How to Prepare for Your First Charity Walk

Breast Cancer Charity Walkers
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You've registered for a charity walk—maybe the Race for the Cure, the March for Babies, the MS Walk, or a smaller, local event. Congratulations! Not a walker? Never fear. Your feet were made for walking, and you can do this. Just take it one step at a time. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare will make all the difference.

Start Training

It's best if you have several weeks before the event to get in some training (the longer the walk, the more time you'll need). Plan to walk at least 15 minutes every day, gradually increasing your time and distance.

If your event is one mile, you'll be ready once you can comfortably walk for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. For a 5K (three miles), work up to 30 to 40-minute walking sessions. And for a 10K (about six miles), you'll need to be able to walk for 75 to 90 minutes straight.

This absolute beginner's walking tutorial is handy if you have a month or more before the walking event to prepare. It will help you complete distances up to five miles.

Wear the Right Shoes

Your walking comfort starts at the bottom—your shoes and socks. Get fitted for a pair of good walking shoes. Find a store that caters to serious runners and has a sales staff interested in getting you into a well-fit pair of shoes. Then walk in them while you're training, every day, to know that they work well. 

If you don't have time to find and break in a new pair of shoes, your best bet is to use your favorite sneakers. Where you can make a difference is with your socks. Forget about cotton socks. Get to an athletic store and buy a pair of CoolMax or blister-resistant socks. These wick away the sweat to keep your feet dry and less prone to blistering.

Prevent Injuries

A big problem for those going on a long walk for which they haven't adequately trained is blisters. You can prevent blisters by coating your feet with petroleum jelly before you put on your socks. If you have been training and you get blisters despite petroleum jelly, cover the tender areas with moleskin or a bandage before you walk.

Shin splints are common in people who are new to walking. Shins only get exercised by walking, and when you change your walking speed, distance, or shoes you may feel pain in your shins. Stop and rest a bit. Then slow down and take smaller steps.

Plan Your Walk-Day Clothes

Pick out and plan your event attire ahead of time, especially if it's a longer walk. Spend some time training in the clothes you plan to wear and follow these tips for a more comfortable walk.

  • Costumes: At some events, walkers dress up in zany costumes. If you do that, keep it simple enough to walk in and have some fun.
  • Underwear: Women should wear a sports bra. Both men and women may experience painful chafing, so apply petroleum jelly if you do not wear a bra. Spandex running shorts are a great idea for both sexes to prevent chafing in the upper thigh area.
  • Shirt (inner layer): The shirt next to your skin is the inner layer. It should be of a wicking fabric such as polypropylene or Coolmax. You may want to wear the free t-shirt (usually cotton) you get for registering for the walk. Just note that cotton shirts will retain sweat and moisture during the event and you will end up feeling damp and clammy—especially if it's a hot day.
  • Outer layer: In most climates, you will want a windproof, water-resistant outer layer—a jacket or windbreaker. One with a rain hood is an excellent idea. Umbrellas end up poking other walkers or being a chore to carry.
  • Insulation: In cold climates, you should wear an insulating layer between your t-shirt and your jacket. Microfleece is an excellent choice. A wool shirt is OK. Sweatshirts may end up making you very sweaty. You will usually get pretty warm after the first few minutes walking and may start shedding layers.
  • Bottoms (shorts or pants): If it isn't good weather for shorts, then select comfortable, lightweight pants that move easily with you. Many charity walkers will wear jeans, but they are a poor choice since they're made of heavy, water-absorbent fabric. Still, if your jeans are your most comfortable pants, then go for it.
  • Hat: In any weather, but especially if it's raining, a hat to keep your head warm and dry or the sun off your scalp is essential.
  • Packs: Most charity events are short enough that you won't need to carry much. Try a waist pack to carry your keys, identification, and other essentials.

Plan Your Food and Drinks

Charity walks generally have plenty of drinks along the walk and snacks at the finish. To make sure you are well fueled and hydrated:

  • Before: Drink a large glass of water two hours before the walk, then nothing until you get started. This gives your body enough water and you enough time to use the bathroom before you start.
  • During: Along the walk, drink water at each water stop. On warm days, carry your own water so you can drink a cup of water every 20 minutes if there isn't enough on the course. Sports drinks are often offered, but you will generally not need them if you are walking for an hour or less. For longer walks, enjoy a sports drink after the first half-hour. It replaces the salt you are sweating away. For snacks, bananas are the perfect walking snack. They replace potassium and have sugar and starch. On longer walks, salty pretzels can help you replace salt lost in sweating.
  • After: At the end of the walk, drink a large glass of water. Go ahead and grab the free sports bars they offer—eat them if you are hungry, but better yet save them for later. Remember, walking burns approximately 100 calories per mile for a 150-pound person. Don't eat too much in celebrating.

Prepare for Event Logistics

Make sure you know the start/finish locations and how, when, and where to pick up your registration. Research where to park or information on public transportation. Once you have your race number, grab some extra safety pins and apply your sunscreen. Give yourself time to get into the bathroom line before the start.

During the Walk

  • Start at a slow and comfortable pace for the first five to 10 minutes. This is easy to do at large events as everyone is moving slowly.
  • Speed up to your natural pace, but remember, this is not a race. Be gracious to those you pass.
  • Pass on the left unless you are facing traffic on an open road. In that case, you pass on the traffic side.
  • If walking with friends, be aware of those who wish to pass you. Don't block the route while walking abreast.
  • Be respectful of property—stay on the path, do not trample on people's lawns and gardens, and only use designated bathrooms.
  • Don't litter. Deposit cups and other trash in waste receptacles or carry them with you until you find one.
  • Do not smoke while walking.
  • If you feel a blister coming on, stop and apply a bandage immediately before it grows.
  • Obey event volunteers and treat them kindly.
  • At the finish, take only an appropriate share of the goodies.

After the Walk

You've done it! You made it through a challenging walk. Enjoy your reward—the t-shirt, medal, pin or other item you received. Wear it with pride!

Now that you know you can walk a distance, it's time to plan the next charity walking event you will tackle. Maybe you're ready for a bigger challenge. You might even consider training to walk a marathon for charity. Many such programs even pay for your transportation and registration to a great walking marathon in a wonderful locale. Look for walking clubs and groups in your area and join their walks to keep you motivated.

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