Tapering for the Oxfam Trailwalker

The Winning Team 2013 - Oxfam Trailwalker Mumbai
The Winning Team 2013 – 100km Oxfam Trailwalker Mumbai

With 174 teams registered for the second edition of the Mumbai version of the Oxfam Trailwalker there are about 700 enthusiasts entering the final stages of preparation for the race! With a wide range of fitness levels, the performance outcomes will also vary. Nonetheless, there are things that every individual and team can do to make their own experience more fulfilling.

Some Hard Reality
Let’s first get some of the more obvious facts and features out of the way.

  • the Oxfam Trailwalker is on trails… so if you’ve been walking only on flat roads, you’re in for a bit of trouble. What can you do about it?  Only a little, given the time remaining. Physical adaptation to trail walking will take significantly more than the 10 days we have to race day. Nevertheless, it’s better that you do a few simple simulated trails near your home (even in a kids playground) to be psychologically prepared.
  • it’s an endurance walk… so if all you’ve been doing in terms of exercise is walking for an hour every day, or even twice a day, that’s not good enough – you’re in for a tough time.
  • on the flip side, race day is race day, so you don’t need to have walked anywhere close to 50km or 100km to be considered very well prepared. As long as all the other components of your training have been done well, and you’ve done a couple of 30km walks, you’ll be fine.

Allow me to take your focus onto things that you can make a difference with between now and race day.

Start Time
The race will start at 0600. If you are someone who normally burns the midnight oil and wakes up well after sunrise, then next week might be the best time to start to bring your body clock ahead so that you start sleeping earlier and waking up earlier too.

Race Day Anxiety
It’s not uncommon to find it difficult to sleep the night before the event. Performance anxiety or different sleeping environments (hotel beds or sleeping bags) can leave you starting the race morning with non-zero fatigue. It’s best that you start to sleep longer hours in the days running up to the event, especially the night prior to the last sleep before the race. The positive impact of that is lower stress on pre-race night which will allow you to sleep better on that final night! Vicious or virtuous cycle, it’s in your hands.

Time of Day
If you haven’t done any of your walking in the dark, you still have time to prepare for this. Fortunately, the event is around full moon, and so, without cloud cover, there will be sufficient light when you are out in the open. When walking through foliage, the natural light levels will be low. I suggest you practice walking around at home in the dark if you’re someone who almost never does this normally.

Ensure that every team member has their own torch with brand new batteries. There’s no harm in carrying extra batteries. Make sure the torch is bright enough and that the light emitting object (bulb or LED) is not feeble. A torch with a robust handle (won’t fall out of your hands easily) is a good idea, and if you can, attach it with a long strap around your neck/bag/wrist (just in case you fall, the torch stays with you and you can pull it to yourself in the dark).

Hopefully you have already got a nice healthy tan from doing part of your walk training in the sun. If you haven’t, now is your chance to get a feel for what that will feel like. Think specifically about which parts of your body will get brutal sun exposure and protect them sensibly. The sun protection headgear you wear should allow the head to cool (air vents) but also keep the direct sun out. A tight cap with no ventilation is a bad idea. My suggestion is that your sunglasses are also attached around your neck with a strap. Dress sensibly for success, not for style!

Load Carrying
Practice carrying your backpack on your next tough training walk, if you haven’t already. Ensure it’s of a weight similar to what you’ll carry on race day. Keep a keen lookout for where the bag or its straps might be causing a problem e.g. chaffing.

It is but natural that you will want photos taken along the way to remember the event by. Be smart and turn off your network signal (switch to Airplane Mode). Phone batteries drain fastest when the network signal is weak. Everyone knows you are out on a trail, there should be no need for them to try to reach you. You, can always turn it on to call others when needed. The smarter way will be to turn 3 phones off and keep only 1 of them on at any time. Share the pictures later. Another alternative might be to take a separate camera for photos (carry the extra load) and wear a wrist watch (to tell the time) and use your phone mostly for emergencies. If you have a spare battery for your smartphone, carry it. If you have a car phone charger, carry that. Use the support vehicle to charge your phone when needed. Perhaps more in the early part of the race itself.

There’s a lot of chat among the walkers preparing regarding blisters. Hopefully you’ve been walking enough already to have feet that are used to some amount of pain. Since blisters on such a trail are caused primarily because of wet feet:

  • avoid dunking your shoes/feet in water unless you are desperate to do so (and then bear the consequences)
  • make sure your support vehicle has many pairs of socks (15 pairs, if necessary, just for you) and carry a few in your backpack
  • more importantly, change socks at each stop BEFORE your feet cry out to instruct you to
  • keep the extra pair of shoes (that you have also been training in) in the support vehicle (not at home)

You could also tape your feet/toes in areas that blister easily and carry ample quantities of antiseptic wash and band aid, should you bleed. Remember, prevention is better than cure!

Besides the socks that will get wet with sweat quickly, the rest of your garments will too. Good quality dry fit is best. Practice walking in those same clothes this weekend. Note where there might be chaffing (common areas include: nipples, just under the armpits, inner thighs). Cotton trousers and not shorts will protect your legs from scratches, bruises, cuts and insects.

It’s likely that the only harmful wildlife you will encounter are mosquitoes. It’s not a bad idea to carry at least two insect repellents in your team pack (in 2 different bags).

First Aid
Carry your own first aid kit. If there’s bleeding, direct pressure (with your hand) and elevation (above the heart) are some of the best ways to stop bleeding. Carry a second first aid kit in a different bag, just in case.

The event is an endurance event and if you are well-trained, you will burn mostly fat as your energy source. However, you will still burn carbohydrates. It’s best that you eat small quantities of high quality (i.e. with other nutrients) carbs e.g. nuts, fruits. Your body will break down muscle as the hours progress and so quality protein will also be important (mostly in the post event recovery phase). Fats/proteins keep you feeling satiated for longer so don’t skimp on them, just make sure they are of high quality (say “no” to vada pav and fried chicken, say “yes” to boiled eggs).

Sip water regularly through the day but don’t over do it. Check your urine colour. Too dark, you are dehydrated; too clear like fresh water, you are drinking too much! Ensure that you are getting enough salts in your snacks (salted nuts or home cooked food). Keep a few sugary drinks handy for when you are beginning to wane.

On The Trail

The Team
Appoint a team leader. This need not be the same person who was the chief coordinator in the weeks leading up to the event. It’s best if he/she is someone that everyone thinks is fair and just. If on the trail you start to detect that one person is being picked on, nip it in the bud immediately. If you find that one person is complaining too much, take him aside (don’t tell them off in front of the others) and speak to him calmly. Hopefully you have formed a team of people that you get on with or it will be the most painful multi-kilometer race in your life. Having said that, focus on being a good leader. This is not a marriage that is meant to last a lifetime, so make the most of the situation and start focusing on what is positive around you (the natural wildlife!)

Make a giant checklist of things that each person in your team needs to do and share it with them. Keep printouts of them in plastic sleeves for quick reference so that sweat or drinking water don’t destroy important papers.

Whenever there’s a stop to rest, try to sit and stretch your legs. Don’t walk around bravely unless there’s a need to. Have quick agreement once you decide to stop and rest as to how long you will rest for.

Weak Links
Your team will be as strong as its weakest link. Going by that principle, if you notice a weak link, provide support to that person/phenomenon. For example, ensure that the weakest person is carrying the lightest load, and the strongest person the heaviest. Ensure this from the start itself so that the weakest link is never really a weak link, even near the end of the trail. And remember, the person who is physically the weakest, may often be the person with the most courage, determination or sense of humour – all factors that are critically important for success in this endurance event. Remember that this is a team effort.

In the 72 hours pre race
The best thing you could do in the 3 days running up to the trail walk is to rest as much as possible. You may not have the luxury of extra sleep but try to avoid walking around too much. It’s probably best to avoid other intense exercise too. The best thing you can arrive with on race morning is a pair of fresh legs under a strong body under a head with bright eyes and a gleaming smile.

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.


  1. I have no experience of long distance trail walking but I still thoroughly enjoyed your article for its comprehensive details. I think you did not leave out anything.

    Reminds me of the Armed Forces where the planning was always this detailed and meticulous.

    Your suggestions will prove invaluable to the participants.

    Extremely well done !


  2. Thanks for this great post! Just one question and an issue that I have been facing lately. Some of my toes (rather toenails) are developing internal blood-clots and they get very sore and hurt a lot after the run. I’ve tried changing shoes and socks as well; however it doesn’t seem to help.. any other suggestions that could help? Also, how long does it take for the blood-clot to fade away – is 3 months of clot normal? My physician whisked it off as normal and suggested to stop running, which isn’t very encouraging..


    • I think most runners get blackened toenails. However, it’s not the actual toenail… after all toenails have no blood supply. It’s always the flesh under them and the result of repeated forceful impact. The 3-D contours of your feet along with the exact shape of the shoe, and how you tie your laces on shoes that ought to be slightly larger than your normal shoe size, will determine the extent of the problem. Typically, for those of us who have it bad, the toenail pain goes away in 48 hours (i.e. alternate day runs are fine!). Solutions include: (i) experimenting with different shoes (ii) keeping mileage low (train and run only half marathons instead of full marathons!). Good luck!


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