Sport Walk’s founder Roger Burlinson reflects on a summer of thwarted ambitions
I had big plans for 2018. Following on from a good couple of events last year, including a strong showing at Race to the Stones, I wanted to change things a bit and focus on creating some ‘trail records’ for Sport Walk, that could be target times for others to take on and, hopefully, beat.
For me, this was to be a transition year as well, as I wanted to move up to the 100 mile distance and try for a fast time on the South Downs Way in 2019. Killing two birds with one stone seemed like a great plan. Setting ‘Trail Records’ is an important part of building Sport Walking challenges that can help grow participation and taking on a number of way marked routes of increasing distance through the summer would be a perfect way to build my mileage.
Well that was the plan anyway! I kicked things off with a fabulous 34k circular route that turned out to be a great middle distance walk and a perfect introduction for anyone starting to take on Sport Walking challenges – the Staunton Way. Then came the Clarendon Way from Salisbury to Winchester, a 45k straight line point to point route and another fine trail.
“I made the classic mistake of not fully respecting the challenge I’d set myself”
The only problem with this walk came towards the end, when I discovered quite by chance that the OS Maps app had a major glitch and the ‘offline’ map I was following (to minimise data use on my phone) had a completely different route marked, in two different places, to the normal map. By the time I discovered the problem I was already ’off route’, so with barely 10k left to go, the attempt was all for nothing, although I did carry on and finished in just over 6 hours.
Anyway, stuff happens and it was still miles in the bank, so from a training perspective all was still good. But then, work got busy, time got short and real life intervened. I was unable to stay on track with the plan to prepare for future attempts. The schedule started slipping and by the time I came to start an attempt on the Avon Valley Path, I was pretty much relying on stored gains from earlier training sessions and the Staunton and Clarendon Way walks.
It just so happened that I picked one of the hottest days of the year at that point as the ‘heatwave’ started to take hold. Now I don’t normally mind hot walks but the lack of training and the heat on this occasion took its toll and I had to quit after 40k.
After the abort on the Avon Valley Path, I think I started to realise that I was going about it all wrong. The challenges I’d set myself were equal to any race or major organised challenge event but I’d been approaching these routes like they were just part of a training program and that approach was starting to fail me. I was unable to get enough miles in the tank in the run up to each attempt and that meant that I wasn’t at my best.
I made the classic mistake of not fully respecting the challenge I’d set myself and the Avon walk was what brought that fully into focus. So I decided to abandon the ‘trail record’ plan and sort myself out. Now, I’ve refocussed on getting back into a decent base training routine I can enjoy and preparing for one last 50k blast at the end of the summer.
The other thing I learned is to focus solely on your main goal and to train for that. Tackling the South Downs Way is a huge goal for me, so I need to make sure I don’t go backwards in my performance by doing the wrong things in the wrong way. It’s fine to plan record attempts but that is, by default, not necessarily the best way to prepare for a one off event at some point in the future, especially if I’ll be walking more slowly for that or if the terrain will be tougher.
It’s so important to be flexible with your plans and to adapt. Just letting go of Plan A has given me a new zeal to get out and train. My focus is on getting the most hill time I can, knowing the South Downs Way will be a tough test and the climbs will have the greatest impact on my time.
I’m in a far better place and simply by letting go of a plan that was, with hindsight, ill conceived. So that’s the small nugget of advice I can give from this experience. Yes, make big plans, yes, set yourself ambitious targets but always make sure that they fit your day to day activity, so that everything you do feeds your goals.