Training is a journey in and of itself and is essential to making your Challenge Walk MS experience great. Our best advice? Start training immediately and walk naturally. Stand up straight, don't swing your arms wildly or take very long strides and you'll do just fine.
There’s a place for everyone at Challenge Walk MS, and we’re breaking down everything you need to know from what to wear, what to eat and drink, and how to train, stretch and prevent injuries.
Note: If you have had any recent surgery, muscle or joint problems, please consult your personal health care professional before starting a stretching or exercise program.
What to Wear for Challenge Walk MS
One of the nice things about walking is it does not require any fancy or expensive equipment. Here are the 5 things you need:
Bad shoes are the culprits of many walking injuries. The average Challenge Walk MS participant will take nearly 100,000 steps during event weekend, so it’s critical to find the right shoes! A lightweight, flexible running shoe with a relatively low heel is the best choice for most walkers.
Pro tip: Track the number of miles you walk in each pair of shoes and pay attention to signs of wear. Replace them frequently. For the event, be sure to wear shoes that are broken in, but not broken down. If pain persists, seek medical care.
Look for the following characteristics when shopping for walking shoes:
- Knowledgable Professionals: Start with the pros! Always buy your walking shoes from knowledgeable professionals who understand the needs of walkers. Running stores are generally your best bet.
- Flexibility: Both in the forefoot and medially (side to side). Your shoes must be flexible enough to allow your feet to “roll” from heel to toe when you walk, or else you’ll wind up with a very “stumpy” stride and sore shins.
- A low heel: The bigger the heel on the shoe, the more your feet will slap the ground when you walk. With a low heel, your feet will roll very easily along the ground.
- A wide toe box: Make sure there’s plenty of “wiggle room” for your toes to spread out when you walk. Cramped toes will become blistered toes.
- Fit over fashion: No matter what shoes you choose, the most important consideration is the way they fit your feet. When shopping for shoes, wear the same socks as well as any shoe inserts or orthotics you will wear in training or on walk weekend. Also, your feet will swell during the day, so try on shoes late in the day, preferably after a workout when your feet are largest.
- A second pair: Once you've found your perfect shoe, consider buying a second pair. Alternating shoes from day to day will extend their life and ensure that you’ll always have a dry pair. You may even want to try another model or brand for your second pair since different shoes will change your walking mechanics enough to work slightly different muscles.
Even with the perfect shoe, a flimsy pair of socks can cause blisters. Look for thin socks made of a wicking material and make sure they fit.
If you have shin, knee or lower back pain when you walk, you might want to consider a shoe insert. Inserts are designed to keep your feet in the proper position when you walk and give them better support and cushioning than you’ll get from the flimsy “sock liners” that come with most shoes. A pair of arch supports are better than the ones that come with most shoes, but if you really want to treat your feet right, spring for a pair of high-quality inserts available at specialty running and walking stores.
Your walking attire should be comfortable - loose-fitting clothes may cause chafing. When training, test several types of exercise clothing. Some other helpful tips:
- Dress in layers so you can remove or put back on clothing.
- The bottom layer should be made from a lightweight, wicking fabric to pull moisture away from your skin.
- A long-sleeved T-shirt, a lightweight wind/rain jacket on top, and comfortable running shorts and possibly tights on the bottom will prepare you for any type of weather.
- If your clothes/shoes don’t have reflective materials built in, look for adhesive or clip-on reflectors for safety at night
Don’t forget sun protection! Be sure to pack a hat with a visor, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Optional, but people really like them…
Most walkers like to wear a “fanny pack” to carry lip balm, cell phone, keys, food, etc., and a “hydration belt” to hold water and sports drink bottles.
How to Train
The most effective way to train is to gradually increase walking volume. Training should begin as soon as you register for Challenge Walk MS. But make sure to assess your fitness and choose a program (see below) before charging off toward the horizon. Form a habit quickly by walking five times per week. Your body will need to build up endurance to keep it going for 15-20 miles a day. Of course, your initial walks can be very short – this is a fitness program, not Boot Camp!
Pro tip: Start a walking journal. Keeping track of your weekly walking efforts will help you to maintain your schedule. Use a calendar format and simply record the duration of each walk, the distance covered, and a few words about how you felt. Feel free to record any cross-training workouts you perform as well.
Training for long-distance walking
Training for a long-distance walk requires the practice of what is called progressive overload. The idea of progressive overload is to make your body do just a little more work (that is, a little more walking) than it is used to doing, step-by-step, over the period of many weeks so that your body is able to gradually and steadily gain fitness.
The goal of the Weeks 1-2 is to give your body an opportunity to adjust to consistent walking workouts. With each succeeding week (except for a couple of “recovery weeks”), you do a little more walking than you did the previous week until your body is fully prepared to meet the challenge of walking 20 miles in a day.
Stretching is essential; strength training is strongly recommended; and cardiovascular cross-training is optional, except in cases of injury.
When to Start
There are two training programs, an “Ideal Program” and a “Minimum Program.”
Ideally, beginning walkers will allow themselves 18 weeks to prepare for the challenge. If you complete the 18-week Ideal Program you will be able to master Challenge Walk MS with energy to spare.
The Minimum Program is a 12-week program for beginning walkers who do not have 18 weeks available to prepare. It will give beginning walkers just enough preparation to have an enjoyable experience in the event.
Walkers who have 18 weeks to train but cannot safely complete 13 miles of walking in one week, as the first week of the Ideal Program calls for, should start with the Minimum Program and then switch over to the Ideal Program at an appropriate point. Experienced walkers with a solid fitness base may begin the Ideal Program at Week 4, Week 6, or as late as Week 10, and repeat the final weeks of the Program in order to fill any remaining weeks before the event.
Each week the goal is to increase your total mileage safely. This is done mainly by adding to the distance of one long day per week. For the most part you should still rest every other day to recharge your body and muscles, but since you’re training for a three-day event, you’ll occasionally do back-to-back long walks.
Speed is not an issue until you are able to walk the distance comfortably but try to walk a little bit faster one day per week. Pro tip: Thursday is a good day to pick up the tempo.
Each week may be altered to fit your schedule but sticking to a schedule is important for optimum training. If you find one week is too difficult, repeat it before you progress.
How to Stretch
Stretching should be done slowly without bouncing. Stretch to where you feel a slight, easy stretch. Hold this feeling for 5-20 seconds. As you hold this stretch, the feeling of tension should diminish. If it doesn't, just ease off slightly into a more comfortable stretch. The easy stretch reduces tension and readies the tissues for the developmental stretch.
After holding the easy stretch, move a fraction of an inch farther into the stretch until you feel mild tension again. This is the developmental stretch, which should be held for 5-20 seconds. This feeling of stretch tension should also slightly diminish or stay the same. If the tension increases or becomes painful, you are overstretching. Ease off a bit to a comfortable stretch. The developmental stretch reduces tension and will safely increase flexibility.
Hold only stretch tensions that feel good to you. The key to stretching is to be relaxed while you concentrate on the area being stretched. Your breathing should be slow, deep and rhythmical. Don't worry about how far you can stretch. Stretch relaxed and limberness will become just one of the many by-products of regular stretching.
Do a light warm-up of walking or jogging for several minutes prior to stretching.
What & When to Eat & How to Hydrate
Nutrition is essential to post-exercise recovery. If you take in the right nutrients, in the right amounts, at the right time after workouts, you will recover far more quickly and thoroughly.
When to Eat and Drink
Timing is essential with regard to post-exercise nutrition because your body is primed to sponge up needed nutrients at this time. For example, synthesis of muscle glycogen – a form of stored carbohydrate that serves as the body’s primary energy source during endurance exercise – proceeds 2-3 times faster in the 2 hours immediately following exercise than it does at any other time.
There are 3 main components of post-exercise muscle recovery.
- Restore fluids lost during exercise. When you sweat heavily, you lose a lot of water and electrolytes. Drinking a sports drink during walks can slow the rate of fluid loss but can’t stop it completely. It’s important to make up the deficit by continuing to use a sports drink with electrolytes after exercise. If you do not rehydrate properly before the next workout, you could experience overheating, muscle cramps, and other problems.
- Refuel on carbs. Carbohydrates are the muscles’ main fuel source during moderate-intensity exercise. The longer a workout lasts, the lower your muscle fuel supplies become. By using a sports drink containing carbohydrates during walks, you can slow down this process. But it’s impossible to take in carbohydrates during intense exercise as fast as it’s burned, so you need to continue taking in carbohydrates after exercise as well. If you don’t get your muscle fuel levels back to normal in time for the next walk, you’ll be sluggish and sloppy.
- Repair muscle damage by consuming protein and antioxidants. High-intensity physical activity can cause small tears in muscle tissues. In addition, some muscle proteins are broken down for energy during hard exercise. Also, hard exercise produces damaged molecules known as free radicals, which attack muscle cells. In order to undo all this damage, you need to consume protein after each walk. You should also get antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, which help protect the muscle tissues against damage from free radicals.
What to Eat and Drink
- A carbohydrate-protein sports drink is the most convenient way to get all of the nutrition needed for recovery. Most walkers also find them easier to swallow and keep down than solid food immediately after a workout.
- Protein and antioxidants. If you are hungry after your walks, eating is fine. Just make sure you get all the same nutrients you would get in a quality sports recovery drink without a lot of extra stuff (fat, excess protein) that might slow down the delivery of nutrients to your muscles.
- Some energy bars are good recovery foods.
- Fluids - you will need to drink some form of fluid to meet your body’s hydration needs after workouts.
Preventing & Treating Injuries
Walking is not as likely to cause injuries as its high impact cousin running, but there are a few conditions that distance walkers are susceptible to, especially in the early stages of training. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to prevent and treat these conditions. Let’s take a look at the three most common walking injuries:
Blisters are abrasions that develop on the foot as a result of friction between the foot and the shoe, and sometimes the sock as well. Blisters can be hard to avoid for the beginning walker and indeed it is quite impossible to pursue a regular distance walking program without the skin on the major friction areas of your feet being affected. But the goal is to develop protective calluses on these areas rather than blisters.
The common sign that a blister is developing is the feeling of a “hot spot” in a particular area of your foot as you walk. When you feel a hot spot, stop walking immediately and apply a lubricant such as petroleum jelly to the affected area. Lubricate this spot also before beginning your next several walks. This will allow these areas to adapt to the friction of walking more gradually and develop protective calluses instead of blisters.
If a hot spot does turn into a blister, dress it with a product such as Moleskin that is made specifically for this purpose. Use the “donuting” technique of covering the area immediately surrounding the blister but not the blister itself. Do not walk with a bandage covering the blister itself – this will only make the problem worse. Use bandages and antibiotic ointments only between walks to prevent infections and promote healing.
The term “shin splints” is a catchall term for more than one condition affecting the soft tissues of the shins. Pain in the outer frontal area is just a natural part of the conditioning process. As long as you avoid overtraining during the period of time when you experience this pain, it will disappear within a week or so as your muscles adapt to the challenge of consistent walking.
Pain in the inner frontal area of the shin is generally associated with insufficient arch support and can become debilitating if not addressed. If you begin to experience pain in this area, reduce your walking volume and perform more cross-training workouts (e.g. bicycling) to make up the difference. Switch to a shoe with greater arch support or insert over-the-counter or custom orthotics into your shoes. You may also try wearing a pressure wrap on your lower leg while walking.
Never try to push through pain in the inner frontal area of your shins. If you do, it could eventually become a stress fracture!
In walkers, knee pain is generally caused by improper tracking of the kneecap resulting in wearing of the patellar tendon. Typically, the failure of the kneecap to track properly during walking is associated with muscular imbalances in the leg that can be corrected with conditioning exercises. Specifically, walkers who develop knee pain are generally weak in the gluteal muscles (buttocks) and in the vastus medialis, one of the muscles comprising the quadriceps.
Bicycling is a great conditioner for the vastus medialis, while Pilates and calisthenics exercises such as lunges develop the gluteal muscles. If you develop pain just below the kneecap, reduce your walking and emphasize these cross-training activities until you are symptom free.