What I Learnt After Walking 35kms
Disclaimer: I talk about the pain you can experience after walking 35kms if you are unfit. Take this advice VERY lightly and seek proper medical advice from a healthcare professional if you experience any pain before, during or after training or doing a 35km walk.
Last Sunday, I walked 35km as a part of the Bloody Long Walk in Canberra to raise money for the Mito Foundation, which helps Australians living with mitochondrial disease. Mito is a debilitating genetic disease that causes organ dysfunction and failure, and there is currently no known cure and few treatments.
I'm not going to lie, it was challenging, but I am proud to say "I did it!" Okay, challenging is an understatement: I really thought I was not going to make it. I was in a lot of pain and limping in the latter half of the walk. In the last 5kms, I was in so much pain - from the repetitive motion of walking - that I started to jog and march for pain relief. Other walkers laughed at me, but it worked!
After doing this walk, I am full of good tips for other people wishing to embark on a 35km walk, especially those - like me - who may not be fit or train adequately (whoops!) . Seasoned walkers, runners and athletes would probably laugh at this blog post, but this is stuff I wish I had of known before I decided to do something as serious as walk 35km in one day.
1. Prepare and train for a 35km walk
My biggest regret is not training for the Bloody Long Walk. I didn't take the walk seriously enough and, as a result, I was in a lot of pain afterwards. It took over a week for me to recover. I go to the gym, but it was not enough! The Bloody Long Walk Beginners Training Guide suggests that people begin training 10 weeks out and build up their walking distance each week. It suggests having one "long walk" each week and allowing a day afterwards to recover. If you do not have time to train, I strongly suggest not taking part. Instead, you can sponsor someone else.
The main reason I regret not training for the 35km walk is the pain I experienced afterwards. I could not walk for two days! I experienced a lot of pain in my joints, including my right knee and my ankles. If I had of trained, I could have tested the limits of my body instead of pushing the limits of my body on the day. If you experience any pain while training, the guide suggests seeking the help of a Personal Trainer or Physiotherapist.
2. Do the walk with friends and train with them!
Confession: it was actually my idea to do the Bloody Long Walk in the first instance. I reached out to a bunch of people on a Meetup group to see who else wanted to go. We had a Facebook Messenger chat and some of the other participants trained in advance. However, for some reason, I decided I was too busy to train? I meant to, but the date just crept up...
I guess there was a lack of motivation and facilitation on my end, as we all ended up registering for different start times and not walking together. I have many regrets for not training with the others and not walking with them on the day. Not only does walking with friends make the experience more fun, it also helps you to forget the pain!
If I do the walk again next year, I will take it more seriously and do adequate training. I can't emphasise enough the importance of taking this walk seriously and committing to training.
3. Before the walk: cut your toe nails
It was such a rookie mistake to forget to cut my toe nails. My pinky toes were poking in to my fourth toe, which was quite painful. I recommend carrying nail scissors with you, as they will come in useful for not only cutting your nails, but also applying and reapplying tape if you choose to wrap your feet to avoid blisters. However, I think maybe the real culprit for my pinky toes stabbing into my fourth toes were ill-fitting shoes.
4. Make sure you have comfortable fitting shoes
Admission: I may have known in lead up to the walk that my shoes were no good. But I am a poor student, and I can't afford nice things! (Or, at least, that is what I told myself). Upon reflection, my advice would be: if you can't afford good sports shoes, don't do a 35km walk. Use the money you would have spent on registration fees to buy a decent pair of sports shoes.
I have now decided that I can, indeed, afford to buy proper sports shoes. If you plan on doing any vigorous exercise in the future, do yourself a favour and go to a proper athletics store and get fitted for sports shoes. You will not regret it. I have now binned my old ones.
Something that is common knowledge, and that I did not know, is that your sports shoes should be slightly too big for you. This allows room for your feet to swell if you are doing intense exercise. You should also wear thin sports socks, which is another mistake I made: I was wearing very thick sports socks, thinking this would prevent blisters.
While these may seem like minor details, let me tell you why it is important: to avoid black toes. I currently have a black toenail on my left foot, and it's not pretty. Another admission: I didn't even get the black toe after the 35km walk. I got it after helping out at a festival where I continued to wear the ill-fitting shoes (whoops!). Let me reassure you, they have now been binned.
What's a black toe? It is caused by swelling and blood under the nail, caused by repeated trauma to the toe while walking or running (i.e. your toes banging against the top of your shoes). Having well fitted shoes and wearing thin socks can help to prevent black toes. Luckily for me, my toe looks like it will heal itself as the nail is not raised and doesn't appear to be infected. However, if the nail is infected, you may need to see a doctor. Gag warning: if the toe is bad, the blood may need to be drained or the toe nail could fall off. But don't worry, it will grow back!
The moral of the story is: buy decent, well-fitted sports shoes.
5. Tape your feet and invest time in researching blister prevention
This is the only success story of my walk (a part from the fact that I made it to the end!): I came out blister-free! How? I taped my feet. My advice is to look up techniques for taping your feet, instead of making it up. Here is a good example of a video from a Sports Podiatrist in Sydney who shows you how to wrap feet for long walks like the Oxfam Trailwalker.
It may seem like a lot of effort, but it is worth it when you come out blister-free. I would recommend also tapping your feet while training to avoid blisters in the lead up.
6. Tape your knees and/or ankles if you are prone to joint pain
Another big regret is not taping my knees and ankles. Confession: I already knew that I get joint pain at the gym. When I helped out at that festival this week, I was worried about my knee, so I taped it. There are some good demonstration videos on YouTube, such as this one by an Australian first aid supply company that shows you how to wrap your knees to prevent further injury. I really can't emphasis this enough, as I have hobbled around in much pain this week with plans to visit a physio.
7. STRETCH before, during and after the walk!
If you're anything like me, you find stretching boring and easy to skip. This is one of the most important things that anyone needs to do before, during and after a 35km walk. If you're short on stretching ideas, there are lots of videos on Youtube that can give you tips, such as this ten minute stretch for walkers. But, of course, if you experience pain consult with your medical professional or PT before trying any stretches.
8. Take painkillers during the walk
This is probably one of the best pieces of advice that I got, but after the walk happened. My brother said he did this during the Oxfam Trailwalker, but forgot to tell me (thanks bro!). Of course, painkillers should only be taken responsibility and as recommended on the packet.
9. Bring a big drink bottle
There were plenty of rest stops along the way where volunteers provided water and fruit; however, at some stops, they were allegedly running out of water. This was not a problem for me, as I carried a big drink bottle and didn't run out of water.
10. Take a day off after the walk, or a week?
Lastly, prepare to be totally and utterly warn out after doing a 35km walk in a day, especially if you are unfit! Consider taking the next day off from work or caring responsibilities. I was feeling very sprightly the morning after my walk, and thought that I would go to the university to get some work done. Big mistake! My bike was in the shop and I had to walk to the tram, and by the time I got to the university, I could barely walk. By the end of the day I had to Uber home because I couldn't move. It took me a week to recover, and I expect it will be another week before I can go back to the gym.
So, even if you are feeling sprightly, just do yourself a favour and stay at home!
Well, I hope you have learned something new or had a good laugh at my stupidity! And I hope that you haven't been turned off from doing the Bloody Long Walk - this was not my intention. In fact, I encourage everyone who is fit enough to take part and challenge themselves. With adequate preparation and training, people of all reasonable fitness levels can take part! Most importantly, it is for such a good cause, to help support the Mito Foundation.