The big walk

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

I only found out very recently that it’s considered perfectly normal to walk (as opposed to running) a marathon distance, something that a sizeable group of people do quite regularly, taking part in a plethora of events around Britain that welcome walking entrants.

And, ever since I found this out, I’ve wanted to do it. And now I’m going to.

So, how did I arrive at this intention? Part of the reason that I didn’t realise the option was available an awful lot earlier was an inability on my part to take in the full, glorious breadth of the UK’s running landscape. I knew there were a lot of 5k, 10k and half-marathons about. But I had no idea just how many marathon-length events are available and how welcoming running clubs can be in accepting entries from people who might not necessarily be on for a sub-three-hour finish.

I now know, having taken up running, that such events can be completed on a spectrum that is bounded by elite racers at one end and hikers with sunhats, rucksacks and sturdy boots at the other. Between these two groups lie a vast variety of race strategies that include running with short walking intervals or walking with short running intervals. My current running technique involves nine minutes of running then a minute’s walking. (Very convenient indeed for cardio recovery; rehydrating; wolfing down cereal bars; nose blowing; retying of shoelaces; sartorial adjustment; checking you still have your doorkey; some choice cussing at the weather, trail surface or landscape; and urgently expectorating any insects that you may have been unfortunate enough to inhale.)

Armed with this by-now tried and tested interval method, I will be running my first half-marathon something like three weeks from now. It has made a runner of me where a runner would not otherwise have existed. Of course, there are some people who wish I hadn’t bothered, and maintain that you’ve not really done it unless you’ve run it and clocked a handily competitive time while so doing. But, should we ever find ourselves at the same events, I know that they’ll be over the horizon long before I’ve even crossed the start line, and that actually we needn’t trouble each other at all. Personally, I offer my respectful good wishes to everyone racing, while proclaiming my own allegiance to the challenge approach – the one that pits me against the course and against my past record of activity, not necessarily so much against the other people taking part.

I know for a fact I can walk the 13.1-mile course of the half-marathon we will be running – I have, after all, done it fairly recently and written it up for this site. After six months of training, culminating in a successful 10-mile run last Saturday, I am reasonably confident that I can finish the race, albeit not in a time that I will be wanting to shout about. (By a terrible quirk of fate I have a very low race number – as good a karmic guarantee of coming close to the bottom as I have ever encountered, and something that is not particularly helping to settle the pre-race nerves.)

I’m really unsure whether I could ever run a marathon distance. However, I feel the balance of probabilities is on my side when walking it. I’ve walked nearly 15 miles with rucksack over extraordinarily hilly terrain on the north Cornwall coast while working my way round the South West Coast Path. My longest-ever day’s walking was around 18 miles between Wells-next-the-Sea and Weybourne on the (admittedly extremely flat) North Norfolk coast. I am now considerably fitter than I was then and, after sitting down with a calendar and a training schedule, I have a programme to follow for the next few months that looks pretty feasible.

So, I’ve entered, which seems pretty daunting right now, but should at least make for a great series of blog posts (!) once the half-marathon is over and training for the 26.2-mile event has started (Hint: it involves very long walks.) It’s handy that we live close to both the Hitchin Outer Orbital Path and the Letchworth Greenway, with Stevenage’s monster STOOP within shooting distance as well. My partner in crime is considering options and is yet to decide which event is most appropriate.

If you fancy a go yourself, click on this link. But, be warned. It might mean saying goodbye to an awful lot of leisure time as well as most of your toenails…

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Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow - Thoreau