written by Karen Ewen // April 2020
The South Downs Awakening is not just a good excuse to get some physical exercise; it’s also a wonderful opportunity for us all to exercise our faith in Jesus and pray and unite with people from other churches all over the land as we walk. This is God’s heart (let them be one as we are one, said Jesus) which makes this opportunity so exciting!
Between now and July, we’re encouraging people to walk various sections of the South Downs Way and pray as you walk, (keeping your eyes open as you walk!) to build up fitness, pray and prepare for the event.
Whether you are a regular walker or someone aiming to build fitness so you can join us at the South Downs Awakening, I hope you will find this blog helpful. If you are new to the concept of walking longer distances and need some tips on how to get started without getting discouraged, then read on. It really is not that hard to do, literally just take it a step at a time. Whether you plan to walk part or the whole 5 days, it is worth being prepared so you can really enjoy it. Walking is a great habit to develop, especially as you start see the many benefits, such as improved physical and mental health, and an increasing appreciation of God’s beautiful countryside.
GETTING STARTED – BUILDING UP FITNESS WITHOUT GETTING DISCOURAGED
If you have not done any serious walking before, the best way to start is to gradually build up your fitness so that you achieve your goal. Set yourself a distance that you are comfortable with then, after walking that distance a couple of times, add another mile or two. Do that distance a couple of times then add a mile or two to your next walk. Build up a pattern in this way for lengthening your walks. Do these longer walks regularly, at least once a week, but every little helps on a daily basis. Soon you will be building fitness and striding out confidently.
WHILE YOU ARE BUILDING FITNESS
While you are building up your fitness and stamina, do walk sections of the South Downs Way. However, if you do want to do some of your walking elsewhere and plan to do something hilly or on more challenging terrain, do bear in mind that rough terrain (such as loose sand or wet mud) and lots of hills will require more energy; great for building stamina and muscle but you may want to keep to a shorter distance while you’re building fitness. Circular walks tend to be more interesting than simply walking there and back in a straight line. Remember to pray for the land wherever you walk; we want to see God’s kingdom come all over this land and beyond, so let Holy Spirit direct your prayers as you walk.
FOLLOW THE COUNTRY CODE
Do remember, as you walk, to follow the country code – in brief:
- Be safe, plan ahead and follow any signs
- Leave gates and property as you find them
- Protect plants and animals and take your litter home
- Keep dogs under close control
- Consider other people.
To find out more about the country code see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code
GET THE RIGHT KIT
There’s some kit that makes walking even more enjoyable, and some things that, personally, I would not want to be without. Read on for more…
You will not really need a map for the SDA as there will be plenty of people around to help and it is a marked national path. However, if you would like to walk along the South Downs Way while building fitness and would like to use a map, see “South Downs Way AZ Adventure” (ISBN 978-1- 84348-936-8) which costs £7.95.
If you like the idea of using a map but need a beginner’s guide, see https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/guides/beginners-guides-map-reading/
Happy feet make a happy walker. For reasonable terrain and shortish walks, approach shoes (a tougher version of trainers with grippy soles) work well. However, for challenging terrain and/or longer distance you can’t beat good walking boots and hiking socks (see below). Good boots will protect your feet from sharp stones and support your ankles. They need to be strong and comfortable, fit well and your heels shouldn’t lift (called, logically, heel lift) as you walk.
Tip: when buying boots do ensure you try them on with thick socks – see below. Good hiking shops have assistants who can help with adjusting lacing for the best fit. Avoid wasting money on insoles unless you have a podiatrist who advises on these specifically for a known problem, some shops push insoles on the unwary.
Give your feet some TLC and good socks; they deserve it. Specialised hiking socks are specifically designed not to wrinkle up under feet. They come in two types and you will need both. Liners are thin socks designed to be worn next to your skin. They wick sweat away from your feet. Thick hiking socks (which come in summer and winter varieties) are designed to be worn over (but not instead of!) the liners; these help cushion and protect your feet and ankles. Wearing both will help keep your feet friction free.
Tip: if you find you’re allergic to the elasticated tops of your liners, this is easily resolved by turning the tops over so that the elasticated section doesn’t come into contact with your skin. Also, before you set out on a long walk, it is worth carefully clipping your toe nails (yes, really!) particularly if they are hard and brittle, so that they do not catch on either your socks or your other toes (ouch!)
For hot summer days, do wear loose, cool, comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely. Shirts with sleeves that can be rolled down to protect your arms from sunburn work well. Remember Sussex is the sunniest place in the UK! For long walks, you may want to invest in some clothes which are specifically designed for walking and which wick sweat away from your body to keep you dry. These are available from good hiking shops.
Another investment you can buy from a good hiking shop is a machine washable hat. My husband and I both have loved and trusted hats. Their stiff and broad brims help to prevent sunburn on our faces and necks, keep the sun out of our eyes and protect our heads from low hanging branches when we walk through woods. They also help to keep flying insects, rain and snow away from our heads. As my husband has less “natural covering” than me, the top of his head is vulnerable to sunburn, so a good hat is essential for minimising skin damage from the sun.
Rod and I both have hiking sticks and they’re definitely not for wimps! They’ve stopped us at times from falling, twisting an ankle or even breaking a leg. Hiking sticks are adjustable in height and have a sharp point which can dig into the ground’s surface and stop the stick from slipping. This is great on slippery, wet chalky paths such as the South Downs Way after rainfall and for giving you confidence when walking on a chalky path with lots of loose stones. These days hiking sticks can be bought cheaply, but if you are buying one, do ensure it does not telescope shut when you lean on it.
It is worth investing in a backpack or bumbag that can carry drinks. Bumbags are great for short walks. A rucksack will allow you to take more water with you on longer walks should you get bitten with the walking bug or if you walk with the family. You will find that a good backpack is far more comfortable than carrying a handbag or shoulder bag as it leaves your hands and arms free. Ensure your pack fits comfortably. If you are concerned about clothing, boots or packs rubbing then take action to address this before you walk, discovering the issue half-way into ten miles is literally a real pain.
Shades don’t only look cool. They also help protect your eyes from sunlight reflected from chalky paths. Much as we all love warm, sunny days, they’re even more enjoyable when we’re well equipped to deal with them.
WATER – STAYING WELL HYDRATED
To keep feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed, do stay hydrated. Drink before you start, carry plenty of water with you (you will tire more quickly if you are dehydrated) and drink plenty at the end of the walk.
Tip: if you have children who are able, or a dog who is absolutely delighted to walk with you, do remember they require water too.
Do take snacks with you. Start the day with slow release carbohydrate food (such as oats or whole grain bread or cereals). Take some slow release energy snacks, such as savoury biscuits, with you to help to keep up your energy.
Use a high factor sunscreen, the higher the better. Noses and ears are often vulnerable to burning, even with a hat, so you may need to reapply sunscreen during the walk. Don’t forget back of neck, arms and face. If you have children walking with you, they will also need sunscreen.
Make a checklist for your backpack, to include:
o Water (don’t forget your dog if you have one!)
o Sun screen (for you and your children if you have them)
o Walking stick
o Bag for your rubbish
o Blister plasters – just in case
o Water proofs
ON THE WAY
Hydrate well, eat a good breakfast, check your checklist, apply your sunscreen and enjoy the walk!
Hopefully the tips in this blog help you to enjoy walking. Look forward to seeing you at the SDA.
All the best, and enjoy the walk.