One thing I love about training is seeing stuff I never would otherwise. My views of East Sussex these last few weeks have been worth all the slog. Some cold, grey and damp treks but others lit by brilliant sunshine, the smell of grass being cut, birdsong and lots of little ‘treasures’ proved life-enhancing. Wasn’t so keen on the vast amount of roadkill though, nor realising that vergeless country roads are a death trap: no one slows down and when I have to cross to the ‘wrong’ side of the road, as the one facing oncoming traffic was a verge-free, blind bend, the speeding drivers all found time to hoot their horns to correct me! Cars nowadays treat pedestrians like obstacles, not someone you have to share it with deep in the wilds. I did come across some fabulous place names en route and some old road names which definitely wouldn’t get past today’s PC brigade!
So, I am getting there. Knees creaking a bit and my back’s playing up a little, but all still on track. I am now embarking on the preparatory stage: kit checking and feet embalming. These little beauties are about to become damn fuglies, as I start soaking them in surgical spirit, trimming my nails as low as they safely go and watching skin harden nicely. If the thought fills you with horror, book a good pedicure for afterwards, because you HAVE to do it. I exhort you not to neglect this bit. Blisters develop on soft, fleshy bits and whilst areas that rub cause them, if the feet themselves are dry as a bone and hard as nails, it will be much harder to create a blister. I did two 3-peaks events and last year’s walk using this tried and tested method, and I barely had any after all three events. Nothing will stop one forming near the end when moisture and heat have built up progressively and you haven’t the time to stop and salve it, but for 90% of the walk it will see you through. The more you wear your boots now the better. Every little bit that doesn’t fit exactly will only rear its ugly head on the day, so take time to solve it now. This weekend I felt discomfort on my right foot from one of my orthotics, so am now planning to buy a new set – a tiny thing really when you are doing normal distances, but make or break on the actual day as to whether the last few miles end up fun or pure slog.
Injuries happen. Twisting an ankle or slipping and cracking something will only happen to the unlucky few. The rest will end up discovering health problems they maybe didn’t know they had or have resuscitated through over-exertion. I am very conscious of my back having had episodes of sciatica in the past. I am therefore wearing my rucksack daily and working hard on maintaining an upright posture once I have it belted up round my middle; the temptation to bend forwards too far when climbing up hills is one I have to resist and work at. I am also loading it with enough weight to have some idea what to expect once everything I will need is in there. If I feel straps rubbing I have time to adjust for a perfect fit and I shouldn’t find it onerous to cart everything I will need on the day.
Other injuries I saw last year included crippling cramps, bloody feet sliced open by bad footwear, total fatigue from not consuming enough en route and all sorts of muscle strains and ligament tears. I was lucky but I am not cavalier and know that it could be me, just as much as anyone else, who ends up having to be massaged at the 75k in order to stagger the last 25k. The organisers run a tight, slick operation and I was mighty impressed by the amount of medical experts on hand towards the end. Ideally I wouldn’t want to be visiting one of them but if needs must, rest assured that you have all the help you might need.
And finally, a word on Camelbaks. Carry one on training walks and check that you are happy using it. I loathed the taste of plastic but found it it did the job. As someone who has never drunk enough fluids, I am conscious that I can’t rely on thirst to tell me when to take more on. With a Camelbak you sip regularly and a little at a time, whenever you want. I refilled at most stops and am sure I drunk more than I would have with conventional water bottles as I didn’t need to reach into a bag to get it.
Ultimately though, if your boots fit, are well broken in, you double-sock and sprinkle talc on them at every long stop, you may escape the whole thing blister-free, especially if you start with tootsies you could grate cheese on. If it tips it down on the day, all bets are off, but as those deeply irritating folk to be found in most offices say, fail to prepare, prepare to fail! At the very least have plenty of Compeed blister plasters with you and whilst they won’t cure a blister, they will help reduce the agony!