I walked the length of the West Highland Way, I did no training or preparation...It was difficult (but as you can see, not impossible) and I learned a few things on the Way...
1. Who cares what you look like- Once it rains/ you start sweating/ you slip in a bog it won't matter. I wore clothes that were comfortable and they were not expensive- I didn't want to spend £30 on proper walking trousers when I might not wear them again and they might hurt. I just wore comfy yoga pants.
2. Boots. The exception to the rule is boots. Get the best boots you can afford. If you are going to do anything like 96 miles you will be glad you did. My boots were okay but I plan to invest in super light well made boots when I get some cash. They'll probably last me 10 years because I don't do that much walking. Worth every penny I plan to spend.
3. Walk with people you can fall out with. If you are underfit (I like to think I'm underfit, not unfit) like me then a good part of the challenge is the mental challenge of keeping going when it seems improbable that you will get to the top of that hill. If you are walking with people who will forgive your venting of frustration and anger towards them you'll probably go back out the next day and walk some more. Walk with people who you don't really know and the mental challenge will be all the harder and you might end up hating it, even the good bits.
4.Walk with people who make you laugh. Seriously, I've spent 6 whole days with my brothers and my mum walking and sometimes I couldn't walk another step for laughing so hard. I'd lose my pace and breath on a hill as they decided to start boxing each other, or dancing, or pretending to be raptors... It makes the hard stretches slightly easier, it makes the easy ones so much more fun. Walking into Crianlarich I was exhausted but couldn't resist joining in with the dancing, slaloming and general silliness that was going on. It meant I wasn't thinking about my feet.
5. Everyone has a role to play. Even if you are the fattest, slowest, most unfit person in the group (i.e. me) you still contribute to the goal. Whether it's a well timed lollypop, a steady pace when others are struggling, the determination to finish when others are ready to give in, the photographer, or an excuse for others to slow it down a little. Don't think you are holding others back, the goal is to get everyone to the end...not the time you do it in.
6. Only carry essentials. Seriously, if it doesn't preserve live or give protection from the elements don't carry it. And seriously consider how much you need to be carrying- clean socks and clean underwear are probably essential but clean trousers? t-shirts? nah! Take all in one cleaning stuff- soap and shampoo, like I say- who cares what you look like! The smallest first aid kit you can imagine- if it wont fit in your pocket you probably don't need it.
7. Camera/ Music- iphones are wonderful things. This was my only concession to non-essential weight. Pictures are pretty much the only thing I was bringing back from the walk so a camera is essential. Music will keep you going through the toughest spots and add in a phone and you have a complete first aid kit! (Bizarrely, awesome reception in the highlands of Scotland.)
8. A map. Even though our route was ridiculously well marked we still had a map. None of us are amazing map readers but we can read contours and find landmarks and orientate ourselves on the map. It was endlessly usefull to determine how far we still had to walk and- on the first day, an alternative route down as light faded. If you are somewhere you don't know, get a map and use it. Besides, it makes a great souvenier at the end of the day.
9. It really is best to start with a hill. I know, it sounds wrong but seriously, it's better that way.
10. When it's tough, remember that the pain will fade and you'll be proud of yourself when you get where you are going. There is nothing like the sense of achievement of doing something yourself so don't give up and remember numbers 3, 4 and 7 on the list!
The one last thing I suggest that you do if you think you might not even start the walk... that you'll find a way to back out. Do it for charity and get cash in before you start. Nothing like knowing people have paid cold hard cash to get you out the door.
In all seriousness. I could not have walked any of those 96 miles without some serious support.
My mum organised it all- where we would walk to and from each day. She set the pace so that we would get there on time and not totally exhausted. She booked the bunkhouses, organised food, bought the book and map... I may have had the idea to do the walk but she made it possible. She even put up with me whinging and moaning when I was beyond tired. Sorry mum.
Kris and Callum. Seriously, they are awesome. I love that they willingly came out and did this crazy plan with me. That they took turns to walk with me no matter how slow I got. That they carried my pack when I was exhausted. That Callum went back almost a mile to pick up a teddy bear that I dropped. That they too put up with my mumping and grumping. That they shared their Wham bars with me. They gave up time from their busy lives to help me complete my challenge and they did it with the best sense of humour ever.
Christopher. I couldn't ditch the kids for six days if he didn't take on the extra days and nights of watching and caring for the girls. He willingly washed and ironed all of my clothes between walks. Waterproofed my boots after each walk (and not a drop of water got into them!), ran me baths and drove all the way to Fort William to walk with us just to drive back home less than an hour after arriving. Now that's a husband to be proud of. Chris- I owe you big style.
Charlotte, Lexie and Minnie, it's hard to let your mummy go away for days when you only see her three days a week but you girls were so supportive and it makes me proud of you that you understand that I was doing it help Auntie Emma and all of the poorly babies that go to heaven. And thanks for coming to the end with me!
Selena. Thank you for not insisting that Callum give up the last few days of the walk so that you could have a proper honeymoon. Married less than a week and she let her new husband go and finish this so that I could complete my challenge. Welcome to the family! and Thanks for driving to Fort William and bringing the bubbly.
Donna. You don't get much time with Kris and you supported him and encouraged him.
Emma, Tommy and family. Emma was like a one woman supporting machine. It was an honour to do something for Catriona but to have her crazy support was even better. When Tony donated his tenner on the Way she updated this on facebook "Thanks Tony, random dude out walking, who passed Clair and sponsored her £10. £10 pays for a memory box so people like me have something to fill our empty arms when leaving the hospital with a broken heart and broken dreams, leaving behind our dead baby" It brought my big ole macho brothers to tears. What a reason to keep walking.
Everyone who sponsored me...I'm off to write about that now but lets just leave it at AWESOME.