The 3-Day event organizers do their damndest to keep participants well-informed as to what to bring and what to expect. Still, it is hard to anticipate everything. And besides, with the mass of e-mails we receive every day, a newsletter or two is bound to get lost. So, below is a long and rather rambling list of things I learned before, during and after the Atlanta event.
Bring at least two pairs of walking shoes. Both should be well broken-in and make one half a size bigger than you normally take. Both of mine were Acics, and they worked well, bit I did miss the memo on the larger size and ended up with my left foot nearly falling off from swelling and cramps. In general, Acics appeared to be the predominant shoe. Reasons:
- Have you ever smelled a pair of shoes after walking 20 miles in them? Don't. You'll die and your blood will be on my hands. You want them to breathe for a day, to air out, to get rid of all the yucky bacteria in there.
- The broken-in part should be obvious. You don't want to be surprised by where the shoe rubs your foot in the middle of the 60-mile walk.
- Your feet will swell. They will also acquire an assortment of blister patches, band-aids, bracing bandages, ankle wraps, etc. All that stuff still has to fit into the shoe.
Bring socks. Bring lots of socks. Two pairs per day is minimum, three is better. Stock up on socks early and wear them while training. Not every sock works well with every shoe. My purple Acics were more padded, so a thinner sock worked better with them, whereas the blue ones were a bit lighter, so I wore them with the cushioned REI walking sock.
The standard recommendation is to change your socks at lunch, which is roughly the half point of the route for each day. However, the folk wisdom is to change them as soon as you start seeing hot spots (baby blisters). This means that the sock is getting sweaty and beginning to rub you the wrong way. To absorb some of the sweat, bring foot or baby powder on the trail with you and sprinkle it generously into your socks before putting them on.
Lubrication is your friend. Oh, get your minds out of the gutter, all of you! Seriously, though, you want to minimize friction wherever possible: between your foot and your sock, between your sock and your shoe, between your blisters and your bandages.
One awesome and inexpensive trick I saw used a lot was using Glide deodorant on the foot soles. Glide is very inexpensive and you can get the small travel-size odorless one in any pharmacy. Apparently, it works very well to reduce the rubbing between the foot and the sock.
Another popular anti-rub solution was just your basic Vaseline - again, the kind you can get anywhere. Same principle - you scoop it up and slather it all over the tootsies.
Drugs of choice. Ah, but there were many! Ibuprofen - first and foremost. We all carried it, we gave it out, we took more from Medical, we ate it by a handful, especially by Day 3. Aleve - see Ibuprofen. About the same. Both were passed around at pit stops like a really lame cheap round. "Care for a hit of Aleve, my man?" "Don't mind if I do, mate! Cheers!"
Decongestant and non-prescription allergy medication - this was Atlanta, people, and it's fall. Ergo - seasonal allergies. Walking requires breathing, so it was best to keep those nostrils free and clear.
Band-Aids - lots of them. In all shapes and sizes. The big honking ones were best, because not only did they help cover blisters, they also kept pressure off the areas around blisters.
Moleskin - soft and fuzzy and cushy and fabulous for creating an additional layer between a sore spot and your sock and shoe.
All of the above was carried by walkers and resupplied regularly at the medical tents during each and every stop. Then there was the stuff that the Medical crew used to patch us up and send us on our way.
The least sophisticated yet effective remedy was ice. Ice in freezer bags, wrapped to people's arms, legs, feet, ankles, and knees using saran wrap. Some people kept their ice bundles and walked with them, sporting what looked like odd growths here and there.
Biofreeze. I brought my own, but some people didn't. The Medical must have stocked truckloads of it and gave them out by handfuls. The medical crew members carried pocketfuls of Biofreeze packets, because it was the most requested item after Ibuprofen. If you are not familiar with it, Biofreeze looks and smells like mint jelly and is from the same family as Icy Hot and other anti-ache substances. You slather it generously over your muscles and joints to control the soreness. In addition to using it on the trail, we all applied it religiously before bed time to let our legs heal overnight. Not entirely, but at least partially.
Triple antibiotic lotion. Like Neosporin. Absolutely vital. With so much walking , sweating and dust, this stuff was essential in keeping infection to a minimum.
ALCiS pain relief cream. Whoever invented that thing deserves a monument, a palace and a personal limo, complete with staff and a life-time supply of money to maintain it all. Seriously. It's like Aspecreme but better - lighter and without smell. Basically, it's like aspirin in cream form. You rub it into your feet and they feel a bit less like they are being cooked over a slow flame. And you can stand up and get back to the business of walking.
Skin-on-Skin. The person who invented this one deserves a palace too and all the other trimmings. It's a bit tricky to use, but it's absolutely awesome. Skin-on-Skin comes in the form of little squares in round plastic jars. Each square has a layer of film on each side - one blue, one clear, both transparent and damnably hard to get off. BUT, in the middle is the squishy soft deliciously cool substance you place on a blister or a scratch before you put a Band-Aid on top. Because it's so gel-like and wiggly, it takes away 95% of the pressure - a huge plus when you have a big raw open hole in your foot.
Heal thyself. The medical crew is wonderful. But things do get busy, especially around Day 2 when blisters start popping up in droves. While budding blisters should be taken to the medical tent to be lanced, as should serious sprains, limps and aches, there is a bunch of stuff you can take care of yourself.
Carry a small First Aid kit in your pack. The 3-Day web site gives you a very detailed list of what to include. You can restock at each and every pit stop - they have self-service medical tables with all sorts of stuff.
Learn how to dress and re-dress scratches and open blisters. Learn how to massage your own legs. This event is not for the squeamish - I can tell you that right now. You simply cannot afford to get queasy every time you see something bleeding or bruising.
If you have friends who hike a lot, ask them for some first aid advice, or better yet, ask them to take you with them on a few weekend hikes. They have to carry medical supplies too, and they know how to get the most use out of the least amount of stuff.
Learn to help others. People will stumble and fall next to you on the trail - it is bound to happen. Know the standard first aid questions to ask ("Do you feel dizzy?" "Can you hear me?" "Can you breathe ok?" "Can you sit up?", etc.) Sometimes as little as moving the injured person into the shade and placing a wet bandanna on his or her neck makes all the difference in the world.
Eat. Drink. Rest. And Pee. That was the mantra of the walk. After blisters, dehydration was the biggest problem on the trail. Many walkers did the same thing I did - had a waist pack that housed two bottles: one for water, one for Gatorade. Sipping regularly from both was the way to go. If your bladder was beginning to nudge you right as you reached the next pit stop (spaced about 2-3 miles), your fluid intake was adequate.
While food was provided regularly, we were still encouraged to carry snacks: trail mix, Power Bars and the like. A mix of protein and carb bars was the best. If you felt hungry, you popped a protein bar, if you felt tired, you ate a carb one. Some people insisted on waiting till they got to a pit stop. Yet others skipped meals because they thought they were too far behind. That was stupid. Never do that.
I think we all skimped on resting a little bit. Oh, it was glorious to sit down and take the shoes and socks off and just veg for a bit. Getting up, however? That was a whole other matter. So, many of us never sat down for fear of not being able to get up again. That, of course, was not very smart, because the feet needed the rest.
Watch your step! This is one thing you hear a lot on the trail. There are lots of steps, curbs, cracks in the sidewalk, etc. If you happen to be ahead of a group of other walkers, it is a courtesy to warn them by saying "Step!" or "Watch it!" or "Hole" or "Pole" or something equally eloquent. (People who put telephone poles in the middle of sidewalks, you are not my friends and I think you are ugly.)
We are all human. Even I am (contrary to popular opinion). After walking a number of miles (a large number of miles) our attention tends to waver just as we need it most. Do your best to keep your focus on the road under your feet. Many injuries occur due to something silly, like someone not noticing a step down from a curb or a big pot hole on a sidewalk. Keep your eyes peeled for yourself and your fellow walkers.
Looking good! Every one of the fourteen 3-Day walks had its own unique set of route and weather challenges. In Atlanta it was hills and a 30-degree temperature swing between each day's low and high. It was 45 degrees F when we started each morning. On Day 3, the high almost reached 80. What can I tell you...
Layer. Wear garments that can be easily put on and taken off and that pack small and can either be stashed in your pack or attached to it. Yes, you want to look good while you are walking, but comfort is key. This is not Paris Fashion Week. You won't draw an ounce of enjoyment out of looking like a Land's End or Territory Ahead centerfold, if everything pinches, chafes and itches.
You can always reinvent and express yourself sartorially once you reach camp. As I mentioned in one of the earlier post, the 3-Day event camp is much like a big pajama party. Anything goes, as long as you are not naked (although some people came close).
Follow your gut. Of course, chances are you won't have nearly as much of a gut after the walk as you did before. A 60-mile stroll tends to do that to you. Seriously, though, do not ignore your instincts.
When your gut tells you that you are thirsty - drink. If it tells you that you are hungry - eat. If it tells you that you need to sit your butt down and rest - do so. If your gut is screaming "Your foot hurts, you need to get onto a van!" discard your pride and flag down a sweep van. Believe me - there is no shame in that. By then, you will have already accomplished more in a day or two than most people ever do in their lifetime. Get help, get better, rest up, you get to walk another day. And that is all that matters.