Tag: resilience

5 Lessons from Walking for 24 Hours

At the end of May I walked for 24 hours straight along the Cornish coast path to raise money for my hockey club. The plan was to set off at 9pm, and walk through the night and all the next day, finishing at 9pm the following day. Although I like walking, it would be the biggest physical challenge I’d taken on yet, and facing the start line with a sore knee I wasn’t sure how I’d get on. 

I’m happy to say that I achieved my goal and raised £1300 for Duchy Hockey Club, which will help us buy some much-needed equipment and storage for the club (you can still donate here if you’d like to support our mission). 

One month on, I’ve had lots of time to reflect on the lessons I took away from this challenge – so here are five things I learned from 24 hours of walking. 

You’ve always got more left in the tank than you think.

Someone once told me a story about SAS recruits in training: at the end of a gruelling run, when the recruits are stumbling to the finish line completely exhausted, they go to touch the Land Rover that marks the finish line and it drives off for another 30 miles. It’s an exercise in resilience, in digging deeper than you thought possible: just when they thought they were about to collapse at the finish line, the recruits have to find the strength for another 30 miles. There were many points on my walk that I felt like I was completely exhausted, and couldn’t go on any further – but every time, I’d keep going. 

A few hours from my finish time, I decided on a point that I’d like to end up at, and calculated that I’d need to walk about twice as fast as I had been for the past few hours, up and down one of the hilliest stretches of coastline, to reach my goal. I surprised myself when I made it to the finish point, at which point my legs truly refused to move another step (but who knows – maybe I had another 10 miles in me!). It was a really interesting exercise and it showed me that our idea of our own strength is very much in our head – if you’ve decided it’s the end, you’ll physically feel like you’re finished, but you might be able to use the power of your mind to discover reserves you didn’t know you had.

Positive self-talk really works.

I started the walk with a bit of knee trouble from hiking the Three Peaks in May. I’d decided that I was still going to give it my best shot, and I’d take it step by step and stop if I really needed to. I’m sure I could have easily talked myself out of going ahead with the walk with a sore knee as an excuse – and if I’d started telling myself I couldn’t do it, I’d have believed it. Instead I focused on positive self-talk, even talking to my knee at points (walking along the coast path at 3am in the pitch dark will do that to a person!). Whether it’s a mantra, affirmations, or just a running commentary of encouraging words, positive self-talk really works – and there are lots of studies on athletic performance that back this up. 

Trying to distract yourself from discomfort doesn’t work.

The best way I found of dealing with the aforementioned knee pain (and the pain everywhere else – after the halfway point, there wasn’t much of me that wasn’t sore) was accepting the discomfort, rather than trying to push it away. Trying to distract myself with music didn’t work; it was only facing it head on, acknowledging it but keeping it at a distance, that helped me to keep going. Whether you’re dealing with physical or mental discomfort, knee pain or anxiety, allowing yourself to feel the discomfort and then letting those feelings pass can be a useful coping strategy.

Walking is active meditation. 

I’ve written before about the many benefits of walking – for cognitive performance, for coaching sessions, for finding your way around a problem that you just can’t seem to solve sitting at your desk. I had wondered whether I’d get bored over the course of the 24 hours, and brought along headphones so I could listen to music if I needed it, but I found very quickly that I preferred to walk without distraction. Something about the repetitive motion of walking for a long period of time, combined with the solitude of often being the only one on the coast path, made it really easy to slip into a flow state, despite the nagging pain in my knee and the tiredness in my legs. I found myself 100% in the moment, aware of discomfort but able to sit with it, with no desire for any distraction. Accessing this flow state is one of the reasons I love walking so much – even a short walk – but walking for hours on end I was able to settle into a sense of calm that really helped the time pass.

Take big goals one step at time.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” is a cliche for a reason. If I allowed myself to think about the enormity of the task I was about to undertake, it felt like I’d never be able to finish it – but when I stopped thinking about the task as a whole, and just thought about what was next (leaving the house, then taking the first steps, then the next), it became much easier. I tried to approach the start as if I was just heading out for a walk, never thinking too hard about the whole, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. It’s easy to talk yourself out of a big challenge if you picture the whole thing in your head – but we’re much more capable than we think if we take it one step at a time. Breaking the walk into small, manageable chunks made each step much easier to tackle.

If you’d like more information about walking coaching sessions, resilience, or setting goals, feel free to get in touch. I also offer corporate training for teams on leadership, communication and lots more – more info here.

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