Challenge Events

What they are and what to expect

“STRIDER” the thrice yearly handbook of the Long Distance Walkers’ Association contains a full calendar of Challenge events taking place in the UK. The distances are described and how to obtain an entry form and the closing date for entries. There may be no entries on the day so don’t make a long journey without checking. Some events become oversubscribed so the advice is if you fancy an event get your entry in promptly. Events are usually open to both walkers and runners with the start time for runners being later than for walkers. The reason for the later start is to avoid the possibility of faster runners getting to check points before they are open. People on UK holidays often try to fit in a challenge event as a chance to experience new terrain.

A typical event will offer long (say 26 miles) and short (15 miles) options and there will be a time limit for completion, often 10 hours for 26 miles. The “Challenge” is in the mind of the entrant and for newcomers it will normally be to complete the walk within the prescribed time limit. A route description is provided at the start which with care is often sufficient to enable the walk to be completed. Some events call for navigation skills and the ability to read a map and use a compass although GPS devices come into play these days. Some routes may insert a compass bearing to help determine the line of travel so it is useful to carry a compass and know how to set a bearing. A route description guides you from WHERE YOU SHOULD BE to WHERE YOU HAVE TO GO. It follows that if you get off course you are lost and must retrace steps to where you know you are on course then try again.

Some route descriptions start with a list of abbreviations which will be used throughout the description such as “TL” meaning Turn Left or “SPW” meaning St Peter’s Way or “SLOT” meaning same line of travel. Some quote Ordnance Survey Grid References which are little help if you do not have a map or don’t know how to read one. There may be a map on display at the start of the event but getting near it may be a problem and sometimes the map may be affixed to the wall making it almost impossible for bi-focal wearers to read it. It can be a help to copy the route onto your own map but experience indicates that this is often impossible without starting late. In the main if you can read and follow instructions you will get round without recourse to maps, compasses, or GPS devices. Some organisers pride themselves on writing route descriptions containing no abbreviations, compass bearings or grid references but experience indicates that these descriptions need to be checked out individually by at least six experienced walkers who will be looking for anomalies and ambiguities. Always carry your instructions in a plastic pouch and keep a thumb on where you are.

You must register and get your paperwork which will likely include a checkcard which will be punched or signed at intervals to prove that you have completed the course.

There may be a queue for limited WCs so bear this in mind if you spot an opportunity en route to the venue. There is usually a cup of tea and a biscuit on offer before the start and if the event calls for you to carry your own mug it may well be required for this early cup of tea.

There is no need to carry food on a Challenge event because there will be checking stations with drink and light refreshments on offer at 5/6 mile intervals. Do carry half a litre of water and top it up at the checkpoints. Your check card is punched or signed as you arrive at these checkpoints.

Dress according to the weather. Some routes are exposed and remote so have something warm to put on in your rucksack and also a waterproof. In a lengthy  overnight walk on testing terrain be in no doubt that you must carry proper waterproof clothing and warmer layers to avoid hypothermia.  NOBODY is strong enough to beat the elements and how quickly one can be overcome once the body is chilled. On a nice warm sunny day you can revel in shorts and tee shirt and maybe trainers plus the lightest sack for water and maybe strong trainers rather than boots.

THE VERY BEST WALKING SHOE IN OUR OPINION IS THE INOV8 TERROC 345 GORE-TEX, which is strong, supportive, and has high grip soles. This is all-weather footwear. Available from AMAZON but it is pricey and is for those individuals seriously into challenge walking who are looking for performance. However, shop around as the above site is asking £88 and there must be a cheaper source.

See our equipment page for advice on other walking equipment.

Always ask if dogs are welcome before turning up with your pet. In sheep country they will almost certainly NOT be welcome. Conditions of hire will likely ban dogs from village halls. If the organisers accept dogs please keep them on leads and do not let leads tangle with walkers’ legs. Do not allow dogs to foul checkpoints or approach the food tables. Dogs are inclined to rush forward at stiles and kissing gates to the consternation of walkers – please watch yours. Some dogs are now popular characters on certain walks and they do love being out and about. Dogs are welcomed on Essexwalker events subject to the above notes. Dogs are not allowed on RAMBLER walks.

John Mountain

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