By Marvin Stouffer, husband, chemical engineer, Eagle Scout, speed walker, camper, hiker, singer and Resident at Willow Valley Communities.
I love speed walking because it easily fits into my busy schedule. It’s inexpensive, relieves my stress and keeps me fit. Every year, in early April, I test my physical endurance during the challenging Brandywine End-to-End Hike – 36.2 miles through the beautiful Brandywine Valley starting in Pennsylvania and ending in Delaware.
The hike is sponsored by the Wilmington Trail Club and this year attracted ninety-one participants from seven states. I have participated most of the past twenty-five years. Until recent years, my goal was to win. Now, I get great satisfaction out of finishing well. This year at age sixty-nine, I finished in the top twenty percent of all walkers. At the finish line, I’m soaked in sweat, muddy, tired, sore, and consumed by a great sense of satisfaction when I feel I’ve done my best. I find I never feel hungry while speed walking the End-to-End. During the hike, it is all about keeping hydrated. But when it’s over, I’m hungry for the cheeseburgers and hot dogs being made to order right there on the outdoor grill.
My Year Long Training Schedule
I start preparation for the next End-to-End hike within weeks of finishing the last one. My normal training session consists of a timed four to seven mile speed walk over a measured course away from traffic around Willow Valley Manor and Manor North communities. I walk in the early morning or evening, avoiding the heat of the day. I repeat this training session every third day – more frequently when my body feels up to it. This compares to the seven to ten and a half mile speed walks every other day when I was younger.
During bad weather, I head for the treadmill in the Willow Valley Manor exercise room or I spend over an hour speed walking the halls inside Willow Valley Manor and Manor North. Some working out with hand weights is helpful if I plan to use walking sticks. During the last few months, I do treadmill work at the speed I plan to maintain on the big day to ingrain my brain with what the pace feels like. Training walks increase to ten to fifteen miles per session at my 36.2 mile hiking pace.
Dealing with Blisters
Blisters have always been a problem for me beyond 15 miles. Personal pain and research has led me to the following foot preparation: J&J Advanced Care adhesive pads on areas prone to blisters, less than a pea size portion of petroleum jelly over the rest of each foot, a thin moisture wicking pair of socks, a heavy pair of socks and Rocksport® Prowalker shoes that have major arch support.
Handling Leg and Foot Cramps
Cramping always stalks me during the 36.2 mile End-to-End hike. I minimize cramping by staying hydrated with water and eating juicy fruits and bananas. A day with low temperatures reduces moisture loss which also reduces my cramping. My best End-to-End hiking times happen when temperatures are in the thirties. Slowing down relieves cramps, but who wants to do that? I keep the cramping muscles stretched so they don’t ball up and I concentrate on keeping my pace up. Most of my eating and drinking is done on the move. I’ve learned to spend twenty seconds or less at the three check points. I’ve passed a lot of walkers dallying at checkpoints over the years. I often get pain in my shoulder blades which I relieve by doing shoulder rolls and shaking my hands to relax the upper body muscles as I walk.
Speed walking differs from jogging or running because one foot must always be planted on the ground. The result is low impact and less stress on the knees than jogging or running. I find it a great way to stay fit at any age that goes beyond the challenge and fitness benefits of a normal walking pace. Give it a try and let me know what you think.