The Oxfam Trailwalker is one of the world’s largest fundraising endurance challenges, driving teams of four people to walk, run (or crawl) a 100 km course over rough and uneven terrain, irrespective of weather conditions, in under 48 hours. If you would like to know more about this event, you can read my previous article here.

From the 20th until the 22nd of April, 746 teams, or just under 3,000 individuals, walked the trail in support of Oxfam. These valiant (or insane) individuals braved the drizzly cold weather and pushed their bodies to the extreme limit to raise over $2.5 million.

I spoke to one of this year’s competitors, Brian Murray, about his experiences preparing and participating in the Oxfam Trailwalker Melbourne.

On ultra-marathons

This was not Brian’s first marathon or ultra-marathon event. Brian has competed in a previous Trailwalker event which saw him battle through the snow, and has also trained for the Melbourne Marathon.

While training for the Melbourne Marathon only two weeks prior to the marathon, Brian found out that he had obtained tibial stress fractures which prevented him from competing.

Just thinking about Brian’s 22 weeks of gruelling, endurance training regime tires me. Yet, as a previous long distance runner myself, I can attest that running is not simply about feeling fit or looking good. Many runners talk about the ‘runner’s high’ and the mental escape that running affords. Running can become an addiction and as mileage increases, it becomes increasingly likely that an injury is sustained.

On motivation

Brian tells me that he has always loved sport and fitness. Not only is he a frequent gym goer, but he also incorporates fitness into his daily routine. He would rather take 45 mins to walk into the city than take the tram that runs past his front door.

Brian decided to do the Trailwalker this year due to his love for fitness, physical challenges and also spend more time with friends while enjoying the scenic outdoor trails of Warburton and the Dandenong Ranges. Let’s be honest, Brian… wasn’t it really so that you could imbibe endless pints without the worry of a beer gut.

On preparation for the event

Brian and his team commenced training in December to prepare for the April event. This gave Brian plenty of time to spend with friends as they trained. Nepalese soldiers serving in the British Army, who were the original proponents of the 100km trail, carried large knives around with them. I am not sure if Brian carried a knife with him, but if I was spending that much time with the same three people in physically challenging and emotionally testing conditions, I know I would.

About 90 per cent of Brian’s training regime focussed on walking the actual trail with the remaining time spent training at the gym. The longest trail walk that Brian undertook in preparation for the event was 65km long (45km Saturday and 20km Sunday). As the event drew closer, training had completely taken over Brian’s weekends. Monday to Wednesday was spent feeling stiff, sore and tired.

On participating

At the commencement of the Trailwalker, Brian was feeling fine and wasn’t carrying any injuries. Yet, he was already looking forward to it all being over and done with. Can you blame him?

As the event progressed, things grew more and more taxing. The weather was wet and humid – the adversary of comfortable, blister free feet. If that wasn’t enough, add sleep deprivation into the equation. Brian hit the half way mark 17 hours into the event, or at about three o’clock in the morning.

On footwear

Following the tibial stress fractures, which Brian obtained while training for the Melbourne Marathon, he started to read up on barefoot running.

Research is demonstrating that running barefoot or in minimalist shoes changes the way we run. Habitual barefoot runners tend to land on the front of their foot. On the other hand, modern running shoes encourage a heel strike, which generates higher impact and greater forces through the body. These repetitive forces may lead to overuse injuries such as stress fractures.

Brian chose to wear minimalist shoes with a thin heel. The Trailwalker’s rocky, uneven terrain posed too great a challenge for barefoot running.

On diet

Brian has been following the Paleolithic (or Paleo) diet for the last year. The Paleo diet is based on the presumed hunter-gatherer diet of the Paleolithic era. It consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils.

Three words Brian. What. About. Carbs?

‘Carb loading’ is a common strategy used by endurance athletes to maximise their energy reserves. Large pasta dinners, fruit, vegetables and grains often feature in the endurance athlete’s diet.

Brian knew that he would need some sugars to maintain his energy levels over the 100km course. The challenge was to strike a balance. Brian desperately wished that a French patisserie was stationed at each of the checkpoints along the course.

On injury

Brian managed to avoid injury. However his team mate suffered a deep blister. The odds for getting a blister over a 100km course are pretty high – especially in wet weather.

Unfortunately, when Brian and his team finally made it to the checkpoint to receive first aid, they had run out of blister dressings.

That’s when Brian could have made good use of that knife I spoke about earlier…

On superpowers

I asked Brian which superpower he’d chose to help him get through the event The answer was simple – the power to stay awake with ease for as long as he wanted.

Brian found lack of sleep his greatest opponent. Brian loves his sleep and is often in bed by 10. By 3am, the sleep deprivation was really wreaking havoc both physically and mentally.

On insight

Finally I asked Brian if he would take on the Trailwalker again.

Brian confidently attested that he would not compete again. I, quite frankly, could not agree more.

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