How Running Has Helped Post Thru-Hike

It’s been a year to the day since I started walking north to Maine. A lot changed during those five-and-a-half months of hiking. I ate whatever and whenever I wanted and I lost 26 pounds. I felt the feeling of no real responsibility for the first time in my adult life. I endured really uncomfortable situations and I cried a lot. I pooped in the woods every day and my home was in a different place every night. I witnessed the kindness of complete strangers almost daily. I saw something completely different and new every day and I made and felt my progress daily.

Finishing my hike was great at first. I showered every day! I ate fresh foods. I got hugs from my favorite people. And my body finally felt rested. Although I did still have the hiker stiffs – getting out of bed and walking like a zombie – three weeks after I summited Katahdin.

When I was hiking every day I daydreamed a lot. Mostly about food and my boyfriend but also about post-trail life. I decided that after I was finished walking 2,190 miles, I needed another physical goal. Something that felt attainable but also would be hard work. I decided I’d run a half marathon.

I ran for the first time post thru-hike just two days after climbing Katahdin. It was only two miles but it was really hard. My legs and my butt felt like Jell-O. It was such a crazy and sort of disappointing feeling. The muscles I used to hike up and down mountains were different than the muscles I used to run. I also wasn’t carrying 20 pounds on my back. It was just a really odd sensation. I guess I felt like it was going to be pretty easy and fun to run – so that was a little discouraging.

I soon realized that starting small was the best route. With the help of my partner, Duane, doing the research and building a schedule, I started with an intermediate 5k training plan. We made a spreadsheet with daily and weekly goals. I needed to have a plan and see the plan laid out. I did the same thing for my thru-hike; I made a spreadsheet with daily and weekly mileage goals and adjusted them as needed. Having a schedule has helped me plan my day and make running a priority in my life.

After my thru-hike, I felt sad. Very sad. I didn’t have a job and I honestly didn’t really want one. But I didn’t really want to hike, either. I was just really confused and exhausted. There were a lot of ups and downs daily. Running is now something I look forward to. I enjoy the feeling after a run and the satisfaction, accomplishment, and pride when I hit my goals each week. Sitting all day at my desk is tough after walking every day for months but now I look forward to my run as a release from the nine-to-five work life.

I find myself researching different races, watching documentaries on trail running, and even considering signing up for an ultramarathon next year. Running long distances has given me a new continuous and larger physical and mental goal. It’s an aggressive goal and is a somewhat relative goal to thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Since completing the trail, running has allowed me to maintain a healthy weight while still indulging on some of the junk food I enjoyed on the trail (especially after a long run).

The Appalachian Trail taught me a lot. It taught me to never give up when times get uncomfortable and unbearable. It taught me I can survive off the 25 pounds of food and gear that I carried on my back and be perfectly happy. It taught me to care a lot less about certain things and more about the things that really matter. It taught me I don’t need things to make me happy. And it taught me that my body is capable of so much more.

I’m running the half marathon in Indianapolis May 5 and another half marathon in the Smoky Mountains in September.

I’m hoping this blog post helps to encourage others after their thru-hike to take on new physical and mental challenges.

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Comments 2

  • Paul Rhoades : Apr 10th

    Great to hear from you again,l loved reading your post last year and glad that you have found another hoping to hike the AT in four years when I retire from work,lndianapolis is a great town,as my daughter lives there,take care and great to hear from you

  • Brian Lewis : Apr 10th

    I appreciated your article as it has some actual ‘meat’ to it, and the topic is important. I guess topicS, of keeping weight down & exercise up after a long distance hike, but also post-hike depression. The latter topic is pretty individual I think, people come at it from so many different life situations and personality issues and so forth that what’s meaningful to one might, I suspect, not apply at all to another. Or that’s been the case with me in reading what others say on the subject.

    But I think that it’s helpful to have more dialogue about post-hike weight control and exercise. I’ve inadvertently used long distance hikes in the past as a sort of very slow motion yo-yo diet — fatten up over the winter, hike it off in summer. Typically takes me 3 weeks, maybe a little more to totally slim down, but I also knew that it’s not an approach I could follow forever, and that getting my “normal life” more under control was both important and … hard. Towards the end of the PCT (my first thru-hike) I was promising myself that I would sit my butt in front of the TV and do nothing but eat junk food and enjoy being indoors in a comfy chair. And that’s pretty close to what I did. NOT a good idea. A day or two at most of that is okay, for me at least.

    The AT was my second thru-hike and I frequently told people along the way that getting to Katahdin wasn’t going to be the tough part, the tough part was going to be getting a good and healthy lifestyle setup when I got home, and in specific of keeping my weight down. And I did at least a somewhat better job as a result. I still don’t have “normal life” down pat, but I’m getting better at it.

    I think that expectations are an important part. For older hikers (like me), can’t fall back on a younger and faster metabolism anymore. In a way it really is “mostly calorie intake” control, but I find that if I’m not exercising regularly and maintaining a pretty consistent sleep cycle, I do a really crap job of food control too.

    Best of luck in your future running, hiking, or whatever plans.


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