In the months before planning my trip to Mount Whitney, I decided to do something called ‘Dodentocht Kadee’ in Bornem, Belgium. The Dodentocht is a non-competitive walk. You have a minimum of 10 hours and a maximum of 24 hours to walk, jog or run 100 kilometres (about 62 miles). My stamina was okay before I started training for that, but I never walked more than 20 miles at once, so first challenge: walk 20 miles or more. I mean, if I could walk 62 miles in 24 hours, then I sure could climb that mountain!
So guys, if you read my blog about Whitney, then you have to realise that you MUST(!!) prepare for the journey. As I’m living in an area where there are no mountains or any strenuous hikes, I set some other goals to prepare myself for Mt. Whitney.
A few friends (who were gonna participate in the Dodentocht as well) and I did a walk of 22 miles on a sunny Sunday, I carried a backpack filled with food & snacks. We had a good pace of about 2.8 miles per hour, but I realised that we had to walk faster to finish 62 miles within 24 hours.
The next week we did a 25 mile hike (okay only 3 miles more, but it’s something). This time the weather wasn’t in our favour. It was rainy and cold, but nevertheless, a good preparation. Now we had an idea what we could expect when it was gonna rain on the actual day of the Dodentocht (and boy, it rained). Near the end, everyone was getting grumpy, was ice cold, soaked and just had had enough of the walk!
Those were the only long walks I did during prepping time. Other times we did shorter walks of 5 miles, but with a faster pace. I went to the gym as well, spent hours on the ‘Stairmaster’ and the treadmill, practicing only on heart rate (I have a Fitbit Charge 2). I made sure my heart rate never went higher than the cardio level! To make sure that my leg muscles were strong enough (I have weak knees and a cartilage injury in my left knee), I did some strength training. Squats, lunges, leg presses, wall sits,.. You name it, I did it!
Finally the day came that the Dodentocht was happening. Start was at 9 in the evening, but around 8.30pm it started to drizzle, so it wasn’t such a great start, since it had been really dry for weeks in Belgium then! But I didn’t let that bother me and just focused on the ‘prize’. I repeated to myself that I wanted to finish the walk and get the certificate and the medal. This is important guys! If you start with the mindset that it doesn’t matter if you finish or not, you won’t likely finish! I told my friends to not share any negative thoughts, that it was raining and wet for everyone, because I did not want to bring my spirit down by a negative mindset of someone else (this is important too).
We started really fast, to be out of the mass, but there were more than 10.000 participants so sometimes there were hold-ups. The rain continued until 1 in the morning, but luckily, I had a great trekking jacket, good shoes and compression socks (Spoiler alert: I only had one blister by the end!) .
Around 5 in the morning we arrived at yet another way-point and all my friends were hurting too much and decided to give up. I decided to continue, alone. We were only at mile 22.
Now it was time for me to catch up! The next way-point was in 6.2 miles, I did that in under 2 hours, so I had plenty of time to eat something, stretch, go to the toilet and get up and walk again. After a few hours I finally came across a magic sign: 50 KILOMETRES (31 miles)! I was halfway!
When I neared 43.5 miles, I started to have pain on my footpad. I thought I had a large blister and thoughts about giving up were playing in my head. At 50 miles I sat down in the First Aid and to my surprise, I had no blisters! It gave me a mental boost, that and my friends texting me, so I got up and continued! It were the longest and most emotional 10 miles of my life. I nearly started crying when I saw my friends near the finish line. I could not believe that I was going to finish! I finished in 22 hours and 40 minutes! It was a crazy walk but I got what I wanted!
Keep in mind that your body will be hurting when you’re walking such a long distance. Your hips will hurt, there will be a slight pressure behind your knees, your feet will protest too, but then it’s up to you. How strong your mind, willpower and perseverance is. Pain is in your mind.
In the months after that crazy walk I focused on training on heart rate. I could easily spend more than an hour on the Stairmaster (call me crazy), choosing a higher level every time. Combining the cardio with the right level of strength training made the journey up on the Whitney trail ‘easier’ than I thought it would be!
So guys, if you wanna take that journey, remember that preparation is key! The altitude will be less of a problem when you had a proper training!
Pain is in your mind.