5 things I wish I’d known about Walking
When I’m walking with, or talking about walking with people (which is an awful lot of my time!) and they get to know me, what I do for a job and the miles I walk they often say something like…
Oh so you’re an expert then!
I must admit this makes me uncomfortable…
I mean, are most of us not experts at walking? We have been doing it since we were about 1!
I suppose I know what they mean though.
Walking round the house, round the shops, to the pub… it’s something we all just do without really thinking about it. Despite this the thought of ‘going for a walk’ puts a whole new perspective on things. As much as we know we’d love to get out for an adventure we have those voices in our heads saying things like…
But you have nobody to go with
Where can you go/Where would you start?
What if you get lost?
What do you need to wear/take?
OK, well maybe this was just me a few years ago… But if this is you then don’t worry!
Over the years I have learned a whole load from experience and picked up tips from people who perhaps I might consider ‘experts’ but, like me, would probably say they still have a lot to learn.
My top 5 things that I wish I’d known back then when I first started walking (as in ‘going for a walk’)!
1. Footwear is the most important thing
Ok, so you probably know this already… but I could actually write a whole blog on just footwear… (look out for this one!)
You see, when I first starting walking I admit I made the mistake of thinking that I needed proper ‘walking boots’.
For most of us starting out; comfortable, well fitting trainers are perfect. Especially if initially most of your walking will be on tarmac, trainers are much kinder to your feet and your joints. Please note trainers does not include flat soled ‘pumps’. I basically go by the rule that if I wouldn’t run in them I wont walk in them. I use Hoka One One trainers which are sooooo comfortable and bouncy!
Most trainers won’t be waterproof so you might prefer a pair of trail shoes if a lot of your walking will be in the rain or on wet grass.
Once you set foot in the hills or mountainous terrain then this is where you WILL need walking boots. These will protect your feet and your ankles and be waterproof. With walking boots I FULLY recommend getting your boots fitted properly. Cotswold Outdoor do a great boot fitting service.
Top Tip… as you build up to longer distances your feet will ‘spread’ and swell. Even your well fitting footwear will get tight and start causing problems and blisters. In trainers I find if I go up 1/2 or even a full size this helps. Boots should be fitted well so that there is plenty of room in the ‘toe box’, This is especially important when walking down hill. There are also a whole load of different ways you can lace your boots!
And don’t forget socks… well fitting socks are as important as well fitting footwear to avoid rubbing and blisters. I usually avoid cotton socks and go for ‘wicking’ material or merino wool (depending on my footwear and time of year). Again running socks are perfect and I use the ‘if I wouldn’t run in them…’ principle here too.
2. Navigation is a Gift!
I have absolutely NO natural sense of direction. I walk into a shop and have to stop on the way out to see which way to go and still very often walk a few steps and have to turn round.
I remember staring curiously at various OS maps wondering what all the lines and symbols meant and thinking ‘if only I knew how to read this properly I’d be able to go anywhere’!
Then in 2011 I got the chance to do a 2 day Navigation course with Stu. It was as wonderful and liberating as I expected it to be and massively increased my confidence in going out on my own*.
Learning to read a map and use a compass is much easier than you probably think it will be. I’d recommend a couple of days with someone either one to one or in a small group and even if you’re a complete beginner you’ll learn loads. Have a look here for the kind of things you’ll learn. Or if you just want to ‘dip your toe’ there’s a taster session at Snowdonia Walking Festival.
3. Up and Down Hills
When I started walking where I lived was pretty flat. Now we are in Snowdonia there are hills everywhere and it’s hard (if not impossible) to go for a walk of any distance and not come across hills. Well, why would you want to anyway?! Nothing makes a walk up hill more worthwhile than the views from the top. It’s also great for increasing your heart rate, improving fitness and weight loss.
Up hill is pretty straight forward just remember it’s not a race (well, unless you are taking part in a race obviously). Keep a steady pace, breath steady and use your core. A great tip from my sports therapist Cerys (Bodywrcs) recently was to do some squats or rear leg raises before I set off which helps to engage my glutes and get them working so that my quads don’t have to work extra hard.
Down hill can be pretty hard going and depending where you’re walking you can come across anything from mud to scree to huge steps. It can actually be harder than going up hill. Here’s a couple of my favourite tips for walking downhill safely:
Zigzag down rather than taking a straight line down the hill. Less strain on the knees and less chance of slipping.
Place your feet at an angle to the slope to get a better ‘footing’.
Lean forward slightly to alter your centre of gravity. This is my favourite tip which came from my husband. I was always scared of slipping and the tendency is to lean back which increases the chance of ending up on your bum. Try it.. it really works!
4. Poles aren’t just for older people
Yes, I used to turn my nose up at poles thinking they were just for older people with dodgy joints… sorry! It was only really when we did our #HoneymoonChallenge (24 peaks in 24 hours in the Lake District which turned into 16 peaks in 12 hours due to the horrendous weather!) in 2013 that I realised and appreciated the difference poles make.
Using poles supports your joints and can conserve up to 15% of your energy as well as being great for confidence going downhill or on uneven terrain.
If you suffer from ‘fat fingers’ poles are a great way to relieve this too.
They do take some getting used to and there are lots of different styles and techniques so take some more advice on this. Just as I was thinking this might be another blog topic I found this which I thought you might like from AdventureBuddies.Net.
I use Black Diamond poles which are nice and light and store nicely on my rucksack for if and when I need them.
5. Other Exercise Really Helps
This is especially important if you are training or building up to a longer walk and getting in the training hours are hard. Walking isn’t just about your legs and getting the miles in.
When I was training for Nijmegen Marches it was my lovely friend (and PT) Paula who made me realise the importance of working on my core and gave me some exercises to do. So when I couldn’t get out training I’d do these. Strengthening your core muscles improves posture and makes it easier to activate them when you are walking. This made a huge difference to me during my challenges and I’m almost sure I’d have struggled a lot more during Nijmegen Marches without this advice!
Squats are great for strengthening legs. This is something I always avoided to protect my knees but now I know how to do them PROPERLY I can really notice the difference.
Stretching is also really important (if reeeeeally boring) and I must admit something I don’t do nearly enough of. But I do have a Yoga day booked soon at Coed y Brenin so I’m looking forward to learning new ways to stretch… and maybe relax?! 🙂
Disclaimer – I’m no PT (or expert!) so please take advice from someone that is on the best exercises for you. Paula is based in my old home town of Newport, Shropshire so if you want her details let me know.
Your Next Steps
The great benefit of social media now is that it connects us with people the other side of the world and the people next door. It tells us what’s going on and where and a huge amount of events and activities we can get involved in.
Snowdonia Walking Festival is a great place to start with something achievable with support from professionals.
I’m sure there will be a walking group near you you can join full of people that started out just the same as you… perhaps you can share some of these tips with them!
If you’re female and would like to connect with other ladies that love the outdoors or are looking for more Adventure have a look at the Her Adventure facebook group.
We look forward to hearing all about your Adventures!
*If you are going out on your own please be safe! Always let someone know where you are going and what time you should be expected back.
How it started for me
At the age of 50 my Dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he died at 52 and one of the last things he said to me was “There’s so much I still have to do… I thought I had time”. I was 32 with 3 small boys when he died but this sent me into a flat spin of trying to tick EVERYTHING off my ‘list of things to do while I DO have time’ (aka my Bucket List). I’d never run, or walked far in my life but ‘run a marathon’ was on this list… so I spent months training for 5km, which led to a 10km then a couple of 1/2 marathons.
Then rather than the marathon I decided to do Nijmegen Marches (200km over 4 days) which was really the start of my walking adventures.
I would stare longingly at photos of mountains knowing that Ben Nevis had been on my list since I was 14…
In 2010 when I met Stu I was finally introduced to mountain walking, reaching the summit of Cadair Idris in July, Snowdon in December that year and Ben Nevis in May the following year. As well of loads of other peaks in Snowdonia and Brecon beacons and a couple in Scotland.
Now, living and working in Snowdonia means I am lucky enough to be able to get out and explore the mountains regularly.
I am now the same age my Dad was when he was diagnosed and this has spurred me on again to keep moving, bigger and tougher challenges but also to inspire, encourage and support you as much as I can. Breese Adventures was built on the dream to help more people enjoy the outdoors and achieve things they never thought possible.
My last big walking challenge was 100km Wye Valley Challenge for my 50th birthday last month.
I have learned so much from challenging myself. I honestly don’t know what my life would look like now if I hadn’t had that traumatic reminder 20 years ago of how short life is.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this page or would like some other advice about getting out on adventures of your own.
It doesn’t matter if it’s one mile or 100 miles!