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The shoes and tools you need on the trail.


Challenge Walk fashion and what to wear

Written by on Jul 5, 2010

I believe that when you look good, you feel good, and during our weekend full of walking, every little bit of "feel good" helps! Courtesy my mom, here are some guidelines to help you choose comfortable apparel on the route and in training, followed by my own suggestions:

  • Wear clothing that is comfortable and loose-fitting, allowing you to move.
  • Dress in layers. Remove a layer as you warm up while walking, and put it back on if you feel cool.
  • If you sweat while walking, consider investing in CoolMax or polypropylene shirts to wick the sweat away from the body.
  • On cooler days, add an insulating layer of polar fleece or wool.
  • Socks should be comfortable, and socks made from CoolMax or other high-tech fibers are preferable to cotton, as they prevent blisters by keeping the feet drier.
  • A hat is essential!
  • Sunglasses prevent UV exposure for your eyes.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Wear a hip pack or something with pockets for keys and the like. Pack lightly for most walks, and leave the heavy purse at home.
  • Carry water if you plan to be walking for a half hour or more.

When considering exercise clothes for the trail, try a few different brands and styles. Different fabrics have different weights and wicking techniques, there are a lot of choices out there! Another thing to consider is the way your body changes throughout the weekend. After 24 hours of chugging water and Gatorade, I tend to get pretty bloated, so I always bring some loose-fitting tops for the second day of walking. I recommend ruched tops.

Athleta headband

Headbands can make you feel and look cool!

Athleta has a great line of walking gear and even has accessories for women. Yes, I'm serious — I accessorize on the walk. Like I said, if you look good, you feel good! Try a fashion tank, lightweight wicking capri, and a headband.

With all this focus on fashion, you may wonder how to show your team pride. Many teams make shirts, hats, and backpacks to show their team spirit, but it's important to remember that everyone has their own idea of what's comfortable. I, for instance, wore a team tee-shirt my first year, and found it to be extremely heavy and sweaty! I was miserable. Now I save my team shirts for photo ops and fundraisers. On the trail, I wear exercise clothes and save my team logo for my backpack.

So shop around and try a few different styles until you find the one you're most comfortable in. With enough planning, you can look great while helping out a great cause!

Brooke is a member of the Blister Buddies and walks with her mom, Patty Thorpe. Brooke lives in southern New Hampshire with her husband and three daughters and is looking forward to her sixth Challenge Walk in 2010.

The right way to use sunscreen

Written by on Jun 14, 2010

Last month, I walked my first-ever one-day walk with the National MS Society. Kahm and I had a great time in Laconia: the sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and everyone was in good spirits.

Unfortunately, we weren't all smiles the next day when we found ourselves sporting some light sunburns. We'd applied sunscreen prior to the event, but proper prevention takes more than slapping on an ounce of the stuff just before hitting the road. Let's demystify how to make your sunscreen work best for you.

SunscreenWhen choosing an SPF rating, know that this number represents how long you can stay in the sun without expecting a burn — but it varies per individual. The formula is to take how many minutes you can normally be outside without getting a sunburn and multiply it by the SPF rating. Someone who burns after only 15 minutes on a cloudless day could absorb 50 times as much solar energy with an SPF 50 sunscreen.

But sunscreen doesn't take effect immediately, nor does it last indefinitely. It takes time for the skin to absorb sunscreen — it needs to be applied at least 30 minutes prior to initial exposure. And sweat can cause its effectiveness to deteriorate, requiring reapplication every hour or two. (On the walk itself, the midday change of clothes bag you're provided is a great place to store your sunscreen for later reuse.)

The latest issue of Reader's Digest has additional sunscreen tips, including the counterintuitive suggestion to avoid sunscreen lotions with a rating higher than 50 SPF. Take these facts under advisement when protecting yourself during your training this summer!

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.

Shoes are made for walking

Written by on May 28, 2010

As my semester ended and the rigors of graduate work slowly started to fade into memory, I knew it was time to begin training in earnest for the Challenge Walk in September. But as a new walker, I was missing something very important: shoes! I'm the kind of person who can live in the same pair of flip-flops all summer (and the same boots all winter), so the idea of investing in a good pair of athletic shoes was a little daunting. Still, I knew it had to be done, and I solicited the advice of others to find out where to shop.

In response to my message on this site's forum, Heather Hancock kindly suggested that I look around for a Marathon Sports. Luckily enough, there was one a short distance from where I live. I knew from their Web site that they had some high-end shoes and would do consultations to get a good fit, so it looked like a smart place to buy. My only worry was that with all the personal consulting, I'd be pressured into buying the most expensive shoes in the store.

Marathon SportsI went in on a quiet Friday. A salesman asked me what kind of shoes I was looking for and watched me walk across the room and back to give him an idea of what sort of fit would work for me. As he went in the back to collect a few pairs for me to try, I watched as a woman (obviously an avid runner) put on a pair of new sneakers. She took the clerk's suggestion to try them out — which she did by running out of the store and around the block. I jokingly asked if they ever had problems with people not coming back, but the clerk gestured to the woman's sandals, purse, and cell phone on the floor, telling me it usually wasn't an issue.

While we were chatting, the clerk who'd gone to fetch my shoes came back with a couple of pairs and informed me that since my feet were slightly wider than average, but not wide enough to necessitate a "wide"-fit shoe, he picked shoes he knew to have the most toe space. The first pair I tried on was just right — cushy and comfortable, but snug enough that I wouldn't have to worry about blistering. And to my surprise, he had brought me some of the lowest-priced shoes they had in stock!

And so it was that within 15 minutes I had a perfect pair of walking shoes in my possession, and I was excited to give them a test run on the way home. After a successful five-mile walk in Laconia, I think my new puppies are well broken in and ready for some serious training! And if my shoes are that enthusiastic about walking, it's hard for me not to be.

Kahmmie was a first-year walker in 2010 and had just started to get involved with the MS community, with the inspiration of her then significant other, Ken, this site's webmaster. She lived in the Boston area and attended graduate school full-time.

Don't dress for summer

Written by on Sep 9, 2009

The weather forecast for this weekend varies depending on who you ask. Heather suggested what to pack, and Susan specifically encouraged us to prepare for rain. Regardless of rain or shine, you should remember to bring warm clothes. It may not sound like sensible advice for someone who's going to be in the blistering sun for six hours at a time, but it's the other 18 hours you need to consider. The evening activities and ceremonies are held outdoors, and Cape Cod in September can be quite cool. Pack a sweater or two so that you can always dress down a layer if need be.

Oh, and for those ceremonies? You may want to bring a box of tissues or two as well.

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.

Three (more) days!

Written by on Sep 8, 2009

I just realized that in three more days, we will be walking for three whole days. Coincidentally, my new favorite song is from Ray Lamontagne and guess what the title is? You got it — "Three More Days"! The song's lyrics are great. I was thinking, as we are crossing the starting line, that this song would be great to hear, either blasting over the loudspeakers or as my own personal soundtrack.

Another thing that keeps me moving is food, so I'm planning on bringing a couple of my own snacks. The rest stops provide awesome food, but the selection doesn't always vary among the different stops. It's all donated, so I'm not complaining, but something tailored to my tastes is nice to have, too. I like to put a mix of wasabi peas and almonds in a Ziploc bag to keep in my walking pack.  Over the next couple of days, think about what favorite snacks you'd like to have during the walk or at night!

Three more days! I'll be wearing the Kranny's Cruisin' Diva visor… please make sure that you say hello!

Caroline is getting ready to walk her fifth MS Challenge Walk. This is also the anniversary of when she was herself diagnosed with MS. Her walking team is Kranny's Cruisin' Divas. Caroline spoke at last year's last year's August Celebration and is a member of the walk's steering committee.

Does your bottle overfloweth?

Written by on Sep 4, 2009

With the MS Challenge Walk just a week away, now is a good time to point out one of the event's finer details that may've been overlooked.

To cut down on both costs and waste, this is a "cup-free" event. Each rest stop will have ample water and Gatorade to keep you hydrated, but you're responsible for your own method of taking it with you. Some folks buy a prefilled water bottle from a convenience store and reuse it throughout the weekend; others buy a fancier, more durable, and sometimes more capacious Nalgene container. Still others prefer a CamelBak, a backpack that holds water you can draw through a siphon. CamelBaks can be convenient because they leave your hands free, but I've avoided these products because I try to keep as little weight on my back and shoulders as possible.

We've already given plenty of of advice on staying hydrated. The only amendment I'll make is to consider bringing two water bottles, so that a rest stop never forces you to choose between water or Gatorade; you can have one of each, and maintain better symmetry and balance by keeping one in each hand!

As a member of the support crew, I've seen walkers forget the cup-free nature of the MS Challenge Walk and thus find themselves without any portable hydration. In these cases, the support crew will live up to its name and find you some accommodation, so please ask. Even better, come prepared with all the gear you need for a great walk!

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.

What to bring

Written by on Aug 17, 2009

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 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.

Slimy yet satisfying

Written by on Jul 27, 2009

One random discussion with a stranger made all of the difference… for my feet. I was on a training walk with a group of women who liked to walk longer distances than most sane people, and I fell into step with a woman who had walked 60 miles to raise funds for breast cancer research. Among the many tidbits of information she passed on as we walked, she mentioned petroleum jelly (or Vaseline). Oh yes, you're thinking, it works wonders on chapped lips (so true!). But that is for a different blog. I've found when you're walking 50 miles that petroleum jelly is also a wonderslime for your feet. The first morning of  the MS Challenge Walk I slathered petroleum jelly all over my feet — between my toes, on the soles of my feet, over my heels, and on the top of my feet. Gross. Words cannot convey how slimy and strange this felt. And yet, this woman promised me that I would be blister-free (or at least have fewer blisters) if I cut down on the friction by slathering the goo on, so I did.

To add to the fun, I then tried to slip my double-layer walking socks on over the slimy feet. Easy, you say? Yes, but you have to be certain to get rid of any wrinkles in the socks (again, blister avoidance), as they stick to the slime.

Lunchtime rolled around, and I remembered my talk with the stranger. I retrieved my change of clothing bag that had been set out by the crew and pulled out my fresh pair of socks and a tube of petroleum jelly. I took off my shoes and socks before enjoying my lunch so that my feet could breathe. After lunch, I slathered up my feet again and put on a fresh pair of socks and my sneakers.

I have participated in all the MS Challenge Walks on Cape Cod to date, and while I have had some blisters, they have been small and for the most part not too bothersome. This luck is probably due to a combination of the double-layer socks, sneakers that fit well, and training, along with the petroleum jelly. Still, I remember my first back-to-back long training walk and remember the big blisters that I got that day when I had the right socks and shoes, but forgot to slather on the goo.

Some walkers swear by Body Glide instead of petroleum jelly, but I'm not changing what has worked for me during my many MS Challenge Walks. Try both, find what works for you, and stick to it. Your feet will thank you!

Susan lives in the greater Boston area and has been involved with the National MS Society since she was diagnosed with MS in 1995. She has participated in the MS Challenge walk for the past seven years and currently serves on the event's steering committee.