Training and Planning for Long Distance Walks

Prepare for Your Trek, Multi-Day Walk or Ultrawalk

A Camino Peregrino Crosses Bridge to Hospital de Orbigo
A Camino Peregrino Crosses Bridge to Hospital de Orbigo. Wendy Bumgardner

Training is critical for comfort and success for a long distance walk. Your training should concentrate on building a base of walking, then increasing your mileage in a systematic fashion. You should also train wearing the gear you will be wearing during your long distance walk.

To reduce your risk of training injuries. increase your total mileage per week or the distance of your longest walk per week by no more than 10 percent.

This means you will likely spend a few months training. By being methodical, you give your body time to build new muscle, blood supply, and endurance.

How Long is Long Enough to Train for a Long Distance Walk?

For multi-day walks and treks such as the Camino de Santiago, follow a marathon training plan for mileage building and for getting the proper hydration, nutrition, and gear. But you will also build some back-to-back long days into your training so you can assess any problems that crop up from walking long distances on successive days. You can use these training plans:

  • Training to Walk the Marathon (42 kilometers / 26.2 miles): This walking marathon primer will get you into condition to go longer distances. Besides training plans, you will learn about nutrition, hydration, and gear.

When training for 50 kilometer to 100 mile distances, the longest distance to train at should not need to exceed 20 to 25 miles, which you should perform at least twice in the two months prior to the event.

Then taper during the month before the event down to a 20 kilometer long distance.

Ultrarunners have much in common with ultrawalkers and indeed they usually mix stretches of walking into the longer distance events. Training schedules derived from ultrarunning are good for walkers as well.

You Don't Need Speed

Forget training for any speed faster than a 15-minute mile. You will not need endurance, not speed, and you want to build mental stamina for walking for hours and hours at a steady pace.

Gear Up for a Long Walk

All clothing, shoes, sunscreen, packs, etc. need to be road tested on your longer training days well in advance of the event. Now is the time to experiment, you want nothing that is new or untried at the event itself. Plan for the layers you will need given the climate and terrain. Choose wicking fabrics that will allow your skin to breathe and cool itself.

You will want to wear gear similar to that of marathon walkers if your walk will mostly be on pavement or asphalt. You will need to modify that if your route is more off-road or in different seasons. Find out what other long distance walkers wore on the same route or at the same event.

Choose your shoes or boots and wear them on your long training days to ensure they will work over long distance.

Packs should be tested on your longer training days to ensure you can carry it comfortably over long distance and it has the capacity needed.

Walkers who are going to walk a long-distance route carrying a pack and using trekking poles need to walk with their gear in the three months before the walk. From head to toe, wear your gear. Shoes/boots, socks, underwear, bra, shirt, pants, hat, jacket, rain gear. You want to know how it will perform on the long walk and still have time to replace it if it doesn't. Then you need to walk with the replacement gear.

Training Nutrition for a Long Walk

Proper sports nutrition will prepare you for endurance events.

As an endurance athlete, you should stick with a diet that is the traditional mix of 70 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent protein, and 10 percent fat. Avoid high protein diets. They cause problems with dehydration and will strain your kidneys under endurance walking conditions.

Planning Your Long Distance Walk

Planning begins by setting an event as a goal. Considerations include time of year, distance, transportation to the event, event pace requirements, altitude and hill profile, climate. If you are going to "do it yourself" in walking across country, you need to prepare by researching routes and trails and contacting those who have done similar feats.

Study the course maps to know what services are provided along the way and what you must bring with you. Know the terrain and at what point there are hills, pavement, natural trail, shade, full sun. When possible, drive the course ahead of time to familiarize yourself with it. You may also be able to find apps that are designed for your route, such as the apps available for the Camino de Santiago.

Planning for Food and Fluids on Long Distance Walks

Train with the water, sports drink, food, and snacks you will be using at the event and do not deviate from it during the event. Water is all that is needed for events of 20 kilometers and under, but for longer events an electrolyte replacement sports drink may be good. Diluting it or leaving out some of the sugar can make it easier on the stomach, but you need to take care to get enough salt as well as water when walking long distances.

Have your snacks pre-packaged and perhaps labeled by time to be eaten. On ultramarathon distances you need to eat fat and protein in addition to the carbohydrates provided by sports gels or energy bars. You may want to avoid fancy products which are formulated for shorter distances and power sports and can cause digestive problems over longer distances. You can get those from candy bars with nuts, trail mix, and peanut butter sandwiches. Train with the same food and snacks you will use during the event.

Rest Breaks

The conventional wisdom is that any breaks you take should be short—to use the bathroom, eat a snack and drink without choking, tie your shoes, or doctor blisters. The body stiffens up pretty fast during breaks and it can take several minutes to get back into the swing of walking after a long break. Take walking breaks instead—keep walking but at a very slow pace.

Take Care of Your Feet

Your feet are your most important equipment. On your long training days you should have been experimenting with preparations, socks, etc. to prevent blisters. What works best is specific to the individual. Try several of the seven strategies to prevent blisters, which include lubricants, wicking and/or double layered socks, moleskin, sports tape or blister block pads over areas prone to blister. Along the walk, stop at the first sign of hot spots and doctor your foot with tape, blister block bandages, etc. There are other hazards you should prepare for as well, many of them preventable with the proper food, hydration, and clothing.

More Training Resources for Long Distance Walks

  • Ultra Running Resource: Keven Sayers has a great variety of advice compiled from an email discussion group dedicated to ultrarunning. Most of the advice is transferable to walking the same distance. Many runners give their training schedules for a variety of distance events from 50 kilometers to over 100 miles.
  • Ultrarunning Magazine: Browse their online articles or subscribe. You'll see advice about every aspect of long distance events.
  • Camino de Santiago Advice: You can learn from other pilgrim walkers at the American Pilgrims on the Camino site and Facebook page, as well as an active forum and apps.

A Word From Verywell

You were built for walking, but you need to plan and train fully before you tackle a long distance, multi-day walk. If you steadily build your walking time, you can help avoid injury. If you are physically prepared for your walk, you will be able to enjoy and savor it.

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