Some people we met during our trip trained for the walk, others had intentions of training for the walk. I had been thinking about doing this trip for the last few years, but it intimidated me. When we looked at guided trips, they tended to be for 12-14 days, and had some days of hiking 20-23 miles. Given that I had never hiked 20-23 miles, nor done much back to back longer hiking days, the trip sounded beyond my capabilities.
Later, I discovered that the trip can easily be done independently, and you can choose how many days you want to do it in. Some people have jogged it in 5 days. Some people have walked it in 31 days. We chose to do it in 17 hiking days with no rest days. This sounded like an appropriate challenge for us. In the end, looking at how much we averaged a day, it was 13 miles (this includes miles to B&B's, and getting lost miles). Some days had a lot of elevation gain, some had minimal elevation gain. Our longest day was 16.5 miles, and our shortest day was 8 miles.
On some days there are multiple route options - often with a higher more difficult route, and a lower easier route. Those that were less fit usually opted for the lower routes. The lower routes are also good on bad weather days. I like mountain views, so I obviously wanted to do all of the higher routes.
In December, we went to Sedona Arizona and did a bunch of back to back longer day hiking. Sedona has the benefit of having a lot of good trails with easy footing that are very close to each other, so you don't need to do a lot of driving to get to your hike. This allowed us to practice doing longer hikes. This trip increased our confidence for hiking in England 17 days in a row.
In February, I found a trainer to work with - Elizabeth Azze of Mountain Peak Fitness. I had been hoping to find a trainer that could help me become not just stronger, but a better hiker. That isn't easy to find at a gym. Elizabeth is an endurance trail runner, which makes her a good match for me. Along with personal training sessions, she gives me nutrition advice and daily "homework" which could be strength training, cardio training, or hiking. I'm so glad to have found a trainer that I enjoy working with, and she definitely helped us to prepare. My goal was not just to complete the hike, but to not feel physically exhausted from it. I did have sore muscles a couple of days, but otherwise physically did very well. I even brought "the stick" - a massage tool to use on my legs every night and some mornings. This helped a lot with muscle recovery.
Most people we met took 1 or 2 rest days in the middle of the hike. This gives your muscles a chance to recover.
We both managed to complete the hike with no blisters and no injuries. Both of these are relatively common. At our last B&B, they said we had done well, as they do get people with very bad blisters, and sometimes broken bones. We did see someone on our last day who had broken their arm.
Besides physical challenges, the hike can be mentally challenging. By that I mean, the weather. When the weather is good, it's easy to be happy and feel like you can hike forever. When its freezing rain, and the rain is blowing sideways at 30 mph, it's less fun. I was mentally prepared for lots of rain, but I was less prepared for the wind. We had a lot of wind during our hike. The locals said the weather was unusual for the end of May/beginning of June.
And last is navigational challenges. Pretty much everyone takes wrong turns at some point. The Stedman book was very helpful. I know that getting lost makes me stressed. Know how to use a map and compass. You can use a GPS as a back up, but map & compass skills are crucial. We missed turns, took wrong turns, got lost almost daily. It will happen, because even though the Stedman book is super helpful, sometimes its just hard to find the correct turn or trail. So being able to navigate after you make a wrong turn is critical. One lesson we learned early on - pay attention. When you start talking a lot with other hikers on the trail, you tend to stop paying attention and you miss turns. Another lesson we learned early on - don't follow other hikers. They may be lost too, or more often, they may not be hiking the Coast to Coast. We learned to always check our maps even when we saw Coast to Coast hikers in front of us.