A few weeks ago I completed the LDWA 100 and I’ve now decided that I’m an expert on the matter. In that spirit I fielded some questions from Naomi and Julie Cribb, who are tackling the challenge this weekend, along with nearly 500 others. Julie is the national chair of the LDWA and is tougher than me, so I’m confident that she’s got this! And with Julie’s help, Naomi will surely complete it as well, although I hope they don’t beat my time…….
I mention this below, but the important factor for me is that I’m an idiot with this sort of thing, so my completing the 100 shows that it’s possible for non expert and elite walkers to complete it. We all know heroic people like Dave Morgan and Chelle Armour can complete events like this with their eyes shut (actually I suspect Dave would still come in faster than me wearing a blindfold), but for some of us, we’re a bit less committed 🙂
Anyway, onto the questions that they asked me.
What should someone expect mentally and physically, who has never done a 100 mile before?
When I spoke to previous entrants before the event, it was mentioned that the challenge was really a mental one. A bit of me thought that this was ridiculous, walking 100 miles must be a physical challenge because 100 miles is a very long way……
But, I think they were right, as there were moments on my 100 when I thought mentally this was all too much. The biggest dip was at around 03:00 in the morning, when I was only half way round, it was dark, I was tired and I thought that I could give up and claim I’d done a decent walk and that was enough. Although that was true, I sort of also knew that I could go that bit further.
I’d say that any entrant should be prepared for mental and physical lows, this whole event is a bit of a roller-coaster. For much of my walk I was fortunate to walk with someone else, and chat helps a lot to help forget the challenging moments. For those walking the entire event with someone, be aware that you’re likely to have your highs and lows at different points, so it’s useful to support each other through the tougher times.
What I’ll add here though is that I’m not really a very good long distance walker. I never in all honesty expected to finish this event, so my perspective is one that it is possible to get through without being ultra-tough or ultra-stubborn. I’ll be honest, I’m not either of those things, even though many LDWA 100 entrants really are. The key message from that is when I talk about my experiences, they’re as someone who normally moans and groans around even shorter challenge events (as Simon Hodgin pointed out in the LDWA Norfolk & Suffolk WhatsApp group), often nearly in danger of being timed out.
How did you take care of your feet throughout the walk?
This was crucial to me and I received a lot of advice on this, which I carefully listened to (it’s rare for me to be so attentive!). Firstly, there’s the obvious matter of cutting toenails short and wearing shoes which don’t rub. The best advice for me was putting lots of Sudocrem on my feet and not being sparing with that. I also wore SealSkinz socks throughout, which felt comfortable and helped keep my feet dry. I thought that the Sudocrem would be greasy, but that wasn’t the case and it felt like an extra protective barrier.
I also checked my feet every ten miles and reapplied Sudocrem and checked for blisters, which fortunately I didn’t have at any point. I decided against checking my feet at 90 miles, but before then I was very careful to check regularly and even when I didn’t think I needed to. I had two pairs of SealSkinz socks so changed them at 60 miles, but if I hadn’t have had those, I’d have likely changed my socks every ten miles as well. I’d say it’s important to check feet regularly, to be confident everything is OK and to mitigate any problems that might be forming.
What was the hardest point in the walk?
Definitely the overnight section when we just got tired and I think we both started questioning why we were doing this walk. That’s the mental challenge element I think, just be aware that there will be dips like that and just keep going. It sounds easy when writing that, but at that stage, just try and walk one more mile and see if things improve.
If you have to withdraw then that’s always an option and personally I wouldn’t push through much pain as I’m mentally quite weak and squeamish about hurting. But I didn’t want to withdraw and regret it, knowing that I could have gone further. So, when things are hard, that’s what I’d say to remember, don’t give up too willingly.
What was the best part of the walk?
At around 65 miles in, I was walking along Marriott’s Way and was on my own at that point. The sun was shining, I had just spoken to Simon Hodgin and Jane Audsley on the phone and was lifted by their camping fiasco news and I felt in good spirits. That was when I knew I’d finish and that I’d finish before it got dark on the Sunday night. That was a good moment.
My favourite moment though was at 99 miles. Liam’s little boy Leon was pedalling furiously towards me on his bike with a big grin whilst calling out and I felt the need to run towards him with excitement. His laughing and happy face was the best moment of the entire walk. And it was a delight to carry Leon on my shoulders across the finish line.
How were you supported?
My friends Liam and Richard were the main support team, pretty much there throughout the entire event. Their support was crucial and I’m so appreciative of it. Liam, who seems to be endlessly reliable at everything, was a constant source of encouragement and he was even there when Richard had some problems with his car early in the morning.
It was also great to see some people come and walk with me, including some surprise appearances (always nice surprises!) so many thanks to Chelle, Paul, Rob, Brian, Kathleen and Jayne. And of course to Liam’s wonderful boys, Dylan who came out once in between his playing Fortnite, and Leon, who came out a few times to support me with his huge smile and random questions. Children nearly always annoy me, but Dylan and Leon are bloody awesome.
What kept your spirits high?
For the first sixty miles, a lot of chat and gossip….. For the last forty miles, knowing that people were following me on my route and I was getting inundated with messages. They helped so much, more than I thought they would. I’d advise entrants to consider sharing their route, whether on the LDWA Facebook group or just with friends. I felt very popular with all the messages!
Did you sleep at all?
I had the chance to have two hours at home, but decided to go for ninety minutes. I set my alarm to have 75 minutes sleep, but then woke up after 60 minutes before the alarm went off. I felt enormously refreshed after that, even though it was just 60 minutes. For me, that was really useful, although many people feel more tired after getting just that much sleep.
How did you cope with the exhaustion?
There were two points where I struggled, at around 03:00 in the morning which was about 55 miles into the walk and also at around 75 miles into the walk. With the first one, I just remembered people telling me that I would be exhausted, but just to keep going until the sun started to rise as I’d feel better. That was true.
The situation at 75 miles surprised me, as I thought I’d be really pleased to be near to 80 miles. I then realised though that I still had 25 miles to go and that was effectively eight or nine hours of walking. I started to then feel exhausted and a little concerned about the whole thing. I dealt with this by deciding to walk on my own again for a bit and listening to music on my headphones. That gave me a boost and I was able to speed up to do a much faster pace whilst listening to motivational music. As there was no-one around I was also able to sing a little song that myself and a friend wrote, that cheered me up.
How sore are my feet going to be? Real answer! Haha
I usually have problems with sore feet even after 26 mile challenge events, so under usual conditions I’d say that they’ll be very hurty. But I took enormous efforts to take care of my feet and I ended up with no issues at all. Circumstances will inevitably vary, but I’d say that with proper footcare during the walk that there’s a real chance of having relatively few issues.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m not a pro walker, so if I can get through 100 miles with no foot pain, it’s maybe possible for very many people.
Did you think at any point you wouldn’t finish the full walk?
When I got into Norwich at 60 miles, I thought that’d probably be the end of the adventure. I knew that I would only have 75 minutes of sleep, I’d have to walk alone in the morning and that my feet might hurt. I had decided that if I woke up tired or injured, I’d like not go out again.
However, I woke up before my alarm, I felt great and I couldn’t think of any excuses not to finish. I knew at that point that I’d finish. Liam mentioned that he realised this was the case as well, I left my flat in great spirits and everything felt right physically and mentally.
Did you find certain foods boosted your energy more than others?
Normally I eat anything, other than junk food such as lettuce. However, on the walk I decided to have no caffeine or alcohol before 60 miles, and I also decided to be careful with sugar intake to avoid peaks and troughs of energy. The Greggs towards the start, the KFC at 50 miles helped, as did the jelly beans that Chelle kindly brought along.
I’d say that entrants should just eat what they want towards the last forty miles or so, but should perhaps be careful about taking in too much caffeine or sugar early on. In the end, I had a couple of Pro Plus at 90 miles, but I didn’t need them, it was just an energy boost just in case. I did think I might treat myself to some decadent craft beer later on, but I decided I didn’t fancy it (which is rare).
Would you have preferred it to be the big social event it used to be or did you like walking alone/smaller group?
Answering honestly, I preferred it as a small group. My problem is that I’m always going to be at the back of an event and somehow knowing so many people are ahead just lowers my mood. I know it doesn’t matter as it’s not a race, but having this event to ourselves felt much easier. That is why I was always intending to walk the marshal’s event of the 100, which has only around 30 people entering I think. I did have the support of friends and mini checkpoints throughout, so I did have the social element of support.
What was your longest walk before attempting the 100 mile? And how long before it?
I’ve only ever done one 50-mile challenge (which was actually just under 53 miles), and that was the Shotley 50 in 2017. I decided after that I’d never do another 50 as my feet hurt, my head hurt, I was grumpy, I was tired and I didn’t even eat the sausage meal that I was offered at the final checkpoint. I thought there was no way that I could do that distance twice. Actually, let me repeat that, I was furious that I’d even undertaken a 50 mile event…… So, this 100 event was quite a jump up from that.
In the weeks before the 100, we didn’t really go that far in terms of long distances, it was more just regular 15 to 20 mile walks. We were planning to do a 50-mile walk a few weeks before the event, but the weather looked miserable and so we didn’t. It was one of our better decisions, I think we went to play pitch and putt instead.
What was the best meal you had over your walk?
Richard from our support team drove to Norwich and acquired me a delicious KFC meal. I had been craving that for a couple of hours before and it was something to look forward to. It was high in calories, salt and fat of course, but that isn’t a bad thing at all when 50 miles into the 100. Actually, as far as I’m concerned, it’s never a bad thing, but that’s a different matter. Definitely have a treat to look forward to. Or indeed, several treats.
How did you feel after the walk? Recovery time? Exhaustion?
Physically, I had no issues and was walking as usual the next morning. Yes, this enormously surprised me as well…. Emotionally, I felt quite worn out about the whole thing though, and that is apparently common from what other walkers have said. As you know, we spoke on the phone on the evening after the walk, and I also spoke to Dave Morgan as well after that, and you both reminded me that this was an enormous challenge that I had completed and there was perhaps some nervous exhaustion set into the whole thing that I hadn’t realised. I’d add though, it’s probably best to have one or two days of doing nothing after the event, you deserve a rest!
When will your next big walk be?
I fear that I’m going to give the wrong answer here, and I can already see Dave Morgan rushing to his keyboard to send me a furious e-mail! The 100 for me was always meant to be a one-off challenge, just an adventure to take part in and see how far I got. I’m naturally quite lazy and not really built for these challenges, I tend to prefer sitting in the pub and eating crisps. And indeed, that’s sort of how the challenge started, by sitting in the pub eating crisps whilst thinking that entering the 100 would be a good idea.
So, I actually don’t know. I’m still taking a break from long distance walking of over 20 miles, but I’m conscious that Norfolk & Suffolk are holding the 100 in 2025, so I’m likely to walk the marshal’s event for that. As I was so passionate about holding that event, it feels wrong not to take part in it.
Would you do another 100 mile walk now knowing what you’re letting yourself in for?
In all honesty, and this isn’t the motivational message that I should probably be giving, but I’m not going to be rushing to complete another 100. I think that’s because I didn’t enter it to prove anything to myself, to others or because I actually enjoy walking huge distances. It was more of a lockdown challenge, so I’d find it hard to justify to myself taking part in another one just at the moment. But, I absolutely am delighted with my decision to walk this 100. Made me feel proud of myself, so I don’t regret taking part.
Did you feel like crying at any point in the run up to the weekend or wish you’d never entered?
The week before my walk I started to get nervous for the first time and I did wonder whether this was sensible. The day before the walk I couldn’t think about anything else and was starting to get worried that I wouldn’t get any sleep at all in case I would keep wondering if I’d made the right decision to take part. Of course, doing 100 miles after a night of no sleep would have been traumatic. I did get sleep fortunately and the morning of the event seemed a bit surreal, this thing that we’d talked about for so long was suddenly taking place. At that point it seemed sensible to just stop thinking about it and start walking. I did wonder whether I was dreaming towards the start of the walk, it seemed strange being there.
How many stops/checkpoints did you have and how long was your longest stop?
There were two of us walking for the first sixty miles, and we didn’t really have many checkpoints or stops during the first 30 miles. We sat down at the seafront in Great Yarmouth to eat our purchases from Greggs, but at that stage we just wanted to keep going. After that we had a sit down along Wherryman’s Way and then fell into having a stop around every five miles. My longest stops were for the BBQ at around 40 miles, the KFC at around 50 miles, my flat at 60 miles and Richard’s car at 90 miles. Those stops were around 20 to 30 minutes each, other than my flat which was for 90 minutes or so.
Did you have any changes of clothes or shoes throughout the event?
I changed clothes at 60 miles, but kept the same shoes on throughout the event. I had spare shoes just in case, but I was comfortable with the ones that I had. Changing clothes is good advice though, it helps make you feel refreshed.
What would you do differently another time?
This is the most difficult question to answer, as I’m not entirely sure given that it went very much as I hoped for. I think having better head torches for the night-time section is the area that I hadn’t given enough thought to, as although we had sufficient light, we could have had more. But that’s a very specific answer rather than a general one.
What, if any, advice you were given did you ignore and/or what did you ignore and wish you hadn’t?
I ignored the advice about not walking too much in the weeks before the event, although that was partly necessary as my planned training time had been cut short by the lockdown. I decided that I needed more confidence about walking regularly and feeling fit, even though there was a risk I’d go on a walk and trip over and twist my ankle or something three days before the event.
I don’t think I ignored any advice that I regretted. Another top tip though, I was going to wear cycling shorts for the first 25 miles to avoid chafing. That worked so well, that I kept them on throughout.
Other advice is to try and enjoy the moment, which isn’t always easy of course if you’re tired and grumpy at any point. But there are some magical moments, with the landscape and the people I was walking with. I’d actually say that I did enjoy it, and that’s important.
What sort of route did you design and is there anything you would change?
Our route went from Ness Point, the most easterly point in the country, up to Caister and this was mostly road with some sandy terrain towards the north of Great Yarmouth. We were ahead of schedule at this point and meandered more about Great Yarmouth which was an ad hoc change as we had initially planned to walk further north than Caister. We decided not to as it seemed a bit sandy, and it just used extra energy to walk on that.
The next part of the route was Wherryman’s Way, which I walked twice last year and very much enjoyed. It was the longest stretch of soft ground that we walked on, which was a change from the road surfaces on the beginning of the walk. We then switched route nearer Norwich to stay on the road rather than walk in the dark by the river, as we just thought it’d be quicker. The rest was a former railway line, which is a great flat terrain to walk on.
The route I walked would appeal to very few people if I’m being honest. I like flat surfaces and many walkers prefer a variety of terrain, but I simply don’t like hills on long walks (I’m from Norfolk!). I probably wouldn’t change anything looking back, but I’m glad we made the changes we did on the day. Incidentally, we were nervous about seeing snakes along the Wherryman’s Way, but the route was also designed to see as few animals as possible (to avoid being attacked, as being injured by a sheep would have been embarrassing). We did hear what we thought was a pack of hyenas howling at night, but apparently it was a lone fox or deer.
As for our route, I still feel that I had it much easier than Dave Morgan did, who had an ascent of half the height of Mount Everest. He claims that a variety of terrains uses different muscles and that’s better for him, but I only have an ability to walk on flat, and I’m very happy doing that for tens of miles. There’s a bit of me that feels like I’m cheating compared to others, but then again, that’s their fault for having such difficult routes! And walking 100 miles is perhaps never easy.
What is the most important lesson you have learned as a result of a) doing the walk and b) completing it?
The surprise for me was how introspective I became after the event, when I started to write up the story of my walk. The question of “why did I take part?” started to feature prominently, and then “what I have discovered?” came up as I was writing about the walk. The most important lesson while doing the walk was to stay positive and keep going when the rough times appear. And they will appear, this is unlikely to be a walk in the park for any entrant.
In terms of the wider picture, I learned that completing something I didn’t think that I’d finish was actually good for my confidence. It’s something I can remember when trying new things, going on new adventures or taking on new projects. The strategy is the same really, be prepared, be aware that there are always obstacles and still know that the challenge can be completed.