Do you really need to train to do something you do every day? Yes. Believe it or not, going for a stroll for a few hours is very different from walking in the vast open wild for multiple days straight. When you’re preparing to embark on the West Highland Way, it’s essential to be prepared, and we don’t just mean picking the right kit. Your mind and body need to be ready also, and while Scotland’s best-loved long-distance walking trail is not technically challenging in terrain, it does require a certain level of physical and mental endurance.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
So, why should you train to walk long-distances? If your mind and body are ready to conquer the West Highland Way, then the walk will be much more comfortable, you’ll reduce the risk of fatigue during the day, and your muscles won’t ache as much as if they were unaccustomed to long walking days.
If you’re not used to long-distance walking, it’s important to start small and build up your distance and technical skills gradually so that you don’t injure yourself. Begin with short distances of 5 to 10-km to get a feel for the exercise, assess how you feel afterwards before adding on a few more kilometres for the next outing. Similarly, for elevation and technical terrain, begin with more accessible routes before escalating to more demanding trails.
In the months leading up to your West Highland Way adventure, you should train with shorter walks which mimic distance, elevation and terrain to what you will experience on a typical day on the trail. When out on your training walks, it’s essential to use and wear all the gear that you’re planning to take with you. This is an excellent opportunity to practice walking with weight and to break in any new pieces of equipment – you certainly don’t want to be breaking in a new pair of boots on the West Highland Way!
Don’t be afraid of a little rain or wind. Adverse weather conditions can arrive and dissipate swiftly in the Highlands, so it’s a great idea to get used to walking in all weather conditions with your kit. It’s also an ideal time to test out your waterproof equipment to see if they’re up for the job of the West Highland Way.
When you’re out on your training walks, take advantage of the time to experiment with your food fuel and snacks. Find combinations of foods which work for you, that give you boosts of energy when you need it and keep you going for full days out on the trail.
Training before you embark on the West Highland Way will allow you the time to test your kit thoroughly, to see if it’s suitable for your needs. Practise walks also allow you to get familiar with the use of your equipment, to break-in boots and clothing, that way you have time to swap things out and adapt them to be fit for purpose. Last but not least, training walks will help you to build up a good level of base fitness which will help to reduce the risk of fatigue, help prevent sore and aching muscles and offer you a much more comfortable experience on the West Highland Way.