Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Getting started

Good evening fellow walkers and curious bystanders! I'm David and, over the next six months, I'll be blogging about my experiences preparing for my first Parish Walk.

Who am I?

I'm a 33-year-old 'Manxie In Exile': I was born and raised on the Isle of Man, but have been living elsewhere for much of the last 15 years. I'm currently into my seventh year in Prague, having spent the previous six years in London.

My brother and others in my extended family (including Ed Walter from last year's featured blogs) have finished The Parish in past years. I've mostly watched on from afar with the help of parishwalk.com, but I acted as a support crew for my dad during the 2011 race: his best attempt to date, retiring at Jurby.

Why am I entering?

Unfortunately my fitness level is woeful: by day a mild-mannered desk jockey and by night a couch potato! I used to walk the 3 miles to/from work fairly regularly when I lived in London, but since moving to Prague I've been more-or-less sedentary. I figure it's time for a change, and having The Parish to work towards will give me some great motivation!

What's my plan?

1. Use 'commitment devices' to keep myself honest

It's pretty cheap to say at this time of year 'I'm going to do The Parish this summer'. It's also pretty easy to let the intervening months go by with little or no preparation and then conveniently forget about it: no harm done. Instead, I'm trying to make it more expensive/difficult/painful/embarrassing for me to back out through the use of various commitment devices. A few examples:

  • I'm writing this blog, which makes me accountable to 'the internet' :) More seriously, by making my commitment public I'm staking my reputation on keeping to my plan.
  • I've entered already: rather than leaving it until 23:59 on 12 May 2013 I entered on 22 December. It's not just the loss of £30 that'll hurt... in fact, that's secondary. Primarily, it's another way of publicly signalling my commitment.
  • I've forked out for some kit already: new shoes and a training watch. In this case, the waste of money if I don't use them is probably the biggest factor, but I wouldn't discount the guilt induced by shoes sitting unused in the hall or using a fancy multi-functional training watch only for something as mundane as telling the time.
  • I've already booked our flights over for June. Again, not cheap (thanks, flymaybe!) and, although it's always great to be home, it won't feel right if I'm not fulfilling the intended purpose of the trip.
  • Through my fervour to participate this year I've inadvertently managed to convince my wife to enter, so now it's a matter of family honour!

2. Build up gradually

A couple of years ago I thought I might do The Parish, and decided the best way to test my mettle would be a 12 mile odyssey out to the edge of Prague. After two and a half hours slog, mostly uphill and in a cold drizzle, I was not only knackered but damaged, and hobbled around for most of the following week. I'm not sure if my heart was really in it that year, but the experience certainly put me off.

Learning from my mistake, this time my plan is to start gradually: building fitness in the early part of the year before moving on to some longer and higher intensity walks. Roughly speaking, my intended programme is as follows:

  • January - daily very short walks (to/from work: about 1 mile each way) with a couple of moderate walks (4-8 miles) each week.
  • February - daily short walks (more circuitous routes to/from work: about 2 miles each way) with a couple of moderate walks each week and a couple of long walks (10-15 miles) during the month.
  • March - maintain daily walks at February level; at least one moderate and one long walk each week.
  • April - maintain daily walks at March level; at least one moderate and one long walk each week; one very long walk (20-25 miles) during the month.
  • May - maintain daily walks at April level; at least two long walks each week and one very long walk during the month.
  • June - maintain daily walks at May level; reduce length of weekly walks, especially towards the race. If there's one thing I've learned from reading past blogs it's that 'tapering' is important!

So far, I'm keeping to the plan for January with no ill effects, but I'll keep it in review: the worst thing to do would be to push myself too far and cause an injury.

3. Lay off the pies

One thing that will certainly help my performance is reducing the amount of excess baggage that I need to carry around the course.

In Autumn 2011 I was tipping the scale at a whopping 97kg (15st 4lb). By chance, I heard an interview with Gary Taubes and subsequently read his book and was converted to the benefits of a zero/low-carb diet for weight loss. I managed to lose about 17kg (2st 9lb) in a little over four months. Unfortunately, in the latter half of 2012 I relaxed my eating habits and, together with the usual Christmas excesses, I'm back up to a less-than-svelte 87kg (13st 9lb).

Clearly, I won't be able to go zero carb while exercising, but I'll be cutting back a bit and monitoring things closely over the next few weeks. My aim is to get down to 77kg (12st 2lb) by June.

4. Don't leave equipment to the last minute

Another thing I've picked up on from reading past blogs and talking to others is that it's a bad idea to leave equipment until the last minute. Keeping with the theme of building up gradually I don't intend to get everything I might possibly need straight away, but I've focussed on two things initially.

Firstly, some suitable shoes. While I was over on the Island for Christmas I made a trip to the helpful guys at Up & Running. I was recommended some Brooks shoes that would help with the overpronation shown by the gait analysis they did. So far I've been very happy with them: if all's well after a couple of months I may get another pair, as I know that I should have spares worn in for the race.

Secondly, a training watch. I thought it would be good to keep a detailed record of my training, and being a techie by trade and inclination I don't need much excuse to get a new gadget! After checking out the various options I finally went for a Suunto Ambit. Again, so far so good: it's been helping me keep to an appropriate pace, and checking out the stats provides me with hours of amusement when I get home. (Sad, I know!)

The end of the beginning

Congratulations and thanks for reaching the end of this epic first post! Sorry for the novel: I wanted to set out some background before settling down into a regular format.

I'll aim to write a new post every week, although you'll be relieved to hear that they should be much shorter in future, including an general update on progress since my last post and some more focused observations on a particular aspect of my preparation.

I'd welcome comments from both fellow novices and experienced Parish Walkers: encouragement, discouragement, questions, tips and tricks will all be gratefully received :)

Have a good week!


  1. Good work Dave, looking forward to following your progress from afar. Happy 2013 to you both from the Walters !!!