A few years back we had a lass join us for our Challenge4Charity event. She managed to run the fifty miles inside a comfortable 12 hours; and then went out on a hen night with her mates in Sheffield! If you’re like her, I doubt that you need to read on any more.
Many of us will embark upon the New Year and be resolved to achieve a personal victory, and maybe sign up for a challenge day out in the hills. For many this might be the Three Peaks Challenge for example. So if like me, you’re a mere mortal and you’re not born with the energy of a springer spaniel on steroids, here are a few top tips on getting fit for that next big day out …
Whatever form of exercise you choose to do, a key factor to your success will be your will-power to keep at it. After all if your challenge event is six months away, that is a long time in which to get distracted.
First, try to do something where progress can be measured. Constant and measured progress ignites a sense of inner joy and this leads to continued engagement with the activity. Two items of kit that can help with this might be a Fitbit or even a heart rate monitor. (It’s always good to have an excuse to buy more kit!) More cheaply use online maps to measure your progress – personally I use MapMyRun to help plan and measure my routes.
Second, get others to join you. It might be others who are on the challenge with you, or just friends who want to get fitter as well. Making a commitment to yourself to go walking at the weekend might easily be broken. Making a commitment to join some mates on a walk that together you have planned and looked forward to, will in turn be harder to break.
Thirdly make a commitment to stick to your training regime. Hence for me this means letting the world and his wife know that I signed up for something. In turn this means that every time I see someone they’re likely to be asking me how the training is going. If I am to remain proud I need to be doing something!
Whatever you choose to do, choose to make your training interesting. So if you’re into running don’t just run around the local track or park – get out and explore new routes. Maybe do a Google search to find the nearest permanent orienteering courses to you, print off the map and give it a go. If it’s walking you’re into try and include an objective into your walk. This could be a well known challenge route, or might be a particular hill or summit, it might include a bit of scrambling, an aircraft wreck to hunt for, a scenic location, a hidden pool to swim in, or a day out with the GPS geo-caching. If you can make your activity interesting it will feel a lot less like training!
Challenge – let’s get physical
You won’t improve if you don’t push yourself. Hence plan training walks that include some element of challenge. That could be distance, ascent or time spent on the hill. As your training progresses try and increase the challenge levels.
If getting out for big walks isn’t really viable try and increase your weekly mileage by going out more frequently for shorter walks. Maybe a friend or a neighbor has a dog that needs exercising? Commit to walking their dog and you’re committing to walking more miles!
Have a look at your target distance planned for the actual day and try to get to the level of achieving maybe two thirds of this by about a month before. If the event that you’re training for is a hilly 60 miler then you want to be managing a hilly 40 miles a month or so before.
If time permits, walking is perhaps the best form of exercise to train you for a challenge walk event. Unlike running it causes far less wear and tear on your joints. The big disadvantage for most people is if this is to be your main effort then you need to have the time to make it effective.
And for walking to be really beneficial it requires you to do it on uneven ground, and up and down hills so that you can work that range of muscles that help to strengthen your legs, back and core body muscles.
Here are seven cracking routes to tick off roughly in order of difficulty …
- Two days of the Hadrian’s Wall trail – from Chollerford to Lanercost Priory – 28 miles of wonderful Roman history along this iconic landmark.
- Two days of trekking in the Lake District. Starting from Braithwaite near Keswick head south to Buttermere via Catbells, Dalehead and Robinson. Spend the night at the campsite, youth hostel or hotel and find your way back via Knott rig and Ard Crags on the Sunday. Not hugely taxing – but a wonderful two day mini-challenge event.
- Brecon Beacons – Start at Llwynbedw (SO 006 244) and head up hill and then west to tick off a string of Welsh classics Corn Du and Pen y Fan – end your walk in Talybont On Usk at the Star Inn with an award winning pint of ale. Spend the night here – and walk back along the valley on the Sunday!
- The Edale Skyline is traditionally a 19 mile fell race taking in the skyline that includes the southern flank of Kinder Scout, Rushup Edge, Mam Tor through to Lose Hill. Starting and finishing in Hope this is a cracking walk and there’s loads to choose from to make the most of your weekend on the Sunday.
- Marsden to Edale. Get the train from Edale to Marsden and then walk back. The real joy of this is deciding which route to choose – there are lots of variations you can take. The challenge is to cover the 25 miles or so before the pub in Edale stops serving food at 9pm!
- The Yorkshire Three Peaks – do this classic route on the Saturday – and combine this with a good walk exploring Malham Tarn on the Sunday too!
- The Welsh 3000s in three days. Any six month period must have a bank holiday weekend!? Spend it wisely and have a crack at this Welsh classic challenge trekking 30 miles and around 14,000 feet in one weekend bagging all fourteen Welsh mountains in one glorious walk.
Do all of these and not only will you be fit to trek but you’ll have a great crop of routes under your belt to boot!
Ok, challenge yourself, but don’t go overboard. Planning a route that is beyond your ability is de-motivating at best – and at worst, dangerous. Plan routes that will push you, but not leave you collapsed with exhaustion, in the middle of a moor as the light is fading and the rain is pouring. Keep an open mind to changing your plans according to the weather, and be sure to head out with the right kit and the right skills to keep you safe.
If I ever I need to be particularly fit for an event the quickest route to that level of fitness is to go running. Normally this would be tied in to signing up for the Sheffield half-marathon which would in turn mean that I could run up to 10 miles comfortably by the end of the whole process. From this base point I’d consider myself invincible and capable of ruling the world! My running programme would have me go out three or four days a week with two speed sessions midweek, a long run on Saturdays and then maybe a short warm down run on Sundays. The midweek sessions would always be about half the duration of the Saturday run, and all the runs, bar the Sunday session, would slowly creep up in distance and duration as time went by until I was happily running the required 13 miles.
The benefit of this training was that it was a relatively quick way to gain strength and endurance fitness. The down side is that if I wasn’t careful, being a big chap, injury would be lurking around the corner. So if running is going to be your main effort to gaining challenge event fitness be sure to follow these simple steps:
- Start each session slowly – warm up. Stretching isn’t warming up in its own right, far better to start each run slowly – maybe even just walking. So my runs start at the jog and end with stretches to warm down. As well as a preventive measure to injury, stretching is also great for increasing flexibility. Build in rest days to any programme.
- Steer clear of running on the roads. By taking the trails, or simply the grassy option in the local park, you will hammer your knees and joints far less. Additionally, running on uneven trails means your feet fall differently with each step and so your body compensates for this at the core making your runs better for core strength too. Also running cross country is more scenic and lends far more interest to the sport.
- Use shoes that are fitted to your feet by an expert and renew them regularly. Look up a local running shop and they’ll sort you out with the right shoes for you.
Finally, make fitness a part of your lifestyle. Commit to never driving to the local newsagent ever again. Don’t take the lift or the escalator when you can climb the stairs. Walk, cycle or run to work. Maybe start by doing this twice a week and build this up over the duration of your training schedule. So you live and work in a city? Look at a map and create a route to work that takes in a canal path, or that leads you through a park. Walking to work doesn’t need to be the quickest and shortest route – be creative and make it interesting! Introducing other sports into your programme will also keep your fitness routine interesting, and maybe cycling to work or swimming in your lunch hour are also great ways to get fit.
Being fit and healthy is a great way to embark upon any adventure into the wilds. Good fitness will often mean that you are also in good health and the impact of this on mind and body cannot be overstated. That self satisfied smug feeling that you are ready to take on the world will help maximise the chances of a successful event. Furthermore it means that your ambition that you’re aiming to achieve becomes the icing on a cake of an overall bigger journey.
Good luck with your training!
Further reading …
Free training resources for navigation practice
Open Orienteering Courses available for children
Map and Compass beats a GPS Device Every Time. Here’s Why
Walking boots: a new approach
Top Tips For Footcare
What to do in an Emergency Outdoors
Outdoor First Aid – Five items of essential first aid kit for the outdoors
One Item Of First Aid Kit, Always Needed: The Least Appreciated