Embracing the Challenge: Training and the PCT

Preparation for a thru-hike takes many forms, from trip planning to booking travel, choosing and purchasing gear, as well as researching the hike itself.

There is one thing though that is absolutely essential to being able to hike the PCT that I feel often gets overlooked, and that’s fitness. 

The Pacific Crest Trail is an amazing and daunting challenge, spanning 2,680 over some of the most challenging country left in the United States. It begins in the desert, and ends, months down the road, high up in the Cascades, with virtually every climate represented along the way. 

It’s something you have to be ready for. In fact, I recall reading that the one thing that takes people off the trail the most, next to finances and injury, is the physical rigor. With this in mind, for the last year, I’ve set myself to training at the gym, as well as hiking overland, doing everything I can to make sure I’m ready for what’s out there.

Sunday through Thursday, my “morning” starts at 11 p.m. I roll out of bed, quickly make it, and then hit the floor for six minutes of planking, followed by 50 push-ups, then five minutes of stretching. Next, I get ready, sit down with a pre-workout snack (normally a protein bar and a banana) then it’s out the door by 1 a.m. to hit the gym. 

The early hours are due to the fact that I’m a natural night owl, and the fact there’s almost no one there at that hour, leaving the machines open, and the equipment free so that I can train easily. 

Next up is a long cardio session, normally consisting of a six- to eight-mile run, followed by five to six miles on the elliptical. The idea here is not to set speed records, but to hit the upper limits of cardio, and maintain a steady pace. By training my heart to work now, it will have to work less later as I’m powering up hills, and facing challenging terrain. 

I wrap up my session every day with a round of weights. Either upper body, lower body, or core. Each day, I focus on a separate group, save for my first and last workout each week, which I call “super sessions” where I say “yeet” and do them all. 

It is rigorous, and can be quite grueling, especially by day five, when all I want to do is sleep in, and do anything but haul myself out of bed and go through my morning routine.

But that’s the point.

The PCT, just like my morning workout,  isn’t just a physical game, it’s a mental game too. I have to wake up every day with the idea that I’m  going to get out there, make my miles and give it my best. If I start letting myself doubt, and waver, then eventually I’ll develop bad habits, and before I know it, I’m leaving the trail.

If I’m going to make it to Canada, I have to develop a habit, and a routine of beating my own mind, of pushing past the tiredness, all the while learning how to listen to my body. There’s a fine line between exhaustion and injury, and by getting familiar with that line beforehand, I’m in a better position to evaluate what I need to do come March when I begin pushing north to Canada. 

Now at this point I want to say, hike your own hike. We all have different goals, and reasons for getting out there. If you feel physically ready and want to just go for it, you do you. As for me, though,  there is a strong desire within to hit the ground March 20, 2020, as prepared as I can be so that I can maximize my chances of completing it. 

My mind has to be right, my fitness has to be right, and my gear has to be right, because, come hell or high water, I am going to make it to Canada. I am going to face this trail, write my blog, and make my miles. 

While I set out from Campo in a few months, in many ways the trail has already started for me. It starts every night when I wake up and head to the gym to train, and every minute I spend on the floor planking. 

Let’s do this.

How are you getting ready for the PCT, and what are your biggest challenges? Let me know in the comments below, or @ me on Twitter. Let’s talk about it!

Snow on the Trail


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