What I learned from long distance walking

You know, my experience with long-distance walking is limited, but as it is limited, it is also intense. The Caminho de Santiago I did earlier this year was a bit different from races I want to talk about today. It was, at least for me, about pressing on – covering large doses of kilometres every day (34km per day on average), however I also enjoyed the ride. The last two races I did one and a half year ago and one week ago respectively, are the kind of fun that you enjoy retrospectively, rather than in the process. They are both from the A Day on the road series. You are given a path (174km long this year) and 24 hours to walk as far as possible.

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Not the most encouraging view… A 4km straight line

During the first race a friend of mine and I, we were resting a little bit in a bus stop, in the morning hours. It could have been around 6 a.m. At that point, we have walked some 56 kilometres and we were quite tired. I took bread out of my bag and began eating it. Whilst chewing, I fell asleep. But that was okay, because few moments later, when I woke up, I could continue chewing as if nothing happened. That’s what I call using time productively!

It has always been a funny story to share, so naturally I expected something similar, yet unique, to happen during the second race. Around 8 a.m. my brother and I stopped at the 50th kilometre to get ourselves some coffee. Unfortunately, miles around there was no cafeteria so we had to settle for some muddy diarrhea from local groceries.  Mind you, after walking through the whole night, we couldn’t care less. As we were sitting in front of the store on a bench, contemplating the pain in our legs and clutching onto that styrofoam cup for dear life, I had one of those microsleeps and spilled a good deal of it on my shoe. I had to wake my brother up to share this rather amusing story, which he ignored and returned to sleeping, when another microsleep steeped in and I spilled some more. At least my foot got warm, for a while.

These are minor memories that always bring a smile on my face. Walking days in a row no matter the pain, no matter the blisters, as I did on a pilgrimage to Santiago, as well as pressing on for 24 hours, are great mental challenges. It brings out some fears, it makes you push the boundaries a little bit and it makes you tap into your power reservoir. It also shows you that there really is another world. I literally felt like a sheep amongst wolves. I was a greenhorn amongst seasoned runners. I mean one of these guys did 174 kilometres in 24 hours, which is staggering! And second in place came a woman who did 150km! That made me feel lousy with some 68 kilometres done! It’s about the training input and these guys have done it. I have yet to decide, will I push a little further?

Nevertheless, here are some observations I have made:

  • It’s coldest right before the sun rises
  • With basic physique, it’s first and foremost a mental game
  • To continue brings pain, struggle, possibly suffering and at the end, the victorious feeling of pushing the limits
  • To give up brings short-term relief and regrets and doubts later on
  • It is a one man’s fight – some people walk further, some don’t. But it is not them you’ll see in the mirror
  • Commitment comes with paying the starting fee
  • When in dire straits, exhausted, unmotivated, nauseous… one has to press on the most
  • Performance? Yes, there is another world. You just haven’t seen it yet
  • Why does one participate matters. Folks who have never done it will never understand
  • Sometimes, it is o.k. to give up
  • There are no crowds cheering at the finish line… Only silence
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About Petr Klíma