Sunday, 20 May 2012

Another Experiment

The next event I have signed up for is the JFK 50 Mile Challenge in Sneem next Saturday. The challenge for me will be to refrain from running as it is a "walking only" event on roads between Sneem and Molls Gap - so a bit of up and down ( and great scenery) to break the monotony. Why did I sign up for it you might ask. I dunno really - maybe the word "Challenge" intrigued me. How difficult can it be to walk 50 miles. The challenge is to complete it within a 20-hour cutoff time - that's a long time to be on your feet. Although I have 12 hours at the back of my mind. 15 minute miles or 4 miles per hour would get me to mile 48 in 12 hours - maybe 13 then, allowing for a few short breaks at the 4 water/aid stations). The JFK connection stems from the walking craze generated in the US in 1963 when John F Kennedy challenged the nation to march 50 miles in a day. If I wanted to run a JFK 50 miler I'd have to go stateside.

As I have no walking under my training belt I was a little concerned that my running ability might not be enough to get me through the challenge. Surely there is a difference between the physiological requirements for endurance walking and endurance running. Although I won't be taking the challenge that seriously and race-walking like Rob Heffernan I would like to give a good account of myself and use it to improve my endurance base. I was not prepared to deviate too much from my running schedule (what schedule?) so I decided to introduce some walking into an extra long run today and get some experience of walking on tired legs. My plan was to head out for 5 hours, starting each hour with a 5 mile run and walking for the rest of the hour before repeating it all over again. At the back of my mind was 40 minutes running (8 minute pace) and sub-15 minute pace for the walking section - which should get me over 10k for each hour (6.22 miles) or 50k over 5 hours. I was interested to see how the walking breaks would affect my running - would I be able to run more comfortably for longer? Would I find it difficult to run after walking?

As I will be taking a backpack with me next weekend I took one today, using it to carry water (750ml), a spare top, shorts and a pair of shoes, fuel (a few gels, an apple and a small bag of almonds and raisins), a laminated map of the rural by-roads to the west of the City (new route) and an emergency €10. Another challenge - I'm not used to running with a back pack and it's not a running specific one either.

I headed out shortly after 6 into the morning haze. The first 5 miles up over the hill at Currabeg was uneventful.
Mile 4 - Morning Mist

The walking break went well, managing to keep the average pace under 15:00, despite a steep uphill section.

Mile 6 -Uphill Walk

The second 5 miles went relatively fast as they were over a net downhill past Farran Church and across the Bride Valley to Aherla, before the next walking break, again primarily uphill. I noticed that my walking speed didn't vary too much unless the grade was very steep. The third 5 miles took me south following a downhill route for about 2.5 miles along a small river valley before my course veered East at a crossroads and took me uphill to Knocknavilla. The climb of 100m over 1 km was one of the toughest i've ever run. As it steepened towards the top it was very difficult to resist the urge to stop. Perhaps that is why one of the largest ring forts in the Country was built on top of the hill over 3,000 years ago, with commanding views of the surrounding countryside.

Mile 15 - Which Way?

I recovered on the downhill before starting my third walking section. With 18.8 miles on the Garmin, I lost the satellite connection and had to resort to running/walking by time. 

Mile 17.5 Crosspound Pub - It's seen better days

Mile 20 - Dual Carriageway

I started the fourth 5 mile run, continuing east over undulating terrain as far as Ballynora. At this stage my legs were beginning to feel heavy and the early signs of a bonk were evident. I was glad when the 40 minutes were up and I could take on some fuel. The morning was warm and I had all but depleted my water heading into the last hour.

Mile 25 - Heading into my last 5 mile run
My last 5 mile run took me into Bishopstown and out the Model Farm Road. My legs were feeling very heavy and fatigue had well and truly set in. Motivation was low and I was counting down the time to when I could stop and walk. Surprisingly when the 5 miles were up I was able to maintain a reasonable walking pace, despite the fatigue. I covered 32 miles (51.5k) in the 5 hours. I was still over a mile from home though, but had no inclination to run it and continued my walk covering 33.1 miles in 5:16.


  1. You could work for West Cork Tourism with those photographs.

    My own theory is that you will suffer more than you might suspect as the lack of specific training will impact on you. This will probably show as a slower time. Still, it should be a great experience.

    1. I suspect the same Richard but am looking forward to finding out.

  2. Didn't Richard warn everyone that anything with the word "Challenge" in it is much tougher than you think?

    I cannot imagine going on a 50k solo training walk, never mind walking a 50 mile event that expressively forbids running. The mental torture alone would top me.

    1. Isn't that the sort of torture you need to experience ahead of Bangor?

    2. "solo" is the bit I can't fathom, as well as "walking". But yes, that sort of torture would be excellent training for Bangor.

  3. Thats a very impressive 'Time on Feet' session Grellan.

    How did you find the run phases after the walk phases, in particular do you think you were able to maintain the pace more easily because of the walk phases, and how did you find the transition between them.

  4. Paul, I though it would be easier to run after the walk phases but I found it tough enough during the 4th and 5th hours. Starting of was ok but my legs felt heavy and I was looking forward to walking long before the 5 miles were up. Then again if I had run continuously I would more than likely have felt worse after 25 straight miles of running as I did after 32 miles of run/walking. The transition went well - although I was struggling towards the end of the last 5 miler, when I stopped and walked I got into my stride pretty quickly. Transition from walking to running took a few 100 yards to fire up the muscles and get into my stride.

  5. Paul, I checked my 32 mile 5 hour run/walk distance against two 5 hour training runs I did last year covering 34.2 and 34.8 miles respectively (and I had no backpack for these runs). So walking 33% of the time (1hr 40mins) cost me only 2.2 to 2.8 miles. I suspect that the longer the duration the more beneficial the run/walk strategy is in terms of distance covered. What the "cross-over" duration is I don't know and suspect it is different for everyone.

  6. Interesting challenge. I think you'll do OK seeing you've practised. Martin Fryer did quite a bit of walking in prep for his recent 6-day race - walked about 160k in a 24-hour event not long before.