The last time I toed the line with purpose as a runner was in 2012. It was at the Lakeland 50 in the UK. I was confident, I was really fit and in April, I had won an ultra in Turkey.
However, everything was not ok.
I was getting constant knee pain and I kept ignoring it… Ultra runners are good at that!
Anyway, for much of Lakeland 50 I was near the front, that is until Ambleside and then it all fell apart with constant knee pain. My hopes of a top-10 disappeared and I eventually crossed the line in 36th place in 9:59. My target had been to run around 8:40. In retrospect, I should have been happy. But I wasn’t. I went away knowing that my knee issue had stopped me performing and it needing addressing.
My knee injury was chronic and required two, maybe three operations. I declined all knowing that knee surgery success is hit and miss. So, ever since, I have managed that pain, changed my goals and loved adventures. Gladly, big hikes and fast packing/ multi-day is what I really love. I still get pain, but I manage it. So, all is good. I am happy to do what I can. I run regularly, daily sometimes and even now, 30-50km training runs are a regular. But walking has always been something I have used to keep moving and rather than it being a negative, I always made it a positive.
So, why am I writing?
Well, I started running after cycling and triathlon. I have to say, I have never considered myself a good runner. I dropped my marathon PB to 2:53 which was creditable but in doing so, I lost the true reason for running. FUN! Do not get me wrong, I had loads of fun running but PB’s, time, diet and training all took over from a healthy outlook on my running.
I was obsessed by my running. I must clarify, I was previously obsessed by cycling and triathlon and that is why I stopped…!
Being a photographer and journalist has allowed me to look at running in many different ways. I mostly follow the elites, but multi-day races, such as Marathon des Sables, allow me to follow runners achieving a life time goal. I must clarify, achieving a life time goal may be a 5km, 10km, half-marathon and so on. I use longer distances as this is the area I usually deal in – ultra.
Many are looking to complete and not compete.
I have learnt since 2012 that I normally complete anything I set my mind to in sport and the reason for that is strategy, planning, getting the mind in the right place and yes, embracing walking!
The Older I Get, The Better I was!
So much truth here… For me anyway. As the time has passed from 2012 I have worked on races worldwide and all of those races have required me to have a level of fitness. For example, Everest Trail Race, I do pretty much most of the race with cameras – it is the only way. For personal adventure, I have done big treks, several in Nepal, the most recent being the ‘High Passes’ with the additions of Kala Pather, Everest Base Camp and Ama Dablam BC. In 2020 I have done more multi-day adventures than ever before; regularly moving in a self-sufficient (with tent) way for over a week. A recent trip to Jotunheimen in Norway lasted 9-days and in Trysil, I completed 100km in 2-days with an overnight wild camp. So, all is good!
NEED COACHING and a TRAINING PLAN? HERE
There is one truth in completing. YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO WALK.
Walking is often looked on as a negative. To be honest, I have heard some people say, ‘I don’t care what time I do, as long as I do not walk!’
The reality is, if walking is embraced, learned and practiced, finishing times will not only get faster but more enjoyable.
For perspective, we now include walking as a key training element at our Lanzarote Training Camp (HERE) with a specific walking group and one day dedicated to a long walk, for all!
So, how do you start?
Firstly, there is a big difference between walking to the shop for a carton of milk and walking in a race/ training. If there is not, there should be!
Walking in a race (or training) should be meaningful, strong and powerful.
There are many strategies one can use.
For example, one strategy I use is a thing I call “7’s” or “5×2”.
Quite simply, it is about covering 7km by walking 5km and running 2km.
Firstly, with my coaching clients I ask them to walk 5km and time it. We then look at technique and discuss how to get faster.
I need to clarify here, we keep the route flat on road or good hard trail.
I am aiming for, where possible, sub 10-minute km’s. Now of course, many variables come in to play – terrain, weather, climbing and descending to name but a few. But let us assume flat terrain, good weather and fast trail.
Once we get the walking of 5km in under 50-mins, I then add running. Firstly 1km. So, walk 5km and run 1km. Once that fees comfortable, I add another 1km. And here is where the “7’s” or “5×2” comes in.
Basically, the plan is walk 5km and jog 2km.
Like any plan it is progressive, starting with walk 5 and jog 2. Then walk 5, jog 2, walk 5. Then, walk 5, jog 2, walk 5, jog 2 and so on…
This teaches the mind to break down distance and time in manageable blocks. You can focus on the walking, knowing that a jogging break is coming up. You can endure the jogging, knowing that a walking break is coming up.
Why, “7’s” or “5×2.”
Well, 7 conveniently goes in to a marathon – 7/14/21/28/35 and 42.
I think a marathon is something we all understand and although I will round numbers up (for ease) 50-miles is two marathons and 100-miles is four marathons, 7’s provides a great strategy.
So, you see my thinking?
Let’s say, you trained your walking to be so good, that you could walk 5km and jog 2km in under 1-hour. Suddenly, you are doing a 6-hour marathon with actually only maybe 50-60 minutes of total running.
So, if that pace is maintainable, you could do 50-miles in sub 12-hours and maybe even 100-miles in the desirable sub 24-hours!
Here is an example and of course, pace fluctuates based on terrain conditions, but it provides a good perspective.
This is how a strategy of completing falls in to place.
- Distance becomes manageable because you made it so.
- Time becomes manageable because you made it so.
- Pacing becomes manageable because you made it so.
- Planning for hydration/ nutrition becomes manageable because you made it so.
- The mind is prepared because you made it so.
Once you have the above dialled for a flat course. You can then tweak and adjust according to your race and the terrain it will present you. Obviously, if it is technical with a great deal of elevation gain, you will need to re-look at the strategy. But, and this is key, you already have something that works, you just need to adapt it.
Planning a race pace and strategy is crucial. But accept things can go wrong, so have an A, B and C plan.
Here for example is an 80 miles strategy:
CP’s provide distance markers and one has the cut-off time information. Of course, weather, terrain, darkness, fatigue etc etc must be considered. But from training, one can formulate plan. Let’s say in daylight hours, 4-miles per hour and in darkness, 3-miles per hour. The numbers in bold show possible projected timings based on training pace.
Cp 1 10.5 miles, cut off 1430 – 1230
Cp 2 16.8 miles, cut off 1600 – 1430
Cp 3 26.2 miles, cut off 1810 – 1700
Cp 4 34.2 miles, cut off 2030 – 1930
Cp 5 43.7 miles, cut off 2330 – 2230
Cp 6 52.4 miles, cut off 0230 – 0130
Cp 7 61.5 miles, cut off 0630 – 0430
Cp 8 69.4 miles, cut off 0845 – 0700
Finish 80 miles, cut off 1215 – 1000
Some important points:
Running shoes work differently, especially when walking for a great deal of time. So, consider this! Get the correct size shoe, a thumb nail width above the big toe is perfect. Quite simply, if a shoe is too big, ones foot will move. A moving foot equals friction. Friction equals blisters. However, a wider toe box may well be a good consideration.
Read an in-depth article HERE. On how to get the correct size run shoe.
Socks; I am a huge Injinji fan. They put your toes in little pockets and protect them.
Consider something like Gurney Goo as a barrier for your feet.
Poles are a great addition for a walker, particularly on challenging terrain. Learn to use them, it is like 4-wheel drive.
Be progressive. Walking will use muscles in a different way to running and you will be sore. Build for three-weeks and take things easy on the fourth week.
For example, weekly mileage may be:
- Week 1 – 40
- Week 2 – 50
- Week 3 – 55
- Week 4 – 30
- Week 5 – 45
- Week 6 – 55
- Week 7 – 62
- Week 8 – 35
And so on…
Schedule big walks as follows:
1) Tuesday/ Thursday and Sunday
2) Wednesday/ Saturday and Sunday (the back to back days useful for long races and/ or multi-day such as MDS).
Add running days.
For example, if doing 1) above you could run Wednesday and say do a Parkrun on Saturday.
If doing 2) above you could run Tuesday and Thursday.
The secret is, to plan ahead. Get the date of your A Race and then count back in time considering your goals and objectives.
Break the time down into month blocks of three week build and one week easier.
Schedule a C and B race. For example, C may be a marathon, B a 60km – This of course depends on the distance of the A race.
One thing is for sure. Once you have broken down your challenge into manageable chunks of walk/ jog, you will feel supremely confident on the start line knowing you have a strategy for completing!