Training in the Swamps of Florida

What comes to mind when you hear about Florida? Images of white, sandy beaches, picturesque sunrises, beautiful blue oceans may appear; oh, and the Disney conglomerate.  Some may describe the land as a paradise of sorts. I mean we have the approval of the Mouse himself. So here’s a harsh truth.

It’s all a lie

Florida is most comparable to Instagram. You only see the highlights. Let’s do a little experiment real quick. Lock yourself in a hot car, and then wait for the cold embrace of death. That’s how we deal with the unrelenting heat down here. We die. That’s why there are so many retirees in Florida.

If the heat doesn’t get to you our wildlife will. Between the vast array of insects and the random toilet snake that some negligent trust fund holder released into the wild, the local news stays busy. Florida Man is as much a concern to you as he is to me. I just happen to be a man from Florida. But I am not Florida Man.

It’s not all bad, though

We have Publix subs.

Aside from that everything is flat so it’s difficult to prepare for a backpacking trip in the mountains or any elevation. Much more so if you’re planning to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, like I am. To add to the difficulty I am also attempting to thru-hike in 100 days, but I’ll get to that later. For now I want to demonstrate that preparing for such an endeavor is not only possible, but doable. With a lot of sweat and mosquito bites.

So here is my dilemma. How can I train myself for the elevation without any elevation? To be fair Florida does have some elevation change. You’re either at sea level or below sea level. There’s trash mountain, but we don’t talk about trash mountain. RIP trash mountain.

The plan

There’s two things I know about plans:

  1. Nothing goes according to plan all the time.
  2. If I follow this plan I will have beautiful, sculptured, monstrous tree-trunk legs.

In lieu of actual elevation the Florida Man has created elevation. Specifically, the StairMaster. Bikini body doesn’t appear overnight. Backpacking as an activity is steady state cardio for an extended period of time, typically eight to 12 hours. For me, everything from the waist down needs to be in exemplary physical shape. Especially to meet my 100-day thru-hike goal. Before I outline my workout regime I would like to preface that the best way to condition for hiking is hiking. Also this workout regime is what works with my lifestyle, but I encourage any other flatlander to try this as well.

There are three components to my regime

  1. Whenever I’m at work I will wear a 20-pound weight vest.
  2. Progress to being able to run five miles, four times a week.
  3. Rock climb at my local climbing gym.

These components are simple, doable, but as I write this I only want to do number three. Oh well. Let’s begin with number one. I’m one of those ultralight backpackers, and I hate that I can say that. To me those words, the ones in italics, fill me with envy, anger, and an undeserved sense of pride. I just feel that touting your low base weight is a bit obnoxious. You can have just as much fun with a 45-pound pack as with a 20-pound pack. It’s a little easier to get to the fun with a lighter pack, though. Due to the ultralight kit I will be well below 20 pounds for the majority of my hiking time. Therefore, a 20-pound weight vest to wear under my green vest seems appropriate. I work retail at a small outfitter in Florida known as REI. I’m on my feet eight hours a day so getting used to the weight at work seems appropriate enough.

As for the running part, well, that’s a bit of challenge. I have asthma and a twisted right hip. So far the training is going well and I can run three miles at an easy pace OK. In the past I had to stop running due to a knee issue because of my hip. So I’m taking it slow and keeping my prayers up. My hope is that the combination of getting used to my pack weight at work, and developing more endurance through running, will give me a leg up at Amicalola Falls.

For strength training, rock climbing is perfect. Ironically, rock climbing is very leg intensive, which makes sense. You don’t climb a ladder pulling with your arms; you push with your legs. I go to a local climbing gym known as the Edge, and I’m obsessed. The goal is to climb indoor v6 by the end of the year and be confident on the 5.11s they set. That’s climber speak for I suck, but I’m getting better and have goals.

Until then, I just have have 257 days till I summit Katahdin, but we know how plans work.



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Comments 3

  • Timothy : Sep 28th

    Consider climbing with your weight vest or even better, your pack. I encountered several short vertical 5.6 climbs in NJ. One just past a lake, one after entering High Point, and one before the NY line. You have climbs in PA, NH and ME.

    • Jack Paulk : Sep 28th

      I totally would if my local gym allowed it. The part of Florida I live in has some weird insurance laws for gym climbing. I can do pull-ups with my vest though!

  • Brewerbob : Sep 28th

    N. FL has hills. Tallahassee’s nickname is City of the Seven Hills. But even those are just that; hills. And short. Your middle pic looks like it’s the Space Coast. You should hike the loosest sand beach you can find with the pack/vest. Walking/running in the sand will build the legs. Just don’t challenge any of the gators to a sprint.


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