Lessons learned from my first completed Kennedy March

Stempelkaart Kennedywalker met 1e stempelOn Saturday 9 August 2014 I completed my first Kennedy March. Yes, that 50 miles (80 kilometers) of walking within a 20 hours span, that former president John F. Kennedy thought of as an impossible target for the average U.S. soldier. Neither as the military enforces you to go for a 50 miles walk without training, I didn’t go out that lightly. Since the first Kennedy March held in Hengelo was a day march, starting at 5 AM (pretty early for most of you on a Saturday morning), it had a deadline at 11 PM, so a maximum duration of 18 hours. I completed the Kennedy March in 15 hours and 32 minutes, despite a lot of blisters on both feet.

On an average Saturday I walk a marathon distance (42 kilometers). Running a marathon is not yet on my bucket list, currently 10 English miles (16.1 kilometers) have been completed in 2 organized runs this Spring (IJsselloop in Deventer, Stationloop between Ommen and Dalfsen). Enough self boasting, folks. What did I learn?

  • Do things you never thought you could, the subtitle of Jim Lawless Taming Tigers. Surely, giving up is an option, a car will come and pick you up. Neither Lawless or I call up for irresponsible actions. Like overcoming fear, or other mental barriers, walking a 50 miles march is a psychological battle. I met several people that explicitly said they wrestled with themselves during the march. You’re the only one in charge here.
  • You can’t train for such a long distance, other than mentally combine a 2 days march or half a 4 days march in a single day. You can participate in many 2, 3, or 4 days walks throughout the Netherlands. And still, 50 miles in a single day is different from 25 miles each of 2 days!
  • Keep the end in mind. Every step you’re getting closer.
  • Surprises will be there. You can’t plan everything.
  • Keep your own pace. You can seriously damage yourself if you try to keep up with the Joneses here.
  • You really are interdependent during a Kennedy March. You can’t carry the food and beverages with you for a 15-20 hours walk. The organizers will take care of most of that. I only had 2 bottles of water, a couple of sandwiches, sweats and candy bars with me. Trust me, you’ll drink a lot and forget the quantity 😉 And, in case of painful blisters you’re happy with first aid volunteers competent with tape and iodine.
  • Time is a relative concept. You can’t really imagine what it’s like to walk for more than 15 hours. You don’t know whether a 5, 10 or 15 minutes break is wiser, when your muscles stiffen or when the rain will stop. For sure your smartphone battery can’t last that long while having mobile data reception on. No commercial MP3 player can operate that long. So, prepare to walk alone, in silence, for hours. There’s plenty of time to wonder, reflect on the things you see, process your past week and dream about tomorrow.
  • Small things can have enormous influence. grains of sand or pebbles can cause blisters. Once you see them after walking you realize how small these are. And yet, the pain can be huge, alarming you every step and causing you to stay on high alert. Stress in action. On the positive this is also true. A slice of cucumber, a chewing gum or a small MP3 device can bring so much joy!
  • Log what you see and where you’ve been. “I did a Kennedy March” will not resonate with most of your relatives, colleagues and friends. Take pictures, log the track with an external GPS logger (a smartphone logging app isn’t useful for this distance, since the battery will be drained, before you’re finished), or show the route through the organizer’s website.
  • Celebrate your successes. It’s fun to stand underneath the finish banner and have yourself photographed by the march’s organizer and get a personal congratulation. A medal, winner’s cup or certificate helps remembering and celebrating.
  • Your body’s resilience capacity is a real wonder. The next day I walked again a few kilometers, the work week went by as if nothing had happened that Saturday. Staircases, sprints to catch a bus or train, without a problem.