It’s been five weeks since I decided to walk the length of the River Itchen. Now it’s only two weeks until the big day on Thursday 23 June.
Fortunately, my preparations are going well. I’ve managed to do several long distance training walks to build up my stamina including a couple of 18-mile walks and a 25 miler. Plus I’ve chosen a charity – the Dogs Trust’s Hope Project – to raise some money for.
In all, I only had seven weeks to prepare and train for the walk. Here are 10 things I’ve learnt about walking long distances so far.
10 things I’ve learnt training for my long distance walk
1. Pain is (mostly) all in the mind
Whether I’m taking my Border Terrier Tilly for her morning walk or going on an all-day hike, my feet and legs generally start aching after just a couple of miles.
This worried me initially as I didn’t think I had 30 miles in me. I soon got used to the pain though – as long as I keep moving, it isn’t a problem. And, I don’t seem to ache too much in the following days either.
This has limited my pint in a pub opportunities, mind. I’m worried that if I sit down midway through a walk, I won’t be able to get up again.
2. Water is key
Water is heavy so I’ve tended to avoid carrying too much.
Big mistake. I’ve found walking surprisingly dehydrating and I’ve ended most of my training walks with a headache from not drinking enough of it.
I’ll certainly be packing more – and making the most of any shops I pass – on the big day.
3. Blisters aren’t a problem…
Seasoned walkers warned me about getting blisters on long hikes.
Surprisingly, this hasn’t been an issue for me, possibly because I do a lot of running.
4. …but itchy feet are
My feet haven’t got off scot-free though – I keep getting a terrible, itchy heat rash on the tops of my feet and on my ankles after every long walk.
That said, these rashes aren’t causing me problems on the walks themselves, just in the days afterwards.
5. I sunburn easily
It’s amazing how quickly you can get sunburned when you’re outside in the spring and summer months.
I found this out the hard way on my walk from Gosport to Bursledon on the Solent Way a couple of weeks ago. It was chilly when I set out so I didn’t think to slap on any sun cream. I should know better by now.
Cue a bright red neck and forearms the next day. Luckily, I wore a hat so was spared the embarrassment of a bright red face too.
6. I can keep up a fast pace
I predicted my walking pace would be about two miles an hour over 30 miles, including breaks. This is why I chose to do my walk in the height of summer giving me enough time to finish it while it was light.
It turns out that I can average three miles in an hour, even over long distances.
I’ve also found that I don’t need as many breaks as I thought I would – I’ve generally only been stopping for more than a couple of minutes to grab a bite to eat.
7. Terrain makes a difference
Before I started training for this walk, I hadn’t considered how the state of the paths I walk on would affect my pace and energy.
For instance, I really struggled with beach sections on my walk from Gosport to Bursledon and I’ve found it much more comfortable walking on concrete than mud or gravel.
Apart from some road sections in Southampton and Winchester, most of the path along the River Itchen is compacted mud. This could be a bit tricky if we have a lot of rain so I’m hoping the dry weather continues.
8. A downhill route isn’t always the best option
Originally, I planned to walk “downhill” from the source of the river near Cheriton to the mouth at Southampton.
However, after walking the Southampton leg of the route recently, I’ve decided to finish in Cheriton, even though this means I’ll have to walk “uphill” because Cheriton is 80 metres above sea level. This is because the Southampton section of the route is really hilly as the route doesn’t really follow the river here. I don’t want to be tackling any big climbs near the end of the walk.
Also, the Southampton leg is, to be frank, boring. Most of it is on residential roads away from the river. I much prefer getting this section out of the way early on.
9. I’m happy with my own thoughts
I often listen to podcasts or the radio when I take Tilly out in the mornings. So, I thought I’d get bored on my longer walks.
That’s not been the case. Although I’ve stuck my earphones in now and again, I’m generally happy with just my thoughts to keep me company.
10. Border Terriers have a lot of energy – when they feel like it
I won’t be taking Tilly on my 30-mile walk. But, she’s accompanied me on a few training walks including one that was 25 miles.
After the initial excitement of getting outdoors, she tends to drag her heels. That’s until she picks up a scent or sees a squirrel or rabbit in the distance. Then she’s off, pulling me on behind her.
Border Terriers were originally bred to run with hunts to chase foxes of their dens. I suspect Tilly would have given up before she found any foxes.
I’m walking to River Itchen to raise money for the Dogs Trust’s Hope Project, which helps dogs whose owners are homeless or having issues with housing.
You can sponsor me on my Itchen Challenge JustGiving page.