Long Walk Hazards and Recovery

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One year at the 100-kilometer Bornem Death March, both entrants who were ages 86 to 90 finished the 60-mile walk, but less than half of those aged 16 to 35 did. Old age and experience beats youth and energy when it comes to endurance, as the percentage of finishers was highest among those aged 50 and up.

Surviving an Endurance Walk

  • Hypoglycemia: low blood sugar. Eat during the event to keep your blood sugar level from plummeting, resulting in bonking or hitting the wall. Signs of hypoglycemia include getting light headed or dizzy. Stop or slow and have a snack.
  • Hypokalemia: low body potassium levels. This is caused by dehydration and sweating.
  • Hyponatremia: low body sodium levels. This is also caused by dehydration and sweating and also by drinking water and not replenishing salt. Use a sports drink to replenish sodium and potassium during the event rather than plain water.
  • Hypoxia: low blood oxygen. Walking at higher altitudes can produce real problems in taking in enough oxygen, especially while stressing the body through walking. Signs are lightheadedness.
  • Hypothermia: low body temperature. You cool off swiftly when slowing or stopping. You need to be prepared to immediately cover up with an insulating garment at any stop. Carry a space blanket/heat sheet in your pack to use if needed. Signs of hypothermia are chills, shaking, and mental confusion.

Common Long Distance Walking Injuries

Blisters: Treat hot spots as soon as they appear, don't wait for them to grow into blisters.

Chafing: Sweat plus friction can leave you raw in all the wrong places — underarms, breasts, thighs, groin.

Muscle Pulls, Sprains, Pain: Pain is the way your body signals you to stop — it is injured. Do not "work through" a new sharp pain during the race. You risk long recovery or permanent disability by walking further and injuring yourself more. Suck in your pride and signal the event officials for first aid and transport off the course. To self-treat until further assessment, use the RICE method — rest, ice, compression, elevation.

Heat Illness: Heat illness can strike at any time and can be life-threatening. Learn the symptoms and treatments.

Dehydration: Drink and eat before you are thirsty and hungry and keep doing so throughout the event. Sports drinks can provide replacement sodium and potassium to keep your body in balance on long distance events.

Embarrassing Problems: Many walkers and runners have difficulties with exercise-related diarrhea, inconvenient need to urinate, lack of toilet facilities when you need them, and other weird body issues.

Recovery from an Ultradistance Walk

In the 3 to 6 weeks following the ultradistance walk, cut back to walking for no more than 2-4 times a week. In the first week, walk only a half hour at a time. In the second week and third, work up to an hour for one or two of the walking days.

How Soon Can You Race Again?

Allow four to six weeks between distances 50K and more to give the body time to recover. Maintain your tapering base mileage between events if you schedule them that close together. Otherwise, build back up to your long days and then taper in the four weeks before the next event.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.