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Preparing and Care of the Body

Bill Orme - from Striders 97

Always bear in mind two golden quotes:

  1. John Hillaby said 'treat your feet like a pair of newborn twin babies' and
  2. the French proverb 'Time takes its revenge of what is done without it' (or take it slowly).

While we keep in basic nick throughout the year, we have always built up our feet, knees and back gradually over the three weeks immediately before a long walk. Now we are over 65, we spread the same preparations over four weeks, doing a little more each day.

We walk between half and one hour each morning before breakfast and intersperse that with two or three long walks in the final two weeks before we go. However, we believe the only way to fully harden up for a long walk is during the walk itself, so the first three to five days of the actual walk must be taken carefully.

After the first ten days of training wearing a pack that is half the weight of what we usually carry, we have started to harden up our bodies in preparation for the walk. We then do about a ten mile (15/18 kms) walk. Five or six days later (the next weekend) we do a fifteen mile (22/26 kms) walk.

Pre-departure training toughens the soles of the feet, the ankle, knee and hip joints and the muscles at the base of the back. This minimises excessive soreness in the first few days which can be a reason people attempting a long walk give up in those first few days.

In recent Striders there have been excellent articles on preparation for 100's and other related LDWA activities. Please read them too but don't underestimate the special demands a heavy pack and long, day after day walking places on your body and prepare it properly for those demands.


Step 1. The Feet. The first thing is to walk on a few hard (cement) footpaths for half to an hour with the same or similar boots to those you will wear on your walk. Starting with about half the pack weight you intend to carry, each morning add a little more weight and walk a bit faster to cover a longer distance. This gradually hardens the soles of your feet and the joints in the bones in the feet.

Step 2. The Ankles, Knees & Hips. At the same time these joints slowly get used to the extra weight and jarring from the walking.

Step 3. The Small of the Back. Carrying a pack makes you lean forward and different back muscles come into play. Again, slow preparation of moving your back forward a little at first, with a pack that is half the weight of one you intend to carry, and gradually further forward with more weight, develops the back strength you need to wear a full weight pack.

Step 4. The Stairs. Halfway through our training we start climbing up and down stairs (100 up and 100 down and building up from first 5 times with extra weight to 10 or 12 times, for us a total of more than 2,000 steps). At first take one step at a time until you have reached the number you think is required. Then we start every third climb, to take two steps at a time, both up and down, then every second climb and finally all steps two at a time. The two at a time down is essential as this really helps prepare the joints for the jarring on descents. Often the long descents are at the end of the day when muscles are tired and these descents can be much more demanding than climbing.

Step 5. The Slope. We also try in the last week to walk horizontally across slopes with one leg higher than the other to strengthen the side knee ligaments. (Going one way one leg is higher and on the way back the other.)

Starting your walk

Bear in mind the stress on the body and mind of finishing work and getting away for the actual walk. Start the walk slowly, giving the body time to recover and harden up. If you have had to travel a long distance from home to the start there can be the further strain of time and season change. In our case, living in Australia, we often face an eleven hours time change and a switch from mid winter to mid summer. The body and mind resents this onslaught so treat them with the same consideration as Hillaby gives the feet.

The longer walks we recommend in stage one of training help you become used to the long days once you start your journey, but don't expect to be fully fit from the moment you set off. Your fitness for coping with these long days may also be quickly lost if the gap from your last bout of training to starting the walk is more than a couple of days.

Another problem can come from thinking that as you work at a physically demanding job you are thereby ready for a long walk. One of our sons builds fences for a living, digging holes, carting and putting up timber fences. He and I set out to walk through a very step and rugged area near Sydney, looking for the fascinating tree orchids mainly found at the base of large gorges. He thought his fitness meant he did not have to train for the walk. After the third day his knees gave out and we had to give up. He and I have since successfully walked 250 miles (400 kms) through the wildflowers of Western Australia together, after he had toughened up his joints for the walk.

Obviously the level of preparation will depend on the difficulty of the walk you are planning. But having decided our objective level, observe what we call the golden rules:

Golden rule 1. Build up gradually, giving the body time to adjust. As you get older you might do the same level two or more times before increasing it.

Golden rule 2. Toughen up all the parts of the body which will come under increased strain during the walk.

Golden rule 3. Take the first few days of the actual walk slowly (always less rather than more) until the body gets used to the length of the day and the added weight.

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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