It’s the end of October 2016 and I’ve booked my place at ‘Race to the Stones’ in July 2017. It’s a 100k challenge and I’m going to sport walk it non-stop. It’s one of these fully supported events that offers something for everyone, from non-stop Ultra runners to two day charity walkers.
Perusing the website on the day I put in my entry, I couldn’t quite figure out if my plan – to sport walk non-stop – was something many of the entrants go for. No question, the Ultra athletes running it would be ‘overnighting’ but the walkers?
Well, whatever the norm, whatever the majority plan, my plan is to walk those 100k over the Chilterns as fast as I can! That’s the whole point of sport walking right? So, in the categorisation section of the application, I put ‘walking’ and then selected ‘non-stop’ and for my estimated time, I went for 16-20 hours.
I’ve no idea if the organisers think that’s a bit ambitious, mad or par for the course but having completed 82k on my ‘New Forest 80’ walk, I figured that another 18k in three hours is doable, especially as I was self sufficient on that walk, stopping to buy supplies in the shops and also taking quite long breaks for lunch and dinner (Mac D’s on the A31)!
So, my challenge was fixed and now I have 9 months to get in the kind of shape that hopefully means I’ll not only get under 20 hours but will get well under it. For the ‘New Forest 80’, I carried way too much weight and also dressed for endurance rather than speed. For ‘Race to the Stones’, I plan to effectively kit out as an Ultra Runner, with the only difference being that I’m walking not running.
While the ‘New Forest 80’ was a big challenge and my time was really satisfying, I knew
the day after that I could have gone faster and achieved a better time if I’d been in better shape physically (I’d had a bad dose of tonsillitis that wiped me out just a few weeks before) and if I’d had a more suitable kit spec.
I was carrying kit to allow me to bivvi at the finish (as I thought it might take me about 20 hours), all my waterproofs were heavy duty – great for getting pounded in the mountains but heavier than necessary for this challenge. I think in every respect, while I’d already trimmed equipment weight before the attempt, after a test walk of one section, I was well over weight for the challenge itself. Ever since, I’ve wondered what time I could have put in if I’d approached it as an Ultra athlete would and also if I’d done it supported.
So the Race to the Stones represents a new chapter – it’ll be the first test of my theory that sport walking can be an equivalent to Ultra Running, the only difference being that in running you go faster and your feet leave the ground! Yes, that’s a fairly bold statement because when running, you’re exerting yourself more overall but sport walking still requires high output and it’s consistently high throughout.
While running, you might slow to a walk up steep hills, with walking that’s when you need to attack because that’s the only time you can really make a difference – your flat speed being essentially as fast as your legs can carry you. So, while sport walking will never match running for sheer physical stress, it’s not far off and the need to bury yourself on the climbs means you’re not exactly having an easy ride by comparison!
So what’s the plan, I hear you cry? Well, I’m looking to build my strength mainly, as well as targeting climbing endurance, so I’ll be focussing on a structured weights plan, as well as a lot of hill training, often carrying weight. I’ve suffered with ITB problems as well (see blog on walkers’ injuries), so sorting that with strength work is going to be key. The overall speed is already there to a certain extent – you can only walk so fast and it’s more about maintaining that speed for as long as possible and being able to attack the climbs, rather than finding any more top speed and that’s where the strength training comes in.
There’s obviously free weights work and also some structured gym routines but also, I love what I call ‘weighted marches’ often carrying over 20kg, so they will be quite a big part of the plan. I’m also going to be racing the Southampton Half Marathon in the spring and a few 10k runs too, for aerobic training. I’m planning quite a bit of cycling, as that seems to work just the right muscle groups to tackle the ITB problem and I’ll be doing as much kayaking as I can for core and upper body strength (something a lot of walkers overlook). Overall though, I’ll just be doing a lot of long weighted walks because the stronger I can become walking fast with weight, the easier and faster I’ll be able to go stripped back and super light racing to the stones!
Roger Burlinson – Sport Walk Founder