Physical + Mental Preparation
According to The Trek, physical injury and mental fatigue are major factors that drive hikers to leave the trail. Four months remain until I begin hiking and I thought I’d share ways I’ve been physically and mentally preparing to successfully thru-hike the AT:
I’ve never put my body through an activity as strenuous as a 2,194.3-mile hike. With the distance, I’d walk through rugged terrain, unpredictable weather, and varying elevation gain. Needless to say, developing an exercise routine was essential. I began with a rigorous workout plan, but there were days I lost track of the program, ultimately losing motivation. I got back on track by reminding myself to not be strict and to just keep moving.
Strength + Conditioning: This isn’t my favorite form of exercise, but is necessary for strengthening muscles, joint protection, and injury prevention. My workout plan consisted of three circuits; a combination of upper-body, lower-body, and core exercises in a circuit; and three sets of 8-10 reps. If that’s a bunch of gibberish to you like it was for me, a trainer (if feasible), free exercise apps, or YouTube videos could be helpful starting guides.
Running: I’d rather run 10 miles than pick up a set of weights, but I noticed an increasing strain on my knees and hips due to the years of constant pounding. I still incorporate running, but modify by running short distances (2-3 miles) to keep my joints in good shape for the trail.
Stairs + Incline: The Midwest lacks significant elevation gain, so I simulate the elevation gain throughout the AT on the treadmill at an incline and stairs anywhere from 1-3 hours. I’ll sometimes wear my pack to get used to the feel and weight.
Stretching: I think this is the most important part of training. The benefits of stretching include lowering the risk of injury, improving physical performance, and relieving muscle tension; Plus, it helps increase serotonin levels, leading me to the next topic — mental preparation.
Despite how happy and excited I am to begin my hike, I’m also getting increasingly sad and nervous. I’m committed to this goal, but the conflicting emotions can make it challenging to focus on it. There are a few ways I’ve been coping:
Feel the feelings: Allowing the mix of emotions and feelings to show up has been helpful for me. After managing my body responses and automatic thoughts, I link them to reasons why they’re showing up in the first place. This helps identify and clarify the emotions and feelings, bringing me back to my “why” — the purpose of doing this hike.
Knowledge is power: Helpful tools include blogs, videos, and podcasts. I searched for answers and advice to many questions: Where will I sleep? What gear will I need? Who are the Twelve Tribes? What is Leave No Trace? It was also helpful to reach out to accomplished thru-hikers on social media groups to pick their brains on what life was like on the AT.
Enjoy the journey: Attempting this hike is my version of a fun and exhilarating adventure. I do my best to keep from stressing about minor details and being outcome-oriented because it defeats the purpose of escaping the confines of a rigid and regimented lifestyle and, frankly, takes the fun out of it.
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