Walking Long Distance

Posted by: RogerB

Walking Long Distance - 05/13/09 04:27 PM


Been reading these forums for a while, it is a ever growing wealth of information. I've looked around and didn't see much on this subject and was wondering what your takes were on it.

I've done a bit of reading on the subject of how to properly walk and pace yourself in such a way that you can go almost indefinably.

From what I've found you should practice walking in such a way that your steps are very light as if you were walking on eggs or the like. This way your muscle tissue and bones are not taking a small hit every-time you step so you don't get achy or bruised feet as soon as you normally would.

Also while taking those steps one should train there feet to relax there muscles in between steps so that 1) they get a small rest between steps & 2) they have a small chance to re oxidize and circulate blood, therefore refreshing them a bit between each step.

My questions are:

Have any of you heard of this kind of thing if so do you put it to practice?

Secondly, I work security so on my rounds I have been trying to 'train' my feet for this. It really does seem to make a huge difference. The problem is though even after hours of working on this during almost all my night shifts I still have to really concentrate on it or i start to forget to relax a muscle or start to step just a little harder again. Also if I am doing this i can a only travel about 1mile/hour. I am ok with going slow, I normally do any way since I can enjoy the trip more, however, my target speed is probably more like 2 miles/hour. If any has tried this do you find that if you use this on the trail after the first 2 or 3 miles you have started to be able to go a good pace and not spend much time concentrating on it?

Hope to see some input, and thanks.
Posted by: Bearpaw

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/13/09 06:38 PM

After a few thousand miles, you develop whatever stride will naturally work best for you. I tend to walk a rolling heel-toe stride, slightly off the mall-walker sway due to using trekking poles.

On flat ground, I walk continuously and comfortably. My increased heart rate does everything I need to oxygenate my legs.

On uphills, I use the "rest step". I step up and straighten the lower leg. This allows me to rest for an instant (or a few seconds if needed) by using my skeleton to hold me up, rather than my muscles. It's the closest I come to using the techniques you mentioned.

This technique DOES help on an extended uphill. On the AT, this is pretty much every day from Georgia through central Virginia, and Massachusetts through Maine. Give it a try. It's well worthwhile.
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/14/09 12:27 AM

Roger B
You gotta think that a lot of guys who right this stuff don't care whether it works or or not - its the book sales that counts and there are a lot of nuts to go around. You can find enough support for any particular crazy idea, that some will say its a matter of HYOH hike your own hike.
I will say that on steep terrain, especially rocky, that you should use your knees as springs and keep your body weight from bouncing so much so you glide more.

However I think more importantly - on steep uphill, or long hard level hiking, is to time your breathing with your steps, and practice deep aerobic breathing. If its tough terrain I will [inhale (step step)] then [exhale (step step)], so that I completely inhale in two counts, and completely exhale in two counts. This moves a lot of oxygen through your body and gives you a regular amount of air per step.

Anyway I always feel lighter when I breath deeply the gathering gloom. confused I try to practice the Tibetan art of running with feet not touching the ground, but I seem to be doing it wrong. I also try to practice walking lighly, but I still weigh the same.
Jim S
Posted by: RogerB

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/14/09 02:03 AM

Thanks for the replies.

After I started trying this out there is some of it that made sense as I said before. Especially since my normal walk is kinda almost stomping as my wife always reminds me when im walking around the house with my boots on, walking lighter does seem to help when im walking long distance.

However some of it seemed like it would be near impossible to incorporate the way it was talked about. But I'm always interested to learn more so wanted to try it out, thanks for the thoughts on the subject too. I tend to agree with you and bearpaw.
Posted by: BrianLe

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/14/09 12:55 PM

"I tend to agree with you and bearpaw."

Me too. Ultimately, the pace, breathing, foot angle/placement etc etc of course need to be what you find work best for you, but IMO trying to walk thousands of miles on eggshells would drive me crazy, unless I got it (or something that adapted from it) completely into muscle memory and just automatic.

Related to the positive benefits you're looking for will be the shoes, inserts, even perhaps the socks you wear, and certainly whether (and even how) you use trekking poles and how heavy your pack is. I think your comment about miles per hour is right on --- if it really would limit you to a mile per hour (and I presume that on pavement?) then it's clearly a no-go for distance hiking unless you've got a huge amount of time & patience and better than average resupply options.

For me, the act of walking should be a(n unconscious) pleasure. Things like adjusting pace to the slope and terrain, some degree of rest step on fairly steep inclines, that sort of thing hopefully get to be automatic so the walker just enjoys the pleasure of walking.

All that said, I have a couple of foot issues I haven't resolved yet this year from walking the PCT last year, so what do I really know! shocked This topic strikes home with me just now as I'm really eager to get back to having that sense of freedom and pleasure from walking fairly fast, light, and long.
Posted by: MountainMinstrel

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/14/09 10:29 PM

Originally Posted By Jimshaw

Anyway I always feel lighter when I breath deeply the gathering gloom. confused Jim S

But the next thing you know another day's usless energy is spent.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/15/09 09:27 PM

This "pacing" thing is arcane stuff that isn't all that easy to describe to a beginner, but anyone who has hiked a lot and paid attention knows their own pace.

For me, what I concentrate on is my breathing. It regulates my pace, because it is tied directly to my conditioning and my conditioning changes from hike to hike and for longer hikes it even changes within the hike.

A good tip is to shorten stride on any uphill, so you can keep the same rhythm as usual and not overly labor your breathing. Deep breathing, with attention to pulling air deep into your lungs and somewhat accelerated exhaling, can propel you a bit faster and farther than if you just slog along and pant for breath.

Your ability to distribute oxygen from lungs to blood and then pump the blood to your extremities is the bottom line. Breathe control is where it all starts.
Posted by: jpanderson80

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/19/09 02:34 PM

I agree with others and want to second BrainLe's comment about gear. I found that I walk a natural stroll at 2mph. My fastest sustainable walk would be 3mph. I just know that my experience.

I've never thru-hiked like Bearpaw or BrainLe or others (but I've actually read both of their journals - good stuff) so certainly listen to what they have to say. I know that when I switched from boots to trail shoes, my stride was affected. I felt lighter, faster and more agile. It was fun!

When the going gets tough I inhale for two steps, and exhale two steps; when it really gets going I inhale for 3 steps and exhale two steps. It really helps me get my mind off the hill too.
Posted by: ringtail

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/19/09 05:31 PM

Sorta, kinda.

After a season of nordic skiing with exaggerated weight shifting I tend to stomp rather than placing my foot lightly.

When I shift back to skiing I have to train myself to keep my knees bent.

Muscle memory is not automatic for me.

Synchronized breathing and pace makes your hike much better.

On rolling trails I start heavy breathing before I reach uphills so the I never suffer an oxygen deficit.
Posted by: Paul

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/20/09 12:14 AM

I haven't tried the techniques you mention, but there are a couple of things that I find make a big difference for me in walking efficiency.
One is relaxation, and the other is rhythm. And the only way I find to improve both is to walk a lot, and on varied terrain. I find that when I walk on variable terrain, as in a fairly rough trail, frequently and regularly, my feet and legs get used to the automatic adjustments they have to make to maintain a smooth stride despite the rough surface. So then I can maintain a walking rhythm without as much effort and without having to think about it at all. If I am out of practice, as it were, then there is a lot more effort and concentration required to walk the same stretch of trail. And this is regardless of fitness. So that even if I've been doing a lot of walking, but on smooth surfaces, I won't have the same facility when I get on a rough trail again.
Thus, being in shape is only part of the deal - I find I need to be in practice as well in order to walk efficiently on trails.
I also would second the breathing in rhythm idea - it does seem to help - and this ties back in, because if you can't maintain a walking rhythm, then it's tough to breath in sync with your strides.
Posted by: leadfoot

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/20/09 05:47 AM

Don't think about it. Just walk. Your body and feet know what to do.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/22/09 07:50 PM

Don't think about it. Just walk. Your body and feet know what to do.

Um, if that were true, then no one would trip or fall on the trail. blush

It would be closer to the truth to say that, if you start out by thinking out what to do, paying attention to what works and consciously training yourself to follow the right way, then gradually your mind will absorb the necessary patterns and replicate them without much, or any, effort.

For example, a great NBA player can "get into the zone" and "play out of his head", but that's just because he has practised his moves and his shot for thousands upon thousands of hours. Hand a basketball to a novice and they could never do that, especially by expecting their hands and feet to automatically know what to do.

Sure, almost anyone can walk if they are not disabled, and generally they will get somewhere, but getting high efficiency is not quite as simple as you make it out to be.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/25/09 10:38 PM

It is all aboout conserving energy. Choose a pace that you can comfortably do all day. Do not "stop and go". Getting moving is more difficult than a smooth pace of keeping going. It is a matter of conserving momentum. Step around obstacles, not up and over them. Rhymthic breathing - in other words set a breathing pace and let that determine your step pace. The goal is to keep a steady heartbeat. Just like gears on a car, slow down up hills, go faster on flat ground. Breath right. Foot placement matters - stepping on a flat surface is easier on your muscles than on a side-hill. Even on a steep hill, you can find little flat spots - try to utilize these. Relaxe. If you are tense or hurried you will waste a lot of energy. Start each day slowly and speed up gradually, then slow down at the end of the day for your "cool down". The start lets your system adjust and the cool down reduces sore muscles at the end of the day. The walking "lightly" is mostly a matter of flexibility - bend knees instead of stiff-kneed plopping down your feet. Pretend you are hunting and sneaking up on an animal. You will also notice that most long distance hikers use light hikers or trail running shoes, not boots. No sense in lifting 5 pounds every step!
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/26/09 10:01 PM

One thing I've found to be important is to pace my uphill walking so I don't have to stop to catch my breath. Slow and steady is far less fatiguing than rushing and then stopping to gasp, as the fable of the hare and the tortoise should remind us.

Sometimes being a tortoise has its rewards, such as actually passing someone who was originally bounding way ahead of me. Usually, though, it just means that I can beat one of our famous Oregon banana slugs up any hill around!
Posted by: Pika

Re: Walking Long Distance - 05/27/09 10:31 AM

I can beat one of our famous Oregon banana slugs up any hill around!

Good for you! The last time I was in banana slug country, one of them passed me!
Posted by: sparkyy

Re: Walking Long Distance - 08/23/09 12:12 PM

Like others have said, pace your steps with your breathing. It can get you into sort of a meditative trance as well.

I have several different styles of walking that I use throught a trail, depending on different factors. Your legs and lungs will tell you what it needs to do. It tends to favor the "path of least resistance".
Posted by: FIGHT ON

Re: Walking Long Distance - 08/23/09 04:53 PM

I think sticks help a lot. More so if you are carrying a heavy load. I don't think they help if you are going faster than say 4mph or running but for long distance hiking they work for me. Save my knees on the down, and on the up and flat I USE them with each stride. Can't imagine hiking w/o them.
Posted by: LoweAlpine14

Re: Walking Long Distance - 08/23/09 09:23 PM

I have to agree sticks are ur best friend on the trail. Hiking sticks save ur knees and are great if u are backpacking.
Posted by: idahosteve

Re: Walking Long Distance - 12/28/09 12:00 AM

I just purchased the book "Lightweight backpacking and camping" by Ryan Jordan, and it had by far the most intelligent discussion on the physical and technical aspects of "walking"... I learned more about how my body performs from this section than any other in the book. I would highly recommend reading this as it will put into words what otherwise we only "feel" while we hike. A truly amazing book as well. Five stars for sure.
Posted by: Jeff

Re: Walking Long Distance - 02/03/10 07:35 PM

I see hikers who have a rough start on the trail and I ask them a question.
Did they try doing day hikes before the hike. If you can't day hike your typical
days mileage around town when you don't have a full pack, you shouldn't
expect that the trail days with pack and ups/downs will be easy.

I try to do 9-10 mile neighborhood walks a few months before the trail.
I also do a few 12-15 mile day hikes in the mountain in the few weeks before
a major hike. Our typical couple hour walk around town can be 7-9 miles.

The second reason people have problems is they bring too much stuff.