Training For the PCT 2016
What Say You, Internet?
Ask how to train for the Pacific Crest Trail on the Facebook page, and watch the words fly.
There’ll be the young, tall and gaunt guy who will declare, “Just go to Campo, put one foot in front of the other. Everything else will fall into place.”
The earnest baby-boomer will confess, “I walk around town with my newest UL pack, when I can. I have a knee injury, so plan to start the trail at a slow pace. About ten miles a day sounds good.”
A random troll adds his two cents: “Oh great. Just what we need, a bunch of out of shape, inexperienced middle aged women tromping all over the trail this year. Thanks, Wild.”
The frat bro disagrees: “Yes. I’m so doing the trail this year. Hot, emotionally wrecked babes are gonna be everywhere. Thanks, Wild.”
The super athletes will form a consensus: “The best thing to do, if you have time, is to start running. Do some marathons. And don’t forget strength conditioning. Muscle takes a lot longer to build than cardio.”
Which makes the full time adventurer roll her eyes: “The way to train for a hike is to just go hike. Jeez.”
There’ll be the uke-playing girl with dreads who laments: “Why are you focused on training? This trek is supposed to be about discovery, not having everything figured out ahead of time. The mountains will teach you that your job and your plans and your itineraries mean nothing. Go embrace the journey.”
And the guy who seems to always pop in at the end of a thread: “Hell yeah I train for the PCT. I practice eating pizza and drinking beer so that I will be properly ready for town.”
I currently tend to think that the amount of fun to be had on the trail is going to be proportionate to how in shape the hiker is. Still, people don’t need to train for a thru-hike if they don’t want to. They can get in shape on the trail. They can start out with lower miles. Many prospective thru-hikers have the heartiness of youth on their side, so the gap between gym shape and mountain shape probably isn’t much of a jump for them. Even those that feel like training and planning run contrary to the meaning of a thru-hike can find success in their strategy of no strategy.
My 2016 Training Goal
I hiked the JMT in 2011 overweight and with very little preparation ahead of time. I had an amazing, fulfilling adventure at 7-10 miles a day. But it was hard—very hard. I struggled all day long. There was no side trips, no hanging out in camp. I was passed by virtually every person that came upon me. It was clear that although we were all hiking the same trail, they were having a completely different experience from me.
In 2014 I knew I wanted my PCT hike in the following year to be different. Training became important to me. I set a very achievable goal of starting the trail at a minimum of 10 miles a day. I spent the winter months walking and prepping resupply boxes. When March 20th rolled around, I was ready. Those few first days on the trail were so different than what the JMT had been like. Even though it was still difficult, I was stronger and miles added up quickly. When I had to leave the trail a few weeks later, it had nothing to do with my ability to hike long miles, thanks to the little bit of prep I had invested in ahead of time.
I am now revving up for another attempt to thru-hike the PCT in 2016. All my prior experiences backpacking has me placing more weight on training than ever before. I want to start out in Campo knowing I have the ability to hike 20 miles in a day. I need to be able to progress further, faster. PCT 2016 has largely become an athletic endeavor for me. My eye is on the end goal—to get to Canada, to have the success of completion. I don’t think this will diminish all the other, more romanticized experiences of the trail. I suspect that being in better shape will actually help me to be more engaged than I would be if I go at it the way I did in 2011 or 2015.
To get to my goal of 20 miles a day, I’m following a 20 week program that prepares people to walk a marathon. My husband and I will do our usual 4.5 miles a day with the dog, and then follow the program’s mile progression in the form of a hike once a week. After 20 weeks, we will repeat a variation of the program, but this time with full packs. We will also be doing some strength and cardio videos several times a week, to complement our daily walks.
My husband will join me on my start date in Campo for a five day hike to Warner Springs—mile 109 of the PCT. He is very excited to challenge himself this way, and his enthusiasm is infectious. I feel positive that we are going to be in the best shape we’ve ever been in by the time April comes around. And 4 months later I will finally achieve my dream of hiking border to border.
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