What follows is a little guide to all the various mental and imagery techniques I've found useful for endurance walks (40+ miles), cycling and generally being very, very restless in life. One of my big fascinations with long walks is how much of a head game they are- yes having good gear and being physically strong is a requirement-, but they often come of secondary importance to having your head in the right place and being able to use your mind. Over the course of many years spent doing long walks, it is something I've thought a lot about and feel ready to share some of my ideas.
|Dobbo feeling motivated- another 40 miles of walking and he|
knows he'll stop walking and be drinking Moonshine in
The Lescar. 'The 4 Peaks' Walk, March 2014
Before doing any big committing long-distance challenge you've got to be motivated. In a big way. I'm talking about being so psyched to the point that you'll be thinking about it every waking hour of every day for several months before you set off. It requires a certain level of obsessiveness to do these things. When you've walked for 40 miles, it is raining and have another 15 miles of moorland to go, being motivated is what stops you quitting. When you are half awake on Kinder Scout at 2am and every bit of heather looks like a comfy bed to curl up on, it doesn't matter how fit you are or able to deal with sleep deprivation. It is pure will power that gets you through. None of the following ideas in this guide matter unless you are psyched to do what your doing. You have to want these things. And want them badly.
Believe in yourself. On anything that is hard- be it a climb, cycle or a long wander- you have to have absolute self belief that you can do it. Obviously don't be delusional cause you'll fail, but a realistic, strong and unwavering sense that you will succeed is essential. It creates the right mindset for doing a hard challenge. Don't view failure as an option (although accept it if you do). Be prepared, be relaxed, be confident, be certain you will do it.
Suffering- through exhaustion, pain, lack of sleep and other discomforts is a big part of the long-distance game, A fair amount of the enjoyment from it is Type-2 fun. No matter how fit you are, how good the weather and your diet is, or how well you use your mind- at some point you will suffer to some extent. Although at the time it can be thoroughly unpleasant, you have to learn to accept it. There is a degree of freedom through suffering, as though you don't realise it at the time, there is release from the trivial matters of day-to-day existence into a much simpler state of being (you are in pain!). Pushing through is a big part of the reward when on long walks. Going in with acceptance and being prepared for it makes the whole experience much more manageable.
Mind- Body- Land: Understanding the landscape, yourself and listening to your body
|Perfection on a deserted Howden Moors whilst chasing|
sunset over Bleaklow. No one knew where I was, just me
and the land (and another 37 miles to go). 'Beyond The Horizon'
This is a key idea of mine that is applicable to every time you go out into the hills as well as long distance walks. Nobody succeeds by fighting against nature. You understand, work with and lose yourself to the land. For example, it is nearly always possible to cross peat bogs with dry feet by looking at its texture and inferring how solid it is. Plan your walks so you have the sun and wind behind you. Read the features to make easy progress instead of slogging in a straight line up to your knees in a river or bracken. You should aim to feel truly at ease being alone on the hills in all conditions and seasons, night and day. Each has their own moods and feelings. Whether on a 50+ mile walk or just wandering for an afternoon, feeling relaxed and comfortable greatly enhances the experience.
Listen to your body. Know when to rest or when to push on. Adapt your pace to the terrain, slow on the ascent, faster on the flats or a steady flow. Deal with hunger and dehydration before it hits. Notice any pain, lack of sleep or blisters and deal with it.
Your mind is crucial. Anticipate and prepare for the sections when morale will drop. Be in the zone, focusing on reading the land, navigating, and looking after yourself when needed. For example, it is much better on the mind to rest on the top of hills not halfway up no matter how tired you are- you've done the hard work and don't have to worry about it.
It is only when your mind, body and understanding of the land are working together that you succeed and enjoy long distance walks. One does not work without the other two. Yet this can apply to any wander on the hills, even just a short wander up Kinder. It is about achieving that sense of immersion and awareness which creates a much more comfortable and enriching experience.
Dealing with tiredness.
|Mike on the long , long plod up Glitterind- the 2nd highest|
mountain in Scandinavia. August 2015
When you are really shattered and just want to get home, focus fully on a landmark you'll be passing at the end of a section- and no more and 6 miles distant. This objective becomes your whole world and nothing else matters apart from you reaching it. You can imagine there's a beam of light drawing you in towards it like a tractor beam. When you reach the landmark flick your focus and imaginary light beam to the next one and carry on. The idea is that by intensely concentrating on the end of each short stage of walking you'll numb yourself to feelings of tiredness and be able to keep on going. You can go along way with very little fuel left in the tank if you are smart (and motivated) about it.
Another things: When you are really, really tired it takes a while for your body to warm up after a rest. At a certain point you'll stand up and your muscles feel stiff, slow and achey whilst the feet may be like standing on knives. Just get moving. Give it a bit of time you warm up, the pain will diminish slightly and you begin to walk instead of hobble. It just takes a while.
Coping with pain.
There are two ways to manage pain. The first- distraction- is pretty self explanatory. If that soreness in your legs is getting a bit much or your feet are increasingly feeling like you are standing on knives then just focus deeply on something else and don't look at it. If you are alone, sending yourself off into a daydreamy world helps, and if you are with someone, try engaging in intense conversation- and keep talking!
'Turtle Theory': This method deals with pain and the cold using imagery and breathing. Imagine you
are a turtle withdrawing into its shell. Now imagine all your nerves are withdrawing up your arms and legs into your core. Slow your breathing down and focus on that image, as if you are cutting off the pain and becoming numbed to it. Taking this a step further, focus on the idea of your mind becoming a detached, disembodied bubble floating along, ignoring and becoming numb to all other sensations. When in serious discomfort- such as soaking wet and cold, being far too sweaty on a long slog uphill (or when seriously hurting and used along with painkillers) it is a useful technique.
Note: These ideas can be used to coping with the cold too. Going for a wild swim and the water is a bit cold? Gone to the park in shorts and can't be bothered to go home for warmies? It can help numb you from it and able to stay out longer. You can even stop yourself from shivering. It works.
|Me, feeling absolutely bollocksed after 26 hours and 60 miles|
of walking. Existence depends on painkillers, harribo and
an overwhelming desire for a bath. 'Beyond The Horizon',
I view sleep deprivation as split into two types- long term (i.e- not getting enough sleep for many days in a row) and short term (staying awake for over 24 hours). Here we are only concerned with the latter- long term sleep deprivation is thoroughly unpleasant and isn't something you encounter very often when out walking.
Staying awake for over 24 hours without stimulants is quite simple and it is surprisingly easy to function relatively normally having been awake for 36 hours or so. The trick is to simply get through the night. Depending on your sleeping patterns, between midnight and 6-8am your body will want to sleep. Fight it. Nothing but motivation and willpower can do this. If you want it you will manage it. Make it through the night however and bingo! After 24 hours awake and it is daylight, your circadian rythems kick in and you'll find yourself reawakening and feeling and very lucid, if a little drunk. After this stage you'll feel like this- with waves of drunkenness and nausea- all through the day until the following evening where your body's rythems will kick in again and you will feel very sleepy.
'Cloud Theory': This is another imagery technique I've used to help stay focused when sleep deprived. Imagine all the sleep deprivation is like a cloud floating in front of your brain, fogging it up. Now picture a beam of light going from your brain or core that pierces the cloud into clearer skies beyond and absolutely concentrate on it, steadying your breaths if necessary. The idea is that by visulising your lack of soberness as something that can be seen through, you will (to some extent) be able to nullify its affects and function to a degree of sober, well slept normality. The more sleep deprived you get the thicker the cloud becomes and the harder is is for the beam of light to shine through- it is a technique that takes practice.
|Three sleepy lads heading towards the Inn Pinn on the|
Cullin Ridge Traverse, Isle of Skye, May 2016.
Disclaimer: Doing anything such as cycling or swimming whilst highly sleep deprived is dangerous and is not recommended. I've done these things out of sheer curiosity after many years of conditioning and experiencing these states of sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and accepted the risks involved. Don't be an idiot and hurt yourself or others!
|Happy as a pig in shit and loving every minute of it! Awake|
for 25 hours at this point. Halfway through the
'Peakland County Tops Walk', March 2016.
It is fascinating what you can do and how much more you can push yourself if you can use your mind. Most of these ideas are quite similar and link into one-another. None of the above is in any way an alternative to being well equipped and knowing the relevant hill-skills and how to use them (don't go out in a blizzard trying to be a yogi-guru master- we invented gore-tex for a reason). Yet for anyone interested in doing long endurance challenges or pushing their mind or body to see what if is capable of, it is crucial to understand these skills. I strongly believe that using your mind and understanding yourself and the land is an essential part to success. I'm no professional athlete nor do meditation-like stuff- all of the ideas discussed here are purely self-taught from years of amazing, enriching experiences on the hills and are my own thinking.
I hope is of use and interest to you.
*The ideas have been given stupid names because, why not?