Training for the Mountains at Sea Level
Before hip replacement surgery, I constantly worked at maintaining a basic level of fitness. My lifestyle revolved around the surf conditions. I watched for the next big swell, be it hurricane or nor’easter. During the colder months I would do less surfing and cycling, and more swimming laps at the pool. Swimming does not isolate the shoulders and back like paddling on a surfboard but it is a good way to keep fit.
Swimming and Biking
After surgery, I had to use a walker for a couple of weeks, then was able to actually walk around the block without assistance. I progressed quickly for about a month, but then hit a plateau. I became discouraged at the leveling off of the distance I could walk. At this point my wounds were healing well and I went back into the pool.
Swimming freestyle has always felt like all arms and no legs for me. After surgery, I relied heavily on short swim fins called Zoomers. Unlike long swim fins, Zoomers do not break your form. I was able to put more load on my legs in order to regain leg strength and also work on my technique. Swimming was an integral part of my thru-hike preparation.
I enjoyed using my road bike as another way to strengthen my legs. I would repeatedly cycle a seven-mile loop in Virginia Beach, on Shore Drive. It has bike shoulders and stretches through a forested area. It helped to isolate my leg muscles without impacting my joints and back. I would have also enjoyed getting out on my mountain bike but was not willing to drive the four hours required to reach the mountains. We have no mountains here.
Hiking Where I Can
The tallest point in Virginia Beach is Mount Trashmore. It is a former landfill converted into a park. I currently use this covered trash heap to hike up and down. Most people jog around the trash mound on the jogging path. I zigzag up and down the sides of the mound. I started out without weight and have slowly moved up to carrying a loaded pack. My load is two water bottles and three bricks (about 28 pounds). As hikers know, climbing an incline is different than using the stairs or a Life Fitness PowerMill machine. Climbing places your feet at an extreme angle when walking up hill. This works to strengthen the Achilles tendons and stretches out the calves.
The closest park to me is First Landing State Park. Yes, it’s flat but it’s beautiful and a place to escape suburbia. Hiking the sandy trails among the cyprus trees, Spanish moss and blue herons is a contemplative experience.
I use the Life Fitness elliptical and PowerMill machines at our local recreation center to maintain my fitness level. The recreation center is close and convenient and there is usually an exercise machine available. I know all the trail hike videos on the elliptical machine. My favorite would have to be trails that are the farthest away, in New Zealand. I also utilize stretching as an integral part of my fitness routine. I use a tennis ball to massage tight muscles in my back and neck. I will be packing a tennis ball for my trip. I have also utilized a hot soak in Epsom salts to help aid muscle recovery. I will miss them on the trail, almost as much as my family — just kidding.
I have gotten up to over 30 pounds in my pack while hiking the flat five-mile jogging path that leads from my house. The path is paved and I have found it unforgiving on my joints and ligaments. To minimize the impact I use Altra running shoes with high cushioning and arch supports. Having taken months to work up to 30 pounds has convinced me that I will be unable to make this thru-hike without reducing pack weight. It has forced me to remove my Kindle Paperwhite and my digital camera. The removal of my digital camera was a most difficult decision. I will, however, be keeping my compact Olympus point-and-shoot film camera. Yes, I will be taking film photographs. I’m now counting the days.
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