continuous walk, a modest 12 miles. I thought at the time that was the limit of my physical endurance. My feet hurt, I was sweating, hot, tired, I just couldn’t do that again, no never. 12 miles, I must have been mad.
So fast forward to June 2015 and I walked nearly 3.3 times that distance. How did I manage it? Well as I mentioned above a combination of many things. Building up my distances gradually, 12 miles, 15 miles, 20 miles and so on. Many days I just walk 5 or 6 miles but all the time I am thinking positive. No walk is a bad walk. No weather is bad weather.
I set off knowing in my mind I WILL enjoy the walk.
It is true, to a degree, if you believe in yourself you will be able to achieve many things previously thought out of reach. Could I walk 45 miles next month, absolutely because after 40.8 miles I was nowhere near exhaustion. It was harder mentally to walk 40 miles than physically.
How To Prepare Mentally
There are several things that made the 40 miles fly by; I would be joined by a friend, Nick Rick from Wimbledon for 30 miles of the walk. Having someone to laugh with, swear at and egg you on is worth many miles, priceless in fact. Nick was fantastic walking company as was meeting another friend Ray Turner at the 20 mile, half-way mark for a short section of the route.
I used social media on the day, Twitter to post updates of my progress using a hashtag #southdowns40 I would only post every 2 – 3 hours but it was a fantastic boost to switch my phone on and see the tweets of encouragement flash up on the notification screen.
Another great way to cope mentally is to take time to enjoy your surroundings, try not to stare down at your boots for 15 hours continuous; that would drive anyone to the nearest taxi rank or train station home. Look around you, look up, look around, enjoy your time, enjoy life.
The final few miles were in fact some of the best miles I walked that day, I was blessed with a stunning sunset, the clouds broke and sunbeams highlighted my final destination. I would have missed that had I given up and gone home by car after 20 miles.
Think of the positives as you walk, look forward to the view over the next hill, look forward to telling your friends that you did do it, look forward to giving yourself a massive pat on the back.
No Such Word as Can’t
I can’t do it, how do you know? You mean you can’t do it at the moment without building up to it and proper planning, that I agree with. Just saying I can’t is the lazy option. Many times we try to set goals that are beyond our current reach. Don’t dismiss completely walking 40 miles if you are only walking 6 miles now.
I was only walking 5 miles a year ago. I can’t walk 60 miles. I can’t now but I might be able to next year. No such word as can’t; just can’t AT the moment.
If a chap in his 40s, who spent most of his life driving cars and riding motorbikes, eating huge amounts of chocolate and sitting in a crew-room for hours and hours on end can do it, you certainly can too, I am sure of it.
I can’t or you don’t want to? Only you have the answer to that.
Route: Storrington to Jack and Jill Windmills and back.
Download Map of Route
Distance: 40.8 miles (65.6 km)