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Looking after the body during the walk

Bill Orme

While as discussed in the last Practical, it is most important to prepare your body before the walk, it is equally important to look after it during the walk, especially during the first week.

No matter how well you prepare before you set out, the only way the body gets used to the length of the day is by actually doing it day after day.

While basic fitness can be adequate with gaps of a week or so between average walking, the extra toughness needed before a long walk with a heavy pack is lost very quickly. And as age creeps on, this extra toughness is lost very fast.

Top fitness is quickly lost.

We find a noticeable loss of this extra fitness after two days of not walking, after three or four days and it is quite marked. If those days are spent travelling, particularly couped up in a plane, and you add time and season changes, the loss is much greater. We do our last hard training the morning we fly out.

Take the first few days quietly.

We like to start walking as soon as we arrive, though we take the first few days as quietly as possible. Walking LEJOG last year we took the train to Penzance after arriving in Britain from Australia, and the next day caught a bus to Treen and walked the16 kms back to Penzance with only day packs. The second day we caught the bus to Treen and walked forward the 20 kms to St Just and the bus back to Penzance.

The third day, now with full packs, we caught the bus to St Just and headed to John O'Groats via Padstow, Lyme Regis and then north. Do a little less rather than a little more than you think the first few days. Take at least the first five days slowly, preferably the first week, and from then on you can stretch out your distances, and you won't have to ignominiously, give up !!

Why did we circle back to Lyme Regis ? - How else to you see both the north and south Cornwall coast as well as the Saints Way (see Practical 2 - picking your route), but that is another story.

In this way we recovered from our jetlag, adjusted to a sudden change from late summer to early spring, and the ten hour time change. The third day finished with two tired walkers, but without blisters and after a good nights sleep, and a few beers, ready for the fourth day.

How far to walk a day.

How far do we walk in a day ? Differences in difficulty of the route, interesting things along the way, availability of accommodation, and many other factors determine this. Generally we find 22 to 27 kms is comfortable after the first week. Walking six days a week we find we average 150 kms as week and cover 1,000 kms in six weeks. We thought this capacity would reduce as we reach 70 years, but by keeping at it, we find this pace still comfortable.

We find 25 kms a good days walk. We calculate our average speed to be 3 kms an hour when walking day after day with a reasonable rucksack. What confuses us is that if we only have a short day, 18 kms, we will comfortably walk it before lunch and have the afternoon to look around. If we are walking 25 kms, the mind sees to stretch our energies over the whole day, and we will have only done 14/15 kms by lunch. We seem to have little say over it and don't know why. Does anyone have a theory ?

Refreshing the mind and enthusiasm.

After six weeks we find we are more mentally rather than physically tired, and take five to seven days off to freshen up our enthusiasm. We often take a bus to an interesting centre for this longer rest, and then the bus back to where we left our route.

While walking across France in 2001 we took these rests in Rouen, Caen, Home and Epinal.

Breaks during the day.

We have a cup of tea mid morning, lunch, and depending on the length of the day, a cup of tea mid afternoon. We use our Trangia cooker as we find it clean burning and efficient, and the fuel easy to buy.

At lunch we often air our boots and socks and dry our feet in the sun (when available). What socks and boots we use will be in the next Practical.

Food and nutrition we will save for a later Practical, but we carry emergency rations for all three daily meals.

The tireder we become the more breaks we take. In a long day regular breaks might make you a bit later in arriving, but you will enjoy that night and the next day so much more.

When water is short.

Some people forget how heavy water is when weighing their pack before setting out. This needs to be taken into account : one litre is one kilo.

When water is short resist the temptation to drink as soon as you stop as you will immediately sweat most of it out. Sit down and cool off for two minutes and then take a smaller drink in smaller sips. This way the body will absorb most of it. Also take smaller sips more frequently, rather than trying to go longer times between drinking.

While perspiration and urination loses water, a similar quantity is lost through breathing. The inhaled air takes water in from the large lung surface area and it is lost in the exhaled breath. This is particularly so the drier the air, and at high altitudes in intense cold it can be very dry as most moisture from the air has been turned to snow and ice.

Perspiration can be severe in the morning when climbing from where you spent the night up to a ridge for the days walk. With your days water and food your pack can be at its heaviest. For this reason try and climb in the shade (see walking the Pyrenees, Practical 2 - picking your route).

Don't think you can get water by putting snow in your mouth. The mouth becomes a refrigerator and the snow will not melt. We use our Trangia to melt the snow for drinking.

Stepping down, protecting the toes, tiredness at the end of the day.

Stepping down: Rarely jump off a rock or down from a wall with a pack. The extra weight easily twists ankles, tears knees and muscles. If in doubt sit on your bottom and ease yourself down. The extra time and wear on your trousers is worth the saving in damaged joints and muscles.

The Toes: One of the commonest reasons for black or lost toenails is walking downhill with loose laces. The foot slides forward in the shoe and you literally 'walk on your toes'.

Boots should preferably have a 'locking' cleat at the top of the foot, and two cleats above that. Before descending :

  1. sit down,
  2. loosen your laces,
  3. kick your foot back into the heel,
  4. firmly laces the foot and put the lace into the locking cleat (ensuring the foot is not laced too tightly), and
  5. tightly lace the top two cleats.

This way the downward thrust of the foot is taken on the two upper lacings and not the points of the toes. Like regular rests above, the time lost will be well repaid.

Tiredness at the end of the day.

The often long descent at the end of the day when body and mind are tired and muscles becoming flabby can cause real damage as well being stressful, ruining and otherwise wonderful day. Bear this in mind when preparing for the walk (see Step 4, Practical 3 - preparing the body), and as always when the body is stressed, take it slowly.

The End

There are endless issues and variety and opposed ideas on each issue. These are our main issues and how we deal with them.

This article was written by Bill Orme, Walking Volunteers, and first appeared in Strider.
Anyone is free to copy it with this acknowledgement.

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