Somehow it's a month until Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones. A month until the Wareable team take to the hills and stomp out 100km. It's an absurd distance, and even as we ramp up our distances to include 13 mile training runs and even longer weekend walks, it's the fear of that final 100km (62 miles!) – that inconceivable, unimaginable distance – that keeps us awake at night.
So, with one month to go, it was time to get serious. We decided to head out, as a team, to conquer a distance that would really give us some frame of reference as to what was ahead.
We decided on a walk that James had done before. 25 miles from the quaint village of Wye to Canterbury and on to Whitstable. It would join the challenging North Downs Way to the brilliantly named Crab and Winkle cycle path, crossing the orchards of Kent before powering out to one of Britain's finest coastal towns. Those who made it could enjoy fish and chips, plenty of Kentish Ale and a refreshing paddle in the sea in lieu of a recovery shake.
Of course, we're not all following the same plan. Sophie, who plans to walk half of the 100km, was due to meet us at the village of Chartham, to complete 11 miles of the trip. And Mike – who sustained a football injury midweek – would do the same.
James, Conor and Paul – who like Mike are planning to run a lot of the distance – used the run as a test to see how far they could manage. And whether it was possible to still be running at the 25 mile stage.
Sophie's plan to walk 50km hangs by a thread after a particularly difficult time on the Canterbury walk which ended in a quite nasty blood-soaked sock. Read her story next week.
James Stables – Co-founder
Other than Mike who did the Edinburgh marathon a few weeks back, I've put in the most miles in training. I've been running the 13 miles home weekly (before a niggly injury put me out for two weeks), heading out for weekend walks of upwards of 15 miles with my wife and hitting the hills on my bike.
But most importantly, I've been working hard in the gym, trying to build up strength in my legs to give me the endurance. This isn't going to be a race completed on tip-top aerobic fitness. Miles in the legs, the ability to walk hard, to maintain strength and form when you're 15 hours in. That's my plan.
Mike in the beautiful village of Wye
But I was daunted by running on these trails. It's not like you can jump on the bus home. And as we set off from Wye, and we broke into a run, I was suddenly hit by doubts. My pack felt too heavy. It was filled with 1.5l of water in a hydration pack, I had spare socks, suncream, a Goji Portable Charger which would be essential for recharging my iPhone (which was being used for maps) and the GoPro. We used the GoPro Hero 5 Black for capturing bits of the run, and while it's compact, it's still an extra item in a small pack. All in all, I felt encumbered.
But after a mile I started to settle. My body and gait changed to work with the pack (which became more manageable as I sucked down the water). I was able to run more and more. Now we didn't run anywhere near 25 miles – I'd say we ran around half. Hills were a no-no, 100km is too far to be powering up hills. But we loosely stuck to around a mile running and a mile walking. As we entered Whitstable, I was in my stride. The end of the walk came too soon – I could have run on, and that filled me with confidence for the big day.
A quick note on the tech. I used the Garmin Fenix 5 for this training run, and for the first time ever, encountered issues uploading the GPX file. Now, I'm not blaming the watch. There's no guarantee the GPX files were kosher, but I've never had a problem before. The route didn't show for the North Downs, and multiple versions of the second GPX route were showing as corrupt in Basecamp. It was annoying, because despite the signposts, we still got lost twice.
But after six hours in hiking mode, it still had 82% of battery left. Incredible.
Paul Lamkin – Co-founder
The training run was a real eye-opener for me. Race to the Stones is 100km, we did less than half of that… it's a loooooong way. However, it's given me a fresh perspective on how to tackle the race.
Firstly, I'm gonna have a bash at doing it all in one go. No overnight camping. I just don't think I'd have the motivation to get up and do 50km again, after an inevitably bad night's sleep in a tent (after an inevitable six pints of beer). I think I'd be better to just keep going – if my legs allow for it.
We took the GoPro Hero 5 Black along for the run
I've also been fretting over the best run/walk combo but the training run made me realise that there's no point in trying to come up with a perfect ratio – at least at my level of fitness. So, out of the window is my 'run a mile, walk a mile' plan. In its place is a 'run whenever I feel like it' approach.
Now, that doesn't mean I'm planning on doing less running. What I found on the training run was that the running parts, when conditions suited, were actually a welcome break from the pretty fast-paced walking – and a good opportunity to stretch out a bit.
However, my overriding thought after that training run is just how long 100km is.
And a special mention for the Polar M400. It proved to have really good battery life, and although I did charge it mid-run with a battery pack, it would have lasted the distance. There's no dedicated trek mode so I just had it on run mode, but that was good enough as it helped with pace. Also, you can charge by regular Micro USB, which will be handy for race day, without the need for flimsy charging cradles.
Conor Allison – Reporter
Like the rest of the team, the training run was the perfect way for me test out a soft race day plan and clock some crazy hours on my feet. And after coming through the other side, I actually feel slightly better about my ability to finish the race in one go.
As expected, it was tough, but it was more a case of managing blisters than my legs being shot. If that's something I can limit – no easy task over 100km – then I think I have a chance to limp over the finish line without camping overnight.
I was also happy with how the Apple Watch Series 2 performed throughout the day, especially from a battery perspective. Sure, it's not giving you GPX routes like the Garmin Fenix 5 or TomTom Adventurer, but it was able to track total distance, heart rate, calories and time throughout the day (with pretty frequent screen time for pausing during bouts of walking) while only losing 37%.
It should be a good fit for the race, from that evidence. The only question remaining is whether I rely on a fellow Wareable team member for directions or download a hiking app like Viewranger to help avoid an eternity in the Chilterns.
Sophie's foot looked none-too-clever after the walk
Mike Sawh – Editor
Unfortunately the big training run quickly turned into a big training walk simply because I still hadn't recovered from a hamstring injury suffered in my marathon a few weeks ago. Plus, I picked up a fresh knock playing football when I perhaps should have been resting up ahead of the 25 miler.
While the fitter of the Wareable team managed to hit the 25 mile mark, I had to settle for 17 miles of walking, which still felt like an accomplishment considering my current state of fitness. It was also good for my body to experience a very different kind of stress. It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but walking for long periods is very different to running for long periods.
After 25 miles, beers on the beach were especially welcome. It's protein right?
I was relying on the TomTom Adventurer to get me to the end point, and it was pretty good experience putting it to the walking test. Once I'd set it to hike mode, the GPS locked on in seconds and I was ready to track. I've been a regular user of TomTom's Spark running watch, which is essentially the same device albeit with the extra outdoor tracking modes. So it was very easy to get to grips with and I didn't really have to play around with it much.
By the end of the walk though I was confident I could walk on for a few more hours yet but was a little concerned whether the battery life on the Tom Tom Adventurer would hold up for a significantly longer amount of time spent on my feet. I've decided I'll be switching off the heart rate monitor for starters, which I'm not sure will be all that important to keep an eye on in the Race to the Stones challenge and should definitely help the battery situation.
As far as feeling prepared for the race, which I'm planning to complete in a single day, I still feel massively underprepared with less than a month to go. But I'm confident I can get through it because it's going to require a lot of mental toughness, the kind that got me through my toughest marathon running over the years.