Practicing Instead of Training: There is a Difference
In the early 1970s, I was a teenager living on my own in Atlanta, struggling, and very concerned about the draft and being sent to Vietnam. As a temporary escape, a friend invited me to go camping in the North Georgia mountains for the weekend. We bought some groceries, drove his VW beetle up a dirt road near Tray Mountain, carried a sheet of plastic and sleeping bags under our arms, hiked back into the woods, built a fire, and cowboy camped. Turns out we forgot about our problems and had a great time. Unfortunately, my number came up in the Vietnam lottery. But before the orders to report for duty arrived, the draft ended, and my life’s trajectory changed. But my infatuation with the mountains was only beginning.
The mountains have always been nearby and became my default getaway. I gained more experience and collected a fair amount of backpacking gear. Some years later my wife and I spent our honeymoon camping on Tray Mountain. Eventually, my children and nephews joined me on backpacking adventures as they were growing up. My dogs still get excited when I pull out a backpack. I suppose my grandchildren will be ready to join me soon.
Now I am preparing for an epic getaway. All my gear is up to date and I’m aiming for a late March start from Springer Mountain, so I’m focused on fitness now.
Practice vs. Training
Practice is the performance of knowledge or skill already attained. Training should involve learning something new to make you more accurate, faster, consistent, or more economical in your movements.
When I retired from competitive cycling and coaching, I was tired of training and decided never to strap on another heart rate monitor or be a slave to a power meter again. After some time off I started running, often with my dogs, just for fun and adventure. Eventually, I started timing the runs and experimenting with tracking apps on my phone. It didn’t take long before I was signing up for 5K and 10K runs and after a few age group wins I was strapping on a heart rate monitor and writing out training plans again. D’oh!
For me, backpacking is not a competition, so I’m practicing instead of training.
This past summer and fall, I hiked on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and North Carolina as often as possible. From where I live it’s easy to go for the day, the weekend, or extended hiking excursions. In late November I section hiked from Springer Mountain to the NOC and had several opportunities to try out my cold- and wet-weather gear.
As far as my winter practicing goes, I’m lucky to have some nearby hiking trails with real elevation gains. Each week I shoot for several two- to six-hour hikes with the full backpack. Again, I do it for fun but it’s good for conditioning too. Also, once or twice a week I like to run for an hour or so on the trails without the backpack. It feels good to get the heart pumping and breathe hard. Admittedly, I do these with a Garmin watch and try to keep up a decent pace for a 64-year-old man, typically three-plus mph hiking and six-plus mph trail running.
I’m feeling pretty confident and hopefully can stay healthy. T-minus eight weeks and counting.
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