This weekend (17th – 19th March) I embarked on a 3-day training hike session, with the aim to cover 27 miles – the distance I will hike in 14 hours (!) when I do the Pure Challenge Peak District Six Dales event on Sat 24th June 2017 (now only 14 weeks / 98 days away).

Day 1 (Friday) – I’d worked out (using Map My Run) a gently undulating 10-mile linear route for today.  A few fine gravel paths, but mainly on good ol’ tarmac / flagstone footpaths. I’d return back to the start by bus.  I finished work at 11.30am, had a light lunch, packed my rucksack with Soft Mints, a litre of water, my trusty mp3 player & headphones, and a full McDonald’s coffee loyalty card #BlackWithASplash

I felt a tad apprehensive before I started out.  Ten miles is a long way for me – and 4hrs (the time I’d estimated it would take me) is a very long time to be doing the same thing. I try not to even think about 27 miles.  I’d had my usual busy week at work and was feeling less than refreshed.  The weather forecast was for rain – and sure enough as I started out, so did the rain!

The first six miles were all a steady slight incline.  I was only 45 mins into the walk and already bored and fed up.  I am fully aware that my attention span is short; I get bored easily; and admit I struggle to stay ‘in the moment’ and mindful when walking.  However, these training hikes are a good way for me to try out lots of different distractions, which I’ll need to employ during the Six Dales hike.

As I was having the usual “I’m gonna give up / No, don’t give up” conversation in my head, I passed a parked car.  Nothing unusual about that… except I saw that this one had large plastic eyelashes attached to it’s headlights.  I smiled to myself as I thought of my work colleague Krystal, who loves her false eyelashes.  I let my mind wander back to work and some of the fun banter and encouraging stories I’d heard from clients in the past week. Exercise really does improve your health.  I continued walking up the hill.

1hr 15 mins into the walk and I was struggling mentally again.  Next distraction: a man walked past me who smelt absolutely gorgeous!!  I even turned round after he’d passed me to enjoy the lingering odour!  Once again I let my mind wander to other nice smells I enjoy and the memories they provoke: creosote; hot crusty bread; salt sea spray – easy to imagine in the rain!

By this time I was making good progress.  I actually started to relax into the walk, telling myself that after 2hrs of walking, I was over halfway and nearer to the end than the start.  I was still going slightly uphill though, and my legs and upper back were starting to ache.  I reached for my trusty mp3 player – old fashioned I know, but hey.  Headphones on (but not loud enough to lose awareness of my surroundings), I listened to my playlist.

A-ha came on with their track “Shapes that go together“.  Singing out loud (quietly!!) I found myself singing the line “I walked 25 miles to hold you, just to find you moved away” (2:34 into song). This made me laugh out loud!! I imagined what I’d do / think / say if I’d just walked 25 miles to see someone and they weren’t in when I arrived!

Focusing on all my senses – sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell – proved a good way of creating a distraction for me.  So as well as taking my mp3 with me on the 24/6, I’ll take some old photos, some perfume samples and some tasty treats. I’ll also be looking around me on the hike to see what other distractions I can use.

By now I’d reached the 6-mile point and was looking forward to some downhill gradient.  I was becoming aware that I needed a wee.  Now I’ve been told several times about a product called the ‘She-Wee‘ but have never followed up on the info and purchased said product.  No discreet bushes or trees around, so I needed a fairly short detour to a public toilet. I found one and all was well.

However I made the near-fatal mistake of sitting down for my wee.  BIG MISTAKE. The relief of sitting down went through my whole body.  It felt SO good.  Twenty minutes later… Oops, I think I’d better get up and finish this walk!

My legs had stiffened up somewhat, but I told myself they would loosen up and settle back into their stride after 5-10 minutes.  Half an hour later, having done a further mile, I was in pain with my right hip.  I stopped and stretched my glutes, quads, hamstrings & lower back muscles then carried on.  Another half mile and I was in tears with the pain.

I always struggle with the dilemma of stopping a training session early.  Am I just making excuses to stop, would I be ok if I just pushed on through, or should I stop and not risk (further) injury?  I paused for a minute or two and considered my options.  I decided to walk (hobble!) to the nearest bus stop and head back home.

The half hour bus journey gave me time to stretch and relax.  By the time I reached my stop and got off the bus, I was feeling a bit better and was in a more positive mindset.  I decided that instead of getting another bus, I would walk the remaining 1.5 miles to my house.  My second mistake of the session.  I’d only gone about half a mile when a sharp shooting pain shot from my lower outside edge of right bum cheek down to outside edge of right knee.  Sciatic pain.  Ouch!!

It took me another hour to complete that last mile home – it seemed never ending.  I collapsed on the sofa when I got home.  Painkillers.  Stretching.  Hot bath.  More stretching  …and cider!!

Day 2 (Saturday) – I’d not slept too badly and was pleasantly surprised to only moderately ache.  I gingerly walked around the house and up & down the stairs.  No recurrence of the sciatic pain I’d had the evening before.  I had planned to do a 6-mile moderate hike up Castle Hill in the Peak District for today, but decided (after chatting it through with a couple of knowledgeable friends) to err on the side of caution and just do a gentle 3-mile local loop walk to stretch out the legs.

I set out – in the rain again.  I’d been walking for 20 mins when TWANG – the familiar right buttock pain shot back, taking my breath away.  I stood and debated with myself if I needed to call for a taxi to take me home… but decided I could hobble back home – again.

So Day 2 was spent stretching and doing ADLs – Activities of Daily Living – activity which stops you sitting on your bum feeling sorry for yourself, and counts towards your daily step count too!  I blitzed the bathroom, bedroom and study.

Day 3 (Sunday) – Still feeling sore and tender, I took the sensible option today and rested & stretched.

So, what are these stretches which I keep going on about? And how can I help to prevent anything similar happening in the future? May I recommend a great book which my colleague Andy brought to my attention: The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey & John Sharkey (£15.99 PB).

Not only is this book an excellent anatomy session in 311 pages, but it also provides you with stretches and strengthening exercises for each muscle group.

Your buttock (aka ‘Glutes’) muscles can be strengthened by performing the three featured exercises at the top of this illustration:

  1. The ‘Good Morning’ or Straight Leg Deadlift is a great strength exercise for not only your glutes but also the back of your thighs (hamstrings) and your lower back.  Start with 1 set of  10 reps and gradually build up to 3 sets of 15 reps with a 30s rest period between each set.  Ensure you keep your knees soft and not locked-out (which will strain the knee joint).
  2. Side leg raise will work the side of your thigh and your glutes.  Again, start with 1 set of  10 reps and gradually build up to 3 sets of 15 reps with a 30s rest period between each set.  Make sure that your hips are stacked on top of each other and you don’t roll forward or backwards (more common) when lifting your leg.  Also try to keep your toes pointing forwards when lifting your leg.  If you turn your toes upwards to the ceiling you’ll find the exercise easier (as it uses your front-of-thigh muscles) but it won’t be working the right muscles!
  3. Single Leg Shoulder Bridge / Glute raise hold is a good way of balancing up a weak leg.  If you’re not familiar with Shoulder Bridges, try them first with both legs on the floor.  Engage your stomach muscles and pelvic floor muscles, then drive up through your legs, lifting your hips up in the air, making sure they stay level.  When you feel confident with these, you can try doing them with a single leg.  Make sure your shoulders and neck stay relaxed (no support under your neck or head) and your hips don’t drop to one side.

The three illustrated stretches are excellent for anyone suffering with tight glutes or sciatic pain.  HOWEVER, as with any exercise or stretch ALWAYS consult beforehand with a trained healthcare professional if you have any pre-existing conditions or injuries or are in any doubt as to how to correctly perform them.

Your hips have many muscles supporting them and enabling movement.  Strengthening them will help improve all your day-to-day activities and help to ease back and knee pain too!

Resistance bands are widely available and in a variety of strengths.  Ensure that they are of good quality thought, and always hold up to the light and stretch them before use to make sure they won’t snap in use.

There are other strength exercises and stretches which I perform daily to help improve my walking… I’ll be sharing these in next week’s blog.

But for now, keep pressing on.  Stay focused, recommit daily, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Have fun.