Let’s Get Physical About the Demands of the Trail
Knowing I was going to go back on the trail, I decided to try to get in better shape than last year. Since I was not working, it was easier (or so I thought). Once my ankle healed, I worked with a trainer (hi, Justin) twice a week. I started hiking around Memphis two to three times a week. I did some elliptical work. I tried to find hills to climb but unfortunately Memphis is pretty flat.
In reality, I think it worked. I felt better prepared this year. It could be that the terrain was not as mountainous but I seemed to be able to go uphill a bit faster. My pace last year averaged 1.7 mph and this year it was more like two mph.
I spent eight weeks in a boot after my surgery. I then did two months of physical therapy, three times a week. I was determined to get back to hiking as soon as possible. My orthopedist said I would be back to normal within three to four months. Unfortunately, did this not happen. Either I also had damaged some ligaments or due to my being, hmm, older, it took more like six to seven months before my ankle was near normal. It is still not normal. It aches after several miles. I can’t complain though since I am able to walk between ten to 15 miles a day.
My biggest issue after the surgery was my Achilles tendon. I guess due to the fact I was mostly immobile, it became very tight. Even with physical therapy, it remained tight. I decided to go see a chiropractor (shout-out to Dr. Jessop). He worked on my Achilles tendon for about three months and it improved tremendously.
For the first six weeks of the hike, my Achilles did not bother me except for the very steep uphills. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, it has started to hurt again, even with regular stretching. Too bad I could not bring Dr. Jessop with me on the trail! I now have to tape it every day, which does help, but it is still painful. I’ll keep my fingers crossed it will not get worse.
I also had pain in the right forefoot. Every time I bent my toes to walk, I had severe pain. My orthopedist suggested I try a plate in my shoe, which helped a little. He then recommended high doses of vitamin D, which actually made a big difference; that is until I started hiking to get back in shape. So I ended up going to an acupuncturist (shout-out to Dr. Ly) as well as having Dr. Jessop work on it. Just to make things interesting I also went to see a myotherapist (yeah, Lisa). I was determined to be in the best possible shape before my hike. I knew the trek would be hard on my body and that I would inevitably end up having some pain. Prior to my leaving, I was happy to report that the pain in my foot was gone.
I am also glad to say that after nearly 500 miles I still do not have pain in my right foot.
As for my left foot, I developed Morton’s neuroma, which is pain at the base of the third toe, worse when you go downhill (not that there are a lot of downhills on the AT). I tried steroids last year without any improvement. The only thing that helped was putting a metatarsal pad on my foot.
My chiropractor recommended I obtain custom made orthotics. I ended up getting them from Foot Levelers (In motion) and even got them for free since they found out I was going to hike the AT. I have to admit that my feet are doing pretty well, and are not as sore as last year. I did get them to put metatarsal pads in them. That has helped my neuroma some but I still have to put an extra pad and with that, no pain.
Let’s face it, I have bum knees. After a total of five surgeries and also getting older (who, me?), my knees are not the best. I decided to try hyaluronic acid injections (gel shots) in both knees, which did help some, and finally steroid injections.
It is difficult to say if these helped. I still have some pain but not as bad as last year. Not sure how long that is going to last since there are a lot of mountains yet to climb and descend. The knees seem to be the body part which is affected the most since I see so many people, even 20 year olds, with knee braces on the trail.
In the past, I have had some issues with sciatica pain on the right side. It would get worse whenever I did a lot of lifting or exercise. It actually disappeared after starting Pilates. The fact that my core was stronger was the key. Unfortunately, after my ankle injury, the pain returned whenever I hiked for more than three miles. I assume it was due to the fact that my gait was altered due to the ankle fracture. Chiropractor, acupuncturist, and myotherapist to the rescue. My back improved tremendously prior to the start of my hike.
Since I have started my thru-hike I have only had mild pain in my back, which gets better if I keep doing some exercises and stretching.
Ah, those darn blisters. Hard to avoid them. Some people recommend a sock lining or toe socks. I did try all of those, but after about three weeks those pesky blisters healed and I have not had any problems since.
All this to say that hiking long miles is very tough on the body. Make sure before you head out that you try to get in the best shape possible, and deal with any nagging issues prior to leaving or else your hike might be more painful than it could be.
Here is to my continued wellness on the trail.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.