Set back or benefit?

With seven weeks to go until ‘Race to The Stones’, Roger’s training has been hampered by work commitments but has it set him back?

The military have a saying – “no plan survives contact” – and I’ve tried to keep that in mind these last three weeks.  My work (I’m a video Producer and Director) has taken me away from home and long hours filming have meant I’ve not been able to fit in even a run, for days on end.

I’ve been concerned that the progress I’ve been making, ramping up the mileage gradually (to avoid injury) would be hampered by this but after a 40k session at the weekend, I’m feeling a lot better about things.

I’ve read in running publications that if you don’t train for a period of time, perhaps through injury or illness, you may lose speed but most of the endurance you’ve built up to that point remains and that certainly matches my experience.

I’ve only managed one 15k session, a short 6k sprint walk and a 5k run during the whole three weeks I’ve been away and apart from the 6k session when I was recovering from a chest infection I felt OK but with a race looming, you always think that any inability to train is going to do more damage than it really is.

The beauty of Sport Walking is that it is really all about endurance rather than speed.  Even walking at my fastest, I’m still not drawing breath anything like when I’m running, so the speed loss from a training lay off isn’t really a factor and with endurance holding up much better, it seems that I’ve come through this period relatively unscathed. Perhaps the enforced rest has been a help too?

Filming with Steve Backshall at Lee Valley White Water Centre on week one.  Pic courtesy of Rebecca Lovatt

Now I’m back at base, pretty much until race day, I can return to a more structured schedule and I can also build gym sessions back into my routine as well, which are important to keep my leg muscles in tip top condition.

I do have to go away again for a couple of days, but that’s to do some filming in Snowdonia, so I’m going to be able to take advantage of that and slot in an ascent of Llywedd or Moel Siabod for hill training, which will be ace!  I love Snowdonia and fancy having a crack at Sport Walking the 3,000ers non-stop but that’s another thing altogether!

I’ve shifted my training from the New Forest where I live, to the nearby South Downs and I’ve already noticed a benefit in my underlying pace.  I think the South Downs Way could well be one of the best Sport Walking locations out there, as the terrain is testing but not relentlessly hilly (some may disagree).

It might not look much but that climb up Cocking Down is a good test if you push hard


Most of the climbs I’ve tackled so far in my sessions over there have been hard but not extreme, except maybe for the west face of Beacon Hill, which I always climb up instead of following the SDW path, just to get in an extra tough section.

I like the gradients the SDW provides as they let you get into a steady rhythm so you can work really hard and not lose too much speed.  That’s the only trouble with super steep ascents, your leg turnover and your work rate might remain high but inevitably your ground speed slows dramatically because of the incline.

I love steep climbs and scrambling in the mountains but when I’m Sport Walking, I like to be able to maintain a certain pace so steep not extreme gradients are the best for me.  I guess it’s a bit like in cycling.  Yes you get a few segments of 20% or more but most climbs are long, steep and at a gradient that riders can settle into a pace and just endure.

This weeks session took me further east than I’ve been before and boy did I get a taste for what the Chichester to Arundel section offers!  If it wasn’t for the low cloud and mist, the views would have been to die for.

There’s a view out there somewhere

I walked from around Harting Down along to Littleton Down, near East Lavington and back, totalling 40k.  There was around 1,000m of ascent and my speed came in at 6.5kmh, so all in all I was really happy.  There’s still another 60k to go on race day but I know that the sections of the SDW I’m training on are a pretty good match for the part of the Ridgeway the race runs on, so it’s essentially all about feeling OK with my pace and how quickly I recover from each of the climbs.

One thing that did encourage me while out training on Saturday was coming across a bunch of guys, some who seemed to be Royal Marines or ex-Marines, at the top of a particularly steep section I was going up at full gas and to hear one say “nice work fella”!

Interestingly, the day after, my legs were in pretty good shape and I think that’s largely down to the rest they’ve had over the last few weeks, although the massive steak I had that night might have been a factor.  I’m a great believer in the power of steak, sorry to any of my veggie or vegan friends!

Now it’s back to a routine with double sessions on two days of the week with a strength workout, core and stretching on the off days.  I’ll put in about 10-15k in the morning and another 10k in the evening, perhaps using this session as an opportunity to get in some night practice.  Then I’ll have a 30-50k session at the weekend with Sunday as rest. Simples.

I’ve no idea how well this routine is preparing me for the race, as this is the first organised race I’ve walked.  All I do know is that I’m better prepared now than I was when I set my New Forest time for 82k, so in the back of my mind, I have that knowledge that I can do it, as long as I just keep moving and lose as little time as possible on the climbs.

I’m also feeling pretty inspired by Killian Jornet’s double summiting of Everest and Karl Meltzer’s Appalachian Trail record from last year, so I’m keeping those two things in mind for when things get tough.  It’s always good to have something so far ahead of what you’re trying to do, to remind you that whatever you’re going through, it’s really nothing!


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