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My first 100K or the value of training

on Sun, 12/01/2013 - 05:00

by Imants P.

Here's one walker's opinion on walking long distance events, including the 50-Mile Kennedy Walk 2013. Practice and conditioning are the key to a successful outcome, but results may vary...

The first time I heard about the Sierra Club One-Day-Hike (ODH) was in March of 2012 when I bumped into the organizer Mike Darzi on the Northwest Branch trail near Silver Spring, MD. In one minute Mike was able to convince me to try one of the ODH events. With relatively short training on top of my already decent shape I finished the 50K in good time. Soon afterwards I decided to take on the 100K a year later. I knew that doubling the distance could push me well beyond my then abilities. While checking the statistics of a few recent years, it was sobering to realize that only a little over 50% of hikers were able to finish the 100K. Each year about three quarters are new hikers who may or may not have had exposure to ultra-long distances. I had none. The following is my story of 100K in 2013. I hope that it will inspire the new 100K hikers and increase the percentage of finishers.

The ODH website recommends a 4-month training hike schedule. This is shorter than the suggested 5-6 months of training prior to the first marathon. (I did my first marathon on Nov 17, 2013 and can attest that in terms of overall intensity walking the 100K seems to be a good match to running the 42.2K and requires a similar train- ing.) After the summer slack, in early October I did a trial 30+ km hike on the C&O Canal towpath and barely completed it. I was hobbling for the next few days, mainly because of muscle pain in the legs. It was a turning point – if I wanted to finish the 100K, I must train! My training regimen was simple. On weekdays, nearly every evening right after dinner I took a 1-1.5 hr brisk walk in the neighborhood streets. I found it more appealing, if I varied the route (or, alternated the direction of the same route). On Saturdays I took a longer 3-4-5 hr hike by gradually increasing the hiking time. In my neighborhood, a good trail is less than an hour away on foot. Sometimes I drove down to the C&O Canal trail at different access points. Admittedly, the C&O Canal towpath is boring to hike with the exception of a stretch near the Great Falls and its side trails. After longer hikes my sleep was usually poor. That's why Saturdays worked better for long hikes with Sunday to rest and prepare yourself for the work week. I kept a record of my walks by marking the date, route, duration (easy to convert into miles or kilometers, if you know your pace and maintain it, or buy a GPS device that collects all key data for you) and weather conditions. I made no excuses because of poor weather. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather – just inappropriately dressed walkers. After 2 months I pushed my longer hikes into the 6-7-8 hr range. That's when you start feeling the "soft" spots - knee pain, hip aches, sensitive tendons. Long hikes, obviously, should not be more often then about once a month.

Perpetually pushing the mileage won't necessarily increase the stamina and speed. I found that out the hard way by getting the Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) in one of my knees. Nevertheless, I believe that a new 100K hiker should try at least once a 70K distance but not later than a month before the ODH 100K event. This requires a pre-dawn start to make the best use of the shorter winter/spring daylight. Note that White's Ferry (60K) and Monocacy River (70K) are the two most "popular" drop-out points, so it makes sense to try a longer distance in advance just to get a feeling of what it is like. If you can hike this long distance, then you will make the 100K too!

After four months of training I tested my limits at the 80K Kennedy Walk (Feb 9, 2013) being entirely self-supported. It was a good hike. I knew that extra 20K wouldn't be too hard. Then, I started to work on the speed and a month later was knocked out with the ITBS. That was really a low point. A medical check-up, though, indicated no permanent damage to the knee. Long hikes were out of question but I was able to make short 0.5-1 hr daily power hikes which kept me in decent shape. In the early morning of the 100K hike on April 27, I was far from sure whether I would be able to finish because of my recent bout with ITBS. Luckily, it didn't come back and the rest is history – I earned the coveted patch! I think I was the only one who walked/jogged in a pair of modified Teva "Katavi" hiking sandals. I also trained in these sandals. For a number of reasons (blister-free is one of them), I would recom- mend this kind of unconventional footwear to flat surface trail hikers.

A final thought: the reader may feel that such a rigorous training is a bit of overkill. It depends on your goals. If it is just to finish, you may skip most of the short daily walks and also shorten the preparations to four months or so. But what I can nearly guarantee is that with a skimpy or no training you will not be able to make 100K within the allotted 21 hours; that is, keeping the average pace at or above 5 km/h (3 mph) for many many hours, including all stops and breaks. You cannot trick your body into that long time-limited walking. Period. Therefore, prior to registering for the event, ask yourself: do I want to train? Will I have the time to train? By signing up uncommitted to training and/or on a whim, you may inadvertently preclude from the event a more motivated person. This is something that has happened in the last couple of years because of the strictly limited registration and a growing popularity of the event. It would also be prudent to attempt a less-demanding 50K first and only then consider the 100K.

Note to readers: Imant's article is on his experience with the One Day Hike (62 miles), while containing sound advice and experience, does not necessarily represent this website or FreeWalkers' advice. Many factors influence long distance walking. We do know that prior experience walking long distances and proper equipment are key to a successful outcome. Practice walking often to insure you are in good shape for your event. - PK 1/15/14