Long Distance Walking - The Mental Game (Final Chapter- Heat, Salt and Sleep)

Long Distance Walking - The Mental Game (Final Chapter- Heat, Salt and Sleep)

(One Minute Read)

This aide memoire was originally written for our younger walkers about to embark on a three week adventure on the Annapurna Circuit. It's been incrementally fine tuned since then. You may find it helpful. Feedback and ideas always welcome.

The Power of Heat 

Never underestimate how much better you can feel if there is a hot meal, hot drink or fire in front of you. It’s not just the hot food that helps but the pause you take to prepare it, the little bit of fussing around to get it ready, sort out your cutlery, set up your dining area and the time it takes to settle in. Sometimes the activity is just the tonic you need.

On the Stewart Island trek in New Zealand (November 2017), when confronted by a high and fast flowing stream and a removed bridge (the map told us it was there!) the group was delayed for a number of hours as it waited for the water level to drop. The busy-ness of attempting a fire build, and creating a shelter (in case we needed to stop overnight) were powerful means of lifting morale, especially for those intimidated by the water.

Similarly, sometimes the antidote for feeling low is not a mental jog but a simple solution such as a drink with electrolytes, trace elements or salt. Don’t underestimate the power of salt – a decade ago we did just that and didn’t appreciate how important it is in the management of our nervous system. Salt loss results not just in fatigue but in general feelings of being ‘down and out’. Salt tablets can make a world of difference.

Don’t Forget to Sleep 

That sounds like a case of the obvious. But lack of sleep can put you at an emotional disadvantage as well as a physical disadvantage. Have you gone to bed early enough? Is the cold keeping you awake? Are you sleeping on hard ground?

There is a useful summary of the benefits of sleep written by sports psychologist Josephine Perry. She notes the following

 Lindsay Thornton, Senior Sports Psychologist at the US Olympic Committee would say about its impact and importance for Athletes. Here are there headlines…

The headlines:

  • Paying down sleep debt improves performance.
  • Sleep extension will give you even better performance.
  • More sleep = greater recovery, a chance to consolidate the mental and physical gains made during the day, fewer injuries and a better mood.
  • You need to maintain a regular sleep wake schedule.

Thornton talks about the way sleep is a performance enhancement tool for both brain and body. It improves your recovery from exercise and new skill learning as while you are asleep as all the information on everything you have learnt and done throughout the day is transferred and downloaded. Sleep also helps your metabolism (appetite and weight), tissue repair, immune function and mood. In short, she says that sleep provides a bonus learning period and you wake up a smarter, stronger version of yourself and in a better mood.

There is no formula for how many hours athletes should sleep but it is advised to be between 7-9 hours (Federer is said to sleep for 11 hours, LeBron James for 12). Less than six can impair your psychological and physiological functioning. The positive information from your day is the last to be downloaded so you need longer in bed to wake up positive and happier.”[1]

Check the page at the footnote below for more commentary on sleep.


There are numerous tools to help you manage the long distance walk. At the end of the day your ability to derive enjoyment from a long trek comes down to you and your willingness to use those tools. Anyone can be miserable if they allow themselves to be. It takes some extra effort and conscious work to ensure you don’t clash with your colleagues, or clash with yourself. Use the tools and encourage others to use them as well. Understand your limits and build defences against them.


[1] https://performanceinmind.co.uk/resources-2/sleep-for-athletes/


Previous Chapter What Happens If I Get Ill?

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published