And so it begins…

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With a little over two months to go until Race to the Stones, Sport Walk’s founder Roger Burlinson moves his training onto the South Downs.

Quite early on, I set myself the milestone of the Southampton 10k (which was part of the city’s Marathon & Half Marathon race program) for migrating over my training from mainly running to mainly Sport Walking in preparation for Race to the Stones.

It’s great to reach this point, not because I don’t enjoy running, I do, but because I’ve been chomping at the bit to start walking longer distances and now it’s all about just that.

My plan is to work up to 50km sessions, with probably one full 60k walk in June, leaving me enough time to recover and build again ready for the off in July.  I’ve also decided to abandon my home training ground – the New Forest – for terrain that’s more like the Ridgeway, so I’m doing almost all my big walks now on the South Downs.

I’m lucky in living right on the edge of the New Forest and that also means I’m not a huge distance from Winchester the starting point of the South Downs Way.  I’ve always considered my territory as stretching from Swanage in the west to Chichester in the east, so really and truly I’m still staying on home soil and getting onto the western South Downs Way is easy, certainly a lot easier than commuting up to the Ridgeway!

To mark the start of my build up to the race, I set off to Winchester and St Catherine’s Hill for my first walk, which would be a 25k race pace session.  I actually need to go a bit slower at the moment but this was my first session and I was eager!  I skirted round St Catherine’s, heading up to the Pilgrim’s Trail and headed south east along it, before climbing up to Cheesefoot Head.

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Looking down Warren Lane, a stretch of Alan King Way, from near Cheesefoot Head

From there, I headed south east again before once again turning north to hook up with the South Downs Way at Gander Down.

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The section back from Gander Down took me past a rather curious tank driving site and then up the side of Telegraph Clump, which is the natural bowl used to house summer events such as ‘Homelands’ and the ‘Boomtown Festival’.  This last little stretch of the path back up to Cheesefoot Head was beautiful and one of the few intimate paths on today’s route.

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The delightful path up to Cheesefoot Head from Temple Valley

From Cheesfoot, it was simply a question of following the South Downs Way back into Winchester and then back to St Catherine’s Hill, which I decided to do a final ‘sprint’ up and nearly over cooked it!  I unclipped my poles and set off like Killian Jornet in a vertical hill climb, only to realise within about twenty metres that I wasn’t going to last another twenty!  It was a good way to end the session though – to push hard on a steep climb on tired legs.

This was a great loop, with plenty of options for extending it to add yet more mileage. What I like about training on the South Downs is that you have a whole variety of different ‘ways’ and trails converging in places, so you can more easily build loops.  I hate out and back routes and often struggle mentally, knowing what lies ahead.  I’d far rather do a loop and with the South Downs being what they are, if you seek out a loop you’re almost certainly going to also add more climbs, as you then have to drop down from the high ground, so for me it’s a double bonus.

Training for Race to the Stones, I know that my goal of a time close to or even under 18 hours is ambitious but then that’s what goals are for.  If I’m going to achieve that, I need to be losing as little time as possible on the climbs, so building as many climbs as possible into my training sessions is really important.

As I’m starting out in my final build up, my race pace is currently around 6.8kmh average but that’s only over about 25k.  Time will tell if I can maintain that over 50 or even 100k or if I can’t what pace I can maintain.  I’m leaving that though to the future.  At the moment, I’m just loving being out on the downs and going longer each time.

You can see the training session mentioned in this post on Strava here

If you want to follow Roger’s progress, follow him on Strava

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