We are 3 months into 2021 and following on from a crazy 2020, it’s hard to compare it to the first quarter of any other year. However, for me, it draws several comparisons to my 2019. Both 2019 and 2021 started off very difficult for me due to the events of the previous year. In both years I tackled my problems by raising my walking game achieving significant weight loss and improved mental health. However, in 2019 I was walking to train for an epic 4-day endurance walk before eventually walking the distance in May, the health benefits were merely a huge bonus. Whereas in 2021 I have been walking specifically to replicate the health benefits I had achieved just 2 years earlier.
In May 2019, I walked between 18 and 26 miles for 4 consecutive days with day 3 being the most difficult. Day 3 was the shortest distance (18mi) with the most elevation (579m) and I decided to replicate those conditions in March 2021. The key differences are as follows
- In May 2019 I was 102kg, down from 130kg at the start of the year. In March 2021 I am 115 kg down from 127kg at the start of the year.
- In 2021 I have trained (walking only) harder than the equivalent time period in 2019.
- Day 3 of my endurance walk in 2019 came 45 miles into my journey, in 2021 I rested the day before.
- The elevation on day 3 in 2019 was 579 whereas my March 2021 walk had 622 meters of elevation in total
In summary, the conditions could not be completely replicated but I am happy with my achievement given my current weight.
Choosing My Long Distance Walk
When choosing my walk, my main criteria was that it had to be a round trip. Due to the measures that the UK government has put in place to protect us from COVID-19 guest houses are not taking bookings so my idea to walk approximately 20 miles and then bed down in another town was not an option.
I also wanted a lot of elevation and I did not want to spend much time on the beaten track so to speak. Then I had a brain wave, Roseberry Topping in Great Ayton. As an adult, I love learning the history of famous places and Roseberry Topping has a rich history for me. For example, the world-famous explorer, Captain James Cook is the first European to reach Australia. Cook hails from the area and his love of exploring was credited to his childhood days exploring the slopes of Roseberry Topping. Prior to Captain Cook’s days, Vikings settled in the area, most of the nearby place names were named by the Vikings and there is even a stone halfway up (or halfway down) placed as a monument to its Viking heritage.
Even with my love of the Vikings, the main reason I wanted to visit Roseberry Topping was because of the nostalgia I have from visiting as a child. Roseberry Topping was just far enough away that we could not just go whenever we wanted but just close enough that it wasn’t too difficult to get us into a car and take us there. It was the perfect treat for a family without a lot of money.
As luck would have it, the walk to Roseberry Topping from my current location is 8.5mi. Perfect, 17 miles there and back was close enough to my final distance, I would get to visit a place I really wanted to visit and the elevation along the route was 622 meters or about 7% of the height of Mount Everest. Wow, I never calculated that before but now I am even happier with my achievement.
Planning My Long Distance Route
When previously reviewing ideas to find your walking route, I contacted a friend who is even more into walking than I am. He recommended Footpath, and he uses a lot of these apps, so Footpath is the app I went with for this journey.
The concept of Footpath is that you open the app and you and you plot your starting point. From there you just draw a line on the map to your destination and the app will snap into the best route, finding all of your footpaths along the way. If you want you can plot your route in several stages if there is anything you want to see along the way.
Although I am by no means giving up on Footpath, I am not yet satisfied with the free version and I need to try it a few more times.
The first inconvenience was with the free version I only had access to the map view and when you are walking in the countryside, street signs are not in abundance so you are much better off with a satellite view. However, I had accepted this and opted not to subscribe to premium (or Elite as it’s known on Footpath).
The second inconvenience was the one that might be the deal-breaker, as there was a significant portion of my planned route that did not snap onto the available footpaths and remained a straight line. It was my own fault I did not notice and try to correct this but the problem was definitely caused by the app not functioning in the way it is intended. Thankfully, for at least some of this journey I was in the town where I went to college so I knew my way around, but there was a part of my journey where I had to freestyle my way through some unknown woods until I got back on the correct path.
Getting Ready For Walking The Distance
Now that I knew where I was going and I thought I knew exactly how I was getting there, I needed to select a day. On Thursday last week, I checked the weather which told me it would be mild and dry on Saturday and Sunday with the latter being 8 degrees celsius and the former being 6. Both of these are refrigeration temperatures but I knew I would be walking so even though it would be warmer from Monday, it also had a higher chance of rain. Because I was going to be walking in trainers (my walking shoes are still in another city) I didn’t want to walk in the rain. I was very excited to start my walk so I decided Friday would be a rest day and I would go on Saturday.
Saturday morning came and I got up early enough to be out of the door for 8:30 am. If I was powerwalking for my entire walk, I could have finished in around 4 hours but because I wanted to spend some of the time taking pictures and telling Instagram how much fun I was having, I knew I was more likely to be out for over 6 hours. I don’t like eating too late in the evening so I needed to set off early enough to get back in time to eat the inevitable feast I would earn on my walk and let it settle before I took my hard-earned rest.
When I did Hadrians Wall, I was walking cross country so I had maps, a compass and heat blankets, etc. However, for this trip, I was only going to be out for a day and at no time was I going to be more than a mile or so from civilization so I didn’t take emergency supplies.
I packed my bag with some fruit and chocolate to give me a boost of carbs and electrolytes while I was out. I took my walking poles (it was my workout after all) and a couple of different size hoodies. Perhaps the most important supplies I took were all of the hydration. I have a 1-liter water bladder that is perfect for staying hydrated on the move, I refilled a 1-liter water bottle and I made up a 2-liter flask of lemon and ginger fruit infusion.
It’s important to remember your body needs water to function and when you exercise you expel a lot through breathing and perspiration. Staying hydrated will help you get more out of your workout and facilitate a faster recovery.
Walking The Distance
My target was to be out of the door by 8:30 am and I was out by 8:27 am so my first objective was a success. For the first 2 miles, I was walking a route familiar to me but soon enough I was relying on the Footpath app to guide me. I did stop and take pictures before idly resuming my journey and these distractions did mean I went off course, a few times but this was my fault, and Footpath made it easy for me to get back on track.
Along the way, I was entertained by a spooky tree, I got startled when I stepped into some woodland and disturbed about 8 pheasants who were obviously startled by me and I saw a group of no drama llamas on the grounds of Gisborough hall. This kind of experience really satisfies me.
I then reached the town of Guisborough itself after just under 5 miles of the planned route (my actual distance was a little further due to my unplanned detours). Guisborough is actually the town where I was born, although I have never lived there, I did return there for college 16 years later (a time that feels like an age ago). After a quick and underwhelming visit to my old college (they’ve put fences up around all the places I would loiter as a student) I arrived at Guisborough priory.
One of the things I loved about walking along Hadrian’s Wall in 2019, is I get so much joy from visiting ancient ruins and knowing that the brickwork that remains was handled by actual real-life Romans over 2000 years ago. At 902 years old, Guisborough Priory is not as old as Hadrian’s Wall but on the upside, there is more of it left to admire.
I don’t know how many hundreds of years ago it was that the borders were accepted but this priory was actually founded by the same De Brus family that produced 2 kings of Scotland. The De Brus family lived in Skelton Castle at the time which is about a 5-minute walk from where I am currently living.
I stopped to take plenty of pictures before continuing on my journey and it was at this point my planned route on Footpath went awry. I zig-zagged as best I could to stay as close to the route possible while I followed it in the general direction of my destination and after manually navigating the footpaths and bridleways of Hutton Woods, my Footpath route was back to playing ball for the last few miles.
My journey through Hutton woods was mostly uphill on firm ground so once I was confident about the route again, I began using my walking poles to add some upper body into my walking workout. What I love the most about these woods is that you can’t see or hear anything but nature. No cars, the buildings are hidden by trees and apart from the occasional like-minded hiker, no one is around. If you are walking to improve your mental health, there are no better conditions in my opinion.
Just before mile 8 of my journey, the prominent peak of Roseberry Topping came into view. I had less than a mile left to walk (and obviously the journey back) but it included the 320m of elevation to get to the top. My legs felt like I had walked over 7 miles already (because I had) so the climb was challenging but the views were spectacular all the way up.
Less than 3 months before I had been spending Christmas depressed, comfort eating, and drinking. I put on so much weight that I was out of breath walking short distances but with just over 2 months of training, I had walked 9 miles and was standing atop one of my favorite childhood places feeling empowered and enjoying the view.
After getting something to eat and Whatsapping everyone a few pictures, I began my descent and headed home. I took the same route home to keep things simple but I naively expected that journey to be much easier. Obviously, I have a short memory because that very morning I had descended a significant amount of hills which meant on the way back, I had to ascend. I didn’t walk that far only to walk that far however and I persevered despite the lactic acid building up in my legs. I was enjoying my walk but I was starting to look forward to it being over.
Walking The Distance Needs Plenty Of Fuel
I named my website based on the concept that walking 20 miles per day makes a good benchmark for an epic walk and it is thought that walking 10000 steps equates to about 5 miles. Obviously, that cannot be exact as everyone has different strides, etc. I also had only mapped out a 17-mile journey so I did not give too much thought to completing Forty Thousand Footsteps. However, when I finished my walk, I had logged 39482 steps since starting my walk, and when I stopped the activity and it added my walk to the steps I had completed in the morning before I set off, I was on Forty Thousand for the day. It’s the simple things that amuse me.
Upon my return, I felt fantastic and I felt empowered. My 17mi journey had somehow become almost 19mi and I had completed it with no real problems… sure I was aching but can you blame me. But for all of the things that felt good, one of my favorite things about my walk was the amount of food I got to eat.
Most smartwatches will have a similar feature to the one I use on my Garmin Connect App. I tell Garmin Connect my target weight and my current weight and it gives me a recommended daily calorie allowance to get to my target weight. Because of my gargantuan walk, Connect estimated that I could eat 5500 calories and still remain on track for weight loss.
The first thing I did was ate Chicken and Fish for protein as my leg muscles have had a super workout and by giving them protein, they will grow stronger enabling them to burn more calories for me. As I racked up almost 6 hours of walking time, my glycogen reserves were depleted so it was important to get carbs into me – I chose bananas, grapes, and satsumas, I also drank 1litre of coconut water. Some of you might be thinking that this does not sound like the food of a man trying to get 5500 calories into him and you’d be right. My first priority is to fuel my body with good quality, nutrient-dense food. However, I was proud of myself so I had another meal a bit later (Steak, broccoli, and Chips) and I had a few sweet treats. I definitely did not get close to 5000 calories and this is fine because I am still overweight so my body has plenty of energy to call on. However, when endurance walking, it is important to consider how much food you might need because eating not enough can be just as bad as eating too much.
Have You Considered Walking The Distance?
Thank you for coming along on the journey with me, I enjoyed writing about my experience of planning, preparing, and completing my epic walk almost as much as the walk itself. If you would like to follow my walking for health journeys, including next time I am walking the distance, please follow Forty_Thousand_Footsteps on Instagram.
Please join the discussion in the comments below and tell me what you think of my experience, my pictures or even tell me about your experience walking the distance.