It may seem a little odd for a keen runner to be extolling the virtues of a walking organisation; however, I feel every long distance runner could benefit from a little bit of the Long Distance Walkers Association (or LDWA) in their life. Although set up as an organisation for walkers, the LDWA welcomes runners at its Challenge Events, which generally range from 20 to 100 miles and take place throughout the UK. These events normally involve following a description of the route to navigate your way through the glorious British countryside, with regular checkpoints (every 5 miles or so) providing the opportunity for rest and refreshments. Here are 10 reasons why I think every runner should give an LDWA event a try:
The Friendly Atmosphere
LDWA events often operate staggered starts; you simply turn up, get yourself organised and head off once you are ready. There is a strong emphasis that this is a challenge, not a race. This creates a relaxed atmosphere with participants happy to chat and to focus on their own performance rather than racing against anyone else. This is not to say that there are not some extremely fast and accomplished runners (and walkers) taking part, but there is also a strong focus on an enjoyable and social day out.
This change of emphasis means that LDWA events provide a golden training opportunity for runners. The staggered start means less chance that all your well intentioned plans to treat this outing as a steady training run will be derailed by the competitive juices over flowing in a mass start. Instead these events provide the opportunity to undertake a long run on an interesting and new route, with the back up of an organised event to ease the logistics.
Generous cut off times
The cut off times for these events are set to cater to walkers, so do not really come into play for runners. This obviously helps with using events as steady training runs, but also makes them ideal candidates for a first step up in distance and an opportunity to take on (for example) your first 50 mile race without the added pressure of cut off times to worry about.
Challenge events are organised by local LDWA groups, in other words by locals in the know. They are generally expert at picking the best trails and most glorious views to showcase their local area, providing a fabulous day out in the countryside.
One of the idiosyncracies of the LDWA is that routes require you to self navigate, usually through recourse to a route description. This is a written account created by an organiser walking the route and describing the directions to be taken. These directions are generally very clear and detailed once you understand them, but on initial inspection appear to be some form of military code instructing you to BL on path thru woods, in 300m pass WM and in 30m TR (translation: bear left on path though woods, in 300 metres pass Waymark Post and in 30 metres turn right). Do not be put off – the jargon will quickly start to make sense and you will be able to BR, X field and go thru KG with the best of them (or bear right, cross field and go through the kissing gate for non LDWA readers!).
Another of the joys of LDWA events is in their somewhat different nomenclature… If you have come from the world of running races with their generally straightforward reference to location and difference, then these are from another planet and are a good indicator of the sort of humour you may encounter at the actual event. Names such as the Pulverbatch Plum-Pudding Plod, Stonehenge Stomp or Daffodil Dawdle always add an extra source of entertainment to my LDWA outings!
There is a bit of a joke in ultra running circles that ultra marathons are a giant buffet with some running thrown in and nowhere is this more true than at an LDWA event. The slower pace of walkers mean that not only are they out for longer, but are also able to digest more food on the way round and therefore LDWA checkpoints generally provide a veritable feast. Entering an LDWA checkpoint is in fact not dissimilar to attending a tea party at the WI: tables sagging under the weight of sausage rolls, sandwiches and cakes; kind helpers offering a warm welcome and plying you with tea and squash.
LDWA events are truly events for all: young and old, rich and poor, male, female and from all social backgrounds and cultures. Among serious runners there is a certain standardisation in terms of running kit; not so at an LDWA Challenge event. Do not underestimate those in less fashionable gear though – most runners will have been humbled at an LDWA event by the 70 odd year old in ancient corduroy trousers and tatty boots who powers past them up a big hill!
The Joy of the Challenge
This is grass roots sport at its finest, a stripped back challenge where the focus is wholly on completion and enjoying the day out. There is no bling in the form of fancy medals and T-shirts, instead you receive a completion certificate and (for those wishing to relive fond memories of their scouting/guiding days) the opportunity to buy a badge to sew to your rucksack or top.
Value for Money
I have left this until last as the LDWA offers so much more, but one of its key selling points is surely the value for money it provides. In a world of heavily marketed, vastly over-priced running races, the LDWA somehow manages to offer a similar standard of organisation and support for a fraction of the price. Entry fees are often less than £10 and as well as all the standard race support often include a slap up meal at the finish. They have a lot to teach other race organisers about value for money!
For all these reasons LDWA Challenge events will remain a key part of my training and racing schedule. I am hoping to run the Steppingley Step as a training run this weekend (subject to shaking off a cold) and shall be scouring the LDWA Events List as I finalise my plans for next year. I would urge all runners to give one of their events a try – you never know, it may be the start of your own love affair with the LDWA!