In June 2019 I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer and had just started training for my first marathon. Three years on and now with five marathons under my belt, I decided I need a different sort of challenge.
As I’m not one for wanting to go f aster it was the idea of going further which intrigued me. I love walking and the next thing I knew; I had set my sights on an ultra! So, from 42 km running, 106 km walking didn’t seem unreasonable!!! The Isle of Wight was my next stop!!!!
Equally challenging, if not more so than running a marathon, I completed my first ultra in May 2022!
I’d highly recommend an ultra-challenge for anyone wanting to push themselves that little bit further but without the need for speed!!!
Already planning my second ultra, here are my top tips for success!!!!
Take your pick
Choose a route. I recommend looking for a supported walk such as the ultra-challenge series who offer several different locations each with a variety of distances to choose from. Being fed and watered on route makes a huge difference and lightens the load on your back! Look for a route that will be fun and not involve too much travelling.
Set up a fund-raising page. Let your wider friends and family know what you’re doing and why you are doing it. Having a worthy cause driving you forward makes the challenge even more rewarding.
It’s all in the planning
Scrutinize the route. Is it a road or trail event? How hilly is it? What time of year is it? Consider what you have already done before. All these factors will impact on your training beforehand.
Plan your training. Don’t leave everything to the last minute. Just like training for your first marathon, you need to build up your mileage and taper 2-3 weeks before. If you’re already a regular walker (anyone with a dog is quids in!) start to increase your mileage by completing one longer walk each week. Increments of around ten per cent are ideal. Look at the date of the event and work backwards. Remember, you don’t have to do the full mileage of the event, before the event!!!
What are you taking? All the gear, no idea!!! Let’s take clothing first, layers are ideal. You get surprisingly hot walking but like running, once you stop, you cool quickly. Under layers, t shirt, light weight raincoat, beanie hat and maybe even gloves might be needed. I would also recommend some loose-fitting walking trousers which will dry quickly if wet weather prevails. Remember whatever you take off, you will need to carry, which brings me on to your kit. I made the mistake of carrying too much the first day on the IOW and it was my shoulders not my feet that started aching first! Make sure you have a good fitting light rucksack and practice walking with your kit beforehand. In my experience, organised ultra-challenges have extremely well stocked feed stations so don’t weigh yourself down with too much food! Water with electrolytes is vital and I would advise a camel pack inside your backpack. Blister plasters, a foil blanket, sun cream and a few dextrose tablets or sweets likewise essential. Sunglasses are useful, keeping out the wind as well as the sun! I would also recommend carrying a spare pair of walking socks and changing into them halfway through the day. My mistake was not doing this on day 1 as I thought I hadn’t got wet. Quite true, but my feet were soaked with sweat, and this is where a blister began. Lastly, plan what shoes you are going to wear. Look at the route; mostly road you may be better in your running trainers, off road-you will need comfortable walking boots. Never wear new shoes, as with all your kit, train in what you are going to be wearing on the day. Make sure there are no areas of wear inside which might rub and lead to blisters earlier than expected.
Plan your stay. Think about staying near the event on the day as most events start early. You may also need to register the day before. I personally prefer a comfy bed before, during and after the event so “air bnbs” are worth considering. The ultra-challenge series offer a camping option but bear in mind, it’s not quite the same as family camping in the summer! Yes, there will be some porter showers and hot food but how much do you want to stand queueing after being on your feet all day! Will you be up to crawling into a small one-man tent, let alone get up off the floor in the middle of the night if nature calls!
Sharing is caring!
Find some teammates. Any challenge is always easier if you have someone else to train with and someone else to keep you company on the day. Planning and preparing with friends mean it’s less likely you will give up or lack something crucial on the day.
Find some supporters. Any endurance event is going to be tough so, as well as someone else to do it with you, you need someone to pick up the pieces along the way! It’s definitely a bonus to have someone else to do the driving, worry about the parking and be on standby in case you need anything else en route.
Remember -walking is not the same as running- With the heel strike of walking, the hamstrings are worked more than they are in running. Conversely, the quads are used more in running than walking because of the spring-like propulsion off the foot when running. Walking is lower impact but if you’re talking about an ultra, you’re going to be on your feet a very long time!
Got all that? Fancy giving it a go? My next ultra-challenge is London to Brighton, 100km over the weekend of 27th & 28th May 2023. Follow me over the next 6 months as I get my walking boots back on, enjoy the fresh air and hopefully raise some more money for Against Breast Cancer. Keep an eye on the ABC website news feed for updates on my progress. Should anyone fancy joining me, you can register for the London to Brighton Challenge here. Please ensure you choose Against Breast Cancer as the benefiting charity and join team, “Karen’s crew”.
Bye for now!