I am inherently terrible at moderation, I tend to be all in or nothing at all. In life this has both served me very well (I tend to be very good at what I chose to do), and very poorly (sometimes you should probably show up to that Freshman seminar you hate, if you know, you want to pass). When it comes to athletics, sheer determination got me to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, even if I was intermittently unconscious ten minutes later and had to be run down the mountain because I didn’t acclimate properly (whoops). I am also extremely competitive, which manifests itself in the usual ways, and in slightly odd ways like disliking most board/card games because they have an element of chance, and I can’t depend on my pure ability to win. I am also terrible at “playing for fun.” So when I decided to see how I would fare at a 25km hike (about 16 miles) because I’m considering a long-distance trek this May (more on that later), instead of building up, I strapped on my hiking boots and walked along Dublin’s east coast from city center to Sandycove and back.
The morning I chose, was naturally the coldest day of the winter thus far. It felt like 21 degrees, which for Dublin is basically an end of world Arctic front. So I cold-weather tech-geared up (dear world, thank for merino wool base-layers) and headed out.I haven’t hiked since Ethiopia a year ago. But I do high intensity interval training 6 days a week, this should be a breeze right? According to my maps, walking 25km would take about 5 hours without breaks. I was determined I could do it faster-for no other reason than my own stupid competitiveness. I breezed through the city center at a rapid 6-7km/hour. Following the coast line, once you get out of the the city proper, it’s quite beautiful, especially when you’re afforded the bright blue skies that come along with sub-zero temperatures. It was a pleasant hike, easy, and brisk for the first 10km. Near the half-way point I started passing swimmers on the coast. At the James Joyce Museum a group of very fit retirees meandered about in only swimwear jogging in place before plunging into the ocean. Despite loving the high of endurance athletics and physical challenges, I cannot begin to fathom ever doing this. The cold is my nemesis. I struggle immensely to maintain body temperature. As a side note, the people who usually put me to shame in the outdoors world tend to be 60+, no better ego check than being passed at 4,000 meters on a steep accent by an 75 year old. Damn impressive (enter: life goals).
At this point I’m slowing down to a steady 5km/hour and noticing a bit of pain creeping in. I’ve had some knee problems lately from a lot of lateral movement in my daily exercise-which you might think would encourage me to slow down and take it easy. You would be wrong. But I made it the first 12.5km in under two hours. Throughly pleased with myself, I head back without breaking. I know this isn’t ideal, but I want to find my max, to see what my body can handle.
One thing I love about Dublin is that I can walk for a few hours, or take the Dart for 10 minutes and be out of the city. The coast line is gorgeous all over Ireland, and while it’s certainly far more impressive on the west coast, I’m thankful we have a least a bit of an escape here. And while a lot of this walk was on concrete paths, the view afforded for much of it is pretty top-notch for a city.
The ground is still frozen as I hit 15km, I can feel the impact of fast walking on concrete and frozen earth for several hours, though my muscles are fine my joints are starting to complain. I focus on my breath, a mindfulness exercise I find that helps me move past discomfort, find a good pace and continue whatever physical demands I’m placing on my body. Somehow I just notice the discomfort, but it doesn’t really bother me. I hit a wall around 20km, part physical, part mental knowing I have a measly 5km to home. I slow down to 4km/hour. I know I should have paced better, and taken more breaks, enjoying the walk more. For the last 2.5km my phone dies so I walk in silence at a relatively painful 3km/hour. I wander into my apartment and notice the walk took 4 hours and 45 minutes. Which of course means, had I just slowly walked the whole way I would have made the same time and potentially decreased the pain I was currently feeling. I knew I’d pay for it the next day. I took anti-inflammatories, hydrated, did some yin-yoga recovery and tried to keep moving my muscles.
I am happy I’m capable of walking 25km in one go with no training, though I don’t think I could currently do it for several days in a row, which is what I’ll need if I go trekking this spring. And it was a good reminder to try and check my competitive nature, lest it destroys me, and instead try to enjoy the walk itself, and the meditative nature of long-distance walking. I did learn my shoes are far too heavy-meant for proper mountaineering (I got them for Nepal), the extra pound weight on my feet (which, by common hiking adage adds 7-9lbs to my back) I realized I needed something simpler or I might be dooming myself to failure. Up next is likely shorter, easier under 20km hikes for now, getting proper shoes, and nursing very sore shins.