Taking the first step – top training tips for walking challenges

Six supporters of Versus Arthritis holding signs of encouragement up.

Taking on a long-distance walking challenge is just one way you can join us in the push to defy arthritis.

Signing up for a ‘trekathon’, whatever the distance, is a fantastic and sociable way to get fit and healthy. You’ll also be raising vital funds to help us develop breakthrough treatments, campaign relentlessly for arthritis to be a priority and give advice and support to people living with arthritis.

Training for a long-distance walking challenge is far from easy, but it can be great fun. Working with experts, we’ve pulled together tips on training safely, the equipment you’ll need, nutrition and pacing to give you the best chance of achieving your goal. 

The most important things to remember when starting to train for a long–distance walking event are:

  • Pace yourself and include rest days.
  • Keep your energy levels up.
  • Make sure you’re wearing the correct footwear.
  • Enjoy yourself and have a positive attitude – walking in a group can help with motivation.

How should I train for a long-distance walk?

Long-distance walks which take place over a few days require great endurance and stamina. It’s important to build up your training slowly but surely.

Start training at least three months before the event. You should try to do some walking each day for at least 45 minutes and then once a week do a longer walk of 10-15 miles.

As your training builds up, you’ll find it easier, but it’s important to have rest days and not to push yourself too early as this can cause injury. On longer walks, always remember to take any medication such as asthma inhalers or an EpiPen with you.

Choosing your practice walks

If your walking event will involve lots of hills you should include these in your practice walks. Choose routes with a good mix of ascents and descents, as this is more protective for your joints than tackling one long hill. When planning walks, remember that hills will decrease your speed, which could impact your mileage.

If you plan routes that go from ‘A to B’ you won’t be backtracking or walking where you’ve already been. A circular route encourages you to carry on and not just take the quick route home.

Shoes and boots

Your footwear is probably the most important factor to get right when you’re training for a long-distance walk.

Depending on the terrain and the distance, the best choice of footwear would be walking shoes or walking boots. Boots are best if it’s going to be hilly or muddy, whereas walking shoes are best for relatively flat, dry conditions.

Most sports and hiking shops will be able to measure and fit you properly. It’s important that you wear your shoes or boots in well and don’t buy new ones for the big day as they’ll be likely to rub and cause blisters.

Blisters

Blisters are a common complaint in long-distance walkers, and there are some ways you can help stop them developing. Blisters are caused by a repetitive frictional force on the foot.

Moist skin increases the chance of developing a blister, so it’s important to keep your feet dry. Though studies show drying powders and antiperspirants don’t decrease the chance of blisters.

If you feel a blister coming or have any pain, you should stop immediately and deal with the problem – change your socks and apply a blister plaster.

Socks

Sock choice is important when walking for long periods of time. Some evidence shows that closed-cell neoprene insoles may help, and wool cushion or acrylic socks are best.

Clothing

The right clothing will depend on the season and weather. It’s always a good idea to carry a windproof jacket in case the weather changes – walking in the rain can be a miserable experience, especially if you’re unprepared.

While walking up a steep hill or tackling difficult terrain you’ll warm up, so remember to put your jacket back on once on flat ground before you cool down too much.

Poles

Trekking poles can be useful when walking along difficult terrain and help to establish a good rhythm.

Some people enjoy walking with ski-style poles, a style known as ‘Nordic walking’, although this has been estimated to use up to 46% more energy than normal walking.

Using any type of walking pole is a personal preference and something to try out before your long-distance event.

Backpacks

Large rucksacks are best used for long days of walking or overnight trips. The correct fit is important because they’re carried on the shoulders but are supported by your back, legs and other muscles.

The best bags can be adjusted to suit your shape and the size of your load, and good hiking shops will be able to help fit the bag to suit you.

Daypacks are smaller and lighter options (about 15–20 litres size) suitable for single-day activities. To test the fit, ask someone to shake the bag and if it fits well you should move with it and not stay rigid.

Pacing

Pacing is very important in long-distance events. Starting off too fast could mean you tire early and slow down, stopping you from finishing the distance you want to in time.

The best way to manage this is to time your distances during practice walks. ‘Naismith’s rule’ has set a recommended walking speed and is useful for calculating routes and distances.

Allow one hour for every 5 km forward plus one hour for every 600 m of ascent. This is generally accepted to be the minimum amount of time needed to complete a walk and many people add another 25% to the calculated time.

Activity monitoring tools

A good way to help with training and monitoring distances is to use a pedometer, which calculates the number of steps walked and total distance covered.

There are several websites that can plan routes for you and will tell you the total distance using a GPS-based system.

Nutrition and hydration

Before your event

It’s important to eat little and often during long-distance events to keep your energy stores high throughout the walk and to prevent you from tiring.

Sports drinks and energy bars are very useful during long periods of exercise to top up reduced energy stores. Practice using these during training, and you’ll work out what suits your body best.

It’s also very important to drink lots of water, at least 3–4 litres per day if you’re walking for more than eight hours.

Walking and arthritis

Walking is highly recommended for people with arthritis as it keeps the joints flexible, aids bone health and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. If it starts to become painful or you’re very stiff afterwards then it’s best to reduce the distance.

Walking is a much better alternative to running if you have arthritis as the impact on your joints is up to eight times less. Check out more walking top tips.

Long-distance walking does not cause arthritis, but if you’re attempting long distances with arthritis, we’d advise you to do what you can and not push yourself further than your body is allowing. For more advice, contact your GP.