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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Comments 11

  • Bill Yeadon : Jan 25th

    I read the Trek every day and I must say that your post was one of the best. As a 69-year-old I am looking forward to following another “youngster” on the trail.

    Have a great journey.

    • Dan Coy : Jan 25th

      Thanks for the encouraging words, I am happy to know there are still a few of us “youngsters” out there!

  • Brandon : Jan 25th

    Great perspective! I’m looking forward to not “training” for a while and just getting out there to practice. Are you starting on March 24?

    • Dan Coy : Jan 25th

      Thanks, Brandon. Let’s just practice, it’s more fun. Yes, March 24 start at Springer.

  • Dan : Jan 25th

    For a moment, I thought I was reading about myself. We’re about the same age, barely avoided Vietnam, and enjoyed competitive cycling (no championships here, though). Your perspective on “training” vs” practicing” really hit home. Looking forward to following you on your adventure this year as I practice for my own in 2019. Thanks!

    • Dan Coy : Jan 25th

      Dan, Thanks for the kind words and have fun practicing for your 2019 hike!

  • Nanook : Jan 25th

    Hey Dan,
    Glad to see that the trail will not only be hiked by young people, looks like there will be a fair amount of us in our 60’s.
    I’m starting my hike in July in Maine after bicycling there from the St.Louis area.Doesn’t matter when I finish but should be around late Dec. early Jan.
    Question, what kind of weather should I be expecting in Nov, Dec, Jan? I could Google it but information from someone who lives in the area and hikes, will be more meaningful.I have years of winter camping experience.
    Thanks and hope to see you when our paths cross( probably in NE somewhere.

    • Dan Coy : Jan 25th

      Nanook, You are a beast! Cycling to the start of a SOBO! The weather around here in Nov and Dec is not too bad, it’s the South, rare but occasional snow and cold, it’s hit and miss. By January things get more like winter, but again nothing like where you’re from. I have a 0-degree bag but never use it, the 20-degree quilt and some clothes are fine.

  • Smokebeard : Jan 25th

    “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. ”

    –Bruce Lee

    • Dan Coy : Jan 25th

      Smokebeard, Great quote! Bruce Lee was a genius.

  • Steven : Oct 7th

    just what I needed on a day like today…grtz from Belgium


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