Race to the Stones 2017 – Interview with Claudio Cadei

While Sport Walk’s founder Roger Burlinson was busy putting his theory to the test at Race to the Stones, another walker Claudio Cadei was busy storming the course to finish in a time of 14:56, an hour ahead of Roger’s time. We kept an eye on Claudio as the race went on and he was very consistent all the way through, so we assumed he was an experienced race walker or Ultra walker but as it turns out he was neither and Race to the Stones was his first ever Ultra!

Claudio’s stats for the race are pretty impressive. He finished 397 out of 963 overall, that’s runners and walkers. He was placed in the top 50% of all male competitors, his pace was 8:58 min/km and his speed was 6:69kmh.

We caught up with Claudio recently, eager to learn more about his race, his competition background and also, how he came to be a walker in the first place.

Claudio, tell us about your experience at Race to the Stones 2017
I really enjoyed the event. I walked it on my own but it was a personal challenge and I like to walk on my own anyway. I felt the organisation was superb, in terms of cheerful support at the start, pitstops, indications on the path. The rain made the terrain in some areas muddier than what I would have liked and definitely my feet did not like getting soaked at the beginning. In some points, I found the furrows in the terrain too small to have both feet in while walking so that made it particularly hard (runners were probably fine as they only had one foot at a time in the furrow). Balancing at night was also a challenge but it was all part of the fun!

Shortly after 60km, blisters on my right foot popped and after 70km blisters on the left foot popped. I just kept going at the same pace and I was lucky that they only hurt a bit but then the pain disappeared. I normally do not get blisters but I did the stupid mistake of using a slightly larger pair of socks to absorb the moisture in my feet and shoes after the morning rain; I wore those socks for too long and I did not realise blisters were forming.

I was surprised because, apart from some pain to my right foot, I had absolutely no problems. My legs never hurt, even after the marathon, which was a big surprise. My sciatica also did not bother me at all while walking, although it came back a few days after I finished… I should probably just keep going!

Any significant moments?
OK, OK, I admit it, when passing quite a few runners on some long slopes at the end and not seeing them anymore! Or when passing a group of guys in the evening, one just said “Dude, I never saw someone walking that fast”. It was hilarious!

Was this your first Ultra?
I was a complete virgin!

Did you have a set goal for the race, in terms of time or position?
No, I did not. To friends, I conservatively said “at least 21 hours” to complete the event. To myself, I said “first of all try to arrive at the end” and then if you can make it in less time great. In my mind, I was expecting it would have taken me 17-19 hours to complete so I was pleased with the result.

Next time I will know how to save time as well – at the first pit stop I waited more than 10 minutes to use a bathroom. Eventually, during the walk, I realised that no one cared if I hid behind be bushes for a wee so that definitely saved time in the following pit stops. 

Did you have a race plan?
The only plan was not to push too hard at the beginning. That was already a struggle because I naturally walk fast every time. I then let it go with the flow; I kept trying to push the most I could but without injuring myself. Certain parts were a bit more challenging / harder but in many situations my walking meditation state kicked-in and legs were literally going on their own; I could not feel anything and just kept going without thinking.

How long did you train specifically for the race and what sort of distances were you walking each week?
I registered for RTTS on the 29th of April, as before I had some minor health issues that prevented me from walking as much as I would have liked (plus I normally hibernate from training outside in winter). I always trained on road so I needed to change my plan for RTTS. I bought new shoes and started training in Hampstead Heath park in London, as it was easier for me to reach and it offered a good mix of slopes and off road terrain. I have probably done 4-5 Sundays of 50km training. I would then walk from the office to home during the week but not at training speed. In June, I then had a bit of travelling first and my sciatica decided to flare up at the wrong time and that impaired my ability to properly train for the RTTS. The 10 days before RTTS were “moderate walking only” (and osteopath sessions trying to fix the sciatica).

Did you just walk for training or did you cross train with running, cycling or other sports?
Apart from pilates once a week, I did the odd swim and cycle in the gym.

Did you build weights or other strength work into your training?
I take intermediate lessons for my pilates and it can get quite demanding at times.

What nutrition did you use for the race and did you just use your own fuel or stock up at the feed stations?
I took some peanut bars and gels with me but I ended up just using what was available at the pit stops and the pit stops organisation was amazing. At night, I took a caffeine gel. When training, I use High5 and SIS.

Can you give us a run down on your kit for Race to the Stones?
I did some research, but not much to be honest. In terms of shoes, when training on road I use Asics Nimbus (I recently bought a pair of Nimbus 19). They are super-cushioned, which is excellent for my feet. For my RTTS, I went for Brooks PureGrit5. They are a crossover between a running shoe and a trailing shoe. They offer enough grip without being heavy (if anything, they were super-light). Next time, I might try the Brooks Cascadia, as it offers a bit more cushioning.

For the socks, I had a selection of different brands and features. I tried to focus on socks with some cushioning. For the backpack, I went for a Salomon Trail 10 litres; I knew that if I bought the 20 litres one I would have packed too much so I restricted myself. It worked out perfectly. It was comfortable, large enough to carry what needed for RTTS and easy to clean. I also bought a Nathan hydration belt, with two 300ml water bottles. This proved handy to avoid to reach out to my backpack every time I wanted to drink (I don’t like to use hydration systems and I did not want to carry a bottle for 100km).

I use an old Garmin GPS 210 watch that my friend did not need any more; I only use it to measure the distance. I am interested in how long it takes me to cover a certain distance but, as mentioned before, it if takes me 10 minutes more or less than usual I am not particularly worried. I always try to give my best and if it takes more it means my legs were not at their best; if it took less probably I had favourable tailwind and more slopes.

Do you use poles and if so, in what situations would you use them?
I have never used poles and, at this stage, I do not plan to do so.

Moving away from the race itself, how long have you been walking seriously?
I have never been a sporty person, even when I was younger. When I moved to London in 2005, I started walking around in order to explore the city. This started releiving some joint pains I had since I was a teenager, hence I started walking more and more. Back then it was a faster-than-average walking but nothing sporty. I would do 10-15km a day on a weekend and nothing else during the week. I always had a relatively fast paced walk, thanks to long legs.

In late 2015, I decided to take part in ‘Shine’, a night walking marathon in London organised for charity by Cancer Research. That’s when I started training and trying to add speed to my walking and I tried to go “the extra mile” (pardon the pun).

I absolutely adore walking, although my feet and right ankle do not always necessarily agree. It is a matter of finding a balance between how much is good and how much is actually hurting.

Do you take part in any other sports, either seriously or for recreation?
Shine Walk is the only sporting event I ever participated in my life (before Race to the Stones – Ed). This year it will be my third year. I do not do much else for sport. Once a week I do pilates as it helps with my posture, as I sit very long hours during the week for work. Once or twice a month I go for some (easy) swimming in the local swimming pool. Unless it is raining, I try to walk home from the office every night (approx. 6km), at average speed (my “average” is normally already a speedy pace for most of my friends).

Can you say what it is about walking that appeals to you?
As mentioned, walking helped with some joint pains but I was lucky because it was also an activity that I enjoyed. Walking has always been a relaxing activity for me, even when walking in a busy road in London. I would listen to music and not care much about the rest. I often say that walking is meditative for me, as often when I walk (even if walking fast) my mind roams free.

As I spend very long hours in the office during the week, I try to stay outside as much as possible during the weekend and walking is a perfect activity for that. It takes a lot of time to do longer distances but I have the impression that it lets you explore and enjoy the rest more than if one was running.

I did very few runs (less than 3 in my life probably!) but it is not good for my joints and also my breathing is not excellent. Power / sport walking is just perfect as it is still training and challenging my body, without hurting myself.

As I have now done Race to the Stones and Shine, I would like to challenge myself a bit more, either by adding speed when training on-road or finding off-road areas where I could do a mix of speed and challenging terrain. 

Do you have any challenge or performance goals for your walking?
I have already a challenging job during the week so I am trying to make sure that walking remains an enjoyable activity that lets me “relax”. I decided to do RTTS as a challenge to myself but also to raise money for charity. In the future, I want to take on new challenges but it will always have to remain an enjoyable hobby without stress. I do not set a specific time and do not get upset if I do not reach it. I try to improve, I try to go faster, I try more challenging routes but if it takes longer or I struggle that’s also fine.

What’s the most challenging walk you’ve done?
Race to the Stones was the most challenging so far

If you could pick anywhere to walk, what would be your best location?
I know the UK offers some great areas to walk but I have not explored many so far. Some parts of Asia, like Japan, also make an attractive location for me

Finally, what plans do you have your walking in the future?
I will take part in Shine on September 23rd but this is not a competitive event and just a charity event. I am then considering which other ultra-marathons to do next year. I want to see what’s on offer in terms of distance and altitude and then I will make my mind up. As much as I loved RTTS, I would probably not repeat it immediately, as I would remember the path and that would make it more challenging psychologically

We wish Claudio well with his future walks and challenges and hope to hear of more Ultra performances as impressive as his walk at Race to the Stones 2017.

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