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Training & Safety

Being safe and prepared is a priority.


Building fitness
Training calendars
Cross training

Entire books have been written about walking technique, but the best advice can be summed up in two words: walk naturally. Stand up straight, don't swing your arms wildly or take very long strides and you'll do just fine.

Racewalking technique

Challenge Walk MS is not about speed. But if you do want to rev up your walking, try adding some elements of racewalking technique to your stride.

  • Bend your elbows to 90-degrees and drive them back vigorously with each stride
  • Your hands should be held in a light fist; not clenched, but not flopping
  • Take shorter, faster strides rather than long slow ones
  • Use your feet, landing on your heels and rolling forward to push off your toes
  • Click here for more information on racewalking techniques.

    Building fitness

    The most effective way to way to train for a life-changing event like Challenge Walk MS is to follow a pattern of gradually increasing walking volume.

    Getting started

    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!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 first week or two 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.

    Walking programs

    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 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. 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.

    Training calendars

    Cross training

    There are three forms of cross-training that you can use to round out your overall training program. Stretching is essential; strength training is strongly recommended; and cardiovascular cross-training is optional, except in cases of injury.


    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. *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.

    Nutrition for recovery

    Nutrition is the foundation of post-exercise recovery, because it provides the raw materials with which your body can make physiological adaptations in response to training. 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 than you will if you don’t practice proper nutritional recovery.

    The importance of timing

    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 two to three times faster in the two hours immediately following exercise than it does at any other time.

    There are three main components of post-exercise muscle recovery. First, it is necessary to restore fluids lost during exercise. When a walker sweats heavily, he or she loses 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. So 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.

    The second component of muscle recovery is putting carbohydrate fuel back in the muscles. Again, carbohydrate is 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 carbohydrate during intense exercise as fast as it’s burned. So you need to continue taking in carbohydrate 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.

    Repairing muscle damage

    Finally, the third component of muscle recovery is fixing the damage done to muscle tissue during exercise. 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.

    The most convenient way to get all of the nutrition needed for recovery is to continue drinking the same carbohydrate-protein sports drink that was used during the workout. Theses drinks contain exactly what is needed and the right proportions without anything extra that might slow down the recovery process. Most walkers also find them easier to swallow and keep down than solid food immediately after a workout. 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. In any case, you will need to drink some form of fluid to meet your body’s hydration needs after workouts.

    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.

    Bad shoes are the culprits in relation to many walking injuries. Always buy your walking shoes from knowledgeable professionals who understand the needs of walkers. Running stores are generally your best bet. For better support, replace the foot beds that come in your shoes with a separately sold over-the-counter foot bed or, if necessary, a custom foot bed made by a podiatrist.

    Track the number of miles you walk in each pair of shoes and pay attention to signs of wear. Replace them frequently. For Challenge Walk itself, be sure to wear shoes that are broken in but not broken down. If pain persists, seek medical care.

    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.

    Shin splints

    The term shin splints is a catchall term for more than one condition affecting the soft tissues of the shins. There are basically two categories of this condition. 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!

    Knee pain

    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 gluteals. If you develop pain just below the kneecap, reduce your walking and emphasize these cross-training activities until you are symptom free.

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