Sunday, July 16, 2006

Yay!! Sucess!

Yesterday I took part and sucessfully completed the 25 mile Ludlow Challenge Walk.

I took the whole week off running to give my ankle time to heal. I think it must have been an Achilles strain. I made the decision to take part on the Friday night and packed my rucksack ready for the early start. I had to get up at 5:30am to ensure I had enough time to drive to Ludlow. It's only 70 miles away, but it's all single lane A roads. Sat Nav reckoned on 1 hour and 45 minutes. Not at 6am..!

I got there at 7:10, an hour an 10. Roads deserted so I could give my car a workout on the way. I arrived and registered, changed into my walking shoes and then we were all briefed and sent off from Dinham Bridge, just below Ludlow Castle. Two pictures above are taken near the start.

It was forecast a cloudless hot day, and turned out to be 28C! Before I set off I had taped up the underneath of my left foot, where I'm prone to blister, but didn't tape up any of my toes. I had mixed up 2 x 1.5l saddlebags of Vitargo electrolyte. Including a few spare clothes and other kit my pack will have weighed somewhere in the region of 4 kilos. I suspect I was carrying more weight than anyone else there. The organisers had said that although food was provided at some checkpoints we had to bring our own liquid. In the end they provided liquid at almost every checkpoint as well! I wore my long 'Craghoppers' walking trousers, my Railriders long sleeve white shirt, Injinji toe socks and my New Balance 1100or shoes.

We set off at 8am, over 100 people at my estimate. Age ranging from late 20's to 70's! I set off at my usual walking pace, which is about 3.8mph for off-road. As you can see from the route map above, there is some real height gained in the first 4 miles! My ankle was playing up after about 2 miles, and I was quite concerned I would not even make the first checkpoint! As time went out my ankle eased and I forgot about it. I'd estimate I was in the leading 15 or so. The first few people actually ran it, despite the organisers stating 'No Runners'. There were another couple of real power walkers, one guy strided past me after a few miles at a terrific pace, and I never saw him again. He must have averaged over 4.5 mph. I did notice that those in front tended to be tall, I guess stride length helps?? Me being a little 5ft 8, I have to take more strides!

The first checkpoint was called 'High Vinnals', the highest point on the walk; about 1216 feet. If I calculate correctly it looks like the whole 25 miles encompassed around 3000ft of climbing. I took a photo not long afterward, you can see the fantastic views over Shropshire, and the hot and cloudless sky! The route continues along the 'Mortimer Trail' for the first 14 miles. At 12 miles was the lunch checkpoint. I was just behind a group of 6 people who walked just a litle quicker than me most times, but I made ground on them going uphill. I was hoping everyone would stop for a half hour for lunch, but they all just grabbed a couple of sandwiches of bread and Brie, before setting straight off!

I was a little disheartened, and knew that there was no pressure and I could take as long as I wanted. However, I also reasoned that I wanted to treat this as an endurance event, so I did the same. I followed the same group for the entire walk, sometimes catching right up and chatting to them for a while. This was usually when they took the long way accross a field. As I was using my PDA with Memory Map software and Satellite Navigation, I was always taking the most efficient route following the footpaths to the metre! I firmly believe in tackling things with technology where appropriate. I even mentioned they were going the wrong way at one point, but they carried on walking. They had done the walk the previous year, so I figured they knew where they were going, so I stayed with them. 1/4 mile later they realised they went wrong and I pointed everyone in the right direction!

I faired very well up to my longest previous distance, about 15 miles. Even after that I felt ok. Then I hit the 20 mile mark. As you can see there is a steep climb for 2 miles. This really tired me. For the first time I actually stopped and took a couple of 10-second breathers. In the blistering heat, wearing long clothes and a pack, and after 20 miles... that climb was truly punishing. Oddly enough, after the short breather and a few sucks on my drink I was much better and caught those few people back up. A couple of them were struggling (well maybe one, and the other slowed up to assist). I passed them a trailed about 200yrds behind the others up to the end of the walk. The last couple of miles were mostly downhill, and this is where the back of my knees really really started hurting. I think it must have been my tendons. Especially in my right leg, every footstep downhill hurt a lot. I begged for another climb! The last half mile was all uphill and into Ludlow town centre and into the Assembly Rooms, rather cruelly up 3 flights of stairs to the top!

There I gave my number, and was presented with my certificate. I'd finished inside the top 10, including the runners. They had laid on a fantastic lunch (with free beer!!), which I had to skip as I needed to get back home. I must say that the walk was really well organised and the route was very well waymarked. You could almost have done it without a map. Food and refreshments were laid on along the way, and the entry price was just £10. I sat down for 10 minutes, drank some water and made my way back down the hill and to the car, for the considerably longer drive home (trucks and tractors all the way back!) I used up all 3 lites of my drink (I poured about 800ml away as it was a little strong). I also filled up a 600ml bottle at checkpoint 4, which I finished a couple of miles before the end too.

I could feel that the downhill near the end had taken it's toll on a couple of my toes. My big toes are prone to blister on the outsides, and the next toe along tends to rub against my big toe (but only on my left foot?). So, I had picked up 2 small blisters. I hadn't really noticed them when walking. I sat in the car and applied some compeed. Never used these blister plasters before, but I am thoroughly impressed. If you have not used them, go and buy some and be amazed. I guess I paid the price for not taping up my toes. I thought about it, but thought I'd be ok in those toe socks. Just goes to show you that you can never really blister proof yourself.

The walk took me 6 hours and 40 minutes, which is 3.7mph. Given the heat and climbs and the fact I had never tackled more than 15 before, I am really pleased with that.

I did a short recovery run today (the day after). Just a little less than 3 miles. I am feeling sore (aching tendons), so I didn't want to tackle a big distance. Besides, it was 30C today as well. I listened to my body and chose a light evening run. Hopefully I'll feel good for the weeks training ahead.

A real milestone: 25 miles, almost marathon distance. I know my legs can do it!
Won a few mental battles. Despite hurting at the start and end, I pushed on.
Shoes performed well, I could have found my MDS partners here.
I took jelly babies to eat along the way, worked well.
I kept telling myself 'every hill has a summit' 'so just keep moving', seemed to work.
Short breathers can really sort you out.

Toe Socks are good, but not perfect.
Don't make electrolyte mixture too strong.
I took some fuit/nut bars to eat but never touched them. I just didn't fancy them when walking. I doubt I will when running either.

What to do next time:
Tape up my toes. A few minutes before the start will prevent days of hurt!
Make sports drink much weaker. I don't think my kidneys appreciated being overloaded with sugar either. I'm going to make it up less than 50% the recommended strength.
Trust my GPS. It knows best when it comes to route finding. It won't help on the MDS of course (except for speed/distance), but it's invaluable for training.
Take a few seconds break on steep climbs, it pays off in the long-run.

Sorry about such a long post, but I learned a lot on Saturday, and I think it's worth recording. Speak to you soon.

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