After all, it is an ultra marathon. If you are reading about Oxfam Trailwalker for the first time, please read on as it may inspire you to take part in this extraordinary event just once in your life.
Disclaimer: This is not the official Oxfam Trailwalker website – this is my own personal website and this post was created to share my experience of the Oxfam Trailwalker Event with visitors who are looking for a participants point of view. I share some tips that may help another team or walker. I have participated over 10years as a walker, support crew and checkpoint support. My teams’ goals were to participate with the intention of finishing within the allocated time safely. I have never participated in a racing team for this event.
What is the Oxfam Trailwalker?
It is an international event, a wilderness trail and an extraordinary person.
It is also a fundraiser for a charity and a race – racing is optional, but you must endeavour to finish within the allocated time, e.g. 48hrs.
There are other benefits such as team building, pushing personal boundaries, making new and lasting friendships, leadership training, outdoor activity, planning, scheduling and time management, physical fitness and exercise.
You will explore places you’ve never been – its an endless list and everyone who has participated has an unwritten list.
I am going to break it down including facts and insights from this experience in case you have come here looking for some information from a participants point of view.
If you have read my profile, you will know that I am by no means athletic nor an extremely fit person. I entered this event with assumptions and some blissful ignorance, and it changed my life forever.
We were never in any of the first finishing teams but nor were we in it for the race – we were in it for many reasons and once we worked out our strategy we knew we were capable of finishing within the designated time. Don’t ever think you cannot do this. It is not about muscles, fitness, age or stamina – it is about strategy, planning and training.
The eye is on the finish line right from the beginning and you challenge yourself, ‘why not have a go at this?’ gather a team, set out a training plan, fundraise for the cause and walk the talk.
The Event – some of the basic facts
Here’s a brief foundation for the event to give you an idea of the scale on which Oxfam operates and the magnitude of what they represent and what you are potentially engaging in.
International Countries for the event.
The event takes place in several countries around the world, originating in Hong Kong in 1981 joined by UK 1997 then later Ireland(Trailtrekker), Australia(Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane,Perth), New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, India and Korea – still adding more countries over time.
The trail is 100km(62miles) and must be completed within a designated time, typically 48hrs, depending on the location and degree of difficulty. A team consists of 4 people who must start together and attempt to finish together. The trail is broken up into sections, e.g. seven sections, each section terminating at a checkpoint managed by Oxfam. The number of sections can vary across locations.
Note: Oxfam has more recently introduced 50km(31miles) trail walks for some locations. Some people may wish to trial this distance for their first Trailwalker. The challenges remain the same.
Oxfam usually limits the number of teams that participate, e.g. 250 teams. Therefore, registrations should be submitted at the earliest opportunity if you hope to get a position for your team.
Team number limits are mostly due to the capacity to support the event over the given terrain, and some countries have limits to how many people can walk on the trails at any given time due to environmental impact.
Fundraiser for Charity
The event is a fundraiser for Oxfam, a charity which has a strong mission to alleviate poverty on a global scale. Teams must pay an entry fee, e.g. Australians in 2019 are paying $700 per team for registration, and they must also raise a minimum of $1600 as a team collectively. Entry fees and fundraising limits will vary across countries.
If you want to learn more about Oxfam’s charity work here is a link: Oxfam charity
Race and prizes
The Oxfam Trailwalker is also a race with a prize. Racing is an option, but teams must still finish within the designated time regardless of whether they are racing or not.
Prizes in the past have included travel for the winning team to visit Oxfam in one of the countries where they are actively working and making a difference.
There are prizes for fastest teams and highest fundraisers and awards for Teams and Support Crews. The prizes vary across countries and can change each year.
Oxfam Trailwalker Origin
The Oxfam Trailwalker has its origins in Hong Kong where Oxfam was invited to organise an event for the British Queens Gurkha Signals as a training event and civilians were permitted to participate. More information is available here: Oxfam Trailwalker origin
Participating in the Oxfam Trailwalker event – how do we go about getting involved?
The three ways to participate are:
- support crew
- checkpoint volunteer
1) Participating as a walker/runner
- location – find out where the nearest event is to your location
- team – get a potential team together: family, friends, colleagues – you need four people
- register – register with Oxfam
- map – get a map of the trail profile and download any useful guides, such as training and nutrition
Location – Finding your nearest potential event if you are a walker or runner
Finding your nearest possible event is necessary before you can plan anything else because you need to recruit a team, such as your family, friends, colleagues, who are prepared to meet the requirements, in a nutshell, ‘100km within 48hrs, 4-6mths training, $175 each to enter, $1600 minimum fundraising per team’. Here is a link to the Oxfam Trailwalker Worldmap
There may be travel involved, and the date of the event is essential for planning – planning is about to become an extension to your name.
At some stage, you will also need to recruit a support crew who will need to become familiar with the location. More on that later.
Allow 4 – 6 months of training before the event. Although you will train for approx.14 weeks, build in enough additional weeks where you will be away from training due to other factors in your life such as family, holidays, sickness. Consider the nature of your occupation as this may impact your training regime, e.g. shift work, weekend work, business travel – then find every option possible to make it work.
You may have to train away from the event track if it is in another city or country. In this case, you should attempt to visit the track at least once before the event so you know where you are going, as you can be in the wilderness at night with only your headlamps. It is easy to lose your way, even in the daylight.
If you are a visitor to the region don’t rely on other teams being on the same stretch of track with you, you will be surprised how dispersed they become over the distance of 100km.
Visiting teams can tag onto local teams but at some stage may need to tag onto different teams – it can work but don’t rely on this strategy, aim to be independent and navigate your own way.
Whether you are just beginning, moderately experienced or a seasoned Trailwalker, your training program will require a gradual build-up for the event to avoid sickness and injury – except for teams that have a year-round fitness regime as part of their lifestyle, such as, the phenomenal group called The Queens Gurkha Signals.
If you cannot set aside this amount of time for preparation, consider participating the following year or register for a different role such as support crew or checkpoint volunteer.
Team – Get a potential team together
Once you have decided there is enough time to train a team, give some serious consideration to potential teammates. With your very first Trailwalker Event, you are not likely to know how to choose a team, and while there is no perfect guide, there are a couple of things to consider. My first team was the most mismatched group, but we learned some valuable lessons from it and did things very differently the next time – I will share some tips with you as a result.
If you belong to an already fit group, such as runners, walkers or sports group, then you have potential team members. You can put the big question out there ‘Who wants to join me in the next Oxfam Trailwalker?’. If you are entering this event as an absolute newbie to trailwalking here are some tips:
- start asking around until you have several interested people with the intention of building one or more teams
- ensure everyone knows what the event involves and what the commitment is for training and fundraising
- organise a short training walk together – this is not for exercise it is to get to know each other on the trail
- see who turns up
- see if you are compatible personality and attitude wise
- check the pace of the walkers – long/short striders and fast/slow walkers
- take note of strengths and weaknesses – good on uphills/downhills
When you are building a team, the members you start with are not necessarily the ones who will be there on the day which is why it is essential to try and gauge more interested members in case some cannot continue with the training for any number of reasons.
Oxfam has an excellent solution for teams that are short of participants or overstocked with participants- they create space on their website for interested people to express their wish to join a team or teams looking for an additional person or people.
Having more members is also great for training out on the tracks when others cannot make it, you need at least two people if training in the wilderness.
Training includes exercise during the week outside of the team walks. The Training Guide that Oxfam Trailwalker provides on their website has some great guidelines. Example: Trailwalker Sydney planning guide
You will make up a team of any combination: family members, friends or colleagues from work, sports or social groups.
From those that are interested, you may want to collectively select a leader, someone who organises the team walks, is the contact person for Oxfam correspondence, communicates with and coordinates everyone.
With the first few team walks, provided the leader communication has been satisfactory, you will have a fair idea who your serious candidates are.
You will get to know each other rather quickly – ensure that you team up with people that you get along with because this is an endurance event and personalities are intensified during the longer training walks and more so during the actual event.
It is not unusual for people to pair up during training walks and if that works then run with it. The pace at which you all walk should be similar; otherwise, the faster walkers are going to become frustrated, and the slower walkers are going to become disheartened.
If the pace mismatch is extreme, then try to group people into potential teams. Also, be aware that faster walkers may have weaknesses on uphills/downhills or tire quicker while slower walkers may keep a consistent pace throughout and be enduring regardless of conditions so it may still pan out OK – you get to figure this out quickly after your first few walks on the trail together.
Register – Register with Oxfam
Register your team with Oxfam as soon as you have a potential team. You can change team members right up to the week before the event – the important thing is to register early.
On their website you may see several different options:
- Register your interest
- Save a spot – deposit required
- Register your team
Some locations book out quickly, so I recommend you communicate with Oxfam if you are not registering your team straight away – they will advise you accordingly!
Have a team name ready when you register – you can change it later if you wish.
Map – Get to know the trail!
The map provided by the Oxfam Trailwalker website for your location is an essential tool for planning. It is downloadable as a PDF, and an overview is visible on the website. Checkout Sydney, Australia Oxfam Trailwalker trail guide
If your team is fortunate to live near an Oxfam Trailwalker trail, then you will be able to include all of the sections in your training plan. One weekend you can do Section 1, the following weekend Section 2 then mix it up and do several sections as you extend your training distance.
During training you will need to organise transport to the start of your section for training and a way of getting home from your exit point – some people walk so far then turn around and go back to where they started.
Depends on your transport options – walking in the opposite direction to that of the event is not beneficial to get to know the track but is useful for trailwalking exercise.
If you need to get to know the track then walk the direction the event will have you walking – enter at one section and exit at another – you could cover three sections in a day of training so be strategic as to how you plan it.
Become familiar with landmarks along the way so, on the day or night of the event, there is comfort in seeing a familiar landmark, knowing you are on track and breaking the section up for you further achieving landmark-to-landmark.
Oxfam provides markers on some of their tracks during the event – I’m not sure if this happens in every country and I recall only seeing them on the night time sections.
Trailwalking gear – what do I need?
Every Oxfam Trailwalker website for the country/region you plan to walk will have a recommended gear list. Utilise it as it is specific to the climate and conditions you are likely to experience.
Here is an example of what to expect: Gear list Sydney
Thank you for visiting this website ‘Lighten the Hike’ which is all about minimising the weight we carry. Much of what I have already posted about has come from experience with The Oxfam Trailwalker event – when pushed to extremes we analyse everything we do on the trail to ensure we are doing all we can to make the walk the best experience for our team.
Oxfam Trailwalker website
If you get involved, I encourage you to utilise the Oxfam Trailwalker website for your location. There is detailed information, and everything they include is relevant. Follow their advice, learn the rules, use the tips, stay informed.
This post has covered the basics for newcomers who are curious or looking for an inside view of the event history, how to get a team started and participating as a walker or a runner.
There is so much to this event. I recommend you keep an eye out for my next post which gives some insight into two more participant roles for those who will not be walking or running: ‘Participating as Team and Checkpoint Support’
The Spirit of The Oxfam Trailwalker
With the fundamentals addressed in the previous posts, the real-life experience is the absolute pinnacle of the Oxfam Trailwalker. Keep an eye out for my final Oxfam Trailwalker post which captures ‘The Spirit of The Oxfam Trailwalker’.
A glimpse at what to expect in the post entitled ‘The Spirit of The Oxfam Trailwalker’: The hills still have the glow of twilight around them, but it is so dark as they descend down into another gully. They reach into their bags to find their headlamps. No sooner do they light up the track ahead and a group comes up behind them asking to follow them through the gully – they don’t quite know the way.
They are a team from interstate and have never walked the track before. Team181 is so impressed at the courage and determination of this interstate team they dare not reveal how often they have become lost in broad daylight. Instead, they simultaneously answer “of course you can tag along with us”. They had suddenly become the brave and unlost!
Warning: This amazing event might change your life.
Please feel free to ask questions in the comments field below.