What Is The Real Reason People Don’t Finish The PCT?

The numbers don’t lie

Planning to hike the PCT this year has probably consumed your life for the past few months. Heck, it might even be the most defining thing you do in your life. Of course we all dream of completing our PCT hike, but what can we learn from those who were not as fortunate?

As a personal trainer, the lens that I look through to prepare for the PCT is a little different. I noticed an alarming trend the past few years: injuries. Although not completely avoidable, you can reduce your odds of injury with proper preparation. Below are some workouts that can be done to help build fitness levels (or maintain them) if you can’t hit the trails as often as you’d like.

The Data

Reading through Halfway Anywhere’s yearly PCT surveys, I see areas future hikers can target to help increase their odds of finishing. Looking at the reasons that hikers had to abandon their dreams of completing, injury consistently ranks at the top of the list:

  • 2015: 38% ended early due to injury
  • 2016: 48% ended early due to injury
  • 2017: 29% ended early due to injury

Note: The reasons for leaving the trail statistic was first listed in 2015. What else? Respondents in each survey year listed above also wished they had trained more. Interestingly, eating healthier was also something survey respondents often listed as something they would have done differently.

Hindsight is 20/20, right? This is coming straight from our brothers and sisters who walked before us.  Let’s heed their advice!

Beat The Odds

The rule of specificity for training goes like this: By training specifically for the event you wish to do well in, you must do that event. Riding your bike won’t make you better at hiking, it will make you a better bike rider. Sure, it will improve your cardiovascular fitness, but it will not target the muscles in the same manner as hiking would. If you want to hike better, hike more.

What if you can’t get out regularly to hike? Regularly mixing in weightlifting, body weight circuits, rowing, cycling, and running are your best bets. A better base level of fitness will mean less stress on your body when starting your hike.

That means reduced physical stress and thus, less risk of injury.

The adaptive stress of exercise strengthens tendons, ligaments, muscle, and bone. It also helps with balance and stability, which is a nice bonus. Think of exercise and training as your homework before the test of the PCT. To remove the barrier of not having exercise equipment, most of these workouts below can be done with just your body. With that in mind, here are some ideas to help fine-tune your training.

Tabata Workouts

These are easy, quick and very effective. Tabata has been proven to increase the body’s cardiovascular endurance and efficiency with high output activities, like hiking. This is otherwise known as VO2 max. For Tabata, you perform an exercise for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and repeat that exercise for seven more rounds. Complete as many repetitions of the exercise during each round as possible. After eight total rounds, rest one minute and then move on to the next exercise. Total workout time is 20 minutes with rest included. Here is a sample workout for hiking:

  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Planks

Any exercise substitution works well here: rowing, pull-ups, sprints, sled pushes, jump rope, bike sprints, box jumps, kettlebell swings, or stair stepping to name a few.

Body Weight Circuits

Here is a workout from a popular fitness community that is as basic as it is sinister. Set a clock for 20 minutes and complete as many rounds as possible before time is up. Each round consists of the following:

  • 5 pull-ups
  • 10 push-ups
  • 15 air squats

Lunge Into A Strong Body

Another easy workout that helps keep legs and core ready for long hikes and big hills is track lunges. Head to a local track and lunge around. It’s that simple. An outside lane lap will net you about 420 to 440 lunges, inner lane around 340 to 360 depending on your stride. Use your lunge time wisely. Put on a podcast, listen to an audiobook, or learn a language while lunging.

Start with a half lap and work your way up. Want to make it spicy? Add your loaded backpack or a 20-pound weight vest for more stimulus.  You can also add in 3-5 push-ups at every lane mark you come across and you have a proper full body destroyer.  You have been warned.

Smart Progress

Realistically, you can’t really train for hiking 18 miles a day, unless you are actually hiking 18 miles day after day. Starting our hike March 22, we know that we have more than enough time to finish the trail. Our plan is to start out with shorter mileage days and slowly add distance as our bodies adjust.

We have planned, saved our money, researched our gear and invested ourselves physically and mentally. Health and wellness is a priority for Sarah and me, and it will remain a focus while on the PCT.

For us, that means working on reducing inflammation, stretching and massaging out tissues daily. Look for a future post on ways we plan to address stretching, tissue maintenance and keeping inflammation at bay during our hike. Happy trails, friends!

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