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A Survivor's Guide to Hundreds and Other Long Walks


Ken Falconer - from December 2002 Strider, updated 2016

As a veteran of some 30 Hundreds, I am often asked for advice on preparation and approach to walking long events, so here are a few ideas.  I would be the first to admit that my own approach is not particularly conventional, but then, walking a Hundred is a very personal thing - other walkers may have different suggestions!

Training

The only real training for walking is walking.  If you do 20-30 mile walks regularly during the year along with the odd 50, then you probably don’t need anything special to prepare for a Hundred.  However, I do recommend half an hour or so brisk walking each day - this makes an enormous difference to your general level of fitness and readiness to tackle longer walks.  Don’t forget to include a few hills - you use different muscles for steep ascents and descents.

Route familiarity

When the route is released, spend time studying the map to get a ‘feel’ for the route - Where are the climbs?  Where can you look forward to ‘easy’ sections where you can stride out?  Where is route finding going to require particular care?  Many Hundred entrants pre-walk the route or parts of it, particularly the night section.  If you do so, don’t forget that the route will look very different by night, and paths that are obvious in the daytime, particularly across grass, can become almost invisible by torchlight.  Identify landmarks that are easily recognisable at any time.

Clothing and Equipment

The equipment listed on the event rules is the minimum any sensible walker would take on an overnight cross-country walk, so don’t be tempted to skimp, for safety’s sake, as well as to avoid disqualification.

Clothing

What you wear should be comfortable.  A final decision can be left to the day, depending on the conditions and weather forecast, but carry enough for all conditions that might occur: weather can change rapidly, and a hot day can be followed by a freezing night.

Footwear

Crucial, of course.  Use footwear which you have confidence in - it should be a comfortable fit with room to move the toes.  Anything that feels even slightly tight when put on is too small - feet expand during a long walk.
Trainers or boots?  I’ve used both (not at the same time!).  Boots keep the feet drier and thus reduce the chances of blisters or trench foot.  With boots, a twisted ankle will be less likely, balance over rough ground is easier, you can stride across bog with confidence, and the stony tracks after 80 miles may feel less painful!  Trainers are lighter and will tire the legs less, and if you intend jogging very much are the only option, though you’ll get wet feet, at the very least from long grass at dawn and from the almost inevitable stretches of boggy ground.  Whatever you choose should have been broken in on a long walk or two, but not so old that the soles are thin or heels worn down.  A new pair of insoles adds a lot to comfort.
Choose your socks carefully - I generally wear two pairs.  New wool socks have a pile that provides extra cushioning; outdoor shops sell seamless socks and socks with extra heel padding, which can reduce the chance of blisters and sore spots.  Avoid nylon socks next to the skin - they don’t absorb sweat and make blisters more likely.  Waterproof breathable socks have recently been introduced and are an (expensive!) option. A change into dry socks half way round feels like heaven.

Rucksack

A smallish (25-30 litre) rucksack should suit most walkers - make sure that maps, spare clothing, etc. are kept in waterproof bags - a large plastic bag that can hold everything may be best.  Pack your rucksack carefully, with things most likely to be needed most accessible and with soft items against your back.  It will save time (particularly in the dark) if you know where things are packed.

Route description

Make sure that your route description is in a form that you find easy to read - you will need to be able to read it with a torch.  Electronic versions of the route description are now provided so you can format them with a font style and size that you find easy to read. Where possible, arrange page turns to occur at checkpoints. I always carry a spare route description in my rucksack in case rain reduces the working one to papier mâché! I like a (waterproof!) map case so I can keep my hands free, with the route description showing on one side and the map on the other.

Maps and GPX files

Rules require walkers to carry mapping covering at least a mile either side of the entire route at a scale of 1:50,000 or larger. Many walkers use standard OS maps, often cutting of the relevant parts to reduce weight. Some even cut out a strip around the route which they paste alongside the route description. Maps are now readily available for download and printing from the internet, but caution is required with inkjet printers – the slightest damp and the ink will run so the map becomes unreadable.
Nowadays GPX (GPS eXchange Format) files, essentially a list of accurate grid references or latitudes and longitudes of points on the route, are now routinely provided for Hundreds. As well as their use for plotting the route onto electronic mapping, increasingly many walkers use them with a GPS (Global Positioning System) device which is carried and shows the route, indicating the current position and direction. Note that spare batteries will certainly be needed on a long event. And there have been several instances of walkers following GPS trails so assiduously that they have walked straight past checkpoints or self-clips.

Torch

Most walkers now use LED torches. An enormous range is available, but think about the range, power, width of beam and battery life that you need. A powerful torch can cast a beam a couple of hundred yards, useful when searching for a stile the other side of a field, but the batteries may not last more than two or three hours. Also, too powerful a light can be dazzling when trying to read the route description. A less powerful beam is suitable for lighting up the ground ahead of you. Variable power torches, though expensive, can provide the best of all worlds. A hand-held torch has the advantage that it casts longer shadows, making stones, etc, more visible, though many prefer a head-light which leaves the hands free. You should certainly try out your torch beforehand on at least a short night stroll to ensure that it suits your needs. With the possibility of two nights of walking, spare batteries are essential, but with LED torches spare bulbs are no longer needed in the way they were 20 years ago. I always carry an additional ‘mini’-torch, in case my main one fails or is dropped and damaged.

First aid kit

The rules generally require carrying a first aid kit, including plasters, adhesive dressing, antiseptic wipes, fixation tape and low adherent dressing. Make sure that you also include any lotions or tablets that you might possibly need, for example aspirin or ibuprofen. Whilst checkpoints generally hold first aid kits, it is contrary to standard medical practice to issue tablets or creams.

The event itself

Eve of event

Try to have a relaxing evening with a leisurely meal (not too much beer!) and a good night’s sleep (not always easy to achieve!). Make sure that your toe nails are cut fairly short. Sort your bags into what you will carry, what you will send to the half-way point, and what you will leave behind. Endeavour to be unflustered and at peace with yourself and with the world.

Start times

There is generally a choice of several start times, with later times intended for runners or joggers and perhaps fast walkers. Study the checkpoint opening times alongside the section distances and ascents. Most walkers choose the earliest start, but if you walk fast or jog early on you have to accept that you may have a short time to wait at early checkpoints before they open.

At the start

Arrive in good time to check in and make your final preparations, but not so early that you end up standing around for too long and tire your legs. Take great care putting on your socks and boots/ trainers, and walk a few steps to check that they are comfortable, with no bumps and with the laces adjusted to the right tension. Note any route corrections, and make any final decisions on clothing, depending on the weather and the forecast. Empty your bowels before the start (this becomes harder later on as your muscles lose strength)!

On the walk

Psychology plays an important part - a Hundred is walked on your head as much as on your feet! Your immediate thought should be the next checkpoint - when you start to tire be spurred on by the thought that it is 5 miles to the next checkpoint, not depressed by the thought there are 80 miles to go! After 75 miles you can start thinking that it is just a good day’s walk to the end! Enjoy the scenery and company as you go along to take your mind of tiredness or aches and pains.

Companions

Most Hundred walkers walk in company, enjoying the mutual encouragement and shared route finding (though make sure you know who is doing what). Some walkers do the entire walk with a particular friend, whilst many combine with different walkers for different stages to fit in with their pace. Your low points will probably be at different times from those of your companions, and mutual encouragement will give an important boost.

Checkpoints

Crucial for recharging body and spirit - make the most of them! As well as eating and drinking what is on offer, take the opportunity to tend any aches and pains, to adjust your kit, to refill your water-bottle and to rest awhile. I find that taking weight off my feet for even five minutes reduces the aching of the limbs over the next few miles. Don’t forget to thank the checkpoint helpers when you leave - they are probably as tired as you and need encouragement just as much as you do.

Potential problems

 

Blisters

  An obvious problem that most walkers are familiar with and for which they have their own treatment. Don’t ignore early signs of soreness as early treatment (plasters or moleskin) to reduce friction can avoid more major problems later. If a blister has formed then, contrary to standard first aid advice, there is a strong case for popping the blister with a sterile needle - otherwise continued walking will enlarge the blister which will then burst and be much more painful. Hardened feet are less susceptible to blisters - regular walking hardens the feet, as can applications of surgical spirit in the days leading up to the event.
 

Trench foot

  Feet can become very sore with a waxy white and deeply creviced skin, as a result of socks and footwear being waterlogged for many hours. A change of socks can provide relief, but the problem might be avoided by waterproof boots or socks or treating the feet beforehand with Vaseline or some other water repellent grease.
 

Rubbing

  Ensure that nothing that you wear or carry rubs against your body. On a short walk you may hardly notice, but continuous rubbing on a Hundred can lead to major sores. In particular, pack and adjust your rucksack so that pressure on your back is not concentrated at a single point, and use a waist strap. Don’t keep anything in your trouser pockets - I carried a small wallet in my pocket on my first Hundred, and the ‘dead’ area on my thigh resulting from the rubbing remained many years later. Too tight clothes, especially underwear, can also give problems.
 

Energy depletion

  Walking 100 miles uses a colossal number of calories. Estimates vary, but for a person of average weight, brisk walking on easy terrain uses perhaps 300kcal per hour, with over double that for hill climbing or on rough ground. A chocolate bar might contain about 150kcal. Your intake has to provide for the basic functioning and warmth of the body as well as energy directly used for walking, so the message is that you have to eat an enormous amount to replenish the energy that you are expending on the walk. Eat and drink plenty and often, particularly energy rich foods such as cake, bananas, dried fruit, sandwiches, and isotonic drinks. Eat the food provided at checkpoints, even if your appetite seems poor, and don’t be tempted to rush through checkpoints without eating just to save a few minutes. Richard Brown’s article for Centurion walkers includes a range of useful hints on nutrition: http://www.centurions1911.org.uk/nutrition.html
 

Digestive problems

  One of the most common causes of retirement on Hundreds is being unable to digest food, perhaps even vomiting. Alongside a nauseous feeling, this makes it impossible to take in the energy needed. Some walkers find this a regular problem and have tried many ways of relieving the difficulties. For example, there are energy-rich foods, such as fruit, rice or custard, that can ‘slip down’. On the one occasion when I had problems eating, a checkpointer gave me a drink of Bovril, which was enough to keep me going, and soon I was eating normally again.
 

Dehydration

  Even in average temperatures, but particularly in hot weather, you will lose gallons of water through sweat. If this is not replaced continuously you may feel unexpectedly devoid of energy. You should drink regularly even if you do not feel thirsty, both at checkpoints and by keeping your water bottle topped up. The body loses salt at the same time as water, increasing the chance of cramp. This can be pre-empted by eating salty foods at checkpoints, but if cramp strikes a salt tablet or a little salt dissolved in water can give almost instant relief. There is a vast range of proprietary drinks primarily aimed at runners that provide energy or maintain electrolyte balance and which are popular with some walkers.
 

Fatigue

  Everyone feels tired at some point on a Hundred, particularly during the night, but walkers commonly remark on getting a second wind after a period of tiredness, suddenly feeling much better and able to go on. A rest or even a short sleep at a checkpoint can be very refreshing. Extreme tiredness can lead to hallucinations, particularly for those going into a second night. (Hundred walkers have reported seeing rows of white nuns or roman soldiers by the wayside!). If you start to hallucinate then make sure that you keep with other walkers.
 

The lean

  On every Hundred a few walkers end up with their upper body, from the waist upwards, leaning at an angle of 15 degrees or more to the vertical, and in considerable discomfort. The ‘lean’ or ‘Pisa syndrome’ can affect walkers of all levels of fitness on a one off basis for no apparent reason, and there seems to be no medical explanation for its onset in endurance events (though the condition is known to result from antipsychotic drugs or as an effect of Parkinson’s disease). Sufferers repeatedly try to jerk the body to the vertical but are unable to keep it there. Typically the lean strikes after about 70 miles. Initially, a slant becomes obvious to an observer but the walker remains oblivious of any problem until eventually the back and hips start to become extremely painful. If someone informs you that you are leaning try to keep bending your upper body away from the lean direction to delay the onset. The problem usually disappears quite quickly after stopping walking.
 

Cold

  Physical exhaustion and hunger combined with wet and windy weather are just the conditions that can lead to hypothermia, and anyone walking a Hundred should be aware of the potential danger. There have been several Hundreds where the days have been warm, but the temperature has fallen to near freezing at night. Carrying adequate and appropriate clothing is crucial; in particular windproof protection for the whole body, and clothing that retains its insulating properties when wet, such as wool or thermal fabrics. If you feel shivery or even slightly cold, particularly later on in the walk, put on extra warm clothing to reduce heat loss. When you stop at later checkpoints it is a good idea to put an extra layer on until you are walking again, otherwise you may start to shiver.
 

Pacing yourself

  Walk at a pace that comes naturally. If you go either above or below your natural pace you’ll tire far more rapidly, both physically and mentally. Whilst it’s nice to journey with other walkers, you should ensure that their pace is close to yours. It’s easy to set off too quickly or jog a lot near the start and suffer for it later. On the other hand, there is a strong mental desire to ‘keep up with the pack’ near the start, and making good progress early on gives a psychological boost.
 

Getting lost

  Having to retrace steps for even a short distance when tired can be a major psychological blow, and can often be ‘the last straw’. If you are uncertain, it is worth taking a little extra time to check the route description or map, taking particular care at night. Frequent causes of going astray include the eye skipping a line of route description, missing a narrow path off a wide track, coming off a hilltop in the wrong direction, misinterpreting the first instruction on leaving a checkpoint, or following someone who claims to know the way. Route finding by committee is a recipe for disaster, though one person reading the instructions and another carrying them out can be effective.
 

Retirement

  If you reach a checkpoint feeling you want to retire, pause a while before handing in your tally. Often a relaxed rest, some food and a chat with the checkpointers can help you over a low point of the walk. Whilst helping at checkpoints I have seen many walkers arrive saying ‘I’m finished’, but who have revitalised their energy and spirit and gone on to complete the walk. If after a rest you feel that you really can’t go on then it’s no disgrace to pull out – there’s always next year.
 

Remember

  Completing the walk is much more important than a fast time. Many problems can be avoided by taking just a little longer, for example by eating adequately, tending minor injuries, and double-checking the route.
  Above all, enjoy the walk. The LDWA Hundreds are a marvellous experience. Without exception, they have followed fine routes in attractive surroundings. You meet like minded walkers on the way. The atmosphere is quite unique, and on finishing you will feel great, even if you cannot manage another step. Good luck!

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