31 Jul 20
How to prepare your mind and body for a long-distance walk
Walking makes life better. Walking is good for your health, good for the environment and good for your soul. Walking is one of the most natural things to do, so you may feel that you are already in good enough shape for a long-distance walk. However, our longer treks involve walking for many hours over successive days carrying a daypack, which is likely very different from what you are currently doing.
Regular exercise prior to your trip will allow you to build your fitness steadily so that you will minimise injuries, get the most out of each day, and complete your long-distance walk with a smile and energy left over. We recommend you undertake a training program for at least 3 months leading up to your departure.
Pounding a trail day after day can take a toll on your body, causing blisters, stress fractures and shin splints. Muscle soreness is a given, but with proper training, you can prevent some injuries that could force you off the trail.
To build stamina and strength you need to build a good foundation so that you can safely go a bit harder later on. Our bodies get used to physical activity, so as your fitness level improves you can increase the intensity and duration of your walking.
If you have tested all your equipment and clothing and achieved a suitable level of physical conditioning (fitness and feet), your trip will be more enjoyable.
Start walking or jogging on hilly terrain while carrying your daypack. Your leg muscles and core need to be strong, as well as your lungs and heart. Learn to breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose to get the oxygen to your muscles. Increasing the pace during your walks so that you are breathing hard and able to speak only in short sentences is good for fat burning and improving lung capacity.
When training, choose hills to train on and push yourself to do long days. Australian national parks offer some great varied terrain, which will help you prepare for what’s in store on your walking adventure.
Good quality gear
You’ll also need some good quality gear, including:
- hiking poles – good for balance and taking weight off your knees.
- comfortable boots and wet-weather gear.
- clothing you can layer – a base layer to manage moisture; an insulating layer to protect you from the cold; and out layer to shield you from wind and rain.
- a comfortable backpack.
Always carry a change of socks, snacks and 2 litres of water. Your body needs adequate fuel and you need to stay hydrated. If you eat regularly throughout the day you’ll be able to keep your blood sugar within the normal range, giving you sustained energy during and after training. Good nutrition will also help your body to recover and repair each day. Focus on including a mix of complex carbohydrates, good fats and some protein.
Speeding up recovery
Having good flexibility assists hugely in speeding recovery. Find a set of stretching exercises to incorporate into your training. You will find that not only do you feel stronger and recover more quickly, but the habit will extend to maintaining the stretching routine during your walk, which will make all the difference to tiredness and muscle recovery day after day.
There is a significant mental toughness required for long days of trekking. On a multi-day trek you have to get up, put on your boots and step out into rain, hail or shine. You need to accept that at some stage you might feel tired, sore and cranky, but it will pass. Coping with physical discomfort and making it through each day will be easier if you have a positive attitude, sense of humour and commitment to your end goal.
When you get tired, bored or overwhelmed think of things in your life that make you happy or set small goals throughout the day. Listen to your body, rest and check your feet when you feel discomfort, which will help you avoid dealing with blisters.
Having confidence in your fitness, walking ability and clothing, especially the performance of your wet-weather gear, will give you a head start mentally at the beginning of a long day on the trail. Make sure your rain jacket won’t ride up with your daypack and that your rain pants are a loose fit to allow easy movement.
Pay attention to the trip notes and plan for the day’s walk ahead. Read the guidebook and peruse the map beforehand, and have them on hand as you progress through the day.
Remember each day is unique and you need to be emotionally flexible with challenges, tolerant of the things you cannot change, confidence in your abilities and have fun!