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

  • Avatar
    Paul Rhoades : Apr 10th

    Great to hear from you again,l loved reading your post last year and glad that you have found another passion.im 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

    Reply
  • Avatar
    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.

    Reply

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