Just An Ordinary 40 Mile Walk

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“What, in one day?”, “I bet you hurt after that?”, “why?”, “I could never do that”, “Good luck”, “wishing you the very best luck”, “well done you”, “really proud of you”, “bet you felt great.”

Just some of the many comments made to me before and after my modest plan to walk 40 miles along the South Downs Way last month, June 2015.

My route was very simple, no explanation needed, leaving Storrington West Sussex at 7am and walking along the South Downs Way as far as Jack and Jill, the Clayton Windmills in East Sussex (near Ditchling Beacon) and returning the same route. A total of 40.8 miles in 15 hours to the minute.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

Preparing Mentally and Physically

If you read my blog on a regular basis you will know that I walk about 12-20 miles per day-hike. A sensible distance for someone who is not close to physical perfection and the wrong side of 44 yrs old. I’m 6’1″ tall and kitted up close to 17 stone, a skinny stick I am not.

On several occasions recently I had walked 25 miles and 31 miles in a day, so I had been gently pushing my own limit upwards.

I wanted to prove something to myself and at the same time prove, wrong word, demonstrate to others that with a bit of effort and a modest amount of will power you can knock down mental barriers with relative ease.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

I know from previous 30 mile walks that energy is my biggest failing, the lack of. I don’t intake enough of the right food types and towards the end of a long day walking my muscles are tired. So for the 40 miles I had to rethink my normal plan. It didn’t go well on the day I might add – so read the following paragraphs as a warning, not a suggestion.

Energy Bars and IsoGels

I did some research online (not always good – too much hype) and spoke to my good friend Keith Foskett about food types to take on the day. I would be out walking, in my estimate at least 15-16 hours.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

I like bananas and bananas like me, they are a very good source of potassium. You lose potassium via sweating, bananas are also a good source of carbohydrates, essential for endurance activities. So bananas were on the list to take and consume in moderation a few days before. Along with a lovely pasta bake my other half cooked for dinner the night before.

Nuts and oats are also a good food to take on a long hike, again lots of health and energy benefits to be gained from a relatively lightweight load (no tins – easy shaped packets to stow away).

Peanut flapjacks assuming you can eat them safely, are a great source of energy on a long walk.

Isogels and Isotonic Drinks

Now this is where my plan deviated from normal and went wrong. I know from experience that I do not consume enough salts and minerals during a long hike and I lose lots via sweating, the end result is normally a thumping headache at the end of the day. Not a healthy thing to be doing.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

I carry plenty of plain water but I didn’t used to carry any food or drink that would replace the lost electrolytes. I started listening to my body and now always take isotonic drinks with me in addition to plain water.

There are many brands available such as Lucozade Sport (not the normal Lucozade but the Sport version). Lucozade Sport is an isotonic carbohydrate-electrolyte drink and is proven to help maintain your body’s levels.

IsoGels – Sick of Hype

For the 40 mile walk I decided to try isogels, basically a concentrated version of the Sport drink in handy sachet form. They can be sachets of liquid or as the name suggests, sachets of gel. Quick to open, quick to consume, easy to carry in your pocket and used by 1000s of athletes around the world.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

I would take two 60ml isogel sachets every 2 to 3 hours, along with plain water and bananas and nuts on longer breaks.

I had read lots of independent reviews about the brand of isogel I was using on the day, High5 IsoGel and I didn’t see any mention of causing a feeling of nausea. Unfortunately as the hours unfolded it became obvious to me that every 20-30 minutes after consuming 2 sachets of IsoGel (below the recommended dose) I would be left with a strong feeling of nausea.

I never suffer any kind of nauseous feeling when out walking and the timing between consumption of the sachets and the sickness feeling couldn’t be ignored. So my conclusion is very much that IsoGels are certainly not for everyone and in fact off the shelf Lucozade Sport can and does work just as well in combination with plain water and hiking foods.

South Downs 40 Mile WalkSouth Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

How Much Water?

This is a question many people ask and really is a question that cannot be simply answered. We all sweat at different rates and therefore lose salts at different rates. I always set out, even for a 6 mile walk with at least 3 litres of plain water and 500ml of isotonic drink (NOT as I now know, the isogels).

You must do your homework and work out where you are guaranteed fresh drinking water along your route. If the weather changes and the day becomes hotter you will consume water quickly. You don’t want to consume all your plain water and Sport drink during the first few hours as this can cause an electrolyte imbalance, dehydration and can lead to heat stroke and other serious issues.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

On my 40 mile route, there was confirmed fresh drinking water available at 4 well spaced out locations along the walk, meaning that if for some reason on the day one of the supplies was turned off, I would still be able to replenish my 3 litre hydration kit from the other locations.

Don’t assume that your initial supply of water will last you all day, it most probably won’t, also don’t rely on shops or pubs being open. Always check before you set off the drinking water options. Consider having a friend meet you half way with fresh supplies if need be.

A rough calculation but I consumed close to 6.5 litres of fluids, including isotonic Sport drink over 40 miles. It was a humid day and as I mentioned at the beginning I’m certainly not carrying the body weight I would ideally like.

Hiking Boots and Socks

A recurring comment after my walk was “how are you feet feeling?” The simple and honest answer is that my feet felt fine during and after my walk. There is no magic, trade secret or potion x. I have well-fitting boots, Salomon Quest 4D GTX. Different brands suit different feet. I had my feet measured and tried on many styles and brands before choosing these, you cannot and shouldn’t simply choose boots on price, online availability and reviews alone. Go and get your feet measured up by outdoor specialists.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

I wear Bridgedale Merino Fusion socks, a mix of natural wool and man-made fibres. Not too thick, not too thin. They wick away sweat from your feet helping prevent damp conditions inside your boots which can cause slipping and blisters.

This affordable boot / sock combination, along with Superfeet Green insoles has given me many miles of blister free walking. Of course I get aches from using my muscles but I don’t suffer from any sharp pain or blisters.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

Mental Barrier – The Why?

Perhaps the hardest part of any long distance hike is mental preparation, are you reading this and saying “I know I can’t do that”? Several of my friends, who on appearance lead active lives with healthy diets say we can’t do that.

I am absolutely sure they can do this; back in November 2014 I went for my first proper continuous walk, a modest 12 miles. I thought at the time that was the limit of my physical endurance. My feet hurt, I was sweating, hot, tired, I just couldn’t do that again, no never. 12 miles, I must have been mad.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

So fast forward to June 2015 and I walked nearly 3.3 times that distance. How did I manage it? Well as I mentioned above a combination of many things. Building up my distances gradually, 12 miles, 15 miles, 20 miles and so on. Many days I just walk 5 or 6 miles but all the time I am thinking positive. No walk is a bad walk. No weather is bad weather.

I set off knowing in my mind I WILL enjoy the walk.

It is true, to a degree, if you believe in yourself you will be able to achieve many things previously thought out of reach. Could I walk 45 miles next month, absolutely because after 40.8 miles I was nowhere near exhaustion. It was harder mentally to walk 40 miles than physically.

How To Prepare Mentally

There are several things that made the 40 miles fly by; I would be joined by a friend, Nick Rick from Wimbledon for 30 miles of the walk. Having someone to laugh with, swear at and egg you on is worth many miles, priceless in fact. Nick was fantastic walking company as was meeting another friend Ray Turner at the 20 mile, half-way mark for a short section of the route.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

I used social media on the day, Twitter to post updates of my progress using a hashtag #southdowns40 I would only post every 2 – 3 hours but it was a fantastic boost to switch my phone on and see the tweets of encouragement flash up on the notification screen.

Another great way to cope mentally is to take time to enjoy your surroundings, try not to stare down at your boots for 15 hours continuous; that would drive anyone to the nearest taxi rank or train station home. Look around you, look up, look around, enjoy your time, enjoy life.

The final few miles were in fact some of the best miles I walked that day, I was blessed with a stunning sunset, the clouds broke and sunbeams highlighted my final destination. I would have missed that had I given up and gone home by car after 20 miles.

Think of the positives as you walk, look forward to the view over the next hill, look forward to telling your friends that you did do it, look forward to giving yourself a massive pat on the back.

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

South Downs 40 Mile Walk

No Such Word as Can’t

I can’t do it, how do you know? You mean you can’t do it at the moment without building up to it and proper planning, that I agree with. Just saying I can’t is the lazy option. Many times we try to set goals that are beyond our current reach. Don’t dismiss completely walking 40 miles if you are only walking 6 miles now.

I was only walking 5 miles a year ago. I can’t walk 60 miles. I can’t now but I might be able to next year. No such word as can’t; just can’t AT the moment.

If a chap in his 40s, who spent most of his life driving cars and riding motorbikes, eating huge amounts of chocolate and sitting in a crew-room for hours and hours on end can do it, you certainly can too, I am sure of it.

I can’t or you don’t want to? Only you have the answer to that.

Route: Storrington to Jack and Jill Windmills and back.

Distance: 40.8 miles (65.6 km)

Map of Walking Route

The map shown is a rough guide to the route that I walked. Please make sure you always follow safe and legal paths, roads and walkways. The actual location of the red-route on the map is an approximation. Never walk in the sea or off a cliff, please just don’t, you’ll get wet and I’ll get worried!

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Malcolm Oakley
Hello, I’m Malcolm Oakley, a keen walker, leisure photographer and outdoors blogger. I'm lucky to have lived at the edge of the South Downs National Park, in West Sussex.

Living in Devon I am now walking the South West Coast Path and Dartmoor National Park with my Border Collie 'Dave'.

I hope you enjoy reading about my walks, look forward to reading your comments on the blog posts and YouTube videos. Please do get in touch.
Posted in East Sussex, West Sussex

15 comments on “Just An Ordinary 40 Mile Walk
  1. Daksha Patel says:

    My colleagues and I have just finished the Jurassic Coast walking challenge (26 miles) and are up for another one. Just wanted to know how long it takes to complete the track. We walked for 12 hours with one hour break for the above.

    • Hello and well done. I walked 41 miles in 15 hours with a few short breaks. The South Downs Way is relatively flat in places, certainly nowhere near as hilly as the coast path. So 15 hours to walk 41 miles is achievable. The entire SDW path is 101 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne, can be done in 2.5 days if you’re fit.

    • Hello and well done. I walked 41 miles in 15 hours with a few short breaks. The South Downs Way is relatively flat in places, certainly nowhere near as hilly as the coast path. So 15 hours to walk 41 miles is achievable. The entire SDW path is 101 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne, can be done in 2.5 days if you’re fit.

  2. ann simpson says:

    Hi Malcolm

    I’m so glad I came across your encouraging and informative article. I have signed up for the London 2 Brighton Ultra challenge 62 miles walk in May and completed a 30 mile training walk this weekend. When I got home I had to lay down for a few hours due to an overwhelming feeling of nausea and throbbing headache. Reading your article,I will try the Lucozade sport,bananas and more water when we do our 45 mile training walk in a few weeks and hope this works for me.
    At this time,reading your section on preparing mentally has given me the boost and confidence I need to face this challenge and I know I will be reading it again over the next few weeks!!

    • Hello Ann,
      Thank you for your kind comments. Yes plain water alone is not good enough when the body is losing salt and minerals through sweat. Isotonic drinks and salty peanuts can help, certainly you need to research what works for you. Mixed nuts are very popular.

      Please let me know how you get on, I know after my 41 miles last June I wasn’t particularity tired or in any pain, so with good training I am sure you’ll be fine. Please do keep me updated with your progress.
      Good Luck, Malcolm

  3. Colin says:

    Hi Malcolm. This article is just what I was after! Im planning a 40 mile walk along the river Clyde starting in Glasgow city centre and finishing at the stunning Falls of Clyde.
    The route we are taking has never been done in one day before so we are modern day pioneers (kind of!)
    Your blog has given me a lot more confidence that it can be done and, more importantly, can be enjoyable!
    Our training has started in earnest and we have a couple of 25 mile walks under the belt already.
    Thanks again for the info

    • Hello Colin,
      Good luck with your own personal challenge. Yes it was an enjoyable walk, as I said in another comment – comfy kit, plain water, isotonic drink, mixed nuts all helps the body produce the energy you need.

      Good Luck, Malcolm

  4. George Rose says:

    Hi Malcolm, thanks so much for your encouraging and informative article – and the beautiful photos. I’m planning a 40 mile charity walk from Arundel to Guildford on July 16th which will be following the Wey-South Path for most of the route. I will be referring to your article as a source of inspiration, and also a very handy guide. I understand that you no longer live in Sussex, but maybe you would still like to join us on the day?

    • Hello George, I could come up from Devon and do that walk, would be lovely to walk the South East again. When would you have confirmed plans? As I would need to book accommodation etc. Am currently living in Plymouth Devon.

  5. Mike Pritchard says:

    Great article and inspirational too.
    I’m about to do my first 36 miler in preparation this coming Saturday in readiness for the Offa’s Dyke Path, over 5 days, in the summer. Plan is to do 35 miles a day, each day starting at Chepstow and finishing in Prestatyn.
    Physical and mental states are key. So, looking to test equipment, hydration, nutrition, the body and staying power!

    • Hello Mike, I walked a very small section of Offa’s Dyke Path near Mold back on Boxing Day 2015. Certainly with decent footwear and energy food 35 miles is not too much of a stretch each day, though the weather could do with being a typical UK summer and not too hot for you. Good luck and please us updated on the blog here.

  6. Matt Brookes says:

    Cracking article, informative and inspirational. Reckon a local publication like “Sussex Living” might well be interested (or should be interested) in publishing this.

  7. Fozzie says:

    Before you know it, you’ll be pulling in 40’s on the Pacific Crest Trail.
    The easy thing to remember with hiking nutrition is to get it right before a challenge. The last thing to be doing the day before is trying out new things, or actually on the day in question. It’s like training for a thru-hike in Adidas trainers, then switching to Brooks on the start line.
    Coconut water is an excellent hydration fluid, and completely natural, unlike the isotonic options, but they do a decent job. If anything I always say stick to the natural stuff, nature knows best.
    Great article.
    ~ Fozzie

    • Cheers Fozzie, yep since that hike I’ve learnt a lot about my body. Nuts, bananas and a few bars of chocolate work well for me. I won’t be touching another iso-gel in my life. Didn’t need that nausea every few hours. I’ve been thinking about another long day hike somewhere. Put a 45 miler in the bag.

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