This 23 and a quarter-mile South Downs walk set the benchmark for me. I walked a personal best, the longest distance in a single day. Storrington to the River Adur at Botolphs near Steyning West Sussex.
What motivates you?
That question could reveal a 100 different answers in a matter of seconds. If you had asked me the question 10 years ago I doubt I would have mentioned anything about walking and hiking. I’m not sure I was particularly motivated about anything 10 years ago. So what changed?
Around autumn 2005 I took up photography as a serious hobby which meant I found myself walking off the beaten track more often than I used to. I started to look at familiar places from a different angle. Quite literally looking at places from the left, the right, up on high.
I started to nurture a desire to “walk up there” because I could. I was fit enough and there was always a path leading onwards. I realised that despite driving and motorcycling around a huge amount of England, Wales, Scotland and parts of Ireland I hadn’t actually seen much.
So from my love of photography came an enjoyment of my surroundings, the water reflecting on a lake or the weather rolling in over the hills. The fundamental change for me was the fact I was out of my car, off of my motorbike and I could concentrate 100% on the location. I didn’t have to worry about speed cameras or other motorists. I could walk as fast or as slow as I wanted. I was completely in control of my journey.
Our Personal Best
Everyone has different abilities, skills, limitations. I can now walk 23 miles a day and feel ok at the end of it. I certainly cannot run 8 miles like my partner does. So setting a personal best is obviously exactly that; it’s personal.
I knew from previous walks up mountains and along coasts in Ireland, Wales and Scotland that my basic fitness levels were ok but I had never ventured beyond a 10 mile trip. I was happy to wander about with my camera without giving much thought to increasing my daily distance.
A chance meeting online in autumn 2014 with Keith Foskett changed my views somewhat. Here was a person who at the age of 16 had already walked the South Downs Way and at the age of 40 something (I’ll protect his modesty!) was about to walk The Continental Divide Trail. A 3,000 mile long trail, starting at the Mexican border, and traversing north to Montana.
What opened my eyes was that on the outside Keith, or Fozzie as he’s called, is just a normal guy, like you and me. He walks, goes camping, writes a blog, sends a few tweets, has a dry sense of humour. Normal. The difference between Fozzie and many of us is that he is driven by a desire to keep walking; to cover huge distances each day, for fun.
Fozzie’s personal best is going to be far removed from anything I can achieve but the point is – I want to try to achieve more.
South Downs Walking
I started out with 6 and 10 mile walks, I’d get home with a few aches and pains but I was alive. It hadn’t killed me, slow and sure, a steady pace. Drinking and eating sensibly as I walked. Very much like the desire to walk up a higher mountain, each time I went out I wanted to go just that little bit further.
So over time the 10 mile walks became the minimum and then that walking mileage became 12, before long I was ticking off 15 mile circular walks and guess what; yep the next day I ached a little but I was still alive.
I was setting walking goals and I was meeting them with a bit of effort, that felt really good; physically and mentally. I was setting a goal and achieving that goal. Move the goal posts and repeat. What helps me tremendously along the way is the scenery I walk through and the people I meet. Along the route people say hello, share the views, look out for one another.
I have a certain pride for other people who create their own personal best experience. I chatted at the River Adur to a gentleman of senior years who was telling me about the location as it was back in the old days. He still enjoyed walking the countryside daily, he was living life.
Within a few months I was walking 19 miles a day but I had yet to “break through” my own 20 mile barrier. It was more geography that was holding me back, my walks seemed to end short of the mythical 20 mile marker post.
River Adur – Steyning Bowl
With a view to proving to myself I was fit enough to walk 20 miles I planned a simple straight line walk to the River Adur just beyond the Steyning Bowl on the South Downs Way. A rough calculation showed this would be at least 20 miles by the time I got home. Also my average walking pace meant it was achievable in spring daylight with a few stops for food and photos.
Along the way I passed people setting their own goals and motivational targets, runners, cyclists, young families. A father stopped to ask me how much longer it was to Chanctonbury Ring as his young son was protesting at the walk. It was only another 1/2 a mile, a personal goal for that family picnic.
I arrived at the River Adur and admired the views, chatted to a few people and felt good about myself. I knew I could do this but best of all I wanted to do this. I had set my own challenge, encouraged by you, the blog readers but the challenge was personal; walk beyond 20 miles today.
On the return westerly walk I passed several people who had seen me earlier in the day heading east, are you still walking, are you in training for an event they asked me. Err no, I’m just out for a walk. I knew I wanted to beat my previous PB, but I hadn’t really thought anyone else would be interested in my own achievement.
It was then that I realised of course people are interested; we all are interested in the achievements of others; it helps drive our own adventures.
I’m interested in the adventures of my friend Fozzie, his 3000 mile walk is inspirational to me in a way that my 23 mile daily walk might be to you.
A Personal Best – This Week
As I walked west along the South Downs Way the miles clicked by, my legs felt heavy at times but I was enjoying the trip. I had some late afternoon food and energy drink at Chanctonbury Ring on the return trip.
The final few miles back to Storrington along the chalk escarpment were wonderful, I still had enough energy to walk with my head held high, able to take in the changing light as the sun moved lower in the sky.
Reaching the last few miles of my walk I took some more photos of the hazy landscape. A few evening dog walkers were out on the Downs but the majority of people were now at home cooking dinner and setting the TV planner.
I haven’t written this blog post in my “typical” walk, photos, map style because I believe setting a personal best is something you have to plan yourself. It is something you want to achieve. More importantly it is a distance you feel you can achieve.
23.25 Miles of South Downs Walked
When I got back to my starting point in Storrington my GPS device clicked off the tally at 23 and a quarter miles walked. 4 miles beyond any distance I had ever walked in a day in my 40 something years. I was beyond the 20 miles now. I had set my own goal posts for the future.
My next personal best will be 25 miles and then perhaps 30 miles in a day, if you stopped and chatted to me along the way, a big thank you. It helps me enjoy the walking. No matter how big or small your achievements are, I believe many of us can set personal bests we thought were beyond our reach. You can do it.
Route: Storrington to River Adur and back.
Distance: 23.25 miles (37.4 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!