The big walk

Signed up for one of the season's many walking charity events? Use this cheat sheet to get you to the start line in top form

You’ve faithfully logged your miles, improved your eating habits and even learned to love stretching. Now the day of your walking event has arrived, and it’s time to think about some important last-minute organizational details. (Not signed up for a walking event yet? Click here for a list of events in your area.) Follow the advice of these seasoned walkers to get to the start line with everything you need.

It’s normal to feel stressed on the day of a big walking event. “To reduce anxiety in the morning, I lay everything out the night before,” says Linda Mattice, a walking coach from Riverview, N.B. With her clothes, shoes, socks and other items already organized, Mattice just needs to get dressed, have breakfast and step out the door.

The night before a marathon, Karen Kucherawy follows a similar routine. She also pins her race number onto her T-shirt, attaches her timing chip to her shoe, fills and stores her water bottle in the fridge and puts on her sports watch. “If you’re rushing around at 5:30 a.m., it’s easy to forget something,” says the Toronto walker.

Stick with clothes, shoes and equipment that have been comfortable and reliable during your training. “New things should be tested on your training walks, not at a race,” stresses Kucherawy. “New socks could fit differently and cause blisters.” Even an unfamiliar T-shirt could cause chaffing from a rough seam that’s invisible to the eye.

On hot days, Kucherawy removes her T-shirt, hooks it into her shorts and lets her sports bra double as a top. On cool or rainy mornings, she wears a jacket that can be folded into a pouch and worn around her waist when it’s not needed. On extremely cold mornings, some walkers wear an old fleece sweater or jacket. Later, they toss them to the side at a water station where event volunteers dispose of them.

Eat a breakfast that is high in complex carbohydrates and easy to digest. Stick to foods such as cereal, toast, bananas, yogurt, cheese and peanut butter. Test drive your morning meal during your training, the way you would a new pair of shoes, to be sure it provides the energy you need without side effects such as bloating or gas.

Drink a large glass of water one to two hours before the start and have nothing more to drink until the starting gun. This sends you off well hydrated and gives you enough time to eliminate what your body doesn’t absorb. Carry energy bars with you and consume about 100 calories for every 45 to 60 minutes you’re on the course.

Think carefully about what you need to carry with you. On walks that will take several hours, Yuri Kojima wears a well-stocked waist pack with a water-bottle holder. “There are always water stations, but you might get thirsty in between them,” says the Montreal walking instructor. She packs bandages, lip balm, her cellphone, identification, gum, tissues, sunblock, money, snacks, an extra pair of socks and a disposable camera. Be sure to test your fully loaded pack during training to be sure it’s comfortable and not too bulky or heavy.

If your walk has thousands of participants, take a taxi or have a friend drop you off at the starting area. Parking near big events is often impossible, and public transit may not start early enough on a weekend. Some large hotels offer their guests special shuttle buses to the starting area. Kojima recommends arriving at least one hour before the race starts to find your friends and warm up. Her warm-up includes 15 to 20 minutes of walking, followed by a gentle all-over stretching routine that prepares her heart, lungs and muscles for the hard work ahead. “And leave time for one last washroom stop,” she advises. “You usually get nervous when you see the start line!”