Monday 4 November 2013

Training for that big hike

I’m sometimes asked about training for a hike, what to do, and how much. Many people expect me to be out training all the time, and I must be super fit, right? The answer to those questions are no and moderately! This is what I do.

Weight change on and off the trail

It’s normal for me to leave a 12 week period between adventures, and I choose that time frame for a reason. It takes me 2 months to put back all the weight that I loose while out on the trail. As a lightweight 70kg hiker I really need to put all that weight back on! In those 2 months I do... nothing, no training, and as little physical exercise as possible. I don’t even get out much and generally work on my kit projects. These 2 months are about complete rest and recuperation which I think is essential after any big trip.

A typical day during my rest period. Even doing nothing you clock up a few km

There seems to be two types of training programs commonly used by hikers. The 1st is to get out as often as possible, hiking, or running and cycling if living away from the hills. The 2nd is to do nothing and just get fit on the trail. I’m somewhere between the two. It’s very easy to overdo the training and end up picking up an injury. Most people also don't have much freetime before a long hike so they end up doing a lot of running. Running is probably the quickest, and best, way of improving your base fitness level, but it is tough on the body if you are not used to it. Risk of injury is high. I also find it of little use in conditioning your body for the trail. There really are no shortcuts, you need to hike.

The final month is about getting physically ready for the next hike. I try to ease the body back into hiking mode. I want to train hard enough that most of the early aches and pains of the trail are avoided, but not so hard that I become fatigued or injured, or worse, bored. My training consists of alternate 10 mile day hikes carrying... nothing! Just me, and sometimes my umbrella, head off on a early morning, fast, 10 mile hike around were I live. I do the same route each time, but swap directions, and it takes around 2hrs 15mins. I’ve done this route so many times that I know it should take around 16100 steps. The route is a mixture of road, and off-road, walking which toughens the feet up enough that I rarely suffer blisters on the trail. It’s important to leave a rest day between these hikes, let the body adjust slowly. A week or so before I’m due to depart I will do a 5 day, fully loaded, hike to test any new gear and give the body that final push it needs to get into hiking mode again. Any further training is done on the trail simply by holding back for the first 2 weeks. That’s it! No running, no big mile hikes. Just a 10 mile walk every second day, with no pack, followed by 1 short backpacking trip. 

An average training day (10mile hike)

I’m lucky in that I’m a naturally fit person and hard training makes little difference to that. I always finish a hike feeling no fitter that the day I started. This is different to some hikers that feel almost superhuman after a slow start. Because I don't need to work much on basic fitness my training is all about conditioning. You may need to build up your base fitness more than me.