For AT Hikers of a “Certain Age”.

To Train or Not to Train?

I’ve been reading some forum discussions about how to get physically and mentally ready for a through hike of the AT.  It’s pretty amazing how wide the range of opinion is.  On one end of the spectrum is the “finish your beer, put on your old Chuck Taylors and let the trail shape you up.”  On the other end is the “Ascetic Mad Monk Marathoner” who has every moment planned to be at peak form on day one of the hike.

In my opinion we need to take the commonsense wisdom of Hike your own Hike and add a sub-category; maybe something like Pre train for your own hike.

So here is what the ex Captain, ex Jock, still egocentric hiker is doing for training.

First, what didn’t work.

When I hiked the El Camino I pretty much did the Chuck Taylor-type pre-train.  The first week was steep, muddy, and rainy.  I have a mental picture of Mr. Bad Ass Hiker (me) quietly following two middle aged women who I hoped were heading for an Albergue. I was too physically and mentally tired to figure it out myself.  Eventually, however, I did  get trail strong. I am convinced that had I done some pre-training and paid better attention to diet, hydration, and taking the occasional zero kilometer days I would have made Santiago without the stress fractures in both lower legs.

Next, what I hope will work.

I will begin and end this section with one word: STRETCH.  Flexibility helps with every part of hiking.  Making the high step over an obstacle, getting your camp set up, even getting into your tent and out of your clothes is easier.

I’ve been working hard on aerobics and aerobic recovery.  With all the elevation change on the trail we’re bound to get winded at times.  A good aerobic base makes recovery much faster. I am using a three pronged approach to trail fitness.  First, two different kinds of elliptical machines.  One is a standard machine. I try to change the type of workout often.  That keeps my body from figuring out how much effort is required to complete the hour.  The next machine is a lateral elliptical.  The advantage of this machine is that it is highly programmable and can vary intensity throughout the workout.  It also mimics the type of torso and leg movement that we use for bushwhacking, stream crossing, etc.  Again, change the workout often.  As much as I dislike regular treadmills, they can help with strengthening your climbing muscles.  I think the following is a good treadmill test.  Choose manual mode.  Set your speed for how fast you would like to walk.  Then raise the incline by 1% for each minute.  Take note of what the incline is when you have to start holding on to the machine.  Try to reverse the process back down to level. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

At least three times a week I get out with my fully loaded pack.  I should say overloaded pack because at 37lbs. I’m carrying much more food and water than I expect I’ll need.(3 litres of water and about 10lbs. of food).  We have a nice little park with a small lake, nature trail, and steep earthen dam.  I hike for a couple of hours around the lake and finish the workout by going back and forth over the dam.

So that’s how I am Pre-training for my own Hike.

Remember=STRETCH (your groin will thank you later.)


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Comments 2

  • Pete Smokestack Buak : Dec 22nd

    Ed – hope to run into you on the trail next year – I’ll watch for the hat. As a long distance section hiker closing in on 74 years this summer, I plan on several different sections and one may be 6 o 8 weeks long. Since I hike year round I manage to stay in decent shape.
    What really helped me, on a number of times headed north from Springer, take it easy in the beginning. I plan shelter to shelter until my body says it is ready to go longer. This usually happens after Standing Indian.

    Good luck

  • Tom Joyner : Dec 22nd

    Hey, Ed. As one of the Ga. Ridge runners this year, let me first say good luck and happy hiking. I will certainly keep an eye out for you this year. Enjoy the hike!



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