50 Miles

Last fall, I made the mistake of looking at how much I was walking per week and comparing it to a marathon training program, and as one of those maxed out at 38 miles a week and my weekly goal was 40, I began to wonder if I could do that. Which is why, in December of last year (and as a side note to anyone who wants to try this, I don’t recommend scheduling it for December in Maine) I walked a marathon distance for the first time.

It left me tired, but not totally debilitated, at which point I started to wonder what ultramarathon training schedules looked like. Turns out the training for that maxes out at a 32 mile long walk, so you can see where this is going.

Long story short I got up early this morning, walked for a little over 14 hours and completed a 50 mile distance for the first time. I’ve mentioned that this was in the works to friends over the last few weeks, and the three most common questions were:

  1. Why?
  2. Is this a part of an organized event or program?
  3. Where did you do it?

The latter two are easy. There was no program. When I asked for advice about sharing my location data on Twitter, in fact, everyone assumed I was doing this as part of some organized effort and said "oh, the race organizers will have that." Instead, it was just me, walking out my front door and rather than walking an extra long loop I do on the island here from time to time, doing that and then adding two more on top.

People are always surprised that I walk the distances I do on two islands that are less than three miles square combined. But I honestly think walking the same trails is what makes it all work. It’s beautiful where we live, which is a bonus, but more importantly walking the same trails repeatedly rather than having to navigate an unfamiliar track or trail means that I can just tune out. Whole sections of my long walks are done on autopilot, where I might as well be in the world of whatever book I’m listening to rather than the actual trail I’m walking on. To the extent that I often can’t remember if I did a particular section of a trail or not unless I’m paying attention.

The first question I can’t really answer, though, other than to say that I just wanted to see if I could do it. This wasn’t some 50 for 50 challenge – I’m not 50 yet. It wasn’t trying to match my ultramarathon running friends, because they go farther than I do and are running those distances rather than walking them as I am. I just enjoy walking, and this seemed like a logical next challenge. Most folks I talk to think it’s crazy, but Walking Is The Way for me.

Admittedly, this time around was definitely more taxing than either the marathon walk or the 32 mile training prep. Both of those were tiring, but not too bad. Today, as I approached 40 miles my feet were in some pain in spite of my Hokas, my lower back was sore and I definitely felt the extra miles energy-wise – in spite of last night’s pasta dinner and the variety of bars, peanut butter packets and wraps I brought with me on the trail. The last ten miles were more of a grind than I’m used to while walking, but nothing like the wall that marathoners hit from what I’m told. I was just more tired than usual.

To those that think this was a little crazy, Dean – the guy who got me into walking in the first place – told me that the women’s record holder for fastest completion time for the Appalachian Trail did 54 miles a day for the entire length of the AT. That objectively seems crazy, and after having done this today I take my hat off to her because it is legit bonkers. If today was crazy, then, it was small time crazy, but more to the point fun.

Once it was done, anyway.

Before I forget, there are a bunch of people I need to thank:

  • My girls for taking good care of me, checking in on me regularly, encouraging and tolerating my crazy habit and a special shout out to Eleanor for my cool bracelet which helped get me through.
  • My distance mentor, AKA my best friend Andrew, for patiently fielding a continuing stream of dumb questions on my part concerning everything from gear to diet to injury recovery. Also, for getting me the new pack that I used for this that has like 50 front pockets for sunglasses, sunscreen, multiple headphones, gloves, empty bar wrappers and so on as well as an easy set up for a Camelbak-style bladder system. Also the recommendation for a bladder system.
  • My other distance mentor, our friend Condor, for his general advice and specifically his recommendation of anti-chafing gel which came in super handy around mile 38 when my feet started to fall apart.
  • My friend Dean, the OG walking expert here who’s the one who got me into walking in the first place. Was great to run into him today, and true to form once he found out today was the day I was doing 50 he shooed me along saying we could catch up later.
  • All of my coworkers, for making it possible not only for me to get in today’s effort, but also adapting to my sudden absence today rather than yesterday due to injury (long story) as well as my various training walks.
  • All of the folks here on the islands who have gone out of their way to stop me on my various walks to express their support. I never understood how islanders pull for each other until I got out and started walking the islands every day. Apologies to those folks as well if they saw me circling their houses today over and over and were confused.
  • Pearl Jam for getting me through the last half mile.

Unrelated to the above, a couple of quick notes on battery life if only for me, at least, in the event that I try something like this again, but also for anyone else that wants to do longer events:

  • Phone: you can’t necessarily do this if you’re running or cycling and you definitely can’t if you’re swimming – or at least it’s less practical – but I always bring my phone and run my audio (almost always audiobooks) off of that. I have an iPhone Mini, which probably wouldn’t make it through 14 hours of running Bluetooth audio so I brought a battery pack and charger and fueled it up after mile 30 or so.
  • Headphones: technically, the Airpod Pro’s I have will do the 14 hours – but only with a lengthy charge in the middle from the case. So instead, I bring along the old, depleted first generation Airpod Pro’s I have and swap them in when the gen 2 unit dies and thus I’m never without audio. They don’t last long at all now, but it’s long enough for the other set to recharge.
  • Watch: I ended up very relucantly upgrading from an Apple Watch 7 to an Ultra specifically for this and similar events. Even on low power mode, the 7 lost a quarter of its batter life in two and a half hours – and worse cannot be recharged by a battery pack while continuing to record a workout. The Ultra’s results, I’m happy to say, were much better. I charged it to 100% capacity last night – note that by default it doesn’t fully charge unless you tell it to – and after 14 and a half hours of outdoor workout with GPS today in low power mode (i.e. the screen’s not always on) the battery life was 50% when I finished. I’m not happy to spend $800 on a Watch that doesn’t really offer me much in the way of new features, but it did what I needed it to do here.

All in all, today was a good day, and my kid was responsible for both the best and the worst things I’ve heard. The best was "GO DADDY!" The worst was, "what’s next, Daddy, 80 miles?"

I’m sore enough right now that I’m making zero commitments, but I appreciate her faith.


2 thoughts on “50 Miles

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