Training for the 100 Mile Walk
Race Walking began as an ultra-long distance sport in the eigthteenth and nineteenth centuries and still maintains a great following in Europe. Easily the most famous event in the world was the Paris to Strasbourg walk (320 mile 3 day event) which has now become the Paris to Colmar (close to Strasbourg). This event is over a distance of 520km and is generally won in around the 60 hour mark. Other events are the Roubiax (France) 28 hour walk in which many European countries enter teams, the Lugano (Italy) 100 km and the London-to-Brighton (53 mile) event. On top of this, most countries have an active Centurion Club which offers life-long membership for all sub-24 hour 100 mile finishers.
Here in Australia, we also support the concept of ultra-distance walking and are pleased to provide these notes about training for the basic mainstay of the sport, namely the 100 mile event. In Australia, such Centurion events are generally held on a 400m track and are run under the auspices of the various State Race Walking Associations.
There is no such thing as a set rule for these events. People as young as 16 and as old as 62 have finished the 100 mile races held previously in Australia. Some have been in the prime of their walking careers while others have been non-race walkers but had a desire to succeed and the individual fortitude necessary to 'bash it out'.
If you are thinking of entering such an event, then you need some serious planning and a total committment if you are to succeed. These notes are meant to provide some basic ideas on which you can build. Read on...
When one talks of preparing for these endurance events, it is really a question of consistent daily training, previous experience, common sense and guts. From a time and distance standpoint, training is similar to that of a 50 km walker but the long distance walker must work on the elements unique to that sport
- Judge the pace in the opening hours.
- Keep the action going through the inevitable bad spots.
- Prevent the pace from dropping drastically in inclement weather and the unbelievably tiring later stages.
- Eating and drinking play a large part in success in endurance events and can quickly bring you through the bad stretches that inevitably hit you. In races of 24 hours of less, it is better to stick to highly digestible foods - tinned fruit, high energy drinks, barley sugar, etc. However, everyone has their own favourite recipe be it Coca Cola or rice pudding or porridge (yes, seriously, I remember someone who used to have it during a 50 km event). Warm tea is helpful on warm days and soft drinks should never be taken too cold. In races of more than 24 hours, more substantial food is needed in addition to the above. Omelettes, warm soup (with bread mixed in) and roast chicken are all used successfully in Europe. Obviously that is one you must work out for yourself through practice.
- Particular care must be taken to use vaseline very liberally (for obvious reasons). Spare clothes and shoes (but never brand new ones) should always be available, as well as foul-weather gear, even if the day seems promising when the race starts.
All in all, the ultra-long distance aspirant must
- be a good judge of pace
- not get panicked
- be able to take a hard jolt and come out of it
- never seriously consider even the thought of retirement.
Some thoughts on type of training
As mentioned above, training is similar to that of a 50 km walker. However, there is one basis training session that must be added.to your regime. You will need to include one long walk each week or each fortnight (depending on your situation). During this long walk, the emphasis is not on speed or even on distance covered but on time spent on the feet. Try a session of some 5 or more hours and walk at the pace at which you intend to start out in the 100 miler. Take some money with you and stop and buy some refreshments and take regular breaks (as you will do in the 100 miler). The aim is to prepare both physically and psychologically for the event.
Hints for the actual race
- Make sure that your take precautions against blisters - tape feet/toes if necessary, etc. Experiment in this matter beforehand.
- Have your initial pace worked out so that you are not heading off to fast.
- Do not forgo your race plan in the early stages when you feel good and want to speed up.
- Have your stops well planned in advance and take them even if you still feel ok.
- Feed regularly - when you feel the need for nourishment, it is generally too late already.
- Have changes of shoes, clothes, wet weather gear, whatever medical gear you might need, plenty of vaseline or equivalent, etc.
- Have someone experienced looking after you and making sure that you adhere to your plan. That person should be able to calculate what breaks to take, how much time remains, etc. You might not be in a fit state to make these sorts of decisions for yourself.
- Come into the race with the conviction that you will finish.
Here are some specific questions and associated answers:
What sort of background should you have before doing this sort of event?
Most of the walkers who have done it well have come from a background of walking and have done at least one 50 km race. I feel that this is important as a race such as a 50 km prepares one mentally for the tiredness that will be experienced in a 100 miler. If you wish to walk a 50 km race, you have to do some consistent regular training that includes a weekly long walk (in the region of 3-4 hours). With such a preparation behind you, you are well on the way to completing a 100 miler. All you have to do is add a couple of very long walks (nice slow pace and make a day of it). These would be well spaced apart and would not be in the last month before the actual event as you do not want to come into it tired and with possible injuries. I personally recommend to people that they need to have done one or two walks of at least 8 hours to really prepare the body for the event. When I was in England years ago and talked to the old English walkers who did well in the London to Brighton and back, they talked of the sort of training preparation that they did - walk from London to Brighton on the Saturday and walk back from Brighton to London on the Sunday. Now I do not recommend such a vigorous weekend but the principle still holds - you must perpare your body with at least 1 or 2 very long sessions at some stage or you will suffer a lot during the 100 miler.For every rule, there are exceptions and we have had some people who have done it without such a preparation. Bill Dyer did it at 16 years of age with no distance preparation at all (and suffered no aftereffects). But these are exceptions to the rule.
What sort of weekly mileage is needed to succeed at the 100 mile distance?
How many miles per week? Now I would suggest that to walk a good 50 km, you need to do in the order of 70+ miles per week with the occasional bigger week. The same sort of training load will get you a decent attempt at a 100 miler provided you do the occasional long slow stroll. You do not have to do huge mileage - in fact if you did, you might injure yourself and miss out. I got through on this sort of mileage and, sure it hurt, but it is going to hurt regardless of how much you did. This is the sort of mileage that most of our centurions have done in preparation.
Should you take regular breaks or try to walk it with a minmum of stops?
Most of our Centurions have done it with a minimum of breaks. Those who took big breaks generally did not finish (perhaps this is coincidence but perhaps not). Most took very few breaks up till at least 50 miles and generally only stopped for a couple of minutes to change shoes or have a quick rubdown or just sit down for a drink for a little bit. As you go on into the second half, you sometimes have to stop as you are just physically wrecked but it is best to keep the stops short and keep on the move. This takes a big physical effort but seems to be how most do it.
How fast do you need to be?
If you walk 5:30 for 50 km, you have lots in reserve. At that pace, you would complete the first 50 miles in about 9:20. So you could go conservatively and still do about 10:30 to 11:00 and have plenty up your sleeve for the second half when you are going to inevitably slow down a bit. Our first woman to do it, Carmela Carrassi, is only a 6:30 50 Km walker at best but she still finished in under 24 hours.
Why do people stop?
Now that's an interestin one. Generally it is because they are not sufficiently strong mentally. Once it reallys starts to hurt, they pack it in. Yet I have seen others walk on through such anguish and they finish. So the big difference is mental preparation and mental toughness. You have to just shut out the tiredness and soldier on.