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What to bring

Written by on August 17, 2009 at 10:45 am

I have survived the Challenge Walk for five years now and am excited about participating in my sixth year. Over the years, I have learned through trial and error, talking with other walkers and crew, and the good old fashioned hard way which items are necessities and items that add fun and comfort to the experience. I have compiled a list of things I bring, but encourage you to talk with other walkers and crew as well, as each may have different advice.

2-3 pairs of shoes: All well broken in (but not broken down) before the Challenge Walk.

9+ pairs of socks: At least 2-3 per day, as well as maybe a pair for the cool evenings on the cape.

Head cover: The sun can be brutal, so bring a hat or bandanna to cover up your head.

Sunglasses: If you wear them regularly, bring them to the cape!

Sunscreen: Even in September, you can burn. Better to come prepared and covered up, especially for your nose, shoulders, ears and back of your neck.

Fanny pack: Mine is big enough for my blister kit and two water bottles, and I have plenty of room for other things, like sunglasses, cell phone, camera, chap stick, snacks, and it's still small enough that it doesn't hurt my back to carry it.

Two water bottles: Absolute must-haves. You will be much more comfortable and happy if they fit into your fanny pack. And one in each hand will keep you better balanced!

Crocks/flip-flops/sandals: Something for at night that is not your sneakers. Keep in mind your feet will swell, and they should be comfy for your hard working feet. Flip-flops are ideal for the shower.

Ziplock Bags: Makes packing easier. Put your outfits for each of the three days in their own bag. Pack a few extra to put dirty or wet clothes in. Bring one for your camera and wallet/information.

Newspaper: Should it rain, stuffing newspaper in your shoes at night helps to dry them out.

Sweatshirt and warm pants: It can get chilly at night, even under the big tent with 600+ friends.

Music: Plug your iPod or MP3 into small speakers to keep you, your team, or fellow walkers moving during those longer miles. (Note that earbud or headphone use is prohibited, as you need to be able to hear oncoming traffic!)

Layers: Weather on the Cape is unpredictable. Cool mornings and evenings and warm to hot mid-days have been the average the past few years. Except of course during Hurricane Hannah! Things like a long sleeve shirt or wind pants, especially those that say they will keep you warm in cool weather and dry in hot or wet weather are great. They also fold up small and can fit in your fanny pack until lunch where you can ditch it in your change of clothes bag.

Cooling gear: MSer or not, sometimes it's nice to have a cooling hat, vest, bandanna, or wrist wraps.

Rain gear: A rain poncho and two shower caps. A woman who is an Avon Breast Cancer Walk alumnae shared with me that if you take the shower cap, cut a small slit in the top so you can slide your socked foot in, then put your shoe on, and the elastic shower cap over your shoes, it keeps your feet dry in the rain (or hurricane).

Walking stick/trekking pole: If you train with it, bring it.

Pen and paper: You might want to keep in touch with people you meet or network with on the walk.

Flashlight: So you can see walking from the main tent back to your cabin at night.

Topical muscle rubs: Hopefully you won't need them, but my, oh my, do they feel good on tight, stiff muscles at 6 AM! Things like Bengay, Icy-Hot, and Biofreeze not only feel good, but the smell of them goes really well with the smell of bacon and eggs in the morning!

Other odds and ends suggested on the msnewengland.org MS Challenge Walk page include toiletries, towels, pillow, sleeping bag, wind-breaker jacket, sleepwear, special prescription medications, anti-blister aids/blister kit, insect repellent, pillow, identification and insurance information, soap, deodorant, camera/film, petroleum jelly or body glide, and spending money. Remember your bags must be under 40 pounds. If you can't carry it because it's too heavy, don't ask the volunteers to.

You can find the full Fundraising and Training guide online.

Heather lives in Hampton, NH, and completed her first 50 miles in 2003 in honor of her great-grandmother who had MS. Ironically, she began having symptoms in 2004, and was finally diagnosed with MS in 2006. This will be her 6th walk, and her first as team captain of "All Smiles for 50 Miles". Heather recruited 7 friends to walk, and her mom to volunteer on the Crew. Heather is a pediatric physical therapist in NH.

A few of my favorite things

Written by on July 24, 2009 at 11:25 am

Here's what about the MS Challenge Walk makes me smile and laugh:

  • Sarge yelling "Hoo-rah!"
  • Ralph, the "Hamburger Man", at rest stops saying "Thank you for walking for me."
  • Posing for Andrew and Steve in a funny pose, then  hear them say "Wait, do it again," only I can't move to strike the same pose.
  • I love watching the slide shows and hearing all the laughs, cheers, and "aw".
  • The hardest part of the Challenge Walk for me is climbing up into the top bunk bed, especially after 40 miles!
  • Walking, walking, walking, walking, then suddenly hearing the cheers, and clappers and whistles and knowing that a rest stop is near by.

    Jeannie & Melody Felton with Tracy DeBlois and Doug Lowe

  • The fantastic volunteers encouraging me as I trudge on and on, and each biker that passes late in the day says "You're almost there! It's right around the corner!"
  • Epsom salt foot soaks. Aaaahhhh!
  • Jeannie, Melody, and Tracy singing.
  • Hugs. Hugs. Hugs.
  • Checking out everyone's t-shirts.
  • Who doesn't love a parade?
  • Crossing that finish line one more time to say "Screw you, MS!"

Heather lives in Hampton, NH, and completed her first 50 miles in 2003 in honor of her great-grandmother who had MS. Ironically, she began having symptoms in 2004, and was finally diagnosed with MS in 2006. This will be her 6th walk, and her first as team captain of "All Smiles for 50 Miles". Heather recruited 7 friends to walk, and her mom to volunteer on the Crew. Heather is a pediatric physical therapist in NH.

A walk of a lifetime

Written by on July 15, 2009 at 11:22 am

I have completed five MS Challenge Walks and have walked all 250 miles. I have walked each year for different reasons and with different perspective.

In 2003, I walked in honor of my great-grandmother, who had MS. She began having symptoms when she was in her early 20s. I remember her in the 1980s, first walking with a walker and braces on both her legs. Then she wasn't able to walk at all, and she was usually in her recliner or her wheelchair. Her MS eventually left her with one functioning arm. She passed away in the late 1980s, in her late 60s, of complications due to MS. She was strong, she endured pain and loss, and she retained her sense of humor. Even though she sat in her chair, I was terrified of her threat of "I'll get the fly swatter!" Every walk, I walk for her.

In 2004, I chose not to walk because I was battling symptoms of my own and fighting to find out what plagued my once strong, athletic, never-tiring body. I knew what I had.

Then 2005 rolled around, and one of my aunts (a non-blood relative) was diagnosed with MS. This prompted my Aunt Patty to join me for the 2005 MS Challenge Walk. To be honest, that year, I walked out of anger. I was angry because I still did not have a definite diagnosis. I was angry that my family and friends did not understand what I was going through. I was angry because, despite having my aunt with me, I felt alone. I looked around at the MS Challenge Walk and was envious of the support that others had from friends and family, not only along the walk route, but in their battle with MS. At the finish line, I stared at the shirts on the table; blue for non-MS and red for MS. What color was I to wear for possible MS?

After my definite diagnosis of MS in early 2006, I walked out of relief. My doctors and my family finally had answers, and I had confirmation. I walked because I could. I walked with hope that no one  else would have to experience the physical and emotional pains that I had.

I walked in 2007 to raise awareness. I wanted people to hear my story, to learn about MS, and to support all of us living with and fighting MS every day. I walked because I longed for the support, the spirit, and the camaraderie of others with different stories bonded by the fight to cure MS.

I signed up for 2008 mostly out of stubbornness ("typical MS personality"?), and with the intent of simply enjoying myself and the company of hundreds of other walkers and volunteers touched by MS. For three days, I felt like I belonged and like I was not alone in my journey. I rather enjoyed myself!

At the finish line in 2008, I eagerly signed up for the 2009 MS Challenge Walk. This past year, however, has been a tough MS year for me. I am 31, I work full time, I live alone and am self supporting. I have suffered many changes in my symptoms and in my body, and I do not have the sam stamina and ability to walk as I have in past years. My friends and family keep asking me, "Why then are you even going to attempt to walk 50 miles"? Because it's about more than just the miles and the walking. Because I can still walk, and I want to keep walking. Because it's about the hearts, and soles, of all of us hoping for lives without MS.

Heather lives in Hampton, NH, and completed her first 50 miles in 2003 in honor of her great-grandmother who had MS. Ironically, she began having symptoms in 2004, and was finally diagnosed with MS in 2006. This will be her 6th walk, and her first as team captain of "All Smiles for 50 Miles". Heather recruited 7 friends to walk, and her mom to volunteer on the Crew. Heather is a pediatric physical therapist in NH.

How DO you walk 50 miles?

Written by on July 8, 2009 at 12:41 pm

The first time I walked in the Challenge Walk was in 2003. I thought it was going to be easy, as in my head, I compared 50 miles in three days to my profession as a physical therapist. I'm on my feet all day every day: walking, lifting, climbing, walking moving, walking, turning, walking, and walking. I did attempt to train, but those efforts fell quite short. I'm almost ashamed to say, that even after five years, and 250 miles, I still need to work on my training.

Even though I'm not consistent or compliant with the training, I do strongly advocate it. As a PT, I know that it is important to train in the manner in which you will be performing, as training will help build up the tolerance of pounding the pavement in my feet and leg muscles. I've also learned that training will give me valuable information about my body, such as where my "hot spots" are on my feet, how my shoes are, how my socks are, how my MS is in with each passing mile and in a variety of conditions.  My MS, however, is unpredictable. And as you've read on other blogs, so is the weather, and the temperature. There are a few things, in addition to training though, that can make you successful with however many miles you walk.

  1. Correct-fitting, well broken-in, comfortable shoes. This is so important! DO NOT wait until a few weeks before the walk to get new shoes! New shoes + many miles = lots of blisters and discomfort. In New Hampshire, we have a store called Runner's Alley, and they are very knowledgeable about feet and shoes and will help you to find an accurate fit, as any good shoe store should. They also will educate you on considering that your feet WILL SWELL on such a long walk, and how to plan for room for swelling. Bring a back up pair of sneakers, and they also should fit well and be well broken in.
  2. Good socks. I prefer the thick, wicking socks that help to pull the moisture away from my skin. You can also buy them with added heel and arch comfort/support. Others prefer the bi-layered socks which are designed to take the friction themselves, rather than your feet . Bring at least enough for 3 pairs per day.
  3. Change your socks and shoes at least at lunch time. Some walkers don't change their footwear at all, while others change their socks even more often than once a day. This is where training comes into play as well, and knowing your body.
  4. EAT! It is so important to eat little snacks that are provided along the way to keep refueling your body. Eating things like the oranges and bananas can help prevent muscle cramps. Granola bars and carbohydrates are good as well to keep your sugar and energy up. Proteins are good for longer lasting energy. Don't skip meals in the dining hall. Listen to your body; at meal times, it will tell you what it needs. My body cries out loud for milk for whatever reason. I'm not sure if it's from my feet pounding the pavement so hard, or from Sarge giving me a swift kick in the butt multiple times throughout the day.
  5. DRINK! You have to drink! The volunteers don't tell you to drink water and gatorade to add to their already raspy and horse voices! If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated. Drink water at the starting line, carry two water bottles with you, and for every 2-3 bottles of water you drink, drink a bottle of gatorade. Your body needs the sodium and electrolytes that are in things like Gatorade and Powerade. It can actually cause harm, such as a seizure, if your body doesn't have enough sodium. So mix it up, and DRINK! DRINK! DRINK! Regardless of the weather and the temperature, drink!
  6. Pee. Sounds funny, right? But if you're drinking enough, and you're hydrated well, you should be peeing at every rest stop to every other rest stop. And don't hold it even if the lines are long. If you're not peeing, or your pee is really dark, then you're not well hydrated. Drink more!
  7. Stretch. Whenever you stop to grab a snack, refill your water or gatorade, or pee, stretch. Your muscles can get tight or cramp from being used the same way for so long. Stretch the fronts and backs of your lower legs, the fronts and backs of your thighs, stretch your butt muscles, stretch your back, raise your arms and hands in the air so your fat sausage like fingers can drain. Stretch in the morning and stretch at night. Trust me, you'll feel better.

Along the 2007 route at a rest stop themed "Med-Rock", there was a sign that read something like "Eat. Drink. Stretch. Pee. Repeat". My oh my, how true it is. If you do these things, your journey will not only be more successful, but also more comfortable. In my opinion, by doing these things, that is how you walk 50 miles and get to the end and SIGN UP TO DO IT AGAIN!

Heather lives in Hampton, NH, and completed her first 50 miles in 2003 in honor of her great-grandmother who had MS. Ironically, she began having symptoms in 2004, and was finally diagnosed with MS in 2006. This will be her 6th walk, and her first as team captain of "All Smiles for 50 Miles". Heather recruited 7 friends to walk, and her mom to volunteer on the Crew. Heather is a pediatric physical therapist in NH.

The spirit of the walk

Written by on June 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm

In 2003, I saw a flyer for the MS Challenge Walk in a sandwich shop in Wakefield, Mass.  I flipped through it while I eagerly waited for my dinner. I thought, "50 miles — I can do that." My only connection to MS was that I wanted to walk in honor of my great-grandmother, who had lived with MS for more than 40 years. I signed up.

A few months later, I drove down to Hyannis the night before the walk, completely naive to what "challenge" meant. I had no expectations other than taking in the moment and people and walking the 50 miles.

Over those first 50 miles, I talked to anyone and everyone I could. I asked people why they were walking, what their relationship was to MS, why they volunteer, and how they fight their MS battle. As a physical therapist, I thought that what I learned from others, I would be able to use and share with my patients.

I quickly learned that participating in the MS Challenge Walk was not about the walking part at all. It wasn't about how many miles you did or didn't walk. It wasn't about how long it took you, if you survived without blisters or not, or how much money you fundraised compared to your bunkmates.  The walk had a feeling.

I had never partaken in an event that was so emotionally charged and moving. I was astounded by the energy, the smiles, the hugs, the cheers, the courage and strength people exuded, the encouragement from volunteers to carry on, and the spirit found in the hundreds of people I spent the weekend with — all for the common cause of fighting MS and hoping for a cure.

That is the reason I keep on walking.

This will be my sixth year walking in the MS Challenge Walk. Things have changed, though. In 2004, I began having symptoms myself, and I was diagnosed with MS in 2006. It is ironic that I chose to participate on a whim in 2003, and now I struggle with the physical symptoms and the decline that my body has endured due to MS. In the, past I have pushed and forced myself stubbornly to walk the whole 50 miles, but the thing that has carried me through it all has been the spirit of other walkers and volunteers.

It is extremely difficult to put something so emotional, something so powerful into words. When I flip back through pictures and watch video that I took, and when I share it with friends and family, I tear up. They are tears of happiness, fullness and peacefulness, for it brings forward the intense emotions and spirit that the MS Challenge Walk creates.

It's not about the miles; it's about the people. It's about you.

Heather lives in Hampton, NH, and completed her first 50 miles in 2003 in honor of her great-grandmother who had MS. Ironically, she began having symptoms in 2004, and was finally diagnosed with MS in 2006. This will be her 6th walk, and her first as team captain of "All Smiles for 50 Miles". Heather recruited 7 friends to walk, and her mom to volunteer on the Crew. Heather is a pediatric physical therapist in NH.