Preparing for the Fifty Mile Walk

The OakOn Sunday 14th May and 21st May, those were planning on walking the 50-mile walk set off on a 20-mile walk for the practice. I think that most people would agree with me when I say that it is harder than it sounds. Overall not including stopping for lunch, it took us just under 5 and half hours, which I was pleased with. What kept me going was the food and water, without liquid I think that I would have felt faint, as it was a hot sunny day. Personally, I really enjoyed bonding with the other pupils in Bodeites who I do not see often, I believe that it is your companions who keep you going. I wish all of the student’s luck that are hoping to complete the 50-mile walk at the end of quarter.

I asked Mr Blatchly (head of the 50-mile walk) some questions about the history of the 50-mile walk.

What specific characteristics are needed to complete the 50-mile walk in your opinion? 

“Determination, preparation, good luck (ie, not pulling a muscle or twisting your ankle running off the Downs after homebill), impeccable navigation, stamina, perhaps pride too.”

 Why and how did the tradition begin?

“I don’t really know, but legend has it that JFK said American youths were so unfit that most could barely walk 8 miles.  Some Carthusians decided that they’d walk 50.  JFK said in 1963 that a well-trained marine should be able to hike 50 miles in 14 hours. It began as a CCF-only exercise, but some time in the 80s or early 90s it was opened to the whole of the 1YS.”

 What is the quickest time to finish the 50-mile walk?

“The old route was two 25-mile circuits (using the A3 for part of the way): someone did that in 8h42 – two laps of 4h21 each!  On the modern route anything under 12½ hours (4 mph) is not strictly speaking a walk.  The great Peter Milmer (g 01) did it in about 10h something with a special beak marker running with him all the way: very costly in terms of beakpower.  More recently people have done it in similar times – but I can’t recall figures just like that.  Frankly the speed element does not interest me – and those wishing to do double marathons should (obviously) find properly organised running  events to do in the holidays.”

“50 miles is an immensely long way – and any time is a good time.  Probably the best completion – the most admirable – is the 23h55 effort: we get very few of those…. but the almost-24h walkers are the really amazing people.  Spare a thought also for those who choke on Meadrow, or at the foot of Charterhouse Hill.  Those who give up any time after Bramley (46¾ miles) are truly heroic: they know better than to go further than they feel they can, and that takes self-knowledge and courage.

Those who decide not to walk, and instead who offer magnificent service as markers (without whom the event would collapse) are also very highly to be praised.  They are not doing it for themselves, but for others.”

 Approximately what percentage of people finishes it? 

“The figure of 84% sticks in my mind.  I think that is the average in recent times.  The number of starters has rocketed since 1998 – my first 50-mile Walk: I think about 100 started and 70 finished.  Now we have nearly 200 starters.  That’s rather a lot of people – but we cope.

We are not the only school to have taken up JFK’s challenge.  There are other schools, both in the UK and around the world, who undertake this annual endurance test.

By Emmy Nicholls