When I look back to when I started training for The Long Walk Home I was a bit of a rogue student of my own teaching. Thinking the best way to train for walking across the desert would be to walk across the desert, I started by running up and down a sand dune just north of town. My legs hated me for it, and as it was the middle of summer the rest of my body didn’t think to highly of me either.
After putting the call out for someone who actually knew what they were doing, I received a few emails and decided upon one individual who had just finished his university degree in Exercise Physiology. As such I figured all the important stuff would still be in his head, or at the very least he would still know where his text books are to pretend like he knew what he was doing. He was tasked with getting me fit enough to cross the Simpson Desert by foot, and attempting to ensure that my body wouldn’t fail me when it counted most.
When I read his very first training week a few questions went through my mind including who is this guy?, did he really just finish university?, and how on earth will walking on a treadmill for 30 mins three times a week get me fit enough’? As he explained the process and science behind what I perceived as madness, it became less mad. Realising my best opportunity to make a succesful crossing would be to 1. remain injury free and 2. ensure my leg muscles have lots of kilometers underneath them, I started to gain an understanding of his program and could accurately guess the minutes, sets and reps I’d be in for that week.
In the past 5 months training has gradually grown from about 2 hours per week, to around 7 hours, and I can confirm that my heart is far more efficient than when I started, and my leg muscles are finally getting some definition to them. For me, the most important tool in my training (apart from a little motivation), is a little black strap: my heart rate monitor. After I was given this for a christmas present last year, it has become both my enemy and my friend as it tells me when I need to work harder (unfortunately), and when I can stop (gratefully).
Throughout training my heart rate has been my comparison tool, and each week I am given a certain number of minutes during which I need to keep my heart rate at a certain level. During my training there have been ebbs and flows, some weeks my muscles tire before my heart, while at other times my heart tires before my muscles. On a few occasions I have tried a little experiment to see how low I can get my heart rate while at rest: so far the lowest is around 48 and the other night I bottomed out at 52. However overall when I look back to 5 months ago, I can safely say that I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I started.
Although I have gradually realised this throughout the training, the pivitol moment came only a few weeks ago when I was bored walking on the treadmill and instead started to run. For anyone that knows me well, they know that I do not run. I have never experienced the joy that runners say they feel, and have always thought they were rather loose in the mind when they would speak of how exhilarating running can be. Quite frankly I used to tune out when they would start to speak.
When I started running the other day though, I didn’t tire like I used to and my legs continued on their merry way, keeping time with the black conveyor belt beneath my feet. When my time was up I had been running for more than 30 minutes, which is about 25 minutes longer then I have ever run (apart from one school holidays when I ran to the bridge and back in Birdsville…once). I was utterly bemused at how my body had just continued to run, so much so that I sent the following text to Michael advising him of my recent conquest.
Jenna – “You are AMAZING!!! I got bored with walking so I started running on the treadmill. I actually RAN! I don’t run. I ran Michael, I ran! For a whole 30mins and breathed through my nose the whole time. So proud of myself. WOW!!!”
Michael – “Haha I was under the impression you hated running? You told me at the start that you absolutely did not want to run …”
I sounded like a little kid who had just won the long jump at sports day, but it was so exciting to realise what a change my body had been through. Admittedly my back and neck were sore the next day from the impact of running, but never the less I now use running intervals to build up my endurance rather then uphill walking. A precursor to realising I could run was the fact that I had a few problems with a foot and had been cycling for nearly 6 weeks before getting back on the treadmill again. After cycling for that long, walking on a treadmill was mind numbing so I started running.
Without ever having the goal of being able to run, I found myself with the skills and ability to put one foot in front of the other at a pace a little faster than a tortoise. Had my goal been to learn how to run, and I use the term learn because I think it is an accurate one, I would not have enjoyed the realisation that I could actually do it, nearly as much.
Knowing how much hard work has gone into getting myself where I am today, I am completely baffled at how anyone can expect overnight results with regards to weight loss and training progress. There is nothing easy about hard work. Even with the hard work, looking at me from the outside it would be easy to say that my body hasn’t changed in accordance with what would be expected, and jumping on the scales it is even more easier to say there hasn’t been any change. Thankfully, I take little notice of these numbers, and realise that internally my body is far more efficient than it has ever been, with less strain being put on my heart and more fat having been turned to muscle.
Although outwardly I was always quite self confident thanks to a loving family, inwardly you always have this nagging feeling which is hard to describe. I suppose that when I looked at myself both physically and mentally I would immediately see what I thought other people saw, and would think about how I could change it from that perspective. It took a lot of growing up from my end and a few testing lessons along the way to realise this, and to now be able to see it differently. To me, being content and happy with who are on the inside is a far harder lesson to learn then being content and happy with your outward appearance and behaviour. The process of training and preparing for The Long Walk Home has brought up a lot of home truths and through them has left me feeling content, happy and beautiful…inside and out.
No longer do I look at my training as something that needs to be done for a specific goal, but rather other parts of my life need to fit around it. Although it doesn’t run my life, the spark you get from realising the good you are doing your body does have its own certain drawcards. It took me time to realise this and get to the point where it became a part of my daily life, and in many ways I am lucky to enjoy the hard work of aiming for The Long Walk Home. So with less than 4 weeks to go, 3 of which I am sure will leave me with a few more choice words for Michael as my legs scream for mercy, it has been a hard and challenging journey preparing for the walk across the Simpson Desert, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.