Damian Hall talks to Julie Welch whose books include 26.2: Running The London Marathon and the wonderful Out On Your Feet: The Hallucinatory World of Hundred-Mile Walking.
JW: A question I frequently ask myself, particularly when standing in a sheep field in pouring rain at two in the morning, trying to find the way out. It’s a great way of taking yourself a little bit (or a whole lot) out of your comfort zone.
The first one I ever took on was 100km, which was much further than I’d ever walked before. But I’d run a halfmarathon and cycled from London to Paris, so I thought I could do it because it was only walking.
I gave up, sodden, crippled and exhausted, after 43 miles. But of course, I was completely hooked. LDWA 100s are such a quirky, magical world, seeing beautiful parts of the countryside, doing harm to no one, crashing around in wild places while the rest of humanity was getting on with humdrum existence.
The LDWA is a lovely organisation, too, full of some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They’re very well organised and extremely good value for money.
DH: How tough is a 100?
JW: Very. You’re wrestling with all sorts of things as you get further and further into it – not just tiredness, stiffness and discomfort or pain. It can be very demanding psychologically.
What would be a minor setback – from a burst blister to them not having marmite sandwiches at a checkpoint – assumes catastrophic proportions. You have to be very determined.
DH: What do you get from the experience?
JW: It’s given me tremendous confidence – if I can do a 100, other things in life are possible too. I also get the most disgusting toenails, but that’s another story.
DH: What was your favourite hallucination?
JW: Pride of place has to go to the welcoming committee of nuns on a hilltop in the Yorkshire Dales.
DH: Do you run or walk them?
JW: I run as much of the walk as I can. I’ve run several marathons. But LDWA events are less demanding than road races because you can go at your own pace, you get checkpoints where you’re offered delicious cakes by really nice people, and there’s no embarrassment about being slow.
I recommend you join the LDWA – if you like walking (and cakes!) it’s got an amazing amount to offer.
DH: What tips would you give anyone contemplating a challenge walk?
JW: Do a few shorter ones first. Once you feel comfortable and confident with a 26, do a 30, then a 50 or two. Get over your inhibitions and learn that if you have to “go” behind a bush then that’s what you have to do.
Spend as much time on your feet as you can in day-to-day life. Walk to and from the shops. Use stairs, not the lifts, at work. Sitting down is the great enemy of health.
DH: How important is equipment?
JW: Learn how to use a compass. Pack a survival bag for long events. Trainers/boots are crucial, so get ones that suit your feet and gait. I’ve always worn trainers. Inov-8 are the best and their Mudclaws are fantastic for muddy/rainy/wintry conditions.
Choose your rucksack carefully. It needs to feel comfortable and not chafe against shoulders or under arms. Wear Falke socks and you won’t be troubled by blisters.
Germolene is useful for the inevitable scratches/nettle stings. And also because, um, when you’ve been striding along for hours your bum can get rather sore!
Honestly, though, you don’t have to spend a lot on the latest technical gear. Basically, by the end of a 100 you’re going to look like crap whatever you wear.