How to be a Good Entrant
Shirley Hume - from Striders 60, 61, 62
Part 1: Before the Event
As an organiser (and an entrant), may I make a few suggestions to any would-be entrants that could make life so much easier for all concerned, possibly preventing divorce, ritualistic abuse of Strider and other distressing effects of organising a challenge walk.
Observations of my own house-trained long distance walker lead me to believe that the attention span of an average LDWA member is about two minutes (on a good day). For that reason I have decided to break this article in to three parts.
The whole exercise starts when you decide that you want an entry form. It is usual to send an SAE for these. Not everybody seems to know that! It is also usual to indicate somewhere what you are expecting to receive in this envelope, although it gets a little confusing for the organiser if your request is for something they have never heard of. For convenience it is enough to write the name of the event and the number of entry forms required on the flap of the envelope (preferably on the outside).
'S' stands for STAMPED, preferably with a previously unused UK stamp of an amount corresponding to one of the current postage rates. If you wish to reuse envelopes I have no objections - but please note that for reasons best known to themselves the Post Office are fairly anti the recycling of postage stamps, especially if they still bear the original postmark.
'A' stands for ADDRESSED - it is normal practice to address the envelope to yourself and not the organisers who have already received one from you and, in any event, have a huge pile of entry forms in the house without having to send for one.
'E' stands for ENVELOPE, preferably with some means of sealing it. Conservationists should note that if they slit their incoming envelopes with a paper knife they are more difficult to reuse (the envelopes, not the conservationists). Attaching various bits of brown gummed paper which require licking does not go down very well with organisers after the first few.
Having received your entry form the next challenge is to fill it in correctly and return it with all the necessary appendages - cheques, more envelopes, etc. Entry forms usually require you to use BLOCK CAPITALS (which is not the same as joined-up writing). Practise for a while if you find this difficult!
Next we come to the tricky bit - writing the cheque. Do please ensure that it is made out correctly as follows:
- Date: usual to put the current month and year.
- Payee: as stated on the entry form, not necessarily the Organiser, the relevant local group or your grandmother.
- Amount: CORRECT and with words and figures the same. If sending in a multiple entry many LDWA members would be well-advised to invest in a calculator.
- Signature: one that corresponds to the signature of the account holder if possible.
NB. Having done all this try to remember to enclose it with the entry form.
If asked to send two 9x4 SAEs then invest in a twelve-inch ruler and send what is required. It is very tedious, if not impossible, to stuff three sheets of A5 route description plus final details into a miniaturised, paper-thin envelope left over from your Christmas cards. Please note that it is best practice NOT to seal these envelopes before you send them.
Many entry forms have information about the start, maps required, etc, on a detachable half of the form - be sure to detach it and keep it somewhere safe; organisers do not appreciate strings of phone calls in the week before the event asking where the start is.
Do not ask the organisers to find you accommodation and do not ask if you can stay with them. If they want you to stay they will undoubtedly invite you themselves!
Do not phone the organisers asking unanswerable questions like 'What should I wear on my feet?' (a tea cosy, perhaps?), or to offer unwanted advice about the catering. In fact, if at all possible, do not phone the organisers at all. If there is no phone number on the entry form it is probably because they do not want you to know it.
Finally, before you leave for the even, please make sure that you have all the required equipment, your entry number, the route description and maps and that you know where you are going. It might also be worth checking that you have got the correct date!
You should now be ready to tackle the next part - how to behave at the start. Watch this space and 'Good Entering'.
Part 2: Getting Started
It is the night before the event (you have checked the date again) - time to pack your rucksack. Look at the part of the entry form with the rules etc. on it (which you have, of course, kept in a safe place).
'Essential Kit' - anything listed under this heading MUST be carried, whether or not you think it important.
'Recommended Kit' - this means that you do not have to carry it, but the organiser is not to be blamed if you subsequently decide you do need it.
Use your common sense (any that remains after joining the LDWA). If you cannot walk further than 10 miles without a packet of dolly mixtures or a supply of broken digestives then it might be a good idea to put a packet in your rucksack - checkpoints cannot cater to everyone's personal preferences.
If the rules say that you must wear boots then that is what they mean - do not turn up in trainers and expect to bludgeon your way past the kit checkers - this is the source of much ill-will on events, both from the hard-pressed checker and from the law abiding entrants who have abandoned comfort in the interests of obeying instructions. Organisers do not put these rules in specifically to annoy people - there is usually a good reason, even if it is not immediately obvious to you.
Do not forget that entering a particular event is not compulsory. If the rules say that entrants must complete the walk wearing a stocking mask and two left boots, then do not enter unless you are prepared to do so! (However, note that negotiation may be possible. On a recent event where entrants were required to carry a Shirley Bassey LP and a garlic crusher I was able to persuade the organiser that a Roger Whittaker cassette and a coffee grinder would be acceptable substitutes.)
If registration is from 7.00 to 8.30 do not turn up at 6.30. Most organisers will still be in that state of controlled hysteria which passes for calm efficiency in the LDWA.
Let them have their panic in peace - time enough to spoil their day later.
Park your car sensibly! If there are car park marshals follow their directions. If not, avoid blocking gateways, restricting access to neighbouring houses or the event HQ. Never park so as to prevent someone else leaving before you. Remember, that rusting heap of scrap metal which looks as if it has not moved for 20 years is probably someone's pride and joy!
Bring your route description and walk number with you (if it has been sent out). If entering on the day try to bring the correct cash - preferably in current UK coins and/or notes. Do not complain because you have to pay more; resolve to get yourself organised a bit earlier next time, thus giving the organisers a chance to lay in sufficient food, etc. If there are route amendments be sure to take them down - whatever you may think at this stage you probably will not be able to remember them six hours later (six minutes later?). It is useful to have a pencil for this sort of thing - the marshals who are frantically recording names and numbers will not take kindly to lending theirs.
Bring a plastic bag for the route description. Despite the fact that the sun is always supposed to shine on the righteous, it has occasionally been known to rain on LDWA events (I will avoid mentioning any particular event!). Papier méchç modelling is probably best left to the experts - your pre-school children - and route descriptions make notoriously bad models.
For answers to the more obvious questions such as 'Which desk should I register at?' or 'Where are the toilets?' glance round to see if there are helpful notices before troubling hard-pressed marshals.
Do not try to leave your children, pets or elderly relatives in the care of the organisers. Take it from me, they probably have enough trouble with their own.
if you leave kit in the hall without checking if it is OK to do so, do not be too surprised if you come back to find that the local scouts have collected it for their jumble sale. This is most likely to happen if, instead of leaving a rucksack or sports bag, you leave a few tatty old bits of clothing rolled up and stuffed in a corner, or a plastic shopping bag full of what appears to be polishing rags. Take it back to the car if you have on - after all, if you have come to do a 30 mile challenge walk, a further few yards is hardly going to kill you.
If you want to bring your dog, check that dogs are allowed on the event and be sure that you have a lead with you. Checkpoints will be happy to supply water, but may not have anything suitable for dogs to drink out of. Do not take your dog into the hall, no matter how well behaved and quiet it usually is - there are too many potential hazards and disasters waiting to happen.
Finally, before you leave, check that you have locked your car and have the keys SAFELY tucked away somewhere. Listen to any last minute instructions (rather than try to drown them out) and try not to dash straight off into a parked car (I have seen it happen!)
You are now en route and it is downhill all the way from here (figuratively speaking) so get your kit together and wait for April to find out what to do next.
Part 3: Getting Going
You have got your entry in, arrived on the right day and passed the kit check - surely you already deserve the badge and certificate. However, there is one small hazard to negotiate first - the walk itself.
The first word of caution has to be: NEVER follow the person in front and ignore your route description. This particular behaviour pattern has seen strong men reduced to tears due to the large number of potential disasters waiting to happen:
The person in front has no idea where he/she is going and is simply following the person in front of them, who in turn .... Whole challenge walks have disappeared off the face of the planet in this way.
The person in front is convinced that they know the route, having done the event for the last 10 years. So convinced are they that they fail to check the last minute route amendments or, worse, failed to notice the sentence on the entry form which stated 'Completely new route this year'. Following this person you will at least reach the finish, what you will not do is reach any of the checkpoints.
The person in front is not on the event at all and three hours late you find yourself standing at his front gate while he goes in to have lunch and watch the sport on TV. By this time you will probably be so hopelessly off-course that you will have to get a taxi back to the finish.
The person in front is in fact on a different route. This can be particularly unfortunate on events like the Caerphilly Summits where distances range from 10 to 42 miles.
The person in front has turned off the route to answer a call of nature. (Particularly embarrassing if it is a member of the opposite sex who cannot see the funny side of it - if in fact there is one).
All of these problems are significantly greater on a night walk where you tend to be following a torch rather than a body; many of you will be familiar with the sight of large numbers of walkers piling into each other in the dark and blaming each other for going wrong.
Let us assume that you have resisted the temptation to follow another walker and are now finding your way round with the aid of your route description. Follow it exactly! If it says go round the edge of the field do not cut across the middle. You will only save a few seconds but give the organiser a year of hassle with an irate farmer. If you do go wrong accept that in most cases it will be you who has misread the route description, rather than the description being wrong (not always, but usually). Don't try to bludgeon your way back onto the route by trespassing on other people's property, especially if it involves climbing over fences or walls.
If you are stopped by a landowner and told you are trespassing - BE POLITE! If asked who is organising the event tell them - they will find out anyway and if you say you don't know it just makes us all look stupid and a bit suspect. If you know that you are off-route apologise and ask for help to relocate yourself - this will often defuse the situation.
On arriving at checkpoints be sure to get your card punched and make sure your number has been recorded - otherwise organisers will waste a lot of time trying to trace your whereabouts. If you decide to drop out between checkpoints and go home be sure to notify the organisers, who may otherwise call out the police or mountain rescue to look for you.
If you don't like the food at a checkpoint, grin and bear it. Never ask for something that is obviously not available, and don't ask for a share of the checkpointers' own lunch. If there is homemade food and you don't like it don't say so. The person who made it is probably manning the checkpoint and has used up a lot of precious spare time to make it. If you are unlucky enough (or stupid enough) to complain about the author's goodies in her presence you may well discover just what it would be like to have eyes in the back of your head. Alternatively the ambulance men may have to dislodge bits of bread pudding from various parts of your anatomy.
SMILE at the checkpointers and say 'Thank you' when you leave. Remember that is probably their sole reward for what can be a thankless job, particularly on a cold wet day. Arriving at the finish five minutes earlier is irrelevant and will not impress anyone - spending the same amount of time chatting to the helpers on the route will make everyone's day more enjoyable, including yours.
You finally arrive at the finish, weary and bedraggled - thinking only of hot tea and a seat. If it says take off your shoes before entering the hall, that is what it means. Wet (or dry) mud does nothing for the floor of a hall and can take ages to clear up at the end. Even more important, it may be a condition of hiring the hall that no muddy shoes are allowed and you could jeopardise the venue for future years.
You will probably just want to collapse in a heap, but try not to do it in the middle of the hall where you will get in everyone's way. In most village / church halls the washing facilities are very limited so it is best not to try and have a bath in the only available washbasin.
If you have paid £3 (or even £5) entry fee it is probably unreasonable to expect a three-course meal with silver service at the finish. Everyone should expect (and get) unlimited quantities of hot tea, but anything else should be considered as a bonus. A hall equipped with one gas ring does not exactly lend itself to mass catering - so eat and be thankful, or if you really don't like it adjourn quietly to the local fish and chip shop.
As you leave make sure that you collect everything (including muddy shoes left outside), say 'Goodbye' and 'Thank You' to the organiser - go on, make their day! No matter how simple an event is, someone has devoted a large amount of time and effort to giving you pleasure. If you don't believe me try being an organiser! Things do go wrong, but you have to take it in your stride and regard it as all part of being in the LDWA. If things were always perfect walking would not be half the fun it is.
Now you have read all this - does anyone out there DARE to enter the Malvern Marathon or the Cotswold Challenge?!