Thursday, 22 May 2008

Walk the Walk

(Frankly, I think that I'd rather talk the talk.)

Some of you are aware that I've been training for the Moonwalk for a couple of months now. Back in the fall, my walking partner suggested that we commit ourselves to this physical challenge -- and, oh well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Several friends of mine have had breast cancer, and one dear friend recently died from it. So despite the fact that I tend to think of 4 or 5 miles as plenty of exercise, I had a blithe belief that I was going to be able to walk 26.2 miles for Breast Cancer Research. I didn't really stop to add up how many hours of walking that actually is . . . or how many hours I would have to walk before I was ready to take on the big event.

Well, friends, today I walked for FIVE HOURS . . . and I was reminded, once again, why I have a moderate disposition when it comes to pretty much anything.

One hour of exercise per day is a good thing: it gives you a shot of endorphins, it tones your body and mind, and it enables some excesses when it comes to baked goods. Two hours of walking is fine; three is okay; at four, I start getting weary; but after five hours I am sore in all kinds of places, I need to go to the bathroom, my bottle of water is only a distant memory, and I am very, very bored of walking. Even if the scenery is beautiful -- and believe me, we had some beautiful scenery -- I grow immune to its charms. Five hours of anything is just too much. If you can do anything for five hours, and not get a little fretful, please let me know.

Luckily, I have a good walking partner -- and not only does this person understand that she has to be firm with me, and listen to a fair amount of whining from my corner, but as an extra bit of cajolery, she also plans interesting routes for us to walk. Today, we walked along the Ridgeway -- more than 80 miles of "ancient chalk ridge," which is thought to be the oldest "road" in Great Britain. By "road," think chalky, rocky path -- most of which seems to be going uphill, although I know that's an impossibility. There is an "upside" to walking uphill, though, and in this case it is a stunning view of great yellow and green swathes of Oxfordshire countryside. The whole country looks like a living, blooming quilt. At the highest point, we visited the ancient ruins of Uffington Castle -- not much to look at now, but rather awe-inspiring to think how long it has stood in that place. As with many ancient places, a strong, chilling breeze seemed to blow there . . . but perhaps it was just that high plateau, catching the winds.

In all of those hours of walking, we saw only three other humans -- but lots and lots of wildlife. We skirted the edges of Lambourn, serious horse country, and from our perch we could see several pairs of horses at a full gallop. We crossed through Sheepdrove Organic Farm (check out the interactive farm map) -- and saw hundreds of what must be the most contented sheep on the planet. These sheep were the very definition of fat and happy; all of them either lounging or lazily munching on the soft, emerald-green grass. We walked down woodland paths, and byways for horses and cattle, and grassy tracks that the wild flowers and cow parsley were doing their best to reclaim. We walked and walked, for once not having to dodge cars and transit vans which are our usual companions of the road. (It was a little hard on the ankles, though.)

As far as the eye can see, for miles and miles, there is nothing but carefully tended farmland and the protected downland. It is truly stirring to think how little the land has altered in the centuries, and that the ancient Saxons had trod the same paths -- although not with the same purpose!

It was, indeed, a beautiful walk . . . and I would be happy to do it again. However, on the next occasion I will limit the walk to 5 or so miles -- and make sure that my route deadends at that nice pub in East Hendred.


Brave Sir Robin said...

My goodness! No wonder you are tired! It does sound heavenly though. I love my walks, but a five hour walk is as rare as a cool pleasant day in July around here. Maybe this summer in New Hampshire I can get one in.

Summer before last, I did a 9 hour hike in Big Bend, and I was wiped out!!!

Your description of the scenery is almost like being there!

I'm proud of how well you're sticking to it, and I'll bet you don't whine at all.


Brave Sir Robin said...

ps -

What is Chip butty?

Anne said...

Well done, you! And it sounds like a lovely walk, soreness and other difficulties notwithstanding. Lucky you to have such a wonderful, rich location for your long walks!

Re: the boredom, this is why I am determined that my first marathon be one with plenty of entertainment on the course--the better to distract me from how much I don't want to be running 26.2 miles. Chicago last fall was a bust for reasons unrelated to my fitness or the course itself, but at least the course was full of cheering spectators, bands, dancers, and other entertainment. I'm considering the Napa marathon for next March, the alternative being LA. The former is gorgeous, but rural and rather solitary. The latter is, as you can imagine, crowded and noisy and full of distractions. I found that the Big Sur half mary's beautiful scenery proved plenty distracting, but what's sufficient to distract me for a little over two hours might not be enough for four or five hours.

As for the water issue, may I recommend a Camelbak? I have a small one that I wear on any run longer than an hour as I can't stand running with a water bottle in one hand, but I get dehydrated easily and need to carry water with me on longer runs. These days they come in more forms than just the traditional backpack: there are waist packs with the bladder insert, and waist packs that fit one or two water bottles. Some of them also have cargo space. My small backpack carries 1.5L of fluid and has enough additional space for keys and a tiny bit of food--a few gels, maybe some shot blocks or a Clif bar if I really cram it in. Anyway, if you'd really like to carry water with you but don't want to load yourself up with more than one or two bottles, a Camelbak (or similar item) is an option. They're not terribly expensive--I think mine was $30 or $40, and they're awfully useful.

BSR, a 9 hour hike in Big Bend sounds fabulous! We've done Half Dome every summer for the last couple of years, and that's exhausting (12+ hours, IIRC--longer if you get stuck in the conga line on the cables), but well worth it. I'm hoping to go back and do some more Yosemite hikes this summer, and then there's talk of doing Mt. Whitney at some point in the next couple of years.

JaneyV said...

Well done you for doing such a challenging walk. You'll certainly be ready for the actual thing. Five hours of anything is gruelling, it's true but my friend who did the London one last year said it was fine. As long as you have good company, the course itself, although long, was easy enough. I don't think she even got close to having walked for 5 hours before the actual day.

I have walked a very little way along Ridgeway in (I think) Wiltshire ... somewhere near the start ... and I've walked at the end where it joins with The Icknield Way at Ivinghoe Beacon so I know how tough the terrain is. Very up-and-downy, unforgiving on the joints and an awful lot of little sharp rocks if you slip but at least it's not very muddy. And as you say the views are wonderful. The bits I walked were very exposed - no cover of nature for a discreet bathroom break. Perhaps it's just as well it's deserted!
I love a ramble but I'd only do it for as long as I was feeling joyful about it. You have my admiration for sticking it out so long.

BSR - a chip butty is a peculiarly English thing and If you as me it crosses a line. That much carbohydrate and fat shouldn't be on the same plate.
Chip - chipped potato, deep fried - like a french fry but chunkier.
Butty - sandwich - normally thick slices of white bread buttered thickly.
The effect - heart attack on a plate! Would that be your description Bee?

Bee said...

Well BSR, I hate to burst your bubble, but
I do whine a little bit . . . particularly for the first two miles, when I always say "there is no fricking way I can walk 20 miles today!" (I am not a morning person.) I also whined about the big fat fever blister on my lip -- which I blame on a previous long walk in which we got a bit sun and wind burnt.

9 hours in Big Bend, in summer no less, is a heck of a long time.

As for the chip butty, how do you know about such things? Janey did an admirable job of describing it. BTW, I've never eaten one; as Janey said, it is just one fatty carb too many for me.

I will admit that it was a lovely walk! It would have been REALLY lovely if we were just ambling along, enjoying the scenery, but my WP is always trying to make time -- which is exceedingly difficult on this kind of rough path. I'm not kidding about the ankles!

You often mention training, but I didn't realize that you were also training for a marathon! Or is this just an ongoing thing for you? (You seem like a very goal-oriented person.) Napa and LA both sound good.

I will check out the Camelbak gear. Apparently at the real walk you don't have to worry about water because they have water stations everywhere. It is definitely not going to be so dehydrating to walk at night, though. Also, it will probably be a bit cold -- so we won't sweat much.

My WP is ALWAYS saying that the course is going to be easy compared to what we are used to walking. On the other hand, Edinburgh is a lot hillier than London.
I'm not so worried about being able to do it . . . the issue is the time. My WP wants to do it QUICKLY -- as opposed to just finishing. Her pace is a little uncomfortable for me. I'm with you: I like a "joyful" ramble!!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Good for you, Bee! (or should that be Good ON you??)

PS I have to agree with the pub at the end! That's always a good bribe.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Bee - The 9 hours in Big Bend in summer isn't so bad. It was up in the Chisos Mountains, so temps were substantially cooler than at the lower elevations.

I agree with Anne on the camelback. I don't have one, but I plan on getting one before my next long hike.

As for the chip butty - I followed your link to the pub and it was on the menu.

So, it's a fried potato and butter sandwich? Kind of an English poutine? Eh?

Anne, That sounds like a great hike, I'm hoping to make it to the top of Mount. Washington this July.

Bitty said...

I'm exhausted now, reading this. And dehydrated.

I knew that you were doing a lot of walking, but not why. (Someday I'm going to read my latest favorite blogs from the beginning, but not today!) I'm guessing you don't do 5 hours every day, not with an actual life in addition to the walking.

A one-hour brisk walk would be nice.

A five-hour ramble, maybe.

But a five-hour brisk walk on stumbly paths -- this sounds like the Marine Corps. Is your WP a drill instructor? Seriously. I hope you and your ankles (and other parts) are doing well today.

When you do the actual walk (in Edinburgh, you say?), how long is it expected to last? No more than five hours, I hope!!

Alyson said...

Taking a walk on an ancient road, in the middle of nature sounds like my idea of heaven. The five hours, not so much. I took a lovely walk today for an hour and that was quite enough.

Bee said...

It did have its heavenly bits.

One heavenly bit that I didn't previously mention is that we saw the Kindersleys' house on a private lane -- and it was gorgeous! It looks like an old house, but I think they probably built it using reclaimed materials. It just looks too perfect: like a Victorian gingerbread house, but also like something that belongs in the woods. It had a beautiful garden in front of it, too -- full of herbs, vegetables and flowers.
I've always wanted to walk around the Lake District . . . nice little rambles that always end with a pub-stop.

I know what you mean about catching up on the "back story." Next winter when I'm stuck in the house I am going to do exactly that.

As for the marathon, well -- if we can do it in 6 1/2 hours we will be making good time. 4 miles an hour is a pretty good pace. It's a long time to walk, AND it's in the middle of the night -- hence the name.
The Kindersleys are the ones that had the publishing empire . . . and then started up the Sheepdrove Organic Farm that I mentioned. I order meat from them, and now that I've seen their sheep "in person" I am going to order lamb, too. Believe me, you've never seen such contented, well-treated sheep. Animal husbandry at its finest.

heartsease said...

Ohh nice little walks in the Lakes Beth - we could do Hellvelyn, or Great Gable - that would keep you fit (and me dead on my feet). One day we'll get that week in Scotland that we always talk of, and we can walk all day. Keep it up, I'm very proud of you, and as whiner in chief on walks (when the children aren't around) I think it a useful form of self-encouragement

Anne said...

Uneven ground really is tough on the ankles, especially over such a long period of time! It also recruits different muscles in your lower leg, so that can be uncomfortable as well. It does get better, though, as your body gets used to it and becomes stronger in the appropriate areas.

My training is mostly an ongoing thing, although I did take a few months more or less "off" early this year when thesis stuff was keeping me extra busy. I mostly do triathlons, but this year the two "A" races that I was planning to do fall on dates when I'll be at weddings (I feel the universe is playing a joke on me). Since I won't be able to do my half ironmans, and since my running needs a LOT of work, I'm taking this season to concentrate on running. I'll do two half marathons in the fall, and a full mary a few months later. I tried for my first mary last year, but that was the now-infamous Chicago marathon, which they had to shut down about three and a half hours into it.

Yes, they should have water on the course for the real event--I meant that the Camelbak would be useful for training, although at this point you might have finished with all your extra-long walks. Are you tapering? I.e. have you reached your peak training walk distance and will you be doing progressively shorter sessions as you near the date of the event? Tapering for running a marathon usually starts three or four weeks before the event.

Anonymous said...

joco says:

Hiya bee,

We lived kitty corner from the Wheatsheaf for a while, in a huge ancient barn, called the King's Barn. (Henry VIII's I was told.) Forty foot ceilings.

I wouldn't recommend Camelbak drinking, unless you are exceedingly meticulous in cleaning the thing. I used it for cycling and it caused problems.

You might have used our loo when approaching White Horse Hill , and what do you mean by saying: the castle isn't much to look at now?? It's gorgeous, particularly in winter. I climb up it from the village three times in a row, to get my fitness back. The wildflowers are lovely, orchids and fringed milkwort. Typical chalky things.

Anne said...

I wouldn't recommend Camelbak drinking, unless you are exceedingly meticulous in cleaning the thing. I used it for cycling and it caused problems.

FWIW, the only time I've ever had a problem with mine was when I forgot about it after an event when I'd had Gatorade in it, and didn't clean it for a few months. Then it got gross, but I would hardly have expected it to be pristine after sitting around for months. Other than that, I wash it out every little while, and it doesn't give me any trouble. I certainly wouldn't say I'm meticulous about it. But I usually just have water in it, which probably helps.

Bee said...


I look forward to exploring new places with you . . . and hopefully we will take some of these walks before we are old biddies in need of hip replacement.

Goodness, Anne,
I didn't realize that marathoning/ironwomaning was a fulltime occupation for you!!

Yes, I am "tapering" now. We will do a 13 miler next Thursday, but other than that, just 6 and 8 miles. I should walk today . . . but I just want to be in the garden.


Hello! I thought that you were north of Oxford? Your house in East Hendred sounds lovely . . . what made you move? Hmmmmm . . . your comments about the "castle" make me wonder if that was indeed what we saw. Because it wasn't much at all -- just a turret-top of sorts.

Thanks for the various feedback, both of you, on the Camelbak. I would definitely need to just use water in mine; I already have a special tea mug thingy that is starting to smell manky (even though I've done my best to keep it clean!)

Lucy said...

Funny, I just responded to a comment of yours that I thought you were a more serious long-distance walker than I am... in fact you clearly are.

I did that kind of walking once, but no longer, as you say, five hours of anything, except of course sleeping, is too much.

I do miss pubs in the landscape here... Re chip butties, I too thought they were peculiarly British, then up in Normandy I saw a very rufty-tufty young fisherman tucking into one at a cafe! Only of course it was French bread and French fries, so I suppose it had a little more cachet...

Bravo you for doing the moonwalk anyway